On Marvel's Move

By | Monday, December 09, 2019 Leave a Comment
Marvel Comics offices mural
So Marvel Comics is moving offices but, unlike DC, it's just a couple of blocks. The question is: why?

I mean, at a surface level, it seems straightforward enough. The previous owners of the building sold it, and the new owners have announced renovation plans, suggesting an increase in rent. So Marvel moving to a building with lower rent makes sense from that perspective.

However, have you moved before? It's not easy or cheap for an individual, and it's even more challenging and expensive for a corporation. So if rent is the only factor, it generally has to be a HUGE savings to convince somebody to move. I suspect cost isn't the only issue here.

Another possible influencing factor in moving, generally speaking, is access to resources. As an individual, for example, you might want to move so you're closer to your job or closer to a wider array of jobs if you're looking for a new one. Or maybe you live in the city, and want to move to a more suburban area with more open grassy spaces or better schools to raise a child. In the case of a corporation, maybe you're looking to be closer to a larger client base or somewhere that's likely to attract a different type of potential worker. In Marvel's case, though, they're only moving a couple streets over, so these aren't likely big influencers. It's possible that there's a difference in amenities in the buildings themselves -- maybe there's a Starbucks in the lobby of the new place or an on-site gym or better security or whatever -- but given that many of those types of things could also be pretty accessible in a dense area like New York, any differences are probably more of an added bonus than a driving factor.

Another big reason people move is for space. Either trying to get more space to expand or downsizing to better utilize the space you've actually got. I don't recall hearing about any significant layoffs at Marvel in recent years (the latest instance I can find from the comics division is from 2011 -- even the digital games team doesn't seem to have experienced any layoffs since since 2016) so the implication is that Marvel might have been at or near capacity with their previous offices anyway. I haven't done an actual line-wide comparison count, but it certainly seems like Marvel has been putting out more titles in the past year or two than it had previously and that would certainly require more staff. And while Marvel may have been able to accommodate those staffing levels at the old place, corporate moves like this are often forward-looking, suggesting that they are looking to continue to expand.

Back in February, Rich Johnston suggested that rumors of a Marvel move might be tied to a new facility their parent company, Disney, is building. But with that project, they're a few years away. If that were their intention, moving Marvel now, only to move them again in a few years, would probably be unnecessarily costly. Unless the new owners of Marvel's old office building raised rents pretty radically, this probably wouldn't be a very effective strategy financially for Marvel.

So I'm thinking Marvel's move is at least partially motivated by an intent to expand. Maybe not right away -- it's possible they're looking a few years out, and just took advantage of the old building having new owners and needing new contracts -- but they're feeling good about their future. And, before you say, "Well, duh! Marvel Studios has been absolutely killing it at the box office for years," bear in mind that we're not talking about Marvel Studios. We're talking about the publication arm of Marvel, which is essentially a separate entity from the movie folks. Setting aside the film success, Disney/Marvel seems to be looking at their future as a comics publisher very favorably, separate from their role as intellectual property owners.
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