Rave : 2008 : Stan Lee Wants My Money

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Date: Oct 11, 2008
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Prev: The Thrill of High Numbers

Stan Lee has lived a heck of a life. Inspired co-creator of dozens of classic Marvel characters, editor, editor-in-chief, regular movie cameo appearancee, and victim of lop-sided business deals.

At Marvel Stan was a starter, a star, and a departer. He was rehired as Publisher Emeritus in 1998, granted 10% of all movie profits, was allegedly short-changed on said movie profits, and subsequently in 2005 was awarded a $10 million settlement to cover those profits. In his golden years, you might expect Stan to relax and enjoy the money. But Stan's personal drive is renown, and there are plenty of corporate types out there who are still keen to see if there are any golden eggs left in this goose.

Outside Marvel, Stan's business endeavors have involved the buxom Pamela Anderson (which can't be a bad thing). But putting Pamela aside, Stan's double-D cup of business luck hasn't often runnethed over. His company "Stan Lee Media" (founded in 1998) attempted to create a Stan Lee Comic World outside of Marvel. But Stan's artistic ambitions no longer seemed to achieve quite the same magic touch in this new age. Creative lightning didn't strike twice.

Moreover, Stan seems to have suffered at the hands of his "trusted" advisors and business partners, such as Peter Paul and Stephan Gordon at Stan Lee Media. Paul was convicted of stock irregularities, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Stan Lee Media, post-bankruptcy, has attempted to sue Marvel for five billion dollars... apparently against Stan's wishes. It's a pretty sad day when a company bearing Stan Lee's iconic name can so quickly slip out of his control.

Stan's no quitter though - even though his failure in the last twenty years to deliver a single character that could sit in the "Top 100 All Time Stan Lee Greats" might indicate that perhaps it was time he rested on his well-earned laurels. Stan's POW! Entertainment is the latest attempt to squeeze a little more cash out of the old guy while he's still with us.

And that's where Spider-Fan came in. Over the past few weeks I've received some contact from Roger E. Garriott at WWC Business Development, who is working up the promotion for POW! Entertainment's latest series of Stan Lee Webinars. Roger has been trying to hit up Spider-Fan to become a sponsor.

Spider-Fan makes it pretty clear that we're a 100% non-commercial site. There's no ads here, no PayPal "please send us money" icons. We do include our ISP's affiliate ID on our Amazon links so that he can make a few bucks each year to offset the free hosting we get. But neither me or any of the staff make a cent out of this site.

I mentioned this the first time I spoke to Roger, but it didn't stop him coming back and insisting again that this would be a good move for us. Meanwhile, I'm deciding which comic subscriptions to cancel so that I can still pay all the bills this month, and I'm watching my retirement investments go down the toilet as the stock market collapses.

So I once more politely declined Stan's request for money (via his agent, Roger).

"We" are a bunch of guys who love Spidey. The site is 100% non-commercial and generates zero revenue.

Look, don't take this the wrong way. But much as I love Stan, I don't love him enough to give him money out of my own pocket. There are far more worthy charities out there.

Roger's reply was:

It's clear you don't get the intention of this web cast. It's not a charity. Some of the more savvy fans and dealers understand that this is Stan's way of getting closer to his fans in the Web 2.0 media.

They are gathering together in a semi-private audience with one of the top 100 brilliant people on earth (who else do you know who has 5 feature films in production) and count it a privilege. If you don't want to sponsor that for you and your clients-fine. You lose.

Roger talks about Stan "getting closer to his fans", but I have to wonder if he understand what fans really are. He refers to our sites visitors as "clients", and it seems to me that is a far more telling term. We see a "fan", and POW! Entertainment sees somebody who has some money to spend. Fair enough, they're a business! But the danger comes when you get so wrapped up in the business that you can no longer recognize that your fan base doesn't see it as a business.

Stan understood that once. It's a shame that his current business colleagues don't.

For the benefit of Roger, I'm just going to quickly run through the basic fan/corporate interaction mechanism in the entertainment industry. It works like this:

  1. The Corporate (e.g. POW! Entertainment, or Marvel) produces an entertainment product which has value. Comics, movies, toys, books, TV shows, etc.
  2. Individuals purchase this product. In the case of broadcast media they purchase it indirectly via consumer advertising.
  3. Fan groups spring up around the product. These fan groups help sustain interest in the product, which provides a commercial benefit for the Corporate.
  4. The Corporate can support these fan groups by giving interview access, promotional material for competitions, providing access to news and information. Sometimes the Corporate (or other secondary Corporates selling associated merchandising) purchase advertising on the fan sites.
  5. The Corporate reaps the benefit of this support they give, by increased interest in (and hence sales of) the product it generates.

Here at Spider-Fan, we get regular contact from all sorts of companies that understand how this model works. We help them whenever it seems appropriate to do so. If we can't help, then we politely say so, and everybody understands.

Unfortunately, POW! Entertainment doesn't "get it". In their mind, the model seems to work like this:

  1. Take an aging comic book creator who had some successful output thirty or forty years ago.
  2. Set up a new company and have the creator put some ideas into some collaborative movies, comics and TV shows.
  3. Watch these products fail, the subject of widespread negative reviews.
  4. Fall back on Plan B. Go to the fan sites that supported the original creations (unrelated to the new company) and repeatedly request that the site sponsor on-line chat sessions generously granted by the aging creator. Be rude to them when they say they have no money to offer.

If POW! is expecting the fan sites to support them financially, then they're clearly pretty bankrupt when it comes to ideas for generating revenue. I certainly wouldn't go investing in any POW! stock if I was you!

This is an exception. Most of the corporate contact we get is from people who understand that we are working for free to help promote a business from which they make a profit. We're delighted to offer publicity, or ideas, or information. But we can't offer cash, because we don't have any to give.

Most people who contact us recognize that we do this for love. Yes, they are trying to make a living out of Stan, or Spider-Man, or whoever. That's a fact of life. But they recognize that we're not in it for the money. They are professionals, we are fans. And they have the decency not to refer to us as "clients".

Understand that we fans feel some sense of ownership of Stan. We are part of the massive fan base that made him popular. We provided those millions that he receives in settlements. So if you're planning to come round here with the collection tin asking for a top-up so that Stan can make five more movies like "Lightspeed", just bear that in mind.