DC Comics had the largest percentage of the unit sales to retailers for the top of the comics list for the third time in a row in November 2011. The difference between the top 300 unit sales of DC and Marvel was only 166,151 estimated units, which is significantly more than the approximately 28,747 units of reorder activity for DC in November. In October DC had around 670,380 units of reorder activity. DC sold approximately 2,832,027 units across the New 52 and other DC universe titles. That is about 88.5% of the 3.2 million unit benchmark set by the September 2011 sales of the DC universe titles. So far, the relaunching of the DC universe with the New 52 seems to be paying off and does not appear to be doing so at the cost of unit sales for Marvel or the other publishers.
Right now is a very unusual time for comic book sales. Normally, a title enters a honeymoon period when it is retooled, relaunched and/or renumbered. During this period, the sales trend for the title is in a state of flux. Changing up the creative team, the direction of the title, the mix of characters or simply the title of the series usually generates a renewed interest in a series. How much interest is often determined by the scope and magnitude of the changes and the way those changes are promoted. Sometimes even a minor change, such as appearing to kill off a character or to being back a character thought dead can spike sales if the marketing machine actively promotes those story points.
That honeymoon period usually is usually around three to six months as it usually takes that long for the retailers to gauge how the title is selling for them and find the right number to order. Normally, the orders drift down, but on occasion a title will jump up in sales around issue #4 as the market corrects for under-estimating the demand. Sometimes a title comes along and initially gets very good buzz, creating a demand that simply wasn’t there when the retailers had to place their orders. My interest in how comics sell stems from working at a comic book store ages ago. Part of that job involved helping the owner of the store count how many comics were left of each title as he filled out the next order form. I quickly realized, and this was in the late 1980s, it was easier to gauge interest in ongoing titles than for new titles. Of course, back then most titles were ongoing and were rarely relaunched. Today, the inherent challenges for retailers in filling out the monthly order form are orders of magnitude greater than when I was working at that comic book store.
DC compounded that honeymoon period for each title by relaunching 52 titles at once. Fortunately, they’ve been diligent at mitigating the risk for retailers with returnablity, incentive covers and reprints of the early issues. Even so, this puts the sales trends into a unique state of flux. Are strong sales on a given title helping out or hurting the sales on another title? Add in the same day digital availability, and the usefulness of the old sales trend patterns becomes increasingly questionable. With other publishers increasing their day-and-date digital releases, we may start to see new sales patterns develop for print comics.
One big surprise on the top comics list was “Point One” #1 being the top seller for Marvel with an estimated 113,343 units. Presumably, this includes the massive overshipping Marvel did of the issue. Given the price tag of $5.99, the sales numbers are higher than I expected, even factoring in the heavy promotion. I’ve heard anecdotal reports that some retailers were giving away copies either for free or at drastically reduced prices. In any case, it seems like there are plenty of copies in the market available to readers which, in theory, should help the sales of the titles it promotes.
The only other issues Marvel had over 100,000 units were “Avenging Spider-Man” #1 with approximately 112,114 units and “Uncanny X-Men” #1 with around 109,902 units. Both of these are likely to drop below 100,000 with the second issues. The only other issues Marvel had over 80,000 units were “Wolverine and the X-Men” #2 with around 83,349 and “Incredible Hulk” #2 with an estimated 80,137 units. Unlike the situation Marvel was in a while back with a number of consistently strong selling titles, the publisher currently has only a few ongoing titles with strong sales.
The X-Men Vs. Avengers event Marvel is planning for 2012 is clearly an attempt to strengthen the sales of both franchises while trying to get readers of only one franchise to try out the other. While this might work, it could also backfire if readers decide they aren’t interested in another big crossover event.
Another interesting item on the list is “Fantastic Four” #600, charting with approximately 73,803 units. Magic number issues like an issue #600, issues bringing back a character thought dead and returning a title to the original title and numbers all usually sell better than the surrounding issue. In this case they did, since “FF” #11 sold around 48,438 units and “FF” #12 sold around 49,445 units. The oversized “Fantastic Four” #600 which was priced at $7.99 did sell better, but not outstanding. So far, “FF” has been selling better than “Fantastic Four” sold under Jonathan Hickman, aside from his first issue (#570), the death issue (#587) and what was originally promoted as the final issue of the series (#588). This is a case of the marketing tactics of killing a character followed by renaming/relaunching a title clearly boosted sales over a sustained period.
It will be very interesting to watch how the sales trends continue on the two titles and see if the property can sustain two concurrent titles. Readers now have the option of continuing with just “FF,” switching back to “Fantastic Four” or getting both series. With the franchise branching out into two titles, a second artist was needed, and the change in art styles in “FF” to something very different from what readers have grown accustomed to could have serious ramifications on the sales. Changing art styles can be very risky — sometimes, changing up the creative team increases sales, sometimes it doesn’t.
Outside of DC and Marvel, the top items were all those with strong mass media connections: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9” #3, “Walking Dead” #91 and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (ongoing)” #4. In the first case, the television series came first while in the other two cases the comics did. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9” #3 sold around 33,482 units while “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8” #3 sold approximately 106,604 in November 2007. Clearly, the number of Buffy fans still interested in the comic book series has dwindled over the past four years, which is not surprising. This sort of standard attrition impacts all titles to varying degrees. It seems comic titles spun out of a television series, movie, book or video game don’t see the same sort of sales benefit as a comic book series adapted into a television series or movie. In the cases where the comic comes first, there is already a comic book audience which can grow as people outside the comic book community discover the property.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.