What if we told you, one day Marvel comics would stop publishing? You would probably laugh at us. However, if the signs mean anything, it may happen sooner than you expect.
The purchase of Marvel comics by Disney back in 2009 was a cause of mass speculation. There were talks of how the movies may take the comics out of business. While that buzz soon died out, it cannot be ignored that two giant corporate houses now own most of the comic book industry of America today. Marvel is owned by Disney, while Time Warner owns DC.
Let’s have a little context to this story. As you might have noticed, comic books are no longer sold like newspapers. The concept of “Direct Marketing” is responsible for most of their sales in the USA. It means that independent specialty shops are responsible for getting the comics from the sole distributor (Diamond) and selling to customers. However, this is the catch: specialty stores are hard to locate. Most people are not interested in driving miles before finding the single shop in their city. Also, even the biggest fans feel that paying $4 for just 24-32 pages of comics is a bit too much. There are diehard comic book clubs, of course, but the chances of becoming a part of them are slim. These factors have been at play for decades now, but the digital age has only hastened the death of American comic book industry.
Now, let us come back to Marvel. Right now, marvel is the top comic book publisher in the country. However, the top spot means little and less, since both its profits and popularity are on a decline. Marvel has been coming up with excuses like the diversity of characters as being responsible for the decline in popularity. There might be some truth in that, but it does not change the fact that Marvel is losing its customer base.
And here is the big news: Disney and Time Warner are currently publishing comics, not for the profits, but purely to extract the intellectual property from the characters, which could then be used in other media (movies, TV, and games).
But this might soon change. According to reports, the entire comic book industry made revenue of around $1 billion in 2016. Sounds good, right? Well, this was the total revenue for all the comic book publishers. Marvel’s share would hardly be more than a few million dollars, and even that would be the revenue, not profits. In short, Marvel comics are not the cash-cow for Disney by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Disney is making more money from the box office revenues of a single Marvel movie than they do from the annual comic book sales. And like we know, Disney won’t think twice before shutting down a business that does not bring enough profits for them.
The sole reason why Disney allowed Marvel to exist thus far was due to the brand recognition it provided. But that was the past decade. Today, MCU has more fans than Marvel comics ever had. The fact that MCU only shares a little material from the comics has meant that it could exist entirely on its own, without any need of Marvel comics. Despite the enormous success of MCU, comic book sales had only lifted a little. Most fans prefer buying merchandise than comics.
In short, Marvel comics have little and less need in today’s world. If the MCU, which borrowed characters and story arcs from them, is ready to exist independently, it sure shouts “existential crisis.” However, that does not mean it is the end. Remember, for Disney, Marvel is just a brand. They might cease the comic book publishing themselves, but may license the rights to some other publisher. Disney is expert in doing this, so it must not come as a surprise. It would save Disney from the trouble of the whole publishing task, while still managing to mine IP from the characters. So, marvel comics might continue to exist, but just in a different form.