With the rise of the Marvel and DC cinematic and televised comic book franchises, many, this site included, have complained synergy is ruining the product. In the case of these two publishers synergy involves slightly synchronizing the comics and movies to increase sales. Fans have opined about how comics are now existing just to benefit the movies or vice versa, but are the books gaining anything from the synergy? Examples of synergy, like Phil Coulson and Samuel L. Fury in the Marvel 616 Universe, can be found but the vast majority of comics never line up with perfectly with the films. Instead the books tend to sprinkle some synergy in and reap no benefits from it, and the current attempts at synergy are ineffective.
For the sake of this article we will focus on Marvel, but before we go any further let's consider the comics industry and why it needs to go. Comics have had a tumultuous past with society. Early on they were accepted, and stock the shelves of common newsstands. The industry took a hit when a book called Seduction of the Innocent attempted to link juvenile delinquency to comic books. Eventually the industry shook off this view, but it had lost many readers. Those left were classified as nerds and social outcasts. The aforementioned social factors are often seen as reasons the comics industry has shrunk and stayed relatively small. In recent years this has been perpetuated by the years of confusing continuity and, ironically, the constant rebooting which exists to counteract the years of confusing continuity. With this small size, every falter in the industry leads to concern that the industry is dying. Growth could help to prevent these constant concerns.
As the new millennium came into being a new opportunity to bring in readers arose. X-Men and Spider-Man received the cinematic treatment which brought them further into the public's knowledge and acceptance. The movies were financial powerhouses. The success of these comic book movies was not surprising as they were based on known properties such as Spider-Man or Batman. In 2007 a paradigm shift began. Iron Man became an instant hit, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.
Iron Man was not like the other superhero movies. He was inarguably a superhero, but most of society was not aware of his comic book history. Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and the X-Men had established themselves through their respective cartoons. But Iron Man? No one outside of comic books readers really knew who this was. Yet the now iconic film was the beginning of Marvel's entry into the mainstream pop culture, and by the end of 2012, even Hawkeye was a household name.
This held true for most of the Avengers, and that's important. To the general public Marvel superheroes were fresh, as if they had just been created. So when the Marvel films found their footing around 2011-2012, the market was prime for rapid growth. Millions of men, women, and children were introduced to the Avengers, and over the next five years the comic book market grew by 46%. While that is incredible growth, it is absurd that it is not higher.
Let's look at it this way. Avengers made $1.5 Billion dollars. We don't have an estimate of how many people saw it in theaters, but we can make a good guess. We know that the average ticket cost $7.96 that year, and if we assume that the movie was seen an average number of 2 times per person (this is to balance out people like me who saw it multiple times and to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt), then we could reasonably assume that roughly 100 million people paid to see Avengers, with more obtaining it through less traditional means.
One could figure that sales would see a substantial jump in sales of Avengers and Batman during those times. Avengers did see a jump between March and June, moving from approximately 52,000 units to 69,000 units. In July, however, the orders dropped by 6,000 units. If we were to assume the brief jump in sales were movie viewers who did not read comics (which is a big assumption of human behavior) then only .016% of viewers picked up a comic book because of seeing Avengers.
We can't run these numbers for Age of Ultron due to Avengers having ended for the month of May, but we can run this formula with other titles. Using this reasoning on Captain America: Winter Soldier we find 0.00003% of the movie audience picked up Captain America the comic. As for Thor: The Dark World... well Thor: God of Thunder dropped in sales the month its film came out, and if you've seen the movie you may understand why.
Despite the lack of success, the synergy is evident. Marvel has increased the presence of the Inhumans to match their ABC show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The publisher produces two Inhumans titles (Uncanny Inhumans, All-New Inhumans), but those books sell 30,000-45,000 copies a month which is typical numbers for a Marvel comic. The Ant-Man comic, which released about six months before its movie, could not even top 30,000 copies when its film released. Statistically speaking, the current synergy between comics and films is a failure.
What's more Marvel may be taking action regarding this. The publisher is currently planning Civil War II and Apocalypse Wars. These events will release around the time of Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse respectively, perhaps providing a stronger taste of synergy at Marvel. Of course, these will inevitably fall through and fail to grow the market as well, but more on that next week.
What should the house of ideas then do instead to increase their sales and grow the industry? Why not just advertise in their own movies? Everyone is staying to watch the post-credit scenes. Just take a moment after the credits to flash a simple message like, "For more Marvel stories of heroism visit your local comic store." It takes a total of five seconds and costs less than anything else in the credits.
You may argue that the two branches (Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios) are managed by different people and that this would not be possible. If that is the case, then Marvel could do something else that is simple: make unique stories that are not frequently interrupted by editorially mandated events. Don't believe it can work? Just check out Image Comics who has been creeping up and on DC with a 10% market share. If Marvel isn't careful, it will bust, and Image will take the throne.
Of course, if they worked to expand the industry, there would still be plenty of money for them. Even at the bottom.