Comics’ License to Print Money

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of the Iconix Brand Group. OK cheaters, put your hand down if the first time you heard of them was earlier this week when they acquired the licensing rights to the Peanuts franchise for $175 million.  

Peanuts Image Creative Commons Charles Schulz property Iconix
Under terms of the agreement, Iconix is acquiring United Media Licensing from E.W. Scripps. Iconix will manage the brands, and is putting up $140 million, or 80%, of the capital while the Schulz family is buying in for the other 20%, or $35 million. It’s apropos that the Schulz’ would have a hand in this transaction, since the preponderance of the value of United Media relates to the Peanuts characters. United Media works with more than 1,250 licensees, approves 20,000 new products each year, and the licenses generate more than $2 billion (yes, BILLION) in retail sales annually. That’s a LOT of Snoopy shaved ice makers and Linus blankets, folks.

Although Peanuts isn’t really part of the comic BOOK cultural lexicon, it’s certainly as iconic a comic STRIP as there ever was, and it’s embedded in our pop culture psyche.


The Importance of Licensing to Comics

Iconix buying Peanuts is interesting, to be sure, but I wanted to use this announcement as a launching pad to break into a broader discussion about licensing. Before your eyes roll into the back of your head, I have something I want you to remember.

Without licensing, we probably wouldn’t have Marvel and DC Comics to read anymore.

Shocking, you say? Hyperbole, you wonder? I SAY THEE NAY! I’m as serious as a heart attack. As much as we all would like to think comic books are ultimately about the stories and the art, it’s an indisputable fact that the value of Marvel and DC’s library of characters is far greater outside the confines of the printed comic book page than within them.

Iconix is the 2nd largest global licensor in the world, according to License! Global magazine. Can you guess who number one is? Disney. And who ranks third? Warner Brothers. Oh, and Marvel Entertainment ranked 4th by itself before it became part of Disney’s juggernaut.

  • Disney Consumer Products – $30 Billion
  • Iconix Brand Group – $6.5 Billion
  • Warner Brothers Consumer Products – $6 Billion
  • Marvel Entertainment – $5.7 Billion
  • Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products – $5.5 Billion
  • Major League Baseball – $5.1 Billion
  • Phillips-Van Heusen – $5 Billion
  • Sanrio – $5 Billion
  • The Collegiate Licensing Company – $4.3 Billion
  • Cherokee Group – $4 Billion


Source: License! Global Magazine, Global 100 Licensors 2009

Norman Osborn Siege Cabal 
Marvel Noise blog
We’re talking BIG BUSINESS. And I can tell you that that’s how the “suits” (see, I went there) think of these companies. I attended quite a few investor presentations for Marvel Entertainment over the years and it always baffled me that the publishing leg of the business was very much an afterthought. Usually a Marvel executive would do a 15-minute PowerPoint slideshow focusing on the brands, the movies, the toys and other licensing and then briefly mention publishing toward the end. Then the question-and-answer period would invariably surround the next film, or the new toy lines coming for Christmas. I often thought I was the only one who cared about Skrulls or Norman Osborn or how many mutants would be left after M-Day.

$$ It’s all about the profits $$

Marvel is now a part of Disney so their financer disclosures are no longer readily available. But fiscal year 2008 will serve as an apt comparison to make my point. Marvel broke its business into three segments:

2008 Revenues
Licensing — $292.8 million
Film Production – $254.6 million
Publishing – $125.4 million

2008 Operating Income
Licensing – $242.3 mllion
Film Production – $102.7 million
Publishing – $47.3 million
Other – ($24.3 million)

As you can see, the publishing business is not only the smallest leg of the stool, but it also generates considerably less profit than the other arms.

What does this mean for us, as comic book readers?

If Marvel and DC characters weren’t plastered all over film, TV, pajamas, plates and video games, it would mean the comics we all know and love would be either in very different forms, or unavailable. It’s ironic that we all struggle with the costs of comics these days, and yet those costs would be much higher if it weren’t for the profits the IP brings in from other venues. The great news is that Marvel and DC are POWERFUL brands, among the most valuable in the world. So barring a complete reshaping of the way the world views these expansive universes, the profits from licensing will continue to roll in and that means all the publishing business has to do is focus on telling great stories, and maintaining the current profit margins. I really have to tip my cap to what DC has done recently, appointing so many creative types to senior management positions. And insofar as the Marvel/Disney merger is concerned, I think no news is good news. By all accounts Marvel’s management team continues to have the same wide-reaching control it had as an independent company. Until I see evidence that the world is no longer interested in superhero branding, I’m not going to worry that I won’t have an Avengers or Green Lantern book to read in the near future.


Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.


  1. $175,000,000.oo?  That’s Peanuts.

  2. @Wooood your column has quickly climbed up to be my favorite on the site. good job sir. I love the insight you offer, this type of financial commentary is a bit of a rarity on the internetz. thanks for bringing something truly original to the table!

  3. Having just read the book Men of Tomorrow it’s interesting to note that Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz (who ran DC) got on this idea Jason tells about early,  Both men understood the real money from Comic Books was in the Radio Shows, the movie serials, and the licensing.  I don’t think many of the other golden age publishers understood this and is one of the reasons (there are plenty of others) they died off while DC kept going.

  4. Seeing those Marvel numbers makes a lot of sense of the massive shift to $3.99.

  5. I’m very interested in seeing how Disney uses these Marvel characters. Marvel has made extensive use of them (as evidence by Mr. Wood’s numbers), but I’m certain there are MANY heretofore unseen ways to utilize such recognizable characters.
  6. Great article. 

  7. But I thought Marvel used the money from Reed Richard’s inventions to keep them going…..

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Well, I certainly buy your premise. Is there really any way to deny this? Especially given that comics are specialty items whereas cartoons or even trailers for superhero films are pumped directly onto television. For mainstream consumers, comics are an afterthought, a secondary source of these characters beyond the simplest sources (cartoons, movies, merchandise found in toy and grocery stores while on regular errands). 

  9. @Paul — I think it’s important for people to look at this as a glass half full though. The characters are such an enormous part of the cultural lexicon and so profitable in that capacity that there’s really no incentive to let the publishing flounder, so long as it can sustain itself. Of course, the tricky part is to make sure our niche stays vigilant, because I also think Marvel and DC are willing to let things go as they market dictates on the print side.


  10. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Aye. Long live comics, and cheers to things like Free Comic Book Day, which hopefully draw in some new readers. No such thing as Free Comic Book Movie Day. 

  11. Intriguing, both marvel and dc have cartoons coming out for kids soon, I think young avengers on Disney xd. How can smaller labels like dark horse or image keep up? Hellboy staurday morning cartoon (like ghostbusters was in the 80s) or plushy walking dead toys?

  12. Kuzimu,

    I don’t think they can try to keep up. Rather, I don’t think that can or should be their goal. But each publisher’s model is different. Image charges a flat fee to put out a book, their upside is capped, as is their financial downside. An "Image" book is owned by the creators. Said creator is free to negotiate whatever TV/film/licesning deals they want. Dark Horse is a more traditional publisher, but they too have a mix of creator-owned works and licensed works. 

    I think the analogy for TV would be HGTV or Food Network vs. NBC and CBS. They’re not playing in the same ballpark, nor should they try to be. Doesn’t mean HGTV or Food Network can’t run really smart, profitable businesses. They just have to focus and make sure they work within the confines of their smaller overall viewership.