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How Marvel's Digital Superpowers Won Over Brick-And-Mortar Retailers
Iron Man

Comic-book nerds are about to have it all. Beginning this month, all new Marvel releases are available digitally the same day they hit shelves. But the real feat is this: Comic-book stores will be on board with the change, too. That's because Marvel has spent years developing its strategy, including an online archive in 2007 and a branded app in 2010, and earned the support of retailers. Publishing industry, take note.

Lesson #1 Embrace all mediums, both new and old. While traditional publishers originally feared the online marketplace, Marvel partnered with brick-and-mortar businesses and digital distributors. By consulting its retail partners before introducing digital initiatives, the company was able to leverage the industry as a whole. "A lot of meetings with retailers start a bit tense," says Peter Phillips, SVP of Marvel Digital Media, "but we explain that our goals can help them grow."

Lesson #2 All customers can be treated equally. With most magazines, subscribers receive digital access for free, but newsstand buyers do not. Marvel has a different plan: A free digital download code for in-store purchases marks an industry first, and it's expanding the feature to graphic novels. Similarly, digital customers receive a $5 in-store coupon with their purchase, encouraging them to continue visiting storefronts.

Lesson #3 Make an ecosystem to create value. At last year's South by Southwest, Marvel announced plans to offer enhanced multimedia with digital purchases, offering special features that utilize animation and augmented reality. "It creates an entirely new dynamic of consumer appeal," says publishing consultant Bruce Judson.

Illustration by Zohar Lazar


A version of this article appeared in the April 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.