Isaac ("Ike") Perlmutter is probably considered one of the "Job Creators." After all, he and his then partner Avi Arad were the ones who saved Marvel Comics in the late '90s when the company was facing bankruptcy. Through a combination of bold moves like starting their own movie studio and keeping a tight fist on the bottom line, Ike was able to turn Marvel around and make it a financial as well as a creative powerhouse.
But it seems that Ike only uses one super-power and that is Austerity. He no longer owns Marvel; it was bought out by Disney for a handsome price; but he still runs it, and his guiding philosophy is to Increase Profits by squeezing every last dime until it turns into a micro-black hole.
This past week, this Job Creator increased the bottom line of his company by firing 15 staff members. Yes, fifteen is a small number compared to the hundreds and thousands being laid off in other companies and around the country, but those fifteen included several popular editors and a couple old time members of the Marvel Bullpen; people whose creativity, one could argue, added more to the company than their layoff would save.
An article The Beat goes into more detail about Ike Perlmutter's austerity program at the House of Ideas.
While other comic book companies do a lot of promoting at comics conventions, Ike won't allow Marvel to have a booth. I find that incredible. The only tables Marvel buys at events like San Diego ComicCon, or the recent Comic Con in New York are ones where they are partnering with another entity, such as Activision (promoting Marvel-based video games), or their movie studio to promote the next big blockbuster film. Promoting the actual comics is seen as an uneccessary expense.
The current problem seems to stem from a publishing forecast that didn’t get hit when the actual numbers came in. It doesn’t matter that Marvel is still a very profitable company. This is not a matter of losing money. It just wasn’t as profitable as it thought it might be. The shortfall in the margins wasn’t huge — it was less than 5% in an economy where that’s practically considered stable. But whatever the shortfall was, instead of looking at ways to build the business or bolster areas with huge potential — books, anyone? — Ike’s only reaction is to slash, slash, slash.Perlmutter's business philosophy, which he impresses upon new executives, is to spend as little as possible while maintaining the same level of production -- or increasing it.
Marvel employees are kind of like the rats in those caloric restriction experiments. They’re given the lowest possible amount of resources to get the job done.Ironically, one of Perlmutter's policies actully limits his company's revenue. He has banned carrying inventory, which is a standard business philosophy. Except that the comic book business is a little bit different; it generates a good deal of income from back issues. I used to know a comic shop owner with the same grumble about business types who wanted him to eliminate his back stock. As the Beat article observes:
...having a strong backlist hit is like being able to print your own money. You print more WATCHMEN, current kerfuffle aside, you sell more WATCHMEN. You print more DARK KNIGHT, you sell more DARK KNIGHT. With Marvel’s incredible backlog of timeless classics by Stan, Jack, Steve, Roy, Chris, and so on — and modern stories like CIVIL WAR and SECRET INVASION — can you imagine how much money Marvel would make if they could really invest in their bookstore program or develop NEW stories for the book trade?Click and Clack, the guys from Car Talk, like to say that it's always the cheapskate who winds up paying the most. By focussing on the Bottom Line, Perlmutter is ignoring what his company is supposed to be doing.
When Disney bought Marvel, there was some hope that it would become another Pixar, another separate and eccentric IP farm. The reality is the exact opposite. Pixar has ping pong tables and free lunch for its imagineers. Marvel has one bathroom.Currently, Marvel is at the top of the heap. It's been challenged these last few months by the 52 Revamp put out by DC. But the way to beat its Distinguished Competition is not by out-saving them, but by out-creating them; by creating better stories, better characters, better comics.
And this requires a little investment.