Thoroughly Modern Marvel

Did you read comics as a kid?  Were they allowed in your house? With their poor English, their bold, brash, unsophisticated illustrations, and their weak, violent plot lines, were they banned, barred and excluded by tutting parents as worthless minding rotting third rate fiction? Beano.  Dandy.  Marvel.  Valueless waste paper?   Not Really.  While the works of Marvel, the metaphysical poet, without copyright will appear – at some stage – on Google books for free, Marvel Entertainment, with the rights to the Marvel back catalogue, was sold in August 2009, to Walt Disney for a reported $4Billion.

The story gets even more astonishing when we learn that in 1997, Marvel Comics the venerable purveyor of childhood super hero dreamland went bankrupt with debts of over $400Milllion.  A super hero turn around?  Of a sort.  Not a new business in on-line publishing to save the day.  Simpler than that: licensing rights in the IP, the copyright in particular. Simple?  Well, not so simple after all.  The Marvel story is about taking control of IP rights with diluted, drained value; repositioning them, and taking control of their identity as they transferred from the original medium (comics) to new media (notably film).  Now this doesn’t sound too hard, quite obvious in fact.  Perhaps the surprising thing is that that didn’t happen effectively to begin with.  The value in comic characters was recognised.  The film rights were licensed out.  The “but” apparently is that a short term value extraction strategy prevailed over longer term thinking.  The turnaround had at its heart an understanding of where the value lay in the assets, an investment in rebuilding that value – reacquiring film rights for example – and above all a long term strategy to realise value.

Driving value from IP is not overly complicated.  It does require a long term vision, and commitment.  In the case of copyright works – whose life is the authors plus 70 years – there is plenty of time to realise value.  Time enough to catch up on a few old characters and watch them travel, ageless into the new millennium.  Who says childhood is too short?  It goes on forever.