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29 Feb '16

Marvel Unlimited: Marvel's Grand Experiment Pays Off

Posted by Cosmic Toys in Comics

I'm sure there was some great internal debate at Marvel HQ before they approved the concept of Marvel Unlimited.  

Marvel Unlimited, as you may or may not know, is Marvel's all-you-can-read, digital subscription service which grants access to their entire (almost) back-catalog of over 17,000 comics.  Comics can be read via the web or through their respective iOS/Android apps.  The service has a 6 month delay before new printed issues will appear for subscribers.

The cost is $10 USD monthly or $70 USD annually and much like a Netflix or Apple Music style service, your access is lost when you discontinue your subscription. 

It was a bold experiment but also a considerable gamble.   

  1. Would it affect after-market comic values now that the stories are so easily accessible?  This would anger a very vocal collector base.
  2. Would they lose money on new comic sales as subscribers opt to wait for the Marvel Unlimited release?  This would cost revenue and also anger brick-and-mortar shops.

Marvel took a cautious approach when they launched the service quietly back in 2007 with very little promotion.  The catalog was limited to 2500 comics.  When the apps were released for iPhone/iPad they were virtually unusable with App Store reviews hovering around 1 star.

Since then, the product has made tremendous strides.  The library has been expanded to 17,000+ comics and thanks to Disney's acquisition of Marvel, now includes all of the new (and canon) Star Wars comics.  While it still has it's fair share of bugs, the reader app now maintains a healthy 4 star rating in the iOS App Store.  

Marvel has been quiet on the topic of subscriber numbers.  That said, I think we can now safely call the experiment a successful one.

Annual print comic sales climbed 7% in 2014 and another 7% in 2015 and those numbers don't account for major expected increases in digital sales.

Of those print sales,  Marvel seems to be taking commanding control of the market share claiming 8 out of the top 10 sellers in January 2016.

Comic-book Title Issue Price Publisher Units
1 Walking Dead 150 $2.99 Image 156,166
2 Secret Wars 9 $4.99 Marvel 149,028
3 Spider-Man Deadpool 1 $3.99 Marvel 133,813
4 Star Wars 14 $3.99 Marvel 118,471
5 Star Wars 15 $3.99 Marvel 107,858
6 Old Man Logan 1 $4.99 Marvel 104,362
7 Obi-Wan and Anakin 1 $3.99 Marvel 102,861
8 Batman 48 $3.99 DC 100,962
9 Darth Vader 15 $3.99 Marvel 98,405
10 Uncanny X-Men 1 $3.99 Marvel 93,252

In addition, Marvel properties are hot right now.  Deadpool, hardly a household name, came out of nowhere to smash box office records.  It is expected to pass The Passion of the Christ to become the highest earning R-rated film of all time.

It's difficult to say what kind of boon the movie might have gotten (if any) from the added exposure of Marvel Unlimited.  Obviously the movie was also a hit due to other factors such as a very savvy social media campaign.  However, many of the Deadpool issues did start becoming the most read comics on Marvel Unlimited in the months before the movie release so that added exposure certainly didn't hurt.

At this point, any revenue from Marvel Unlimited seems to be 'gravy'.   By not limiting access to the characters and stories, many new fans are being added to the fold and mindset is being taken away from competitors like DC.  These fans buy toys, games and movie tickets.

Marvel Unlimited was a bold foray into a new distribution method of comic books. It's the biggest change to the model since the advent of digital comics.   

I won't be cancelling my subscription any time soon.

Share your opinions on Marvel Unlimited in the comments below!

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