IDW’s new leadership have their work cut out for them
In late April, comic book publisher IDW announced that John Barber would be the company’s new Editor-in-Chief, and Anita Frazier would be the new Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Barber in particular has a long resume in the comic book industry, including well-regarded stories at Marvel Comics such as Old Man Logan and Marvel Zombies as well as previous experience at IDW as a senior editor for the Transformers and G.I. Joe lines.
The comic book industry as a whole is suffering from an industry-wide downturn for the last several years, so IDW’s new leadership has a challenge ahead of them in reinvigorating the brand. DC Comics has shown some sparks of life following their soft relaunch event titled “Rebirth” in 2016, a move that Marvel Comics appears eager to duplicate with their “Fresh Start” event later this year. However, IDW’s financial future looks to be particularly bleak when compared to its competitors.
While it’s true that IDW is indeed a smaller publisher than companies like DC and Marvel, IDW still did not have a single comic book title showing in the top 100 comics sold to stores as of March. Their best-selling book, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ongoing series, sold barely over ten thousand print copies in February. Factor in IDW’s most recent reports for the last fiscal year in which the publisher lost 400% of operational income year-to-year, and there may be legitimate reason to worry.
IDW instability eventually bled into their corporate side. John Barber’s predecessor as IDW Editor-in-Chief and chief creative officer, Chris Ryall, announced in early March that he was leaving the company after 14 years. It stands to reason that this is due – at least in part – to the above loss of revenue.
However, Ryall’s exit might have also been due to IDW’s alleged mismanagement of the G.I. Joe brand, which led to boycotts by G.I. Joe fan groups and may very well have cost IDW a renewal deal for all of Hasbro’s licensed properties when their licensing agreement expires at the end of 2018. This would mean IDW risks losing some of its longest-running licenses including Transformers and My Little Pony, as Hasbro licenses all of its properties out as a single package. Given Barber’s history working closely with Hasbro on their Transformers and G.I. Joe comics, IDW’s slotting him as Ryall’s replacement may be an express attempt to keep Hasbro from jumping ship.
IDW still retains the licenses for other successful brands such as SpongeBob Squarepants and Ninja Turtles, they could certainly look to investors to help buoy their struggling brand. Their new agreement with SEGA for the Sonic the Hedgehog license certainly won’t hurt, either. But if IDW’s new leadership is not able to demonstrate marked improvements in profitability and they start losing some of their longest-running license agreements, soliciting new investors is going to be a hard sell.
Congratulations and the best of luck to both John Barber and Anita Frazier in their new positions at IDW. Now is the time to hit the ground running.