Comic Book Relevance in the Entertainment Industry

In my previous post, prompted by a recent conversation with a professed comic book geek who operated under the delusion that comic book fans were the target audience of comic book movies, I explained why comic book fans were, in fact, a very minor portion of comic movies’ audiences.  My evidence was the fact that revenues from recent comic book based films such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and the assorted Marvel comic book movies compared to sales of actual comic books. Surely, the comic book readers also see the movies and are an anticipated portion of the audience, but they would make up an incredibly small portion of the total audience.  Film producers have little need to cater to the comic fans’ desires; they’re simply not worth the effort.

I also had a conversation, some weeks beforehand, with someone who expressed dismay at how Warner Brothers would allow DC to screw around with the continuity and disenfranchise its readers. I explained to her that this was because, in the grand scheme of Warner Brothers, what happens in the comic book segment of their business was simply unimportant. Looking at WB’s 2012 financial statements, they brought in $28.7 billion in revenue.  How much did publishing DC comics bring in? That’s a little tough to nail down; it’s all getting thrown in with other segments.  Let’s look at Comichron and work through some numbers:

  1. The comic book industry brought in around $475 million in sales last year (this number does not include digital sales.)
  2. Marvel and DC made up approximately 34% and 32% of the revenue, respectively.
  3. DC brought in $152 million ($475 million * 32%) to Warner Brothers from the sale of comic books (I don’t know how much they made from advertising in those comics.)
  4. DC contributed about 5.3% ($152 million / $28.7 billion) of Warner’s total revenue from the sale of comic books.

To you and me, $152 million is no paltry sum.  However, when you consider the budget for the upcoming Man of Steel is rumored to be $175 million, it seems less than impressive.  Warner Brothers deals with some pretty big numbers all the time and DC just doesn’t seem big enough.

Which brings me to my point: Warner Brothers doesn’t care what editors at DC Comics do to alienate fans.  If they lost their readership altogether it wouldn’t matter; as far as they’re concerned there’s nobody reading them as it is.  WB would only deign to interfere with DC’s operations if there was any concern about them harming the underlying properties.  Messing with continuity and alienating fans wouldn’t accomplish that.  DC would need to do something headline grabbing to warrant that kind of attention.  This is why you’ll never see a story about Superman becoming a pedophile or Batman trying to revive the Third Reich.  This is why when DC does something shockingly progressive like declare a character is gay, they do it with some obscure alternate universe variant and not the character “everyone” knows and loves.  Something that could potentially damage the public’s general perception of a character (a valuable one) simply wouldn’t be allowed.

Which of course will lead fans to ask: if they don’t care then why keep publishing comics at all?

Why not? In the business world, it’s always good to diversify.  It also gives them an ability to try to experiment with properties & audiences cheaply and without significant risk.  It would also be very liberating for the people within Marvel and DC to not have to worry about tanking the company (but maybe their careers) because of a couple of bad ideas; the larger entity can weather their mistakes without much trouble.  They just have to remember that there are people above them, constantly looking over their shoulders and ready to rein them in should they become too bold.


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