Monday, August 1, 2011

Retailing With Ron - Cross-Over Events & Event Fatigue

Welcome back to another edition of Retailing With Ron. This week I'll be discussing comic book cross-over events and what people in the industry refer to as "Event Fatigue." When people bring up the idea of "Event Fatigue," they are talking about fans becoming disillusioned or put off by the constant stream of cross-over events from Marvel and DC. In this post, I'll examine this phenomenon and whether or not it really exists.

How are these events structured and how do they affect retailers? What is the usual process for ordering an event book? How many new mini-series are launched during crossovers and how much is too much? How does making a lower selling book a tie-in to a big event actually affect sales? Read on for the answers to these questions and my thoughts on the current crossovers being published by the big two, Fear Itself and Flashpoint.

What Is An Event? / The Event Age Of Comics

Fans have always enjoyed classifying the different eras of comic books. There was The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, and so on. Each of these eras was known for an overall theme that seemed to pervade the comics. The Golden Age featured the emergence of the first superheroes who existed in morally black and white world. The Silver Age featured new heroes who weren't perfect and often struggled with balancing their heroic feats with their normal lives.The Bronze Age introduced anti-heroes and focused on darker stories and themes. What would define the last ten years of mainstream comic book publishing? The cross-over events that seem to happen almost non-stop from both Marvel and DC.

While the current age of comics is normally referred to as "The Event Age." There has been a continuous string of comic book crossover events starting with Avengers Disassembled from Marvel and Identity Crisis from DC in 2004. They are promoted every year as being a must-read event and something that will change the universe and our favorite characters forever!

These events usually start off with preludes that can either be a mini-series or one-shot before making their way into a mini-series. The main story takes place in this mini-series but different ongoing and mini-series are inevitably pulled into the events of story as well. So instead of just having "The Event Issue #1 (of 7)" you also have "The Event Featuring: Man-Man #1 (of 3)", along with any other books that decide to tie-in to the story.

Marvel's seven issue Civil War mini-series lasted over 10 months and had over 65 tie-in comics. Most of the tie-in issues focused on how the events of the Super Hero Civil War affected the characters and the Marvel Universe.

The Completist Mentality

Marvel's "Civil War" checklist. This isn't even the complete version.

Some readers and fans believe that they need to buy every single tie-in in order to understand the story when it's really not true. More often than not, you can get a full story in the main mini-series without having to pick up all the side issues or mini-series. 

I was one of those people that bought every Civil War tie-in. I also bought every Blackest Night tie-in as well. Why did I do this? It was during the height of my time as a collector, when I had enough disposable income that I felt like it was a good idea to buy every event tie-in. I was under the impression that if I bought every issue, I would understand the story better. This didn't really end up happening, and I haven't even read any of the Blackest Night or Civil War books that I bought in years. 

The "Completist Mentality" can lead to fans getting burned out if they're upset with the amount of money they've spent or the conclusion to the story.They may decide that they don't want to buy any of the new event stories that come out afterward. There are a couple of customers at The Fallout Shelter who were reluctant to pick up the first issue of Flashpoint because they believed they would need to buy all the tie-ins to understand the main book. This is one example of Event Fatigue rearing its head and I've noticed it happening more often with some of my customers.

It Never Ends...

Secret Invasion led directly into the Dark Reign storyline that ran for several months.
One of the big things about Marvel and DC's event story-lines is that they seem to flow right into one another. The fallout from Avengers Disassembled led into House Of M and Messiah Complex. Civil War resulted into The Initiative and World War Hulk. Secret Invasion led to the Dark Reign and Siege. The aftermath of Siege led to The Heroic Age and into Marvel's current event Fear Itself. I've only listed a few of the events from the last several years of publishing. There are so many others that have occurred either at the same time or in between each other.

The idea that each event's aftermath leads into another event down the line is something that might prevent customers from jumping on. The lack of significant down time between events and story-lines makes it seem like there is always an event happening at either Marvel or DC. Infinite Crisis led to 52 which sparked Countdown to Final Crisis. After Blackest Night came Brightest Day which led into Flashpoint. It's easy to see why some readers are put off from reading these event titles.

The Numbers Speak For Themselves... Or Do They?

Fear Itself: Deadpool is an example of a book that is selling at a high level, despite being only tangentially involved in the main story of Fear Itself.

In my opinion, any comic that ties-in with a crossover should be important enough to stand on it's own as a good story while also not derailing the original narrative of the title. This is a delicate balance that is exemplified in Avengers Academy. The characters in that book are dealing with the events of Fear Itself in a way that advances their own stories while also providing a different perspective of the events taking place in the main title.

Sales on these titles increased after their Blackest Night tie-in issues.
I've witnessed that some smaller titles can get an increase in readership after tying in to an event, but it's rare. Often times the books will return to their pre-event sales levels shortly after finishing the crossover. The only books that increased in sales dramatically after tying in to Blackest Night were R.E.B.E.L.S. and Doom Patrol. Marvel has taken to using the events to launch new titles and concepts. Ghost Rider, Alpha Flight, and Journey Into Mystery all had their debut issues tie in with Fear Itself and it remains to be seen if their sales will climb or fall after Fear Itself concludes.

Sales can also get affected midway through an event. Blackest Night #1 set a record at our store for most copies sold of any single issue. The sales for issue #2 were slightly lower but we still sold out. Issue #3 was very close to the sales for #1 and #2 but after that, sales started to peter out. I wasn't able to adjust orders fast enough for a sudden and rapid decline. Midway through Blackest Night, sales started to fall on all of the tie-in books. Was this because people were tired of spending large amounts of money on all the tie-ins? Were they just not enjoying the story? I don't know for sure but I've learned from the mistakes that I've made. I've been much more conservative with my orders for Flashpoint and Fear Itself, and we've sold out several times of multiple issues. I'd rather buy conservatively and need to order more than over order and be stuck with dead stock.

Who Gets Left Behind?

The main thing that can be taken away from the crossover events is that the main title will sell. There's no question that Fear Itself #1 and Flashpoint #1 were huge sellers. We've sold out of both issues multiple times. The real tricky part is figuring out how much to order on the tie-ins. Aside from doing pre-orders for every tie-in series, it's mostly guessing the interest based on the characters and the creative teams.

I understand the need from a business perspective to try to increase sales on lower selling titles such as Herc or Booster Gold. However, I believe that as the number of tie-ins increases, it is the lower selling books that will fall by the wayside. Fans will want to read about the characters they love the most and unfortunately the B-List or C-List characters will be overlooked. It's a real shame because books like Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt feature great characters that aren't featured in any other books.

A robot, a gorilla, an alien, an Atlantean, a siren and a special agent walk into a bar...
One of my favorite comics from the past few years was Jeff Parker's Agents of Atlas. It started with a six issue mini-series and was given an ongoing title at the start of the Dark Reign storyline. This series lasted 11 issues before getting canceled, but was given another chance and retitled "Atlas" at the start of The Heroic Age. The Atlas series lasted only 5 issues before being canceled yet again. You have to give Marvel credit for giving Atlas several chances to attract readers but it's entirely possible that it was overlooked in favor of other books launched around the same time. Check out the trade paperback collections of Agents of Atlas if you have the money, it's old fashioned super heroics mixed with a little bit of spy action and a tour-de-force of the Marvel Universe.

Where Does It All Lead?

How will the heroes of the Marvel Universe be changed by Fear Itself?

Where does this constant cycle of Event, Aftermath, New Event lead us? Periodical sales of comic books (the monthly issues) have been declining for years and the first issue of Marvel's Fear Itself event sold much less than Civil War #1 did back in 2006. Is this all a result of a shrinking marketplace with less retail stores to order copies? Is it because of piracy and the lack of customers willing to spend $3.99 on a single issue? Or does the continual emphasis on "WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?" have something to do with it as well? These events seem to be a double-edged sword sometimes. It will attract attention to the publishing line and interest new readers, but if the story is weak it could backfire and kill off interest in any tie-in book.

Event Fatigue is certainly a real thing for retailers. Figuring out how many to order and how to manage a plethora of new titles can be nerve-wracking. One or two bad experiences with an event and retailers can become hesitant to order another big crossover just a few months later. 

With the announcements of The Fearless and Battle Scars, the effects of Fear Itself will continue to spread throughout Marvel's publishing line. As a result of the events of Flashpoint, DC's entire line of comic books are being relaunched with new #1 issues and creative teams. These events often serve as springboards for new status quos in their respective universes but that sometimes leaves the actual story as a second thought. The comic book industry really can't afford to lose any more customers and if Event Fatigue truly exists for fans, it'll be acknowledged as a serious issue by the major publishers soon enough. The only thing we can hope for is great stories that keep readers and new customers interested in the product.

So, dear readers, how do the big events from Marvel and DC affect your buying habits? Do you go all in and purchase every tie-in for every event? Do you just stick with the books you're already reading and ignore the other tie-ins? Does the constant flow of events and crossovers affect your willingness to purchase them? Share your thoughts in the comments about crossover events and Event Fatigue.

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CombatSpoon86 said...

I'm so tired of big events that change everything even though its the same recycled big battle with some major villain. The exception of Flashpoint which is consistently good. I rather read a well-written story or even a self contained event book like Spider-man than Big event books that change the marvel universe every 3-6 months(I'm talking to you Marvel).

Ryan K Lindsay said...

When it comes to events, I buy the stuff that interests me and that's about it. I'm picking up Antony Johnston's Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Spider Island tie in without actually picking up Spider Island. I'm getting Fear Itself (though really wondering why now) and only bought into one tie in, and might be dropping that now. I will not be buying those Battle Scars or Fearless minis afterwards.

I do not have events fatigue because I only get what I want. I wish others would do that without buying them all and then complaining.

Bruce said...

I started to rejoin the comics fan community with the House of M miniseries and something similar for DC, probably Green Lantern:Rebirth. House of M ended in a wimper and it didn't really change anything that I could tell. I thought Green Lantern's rebirth was heralding a true blue heroic character, but the first book in the new regular series started out with Hal having anonymous sex with a woman who also wanted anonymous sex. Enough. I watched Marvel's subsequent events and finally was able to conclude that the marketing plan was really and truly predatory. Thanks but no thanks Marvel and DC.

Ryo Vie said...

The big events are endless and I always see myself buying them. Not all of the tie-ins, at least, but still a select few. Most of those turn out to be a big disappointment.

I bought the FF:Fear Itself tie-in and it was a waste of time and money! The story was not well developed and could have been told in 3 panels of a main Fear Itself book.

Crossovers are just a gimmick and I need to let myself stop getting hooked. The endings are always disappointing. I need to stick to my original plan of only buying from the good writers/stories.

Anonymous said...

We're seeing diminishing returns on big events because they are too frequent with too many tie-ins. And they interfere with an organically developed good run on a book by a set of creators.

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