Like Phoenix, Marvel gives digital coupons a second chance

It worked well the first time, so Marvel hopes that a new, longer trial for its digital-comics coupon will drive even more print sales.

A mock-up of the coupon that Marvel will use to drive digital-comics fans to brick-and-mortar stores. (Credit: Marvel)

A Marvel digital-comics sale in January came with an unusual perk: a $5 coupon for a print comic book. As a lead-in to its Avengers versus X-Men story starting in April, Marvel is giving the coupon a second chance to power up both digital and print comics sales via its iOS (download) and Android (download) comics apps.

"The coupon bumped [digital comic] sales about 25 percent," David Gabriel, senior vice-president of sales for Marvel, said in a phone interview yesterday. Peter Phillips, the general manager and senior vice-president of the Marvel Digital Media Group, added that it was "very well-received," for a one-day coupon offer held on a Saturday in January.

Neither Gabriel nor Phillips would reveal sales numbers when asked, though they did say that 50 percent of the people who bought Marvel Comics digitally that day qualified for the coupon, and 10 percent of those completed the coupon redemption process.

If that sounds low to you, you're not alone. The coupon redemption process could use some refinement.

Here's how it will work for the new coupon sale, which goes from 12:01 a.m. EST on March 25 until 11:59 p.m. EST on March 31. Buy one of about 100 Avengers or X-Men comics in the Marvel Comics app on iOS or Android, including the preview comic Avengers versus X-Men #0, which is available Wednesday, March 28.

Starting on April 1 (really) you'll receive an e-mail with a link to a Web site that requests personal information such as your name, ZIP code, and your preferred comic book store. Download and print the PDF coupon, and redeem it before May 1 for any Marvel comic book.

When you enter in your ZIP code, the coupon Web site will suggest up to five retailers within 25 miles to choose from. January's system suggested only three, so for those in places like cities that have half a dozen or more shops, this will make the coupon easier to use. Judging from January's results, though, it's a multistep process that makes some people wonder if it's an effort worth a $5 coupon.

The coupon itself is an unusual scheme, and perhaps the first time any book publisher has used digital sales to drive customers back into physical stores. If Marvel's claims of success aren't inflated, it's an indication of the societal value of curation. The theory behind curation is this: online retailers, such as Amazon, are great when you know precisely what you want. Talking to a real human, the theory goes, is what helps people the most when browsing generally for entertainment, especially in niche media like comics.