History of The Crash

Crashing. Everyone hates crashing. Doesn’t matter if that crash comes in the form of a car, or from your energy level dropping. Crashing sucks, no matter what. Crashes are especially devastating in business, when a market crashes, almost everyone is impacted in a negative way. A select few people may emerge unscathed or with minimal losses, but most aren’t able to be so lucky. The pain of a crash is what the comic industry, and Marvel especially knows all too well.

General Overview

Back in the 90s, the comic industry as a whole crashed. The reason for the crash in one word was oversaturation. Values for comic books were sky high, comics were selling for thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. Seeing the profit to be made, people bought everything they could get their hands on. Customers were buying five, ten, sometimes even twenty copies of one book. This was obviously great for comic shops, great for comic publishers and great for the industry. Fans were excited to get the new issue, comic shops were buzzing, publishers were making money and collectors were excited for future returns.

Publisher Response

To keep up with demand, publishers put out more titles than ever, and not just more titles, they put out variant covers of their titles. Some had “gold” foil on the cover, others had silver, some were shiny, we even had lithographic covers that “moved” depending on the way you look at them. These variant covers were introduced at a higher price because they were “rare” and “limited edition”, so they were more valuable, according to the publisher that was. This trend went on for years, culminating in X-Men number 1 from 1991 being the highest selling comic of all time to this very day, selling 1.1 million copies. Unfortunately for fans, and the industry as a whole, things went downhill from there.

Bursting of The Bubble

The bubble of the comic industry burst so to speak not too long after X-Men number 1’s runaway success. The industry was propped up by ridiculously high sales of comics. Publishers had no idea that it was single individuals buying large amounts of books that were causing these high numbers. They simply believed their books were selling well, and decided to try and put more books into the hands of consumers. More books meant more money into their hands. And in the era of Saturday morning cartoons, the more exposure, the better. More exposure means more viewers, and more merchandise sales. The problem is, since the vast majority of comics were being purchased by single individuals, those numbers couldn’t last.

Sudden Realizations

Eventually people tried trading their comics in or selling them at auction, only to find out their books were essentially worthless because there were hundreds, sometimes thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of copies in the wild. The reason that comics were going for ridiculous amounts of money was because they were rare issues. Back during World War II, the US had paper drives where people would donate their unused paper to the war effort. Comics were seen as having little value so they were often donated ( much to the chagrin of the children that loved reading them ). As an end result, copies of Detective Comics #37 or Action Comics #1, especially copies in good condition became extremely difficult to find. Furthermore, as the war effort went on, characters like Superman and Captain America became American heroes and embodied ideals to aspire to for American citizens. That inspiration, combined with the rarity of the comics, drove their prices up. Action Comics #1 was extremely valuable, X-Men number 1 that had 1.1 million copies floating around wasn’t.

Misconceptions Corrected

Upon finding out that their books weren’t worth much of anything, the consumers that were intending to collect books and sell them to pay for a retirement house or a college fund stopped consuming. This led to a downward spiral of the industry because publishers were still putting out large quantities of books, but no one was buying. Comic shops weren’t able to move their old merchandise and they were experiencing a drop in sales so they couldn’t afford to take in much, if any new merchandise. The industry back then was also very different than it was today, comic shops weren’t always able to sell back unsold comics to the publisher to recoup their losses.

Aftermath

As an end result, the industry went into free fall. Publishers were losing money hand over fist and comic shops closed because they couldn’t afford to keep the lights on. Publishers tried the variant cover strategy but for the most part, it wasn’t working. Consumers had gotten burned once, they weren’t about to have it happen again. The crash was so severe that Marvel comics ended up selling the film rights to some of its most popular franchises. Selling the rights to their franchises was the only way Marvel could have enough money to stave off bankruptcy. The sale of those rights is why Sony Pictures owns the film license to Spider-Man instead of Marvel Studios. The concerning thing about this is some publishers in the industry seem to be ignoring the mistakes of the past. In the second part of this look at the comic industry we’ll look at these modern day mistakes and explain how they can be corrected.

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