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The Big Bad Wizard

The decline of what was once the biggest fish in a small pond

The decline of what was once the biggest fish in a small pond

 
Some of the individuals interviewed for this article have requested that their identities remain anonymous.

Do you remember when Wizard was about comic books?  If you were to ask any Wizard Magazine/Entertainment employee to reflect on their experience with the company, you would notice a range of emotions. In the beginning, Wizard was a fun place to work. At its core, it was a company dedicated to comic books. But now, all that has changed.

"When I first started working at Wizard, I remember it was an exciting time, where I was working with an exciting brain trust of creative people who were enthusiastic about the job. Grossly underpaid, living in New York City, they did the work because they loved to do it, worrying less about compensation. The beginning felt like Christmas Day, so what if I had to sacrifice comfort? Working for Wizard was also seen as an "IN" into the (comics) industry, and for many, it worked out that way."



I spoke to several former employees of Wizard. Soured by the downward spiral of employee treatment, it seems to them Wizard had lost its luster. Drastic restructuring and change in the general focus of the company as a whole shattered the morale of employees. Was the dream job over?

"At the end, it wasn't fun. I can remember an 8 week stint where every week, at least one person was fired. They claimed the firings were financially motivated, that the websites were not making enough. That the magazine was not making enough. Wizard may have over extended itself, hired too many people than were needed in the 90's-00's, so they had to make up for that by letting people go.
There were stories of a few firings that occurred on Sunday night [where you would receive an e-mail or a phone call saying] "don't bother coming in tomorrow."


"I think for many years, Wizard was good to their employees, yes. But I think that changed at some point. They fired me without even saying goodbye."


The company was changing; cutting corners and costs where they could. The firing of their Senior Vice President and Editor in Chief Pat McCallum in the fall of 2006 came as a surprise to the majority of Wizard's publishing staff. McCallum had been with the company practically since its inception.  However, the loss of McCallum in 2006 and the thinning of the writing staff over the course of the following years can be attributed to a variety of reasons. First, and probably the most obvious, the publishing sector as a whole was waning, and had been for years. Wizard was not the only periodical publication that had seen a decline in it's sales, with circulation "under 50,000 copies into the direct market, [and] a subscription base reportedly in the 40,000s," back in 2008.

Wizards hard-ships only worsened with the rise of the internet. Suddenly, fans were able to obtain information faster and more frequently. The logical step for the company would have been to move from print media to the internet, which they attempted to do in 2006 with the launch of WizardUniverse.com. They hired Rick Marshall (the current editor of MTV Splashpage) to head the site until he too, was asked to leave the company. Another stumble? The decline of Wizard can also be attributed to the change in focus. The company was restructuring and changing.  

"They began to treat it [the comic book industry] less as an industry and more as an Empire. Wizard used to be the only one in the game. [They were the] Only means to get comic info about comics. Now, with the internet and broader based magazines (Maxim, Wired) there are more places for fans of the comic genre to get their information. Before, comic companies would just eat crow. Early Wizard was targeted towards comics fans. As time went by, they broadened their demographic...The company tried to reach too far. I still think it had it's hard core comic book fans but the mandates from above had to deal with the broadening of the demographic."



Wizard had moved further away from being a periodical about comic books, and closer to a magazine about "geek culture." Going so far as to change their name from Wizard Press to Wizard Entertainment, incorporating a toy line and several exhibitions to their repertoire. Did they overextend themselves?

Over the course of the last year the number of layoffs within the company became routine. In the month of February seven staffers were fired and Wizard Dallas was canceled. It seemed that a struggling economy equaled a struggling Wizard, and it became evident that there were internal problems when the company layoffs began to coincide with major company announcements, like the acquisition of Big Apple Con (New York) for example. From an outside perspective, it is strange that a company would experience so much down sizing internally, but still look to spend so much money on conventions. Was Wizard's strategy about to alienate its core fans? 
 
The relationship between Wizard and the comic book industry (creators, fans and retailers) had begun to go sour when Wizard scheduled their Atlanta convention to be held the same weekend as Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina the two convention locations being only three hours apart. Yet, public outcry and industry backlash did not prevent Wizard from doing it again. This past Fall, Wizard moved their Big Apple Con from its scheduled October 16th-18th to the same weekend as Reed's New York Comic Con/Anime Festival on October 8-10th.  It seems that Wizard has no problem alienating the industry that helped make it what it is today in order to produce revenue. Consolidating the conventions is probably less about a rivalry with Reed, and more about banking on New York Comic Con being a success. More than likely, Wizard wants to milk the fact that there will be another convention in the same city only a few miles away in the hopes of drawing in a bigger crowd. This would mean they would have to spend less on advertising nationally since NYCC is
expected to be a success. The idea, however, of hiding behind the mask of "rivalry" with Reed seems somewhat ridiculous, considering Reed has the backing of the majority of the comic book industry, and is one of the world's leading event organizers "with over 470 events in 37 countries," in 44 different sectors. Reed also saw a 13% growth in their exhibitions sector in the last year.

Reed's 470 to Wizard's 8 does not seem to make for much of a rivalry. Being that Wizard is a privately owned company, it is hard to determine what percentage of growth and revenue is derived from holding Wizard conventions, but since the company seems to place a considerable amount of emphasis on these events with the acquisition of two already this year ( Austin Comic Con on January 6th and Atlanta Comic Con Wizard World Convention on January 10th), we can only assume that a large portion of their revenue comes from holding cons. Let's not forget, conventions are not cheap.
 

"As far as I know, from what I have heard, the conventions he's 'acquired' (notice the language in those press releases) don't actually cost [company owner and current figurehead] Gareb Shamus any money up front, he does not have to pay the previous owners for the conventions. Take for example, the Terminator franchise. To purchase that franchise you had to pay for the entire thing up front in order to obtain all of the property's rights and profits. In 'acquiring' the con, Gareb is likely signing contracts with the previous show owner and gaining all the rights to the convention and its profits, but he's not actually paying up front for the show. He then employs the previous owner as a paid consultant. Wizard does, in fact, take on all the responsibilities and all of the risks of the show, but the previous show runner is now acting as a consultant, maybe selling booths or show sponsorships in return for commissions from Wizard, and those commissions may total more than the profits than they made in previous years. And I've heard that, quite often, Wizard doesn't owe the convention center anything until the last day of the show or even after the show, and I've also heard they'll hold off on paying for the previous convention until they can get the profits for the next convention, basically robbing Peter to pay Paul." 



By merely "acquiring" these conventions and not necessarily putting money towards the projects up front, does not cost Wizard anything until the convention is over. Could doing business this way be a reflection of a weak company infrastructure? The idea that Wizard has a rivalry with Reed is nonsense considering the level of experience Reed has with hosting conventions. It is not about a rivalry. In reality, Wizard is making a smart business move. This is no different than when a Pete's opens across the street from a Starbucks, or a Wendy's next to a McDonalds. It is about drafting resources and advertising from a bigger player.

There is no question that Wizard Entertainment is changing, but more than likely, Wizard is doing what it needs to survive. The company's focus has moved away from comic book related print journalism to general entertainment,
and in the process attempted to increase their fanbase and demographic. While Wizard's focus has grown (in terms of expansion), their company model seems to have failed to develop accordingly. It is questionable how long they will be able to survive as a private company. While the layoffs do decrease the cost structure, the down sizing of the publishing sector and not to mention the radical decline and eventual cease in their product sales may be an indication that Wizard is shrinking. What was once a company that had been a major player in the comic book industry seems to have practically abandoned its roots in its attempt increase its overall reach and influence. Is Wizard really as big and bad as people say? Perhaps, perhaps not. What is evident, however, is that things used to be better back before they took the industry that made them so successful for granted. As the pieces of the Wizard puzzle begin to fall by the wayside, only time will tell if the decisions they are making will prove to bring the company success.
 
DIGG!
44 Comments
Edited by strangeling

Wow... long article. 
And a little dry. 
 
Wizard was so big back in the day, that I ended up with quite a few issues.  They really were about the only (easy) option for me to get any comic news.  I never really enjoyed their writing though. 
I can't really comment on their convention tactics.  I've never been willing to drive for hours to go to one.  And they rarely pop up in Omaha, NE, which is about 45min - 1hr away.

Edited by CATMANEXE

yeah theyve gone down hill (though i still just miss the gratuitous MAD Magazine like toilet humor more than anything),
but im surprised theyve hung in as long as they have. theyre a magazine based on comic books...and now the internet
exists, which really adds up why theyve had to change their subject matter. sort of like when i was working at Toys R Us 
and they opened a company barbershop inside it. appealing to one group of people is a death knell.
 
very bored with the current Top whatever type list style that theyve been running for what seems a year though.
was very impressed by the entire article for the Star Wars toaster that make Darth Vader toast. lol.

Posted by joshmightbe

i gave up on wizard a while ago

Posted by burr787

I never found Wizard that great, not when the internet gives me all the info I need for free. Wizard World was also pretty lackluster for a convention.

Posted by FoxxFireArt

And from the ashes rose sites like Comic Vine who really do it better. I was never a big purchaser of Wizard magazine. I bought it if the cover was really good, or there was a story I was really looking forward to inside. That was extremely rare.
 
The internet is really put a lot of pressure on publishers. Much in the same way e-mail caused trouble for the postal service.
 
The Green Lantern cosplay picture is nice. Judging who she's with, best she stay away from refrigerators.
 
Thanks for the details and extremely well written article. I'm sure there was a lot of work put into this sucker. Thank you for your hard work. Would you add a Digg link?

Posted by Bruce Vain

I still love Wizard and all. But I do miss the way Wizard was in the old days and some of the stuff they use to have that they no longer do anymore. Like their  Wish List Casting Call, Fan Art contests, envelope artwork, how to draw article. I also prefer when Wizard use to be the same size as comic books. Made it easier to put away in my comic book boxes. I also dislike that they're so many variant covers now these days. I know it's the trend lately, but I find it pointless to do. 
 
Their conventions in Dallas started off great when Punisher was coming out in 04 & Jay & Silent Bob were guests. Along, with a few big celebs. But I have to say after maybe 06 they just kept getting worse. This past one that they did was terrible. They decided to combine with I think it was Texas Frightmare. So Wizard could try and better their show, but all I heard from the celebs & comic book artists & writers that they did a piss poor job handling the show. And it really did show too. From what I've heard is that they're not doing another show in Dallas but will do one in Austin in Nov. So I'm debating on attending that or not if it's worth the 3 hour drive down there. I'll wait and see on how they'll set it up & what guests they'll be having.
Posted by drawme

I never read an entire issue. Just looked through it in my LCS because most of the news I got from the internet. And the rest...well, didn´t appeal to me.

Posted by MrSheldon

Chicago Wizard last year was DEPRESSING. No DC, No Marvel, but there was a Gillette Shaving booth right next to the place where you can buy fake samurai swords. On the first night, it was so empty, you could do sprints up and down the isles.

Posted by Decept-O

Curious if the info you posted and I assume was attributed to the "former Wizard employee" has any merit of truth when he comments how Gareb Shamus acquires conventions.  That sounds a bit shady to me.  Granted that person did say "he heard" so I guess it is just rumor and speculation.   
 
I did buy Wizard quite often during its heyday but like many others stopped around 2005/2006, not because of the Internet but because I noticed the format of the magazine changed.  It wasn't fun to read anymore.    Now with Wizard trying to be synonymous with conventions is a bit odd but never been to a Wizard Convention so I can't say anything about their efforts.    Honestly think they could have survived on the Internet had they adatped better, expanded, and not wasted $ on conventions.  From the sounds of things, their efforts at conventions may be a step in the wrong direction.  Who knows.
  
Nice article, Babs, good job.  Personally I like reading the ins and outs of businesses, especially as they pertain to the comics industry.  
Posted by AirDave817

I don't think I've read the magazine or visited the website in something like four or five years. The website is almost as slow as the magazine. There are so many sources now for breaking Comic Book information - including the comic book companies themselves - that they just look like they're standing still. It just looks like they have not made any attempt to adapt or keep current with what's going on around them. I think I stopped reading the magazine when the price went up -again - they resized it to look like Entertainment Weekly and shifted focus more away from comic books. I don't think a magazine like the original Wizard would sell today.  
 
I went to Wizard World Chicago maybe four or five years ago now. I got to see Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeves's costume. Before that I'd been to it maybe once, ten years before that. I don't know that I would be able to afford to do that again.     

Posted by Freddy.Mercurial

thorough article babsy!  thought provoking & insightful...  i've always wanted to know more about Wizard & their devious ways...  this made me wanna dust off the ol' magnifying glass & note-pad!  dig a little deeper!  bang up job!  i want more...  of the article too!  :)

Posted by sylar615

I didn't realize there was an actual reason that Wizard has sucked, as soon as my subscription on this rag runs out I will no longer to be contributing to Wizard Entertainment.  I'm still pissed over Anime Insider getting scrapped.    

Posted by johnny_spam

Wizard had lost it's way who knows maybe the internet had something to do with it. But the last issue I bought was two years ago it was barely one hundred pages focused more on tv and Marvel comics and I knew that I was done reading it.

Posted by CATMANEXE

oh, but Toyfare is still awesome. forgot to say that.

Posted by No_Name_

Please DIGG if you can and enjoyed it. :)

Posted by Obsurity

I used to love getting my monthly wizard subscription. I must have had it for 3-4 years, I really enjoyed their Summer/Fall comic previews. As the years when by I noticed the quality went down as the price went up. I fell off when I started to lose interest in comics. I'll come across it every once in a while at Barnes and Nobles I find it very unappealing. ComicVine does it far better than it ever did/could. This website along with a few comicbook series got me back into comics 
 
Very informative article
Posted by Emperor Gonzo Noir
@CATMANEXE: Twisted Toyfare Theatre ftw
Online
Posted by Fastback
@Babs: Is this the long article you mentioned at the end of friday's podcast?
Posted by Illuminarch

So...what's going on with Wizard that prompted the writing of this article? It seems kinda out of the blue.
 
I haven't had use for Wizard in about 15 years. ToyFare, on the other hand, I still enjoy.

Posted by CATMANEXE
@Emperor Gonzo Noir: you, i and Robot Chicken knows it!
Posted by gia

DISCLOSURE: I once worked as a freelancer for Wizard's Anime Insider magazine (up until its demise, actually), and I have a good number of friends-- including the one who broke me into the industry full-time --who have worked at Wizard. Most of them were laid off, and very few of them have any fond feelings for the parent company, as I understand it. :\

Posted by goldenkey

Who needs Wizard when you have ComicVine?  I used to love Wizard,  I still the first 50 or so issues but really now it sucks, thier website sucks, and haven't bought one in ages.  We get everything we need right here. 
Posted by HaloKing343
@goldenkey said:
"Who needs Wizard when you have ComicVine?  I used to love Wizard,  I still the first 50 or so issues but really now it sucks, thier website sucks, and haven't bought one in ages.  We get everything we need right here.  "

Sux4 wizard. They were a great company.
Edited by LP

Of couse they overreached Babs. I hate to sound like the 'angry comicbook geek' but when these companies get this big, the quality usually shrinks with it.

Posted by GothamBat

Ah, Wizard. the only way i could find out about comic books ever since i was a wee little kid. i loved that magazine. then i started noticing the little change. like when they took out the price guide and when the magazine became less than a hundred pages. it kinda saddens me that its gone down the toilet like it has.
Posted by A Boy Named Art

Good focus on the Con debacles, but I think there's a couple of other factors that sped up the magazine's decline:
 
1) Its' willing refusal to provide independent criticism and commentary on the industry. I vividly remember one editorial where G. Shamus publicly declared the magazine a "cheerleader" for the industry, and that's where Wizard lost me. 
2) Wizard's awkward attempts to keep up with the "laddy mag" contingent - remember "BOOBS!"? - 
http://tinyurl.com/y8uz6zf

Posted by Niko

My first thought was "Wizard still has 40,000 in 2008?" That's honestly more than I expected, especially after leaving the age of subscription comics. 
 
I haven't read a main Wizard book in years, and after ending Anime Insider, I haven't really cared for it outside of the Toy Fair comics.

Posted by OhTru
@HaloKing343 said:
" Sux4 wizard. They were a great company. "
Yeah great Mag, great people but too many bad management decisions
Posted by grifter78

Wow!  This article came out of nowhere, but it's something I know a lot of comic fans seem to agree on.  Wizard has changed a lot since it first came out.  Honestly, if I didn't have a "grandfathered" subscription of $2 an issue, I doubt I'd still be getting it.  I think it's also nostalgia too because I find myself disappointed with entire issues more times than not.
Posted by Mbecks14

I have hardly even been reading the issues anymore. they dont really have anything in them. i'd love to see more creator interviews, sneak peeks, and just overall comic book reviews. i also feel like DC is totally ignored in the whole Magazine.
 
i'd be very sorry to see Wizard go down. hopefully they'll be able to strengthen itself again.

Posted by Om1kron

DAMN... I used to read wizard as a young buck, i'm 29 now and hardly pick it up even if I'm in a bookstore... Their website was kind of like my comic-vine back in the day but it was so crappily constructed you couldn't really find anything on it. And besides people only bought wizard magazine to find out how much their comic books are worth, and now since comic book collectables aren't worth shit these days... no reason for me to buy wizard... 
 
I've never gone to a wizard con even though I hear they're the biggest and the baddest, I'll take my crappy ventilated san diego comicon over anything wizard hosts any day.

Posted by No_Name_
@Om1kron said:

"  I've never gone to a wizard con even though I hear they're the biggest and the baddest, I'll take my crappy ventilated san diego comicon over anything wizard hosts any day. "

? SDCC is way better than Wizard. 
Posted by Om1kron
@Babs said:
" @Om1kron said:

"  I've never gone to a wizard con even though I hear they're the biggest and the baddest, I'll take my crappy ventilated san diego comicon over anything wizard hosts any day. "

? SDCC is way better than Wizard.  "
I've never been to wizard world in NYC... besides after the convention in SD you can head to the beach afterwards or hang out in gaslamp... I dislike New York too crowded, did not enjoy my last stay there.
Posted by EganTheVile1

Wizard and their offshoot Toyfare were such great sources of news and excellent price guides in the 90's it's a shame the mag went down the tubes

Posted by Final Draft85

I still buy Wizard magazine & I attend Wizard World Philly every year, but I did love the original way the magazine looked. The new format took so much out of the magazine such as the mail bag & the price guide is hardly there anymore, so I would like if they return to the original format. However if I want news on comics fast I just go to Comicvine.com & I read Wizard when I commute to work. I enjoyed this article very much, kudos Babs. =)
Posted by Press Oblivion

Solid Journalism here! Great Report.

Posted by Lantern Prime

Man I haven't read a Wizards Mazine since 2003......So its not that big of a deal to me anymore...
Posted by smalltropolis

I gave up 2-3 years ago. A pity... and then all these "gold, platinum, silver, diamant - editions..."!   

Posted by The Devil Tiger

Back in the middle of the nineties, Wizard was rather cool and fun...  

Now, I don't even have the money to spend in, and I have Comicvine !!! :-D  

Beside of that : just look at one of their titles    : the fifth best comics movie ever...as if they were worried to name every comics movies...it's seems rather weak as an article... 
 
 
 
 
Posted by Blue_Shield

I read Wizard from issue #1 till about #110, but it changed and I was interested in less of the content.  Honestly, most of the news contained within had made it to the internet before publication, it seemed like a unnecessary purchase anymore.
Moderator
Posted by 4Essence

Damn yeah this sucks to hear, but I figured as much. I've read Wizard every month since 1999. The changes I must say, was one of the reasons that prompted me to stop buying the mag. Kinda heartbreaking.
Posted by They Killed Cap!

Wizard died when forums and other blogs became big. When you don't have to pay for your info and can just get if or free of course its gonna die.
Posted by DeathDefyingDevil

i love wizard for the most part still but some of the article topics annoy me ( especially barrack obama)

Posted by DeathDefyingDevil

wizard may not be a magazine dedicated completey dedicated but it is still without a doubt a FANBOY MAGAZINE!