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View Full Version : A New Business Model for Marvel Comics



Carlton Donaghe
02-23-2012, 11:52 PM
I'm sure some of you have heard of the funding site Kickstarter. Recently, an artist raised over a million dollars to publish a print version of his long-running web comic.

While I'm not saying Marvel should stop publishing themselves, Marvel should open up their characters to a Kickstarter-type system where creative teams could post pitches that readers could vote on with their dollars.

Marvel could set up an editorial board similar to what exists at Kickstarter. Maybe they extend editorial services to projects that get funding (for a fee that would be listed in the funding). Basically, the project must not damage the brand (no pornography, etc.) but otherwise the pitches can do anything.

After hearing about the number of comics projects successfully funded through Kickstarter, I read the Kickstarter site. I'm proposing Marvel do that, with all the safeguards in place, but for Marvel characters only. Pitches for merchandise, comics, clothing, whatever. Marvel/Disney could even offer to broker printing or manufacturing services (again, for a fee that would be part of the funding structure).

Marvel would take a cut, a percentage, probably a larger percentage than Kickstarter does, but they would want to set up some kind of standard pricing structure for what could be done, with the variable being what the potential creator set for his own fee. If the bids go over that amount, Marvel's cut goes up, and the creators get more money.

Diamond could even order copies of successful projects for the store, increasing the print run at no cost to the creator or Marvel.

This would be a win for Marvel because it could allow creators to have sanctioned material they could sell at conventions, and Marvel/Disney would get their cut right off the top, and as long as the creators deliver, there's no way Marvel could lose money off the deal. They'd get the chance to approve or kill the projects before they ever got off the ground if they don't like them, but otherwise have no overhead involved. New Marvel Comics that fans wanted would get made without Marvel having to put up any money to get it made. And again, there's nothing that would stop Marvel from putting out their "official" line of comics.

Imagine if professional artists got involved, and not just comics artists, either. They could put together a proposal, name their price up front, and if the funding doesn't show up in 60 days (or whatever), no harm, no foul. But if it does, the artist starts work knowing the money's in the bank and all of the costs have been met. Of course, there would be stiff penalties for those who didn't follow through, stern enough to absolutely discourage fakes.

Marvel would own the work, of course, but this system would also afford them to pay royalties. It's like, they get new intellectual property to exploit for free, and people with creative talent get a chance to play with the toys.

Of course, DC could do this, too--as could any entity which has IP to exploit. I was thinking Marvel as this would be a solution to take care of people like Gary Friedrich.

Imagine, Gary could team up with an artist, like Herb Trimpe, and they could submit a pitch to Marvel-Kickstarter. Gary could pitch a project to create a new comic that he and Herb could print and sell at conventions. Marvel gets a cut off the top, enough to pay for their involvement and then some, and they get to approve the material.

How could this lose?

MRP
02-24-2012, 12:11 AM
I'm sure some of you have heard of the funding site Kickstarter. Recently, an artist raised over a million dollars to publish a print version of his long-running web comic.

While I'm not saying Marvel should stop publishing themselves, Marvel should open up their characters to a Kickstarter-type system where creative teams could post pitches that readers could vote on with their dollars.

Marvel could set up an editorial board similar to what exists at Kickstarter. Maybe they extend editorial services to projects that get funding (for a fee that would be listed in the funding). Basically, the project must not damage the brand (no pornography, etc.) but otherwise the pitches can do anything.

After hearing about the number of comics projects successfully funded through Kickstarter, I read the Kickstarter site. I'm proposing Marvel do that, with all the safeguards in place, but for Marvel characters only. Pitches for merchandise, comics, clothing, whatever. Marvel/Disney could even offer to broker printing or manufacturing services (again, for a fee that would be part of the funding structure).

Marvel would take a cut, a percentage, probably a larger percentage than Kickstarter does, but they would want to set up some kind of standard pricing structure for what could be done, with the variable being what the potential creator set for his own fee. If the bids go over that amount, Marvel's cut goes up, and the creators get more money.

Diamond could even order copies of successful projects for the store, increasing the print run at no cost to the creator or Marvel.

This would be a win for Marvel because it could allow creators to have sanctioned material they could sell at conventions, and Marvel/Disney would get their cut right off the top, and as long as the creators deliver, there's no way Marvel could lose money off the deal. They'd get the chance to approve or kill the projects before they ever got off the ground if they don't like them, but otherwise have no overhead involved. New Marvel Comics that fans wanted would get made without Marvel having to put up any money to get it made. And again, there's nothing that would stop Marvel from putting out their "official" line of comics.

Imagine if professional artists got involved, and not just comics artists, either. They could put together a proposal, name their price up front, and if the funding doesn't show up in 60 days (or whatever), no harm, no foul. But if it does, the artist starts work knowing the money's in the bank and all of the costs have been met. Of course, there would be stiff penalties for those who didn't follow through, stern enough to absolutely discourage fakes.

Marvel would own the work, of course, but this system would also afford them to pay royalties. It's like, they get new intellectual property to exploit for free, and people with creative talent get a chance to play with the toys.

Of course, DC could do this, too--as could any entity which has IP to exploit. I was thinking Marvel as this would be a solution to take care of people like Gary Friedrich.

Imagine, Gary could team up with an artist, like Herb Trimpe, and they could submit a pitch to Marvel-Kickstarter. Gary could pitch a project to create a new comic that he and Herb could print and sell at conventions. Marvel gets a cut off the top, enough to pay for their involvement and then some, and they get to approve the material.

How could this lose?

Marvel's last iteration of the Epic line was along similar but different lines. A few things, I am not sure of the precedent, but they may put themselves into a legal quandry concerning trademarks if they allow others to use them and do not defend them. You don't defend your trademarks, you lose them, so they would have to ensure something along these lines did not threaten their trademarks before they could allow it.

Second, Rich Burlew's fund raising drive for Order of the Stick is the exception rather than the rule. He had fans help fund the initial print versions of his webcomic via paypal donations long before there was a Kickstart site, so the use of kickstart was an extension of a practice he had already established with his fanbase, not something that was a success out of the blue. Repeating his success will be like trying to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.

Third, simple lack of quality control over content would hurt the brand, dilute the brand, and wreak havoc with the thing that appeals to most of their hardcore fanbase-the shared universe concept.

It's an idealistic vision, but it does not take into consideration the opportunity costs to Marvel/Disney.

If anyone produces a storyline through this that resembles something in any way that Marvel does in the future with their official line it could be another legal nightmare-it's why editors are reluctant to look at unsolicited pitches, manuscripts, etc. and avoid things like fan fiction sites.

Fan's budgets are limited, dollars spent on alternative Marvels may hurt the official line's bottom line, and even though they get a cut, it might not be enough to offset that.

That's what could hurt them/cost them with such a model just off the top of my head.
-M

Carlton Donaghe
02-24-2012, 12:44 AM
There wouldn't be a trademark problem-- this would be done through a Marvel owned site. The artists whose projects go up would sign a contract. I'm sure there'd be a clause giving Marvel final approval before a project gets printed.

Marvel wouldn't approve projects by people who don't have the ability to do the work. Not just anyone could get a project approved.

I'm thinking Marvel could prime the pump by soliciting pitches initially, to get the ball rolling. A Steve Rude project, or Paul Smith doing Silver Age Avengers.

As far as diluting the brand, they do that now. But I think there's so much built-in interest in Marvel that there would be people on-hand to bid. Plus, if people like Byrne got involved--doing a story in any continuity he wanted-- I think there'd be a fan-base for that.

Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it.

Jake V
02-24-2012, 01:07 AM
This would really screw with Marvel's policy of not accepting unsolicited proposals, which exists for good reason, not to mention their existing licensing deals.

Ari Gold
02-24-2012, 05:37 AM
Seems like Marvel makes more money doing it the way they are currently.

How many Marvel pitches do you think would raise $1,000,000?

Songbird/Diamondback
02-24-2012, 06:31 AM
This kinda sounds like an abuse of power...

janthonyh
02-24-2012, 06:41 AM
Obviously this is not a perfect plan, but with a few tweaks i think it could work and i think it goes along with the individualized life we live now. Everything caters to everyone personal tastes these days and i think this is a natural extension of that.

People already have unique laptop/iphone sleeves, the ipod itself is a personal radio station, netflix/on demand/dvr offers the viewer almost limitless flexability on how they consume video: why not comics?

MRP
02-27-2012, 02:03 PM
Well the Comics AM column on the CBR main page has a link for an interview Burlew did with Publisher's Weekly about the kickstart campaign. In it, it's mentioned the conversion rate of current readers to potential donors is about 1%-Burlew had a dedicated readership of 650,000 and causal readership of a little over 1 million yielding about 15,000 donors.

So let's take a typical Marvel property that barely garners 100,000 readers at the top of the charts (we'll pad the number to include readers who don't pay for copies, trade waiters, etc. even though sales from Diamond rarely crack the 100k mark).

Take into consideration the sales cut off point for cancellation is about 20,000 copies currently, so let's be generous and cut that to 10K to account for lesser costs using a Kickstart model rather than traditional model.

So to reach the 10K mark, Marvel books would have to have a conversion rate of 10%, or 10 times better than the most successful model to date to use this model to even be viable, let alone profitable.

Hmm, doesn't sound like a very viable model for a big company like Marvel/Disney, even if there were no other inherent potential problems with branding, etc. as I mentioned before. "For it to work it has to be 10 times as successful than anyone else who ever used it" is not the kind of sales pitch I would want to bring to a board meeting to try to sell a new idea to the powers that be.

-M