With the North American comic book market facing a potential sales collapse, could either DC or Marvel take the extraordinary step of outsourcing the creation of their monthly books?
Many have wondered, and it’s not as far-fetched as one might think. North American sales have trended down badly; the industry is at an inflection point where price increases no longer are a viable means of making up for lost unit sales. Especially for DC and Marvel, their parent companies (Warner Bros. and Disney, respectively) can’t allow a division to continue to underperform in perpetuity, even if neither organization treats monthly comics as a significant concern.
But the sales slump is an embarrassment, especially as comic book characters make a lot of money elsewhere. Outsourcing might seem drastic in some contexts, but compare that to other options that have been floated. Some wonder if Warner (whose merger with Discovery is about to wrap up) or Disney could sell their comic book affiliates. That’s unlikely; multimedia adaptations and merchandise sales are making hefty profits, neither company would be willing to give up the rights to control those properties. Others speculate that DC or Marvel could essentially become archive brands, finding various ways to repackage their massive libraries of existing material. And while a robust, intelligent strategy for archive releases is important for the Big Two’s future, the potential profits of new material, when done right, would argue against only rehashing the old stuff.
Is outsourcing a viable alternative? There’s a persuasive case to be made for it.
There’s Outsourcing Precedent
In some contexts, “outsourcing” goes back to the earliest days of the industry. While there were some creators who were full-time employees of a publisher (usually with an additional role, like editor or art director), freelance talent has been a staple of the comics world since the beginning. There have always been small studios, usually built around the reputation of a single, high profile creator, that provided product to various publishers.