Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ecocomic Recession Watch: Spider-Man Edition

Although on real-Earth, GDP might be growing faster than we expected, we are not out of the woods yet. Conversely, the Marvel Universe seems particularly bleak. Superheroes and supervillains alike are struggling to make ends meet. Heroes that aren't endowed with billions of dollars and who might not have solid public support are having trouble funding their weekly adventures. This puts a huge constraint on the amount of crime they could fight. Meanwhile, the ones who deviate from traditional tactics, take advantage of new technologies, and perform cheap stunts in order to propel their popularity are finding unexpected sources of income. Here are some economic indicators from Marvel's New York City (once again, we don't have real indicators like unemployment rates or GDP growth, but we do have anecdotal evidence of how the economy is affecting the daily tasks of heroes, villains, and operations of certain businesses) :

1) Villains are now liveblogging their fights.

Amazing Spider-Man #608 by Marc Guggenheim, Marco Checchetto, Luke Ross and Rick Magyar (2009)

Say what you will about the fickle nature of humanity, but one thing they consistently show interest in is a good performance. Watching real superheroes fight supervillains online, where they are safely insulated from any real harm, is the ultimate reality show. And Screwball here, despite her unfortunate name, seems to be aware of that. 18 million subscribers to her website? Imagine her advertising revenue (although if this is the case, it's curious that she isn't wearing any company logos or patches during her duel with Spider-Man in this issue).

We've discussed many times before how smaller villains need to rely on tactics like these to compete in the marketplace against the well-established elite (and it's not just in the case of villainy). Here's an interesting thought, though--it seems that, particularly in NYC, there has been a resurgence of b-list villains that come equipped with highly original, if not completely ludicrous schemes. Could it be that these villains have started to marginalize the older ones, who more or less rely on the same, traditional techniques? Is this, as Jason Todd had previously described, the iPod taking over the Walkman?

2) Spider-Man is considering using his "brand" to make some extra cash.

Of course, Spidey is just joking about patenting the Spidey-tracers. Or is he? On the one hand, you need to provide proper identification to have a patent. Also, I guess if you want to receive some form of payment for selling Spidey-tracers, you're going to have to need a name on your check. Fortunately, the Marvel Universe has just the mechanism to get around this: Spider-Man could reveal his identity and register with the government through the Superhuman Registration Act of 2006.

My sense is that if Spider-Man really wants to put his name towards making some money, this would be his only option. He obviously can't patent as Peter Parker--he needs the "Spidey" branding. He might have been able to hand off the tracers for mass production to, say, Tony Stark, who would then cut him a share of the profits under-the-table. Of course, Stark Industries is no more, Tony lost his mind (literally), Norman Osborn is running things, and Spider-Man is running low on friends he can trust in high places. But that's even more of an incentive to keep the secret identity. Oh, what to do?

3) The newspaper industry continues to fall more than ever

We have a more detailed post on the economics of the newspaper industry here. The point is the print industry is steadily declining. Part of the recent decline has to due with a reduction in advertising revenue, which has to do with the recession. But a major factor is the overwhelming public reliance on electronic media and technology. As far as I see, the DB is still holding true to its paper roots. But if it doesn't start taking advantage of new media soon, all the Spider-Man photos in the world won't be able to silence its death knell.

Dare I say that the folks at The DB take a lesson from Screwball? Here they are complaining about her liveblog and not one of them mentions perhaps adopting a similar strategy. That combined with Peter Parker's miraculous photography (how does he take all those Spider-Man pictures?) and the company has a chance of bouncing back.

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