wave Variants

I've never really understood variant covers. Maybe this is just me, but I've never once been in the fiction section at Barnes & Noble and bought a book because of its cover. That's not to say that book covers aren't important, in fact they can be a significant element in promoting a book, just ask Chip Kidd or Warren Ellis. I may pick up a book and begin flipping through because of the cover but what I get out of that will determine whether I buy the book, not the cover design.
I love well designed covers in general, particularly covers that can stand alone as their own bit of art but that also contribute to the reading experience. What I don't understand, is the impulse to own two completely separate copies of the same book that are identical except for the cover. I would never in a million years go buy two copies of The Maltese Falcon because of what was on the cover (and I love Vintage's covers). As much as I enjoy both George Perez and Jim Lee's work, the same applies to Infinite Crisis.

We all know by now that, in rare exceptions, variant covers are designed to milk more money out of the same consumers rather than appeal to new ones. Trust me, as a new shop, we understand the impulse to try to sell as much as possible to every person who walks in the door, because there's no guarantee that person will be back or that anyone else will take their place. What's more important to us, though, is creating a comfort zone within the store so that our customers don't feel any pressure to buy anything. Now, brace yourself, but I'm of the opinion that MacGuffin and the industry in general would be much better served by increasing the size of the market rather than the market share. And let's be honest, its up to individual stores to do that, by focusing on bringing in new people and finding something they might like to read (more on that another day).

Back to the variant covers, what's particularly annoying from my perspective is a company like Avatar. How many covers did Black Gas #1 need? (answer: 1). I can almost understand a new cover for a second printing (almost) but just how hard are you trying to screw retailers by selling the same product with five different covers. Basically what you've got is an attempt by a publisher to trick its customer into quintupling the cover price without providing any additional content.

There may be a market for variant covers (though I still don't understand how) but its one that lives off of retailer's fear of losing a sale, or worse a regular customer. Combine that with the irrational belief that a shop that sells entertainment is also a place where high priced collectibles should be found and you've got the makings of a ridiculous trend.

Which brings me to nextwave. Marvel has just announced their "director's cut" version, rather than a simple reprint of the first issue. I like the idea of a director's cut, and I like that Marvel didn't really do a new cover so much as change the colors to let people know it's the director's cut. What I don't like is the decision to release this director's cut in direct competition with the initial issue. We've all been informed via Pulse and Newsarama that the first printing sold out. Most of us also know that by "sold out" what Marvel really means is that they've made all of the money they can off of those issues because they've sold out their stock to retailers. What hasn't happened, particularly in my store, is an actual sell out of the first print run. Now, Marvel sees more demand out there for this first issue and wants to offer more product to fill that demand. Great, second printing here we come, that allows the stores that have sold out to get more product to sell to those who didn't get it the first time around.

But wait, says Marvel, lets take a play out of the DVD book and add a few extras, call it a directors cut, get the people who bought the first issue to buy another one. Here's the difference: when DVD companies release a director's cut, they wait until the original "bare bones" release has had a chance to sell through, then then try to milk customers like me who love the extras and get us to buy a 2nd copy. You've seen my thoughts on this already, but I deal with it. My, admittedly selfish, problem with translating this practice to our industry is not the practice itself but rather the translation of said practice.

Marvel is mixing two different priorities: #1 provide enough product to meet initial demand for the content (best accomplished through a 2nd printing) and #2 provide a higher end product including extras for those consumers who appreciate such things and are willing to buy the same product twice in order to get the additional CONTENT. Combining these priorities leads to offering the "premium" package too quickly, putting it into direct conflict with the original "bare bones" product. On top of that, Marvel decided NOT to charge a premium price for that extra content. Therefore they will be releasing a product with more content at the exact same price as the original. Whatever copies of nextwave #1 retailers still have when the director's cut lands on shelves become nearly worthless. What makes the decision so bad is that it attempts to force retailers into the position of buying additional product by making the initial version obsolete.

If Marvel really felt there was a worthwhile market for the director's cut, fine print it, but also do a second printing of the initial release (with, gasp, the same cover) to fill the demand that already existed and allow the directors cut to fill the demand for that product that probably barely exists in the first place.


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