On Business: Marvel Subscriptions

By | Monday, October 30, 2017 1 comment
If you look in comics from a few decades ago, they used to contain ads detailing how you could get a subscription to their regular titles. (The one I'm including as an image here was the version that I used when I got my first subscription.) I don't think it was ever a particularly lucrative side of comics publishing, but they did want to make sure people could still get their comics if their local grocery or drug stores didn't carry them. It would certainly be more work for them internally as they'd have to manage a bunch of individual addresses instead of just handing a huge batch of comics to a distributor. But the lack of a distributor meant they didn't have to pay one, and they could look good to readers by whacking that cost (or at least some of it) off the subscription price. Which lead to, in this example, an eight cent savings per issue for the reader! (And, hey, when I was 12 back in the early '80s, a whole dollar a year was note-worthy!)

The past couple of decades you've seen publishers shy away from subscriptions. They still have them, but they don't promote them nearly as much. In fact, you generally have to dig pretty deep to find anything about them on most publishers' sites. They're just as problematic as they ever were in terms of logistics, and their profit margins are even thinner.

Which makes this bit I stumbled across on Marvel's site interesting. To get a subscription, there's just an online order form. Pretty standard, no problem. Fill it out with your credit card info, comics start arriving in your mailbox. Done! But if you do run into problems with your subscription for some reason, here's the contact info Marvel provides...
Marvel Subscriptions
PO Box 727
New Hyde Park, NY 11040
TOLL FREE: 888-511-5480
Most of it is pretty non-descript and could be anything from a generic call center to just some guy's apartment. But check out the domain on that email address -- MidtownComics.com. Midtown, if you don't know, is a brick-and-mortar comic shop with three locations in New York, including one right in Times Square. You can stop into that, or any of their locations, just like any other comic shop, and pick new comics off the rack, or maybe some back issues, or some statues and action figures, or whatever. They have in-store pull lists, like most other shops, but they also have a subscription service where you can have all of your new comics delivered by mail anywhere in the United States. And they're shipped from their warehouse in New Hyde Park. (See above.)

So it would seem that Marvel has, at some point, farmed out their subscription processes to Midtown Comics. I suspect the order form on Marvel.com sends the info directly to Midtown and bypasses Marvel altogether. Which would mean, while subscriptions are still available, Marvel themselves have nothing to do with them any more.

That's not intended as a criticism, by the way; it makes complete sense from a business perspective -- that type of distribution is far outside their baliwick. But it's still an interesting change that I don't recall hearing anything about previously.
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Matt K said...

Good discovery, good post.

I feel like my own history with subscriptions might add another dimension. Around 1990 I was thrilled to subscribe to comics. Even though, at that time, most of the titles I was interested in were still sold at multiple places in my small hometown. (Drugstore, supermarket, etc.)

In late 1996, I went to college and two things changed. First, I had a fine Comic Store within walking distance. Second, I had regular access to the World Wide Web. (By regular access, I mean visiting the computer lab once per day. Maybe more once in a while!)

I never moved my subscription, since I got back to my parents' house often enough… and either way, I knew that the subscription copies' delivery lagged the New Comic Day and prompt discussion online which soon became part of my weekly rhythm.

I let my subscriptions lapse by the end of my first year, I think, and never purchased comics by subscription again.