How Marvel Survived From Bankruptcy to Billions
Marvel, one of the biggest brands on the planet was once close to losing it all. Marvel has produced some of the most recognizable fictional heroes in the US, it has captured the imaginations of generations. Over 40% of all comic store sales in the US are published by Marvel, giving it the highest market share. While the company is currently riding high, as one of the biggest names in entertainment, the history of Marvel has not always been so bright and optimistic.
Founded in 1939 by Martin Goodman, Marvel started out by creating Timely Comics. The 1940s was a golden age for comics; sales were at an all-time high, the avg number of copies sold per issue between 1960–69 was close to 300,000. Some comics such as Uncle Scrooge sold over a million copies. Batman and Superman comics were selling over 800,000 copies. This was before superheroes were on TV; after they went on TV comic book sales went through the roof.
However, in the 1960s the book industry tanked, with massive storylines, various editions; removal of key characters, the quality of comics was poor. The buyers became savvy, an average reader was exhausted with the sheer volume of comics and lacked the motivation to sort through them for a decent story. With a huge backlog of unsold comics and no one coming through the doors, comic stores began to slowly shut down, giving publishers fewer places to sell their copies. This led to an overall panic and layoffs, Marvel’s share went from $35.75 to $2.375 and they had to lay off 1/3 of their workforce.
“When the business turned,” the CEO of Marvel- Scott Sassa, “it was like everything that could go wrong did go wrong.”
The downfall was publicized, which only made the problem worse. On top of bad publicity, Marvel went on buying streak, buying shares in the company such as ToyBiz, trading card companies, Panini stickers, Heroes World. By the end, Marvel had spent $700 million. By 1996, there were only 4000 comic book stores in the US. For a company that created some of the most iconic and recognized characters in the world, the future seemed bleak, the lack of popularity for traditional comics, millions in losses, distributors shutting stores, Marvel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Today it may be common knowledge, that the popularity of many superhero characters is a direct result of movies and video games. But in the 1990’s the concept of introducing a superhero outside a comic was not popular. But Marvel saw a shift happening, people were making the transition from books to theaters. And Marvel decided to get into the movie business.
Their first big hit by Marvel was Blade, Blade made approximately $70 million at the box office, but because Marvel was under a licensing deal with the studio, they walked away with $25,000.
Marvel then worked with studios on X-Men, and Spider-Man, as big of a success as they were, the licensing deals ensured that most of the profits went to the studios.
The CEO of Marvel said “We were giving away the best part of our business”. If things were to continue as they were, Marvel would have to file for chapter 7.
It was decided that the best way going forward was to finance and produce films together. Because they owned the characters, Marvel could crisscross characters just the way they did in the comic. And with that Marvel Studio was born.
Marvel thinking about what character would kids want to play with as a toy, announced that Iron Man would be its first independent production. They went all-in, investing $150 million; Iron Man was a box office success making $585 million.
In 2009, Disney purchased Marvel for $4.3 billion. And with releases such as the Spider-Man, Thor Captain America, The First Avenger, AND the big one, the one that brought in over a billion dollars at the box office, the Avengers. A decade from the $4.3 billion purchase, Disney’s bought in $18 billion.
The rest is history; marvel thought on their feet and brought back a company that was down and out, in style. Even in entertainment, innovation is the key, by treating individual films as smaller pieces of a larger story, Marvel created excitement. Marvel Entertainment has changed the world of comic books, movies and games.