On Business: Comics Experiences

By | Monday, May 11, 2015 Leave a Comment
I just heard that The Marvel Experience will be making a stop in Chicago this summer. I'm not the Marvel afficiando that I was once, but I'm kicking around whether or not I should go. I was doing a bit of research on it yesterday, and while there does seem to be some clear acknowledgement of the comics' origins, the focus is more strongly on the characters. The goal isn't to make you think you're stepping into a comic book, but that you're stepping into that universe that lives in your imagination. What you think it must be like to be in a world with Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine.

The Marvel Experience
And that makes sense for Marvel. They ceased being a comic book publisher about a decade and a half ago to focus on being a character licensing company. By the time they were bought by Disney, I think that less than a third of their revenue came from comics, and that was before the X-Men and Spider-Man films cemented Marvel's name in Hollywood!

I bring up the Marvel Experience because it's a fairly logical progression based on what business leaders have been promoting for several years now. Namely, that when it comes to disposable income, consumers are more focused now on experiences rather than goods. They would, by and large, rather do something that creates a great memory and lets them tell some cool stories to their friends than buy a neat dohickey that sits on the shelf. The dohickeys are fine, but moreso from the story they represent than as trophies unto themselves. So in that light, it makes sense that Marvel would want to create something in which consumers have a set of interactions with the Marvel characters. If you read/hear reviews, more people talk more about how cool it is that they're being recruited by SHIELD to help battle Hydra than are saying they got a neat t-shirt in the gift shop.

A couple years back, DC launched a Justice League: Alien Invasion ride in Australia that seems kind of similar in the basic concept. It's been well-received and I understand that a similar Justice League: Battle for Metropolis ride will open in Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags St. Louis later this year. I believe the rides aren't quite as immersive as The Marvel Experience, but the idea is the same.

Other comic publishers probably don't have the capital to create anything remotely like these, even if they did have a huge cache of characters to drawn upon. And good grief, what about creators doing self-publishing?! How can anyone short of a company backed by Disney or Warner Brothers even hope to compete?

Well, they can't.

Not at that game, at any rate. But where smaller guys can compete is at the personal interaction level. The personal responses on Twitter and Facebook. The one-on-one conversations they can have at a convention. The hand-written thank you note on a receipt in a snail-mailed order. The scale of smaller businesses is such that they can better afford to respond at an individual level. And maybe that's too much for a single individual at the company who's got their regular duties to take care of, but maybe several people can share the load. Maybe it's not a single marketing person who answers all the emails, but everyone who's got any editorship duties.

And, yes, that's absolutely extra work for the individual creator/self-publisher who just wants to make comics. But anyone who wants to be in business for themselves still needs to handle the business aspect of the job. That includes marketing, and marketing in the 21st century includes making a consumer (or potential consumer) feel that they're getting an experience as much as finished product. So unless you can afford something on the level of what Marvel and DC are doing, maybe it's worth putting a little extra effort into each individual sale, whether that's online or in person.
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