Earlier this week I bought you the sales estimates for the items that shipped in May 2007. Now I’m going to try and help make some sense out of those numbers. Keep in mind that these numbers are estimated values, not exact numbers of units sold and that these are sales to retailers in May 2007 and not what readers bought.
May 2007 was a great month for comics both in terms of content and sales. Over at DC, “52” ended and “Countdown” began and the excellent JLA/JSA crossover unfolded in the pages of “Justice League of America” and “Justice Society of America.” Marvel was continuing with the Initiative storylines and ramping up the World War Hulk event. The overall total of the top 300 comics approached an all time high in terms of dollars, but failed to meet it by about $82,660 and 184,800 units. So while it wasn’t the strongest month on record (which was 2006-11), it came very close.
The big news is that Marvel has about 50% of the market share for the top 300 comics both by units and by dollars. Actually, it had 49.97% by units and 50.17% by dollars to be a little more accurate. Think about that for a moment. A single publisher accounted for about half of the new comic books sales to retailers for May. While this is good for Marvel, I’m not so sure that it is good for the comic book industry overall. DC came in second with a 32.8% market share by units and 31.5% by dollars. Dark Horse took 5.8% by units and 5.5% by dollars and Image did 3.36% by units and 3.5% by dollars. The remaining 10% of the market share for the top 300 comic books was split across all of the other publishers.
Marvel once again dominated the top ten positions on the list. The top slot went to “Fallen Son: Death of Captain America – Captain America” #3 which came in with around 170,000 units. This miniseries has been doing very well for Marvel. Slot four went to “Captain America” #26 with around 126,400 units, down over 60% from the total sales of around 317,700 of the much publicized issue #25. This is still an increase of over 42,000 units from issue #24 and about two to three times what the series has been averaging prior to “Civil War.” All in all this has been a successful move for Marvel. The cynic in me has to wonder if we’ll see this strategy of killing off the title character to boost sales used in other titles in the near future. Given the strengths of the “Marvel Zombies” property, this idea may not be all that farfetched.
The second slot went to “Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born” #4 with around 131,700 units. The previous issue of this series (#3) had around 5,759 units in reorder and the first issue had around 6,384 units of reorder activity. Even more interesting was that “Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born” #2 had around 18,567 units of reorder activity. This title seems to have a much longer and stronger shelf life than the average comic book and at this point in the series these numbers should be indicative of solid enough sales to readers for the retailers to be reordering this many more units. While the numbers are still dropping from issue to issue on the series, the descent has slowed significantly. The sales of the eventual collected edition should be strong both inside the direct market and probably in the mass market as well.
“New Avengers” #30 came in slot five with 126,388 units and “Astonishing X-Men” #21 in slot six with 120,461 units both showed modest gains of the previous issues of those titles. While these gains were only around 1,130 units and 754 respectively, they were gains just the same.
On the other hand, “Amazing Spider-Man” #540 came in at slot seven with around 119,628 units, was down 36,319 units from the previous issue which is a drop of about 23.3%. The Spider-Man titles have been on a non-stop event mode for well over a year with “The Other,” “Road to Civil War,” “Civil War” and “Back in Black.” This has boosted the title to about twice what it had been selling prior to these events and we might be starting to see a correction here. But this issue did ship in the last week of the month so some of the sales may have slipped into June and appear there as “reorders.” While “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” and “Sensational Spider-Man” both have followed similar sales trends over the past few years, they have done so at a low level of sales. For instance, in May “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” #20 came in at slot fifty-three with around 48,894 units and the first annual for that series came in at slot sixty-two with around 41,932 units. No regular issue of “Sensational Spider-Man” shipped in May, but the first annual for that series came in at slot fifty-four with around 48,460 units. (It is not uncommon for annuals to do lower numbers than the monthly issues.) Both of these two titles have been selling about half of the numbers for “Amazing Spider-Man” over the past year. Is it any wonder that Marvel is going to replace the monthly issues of “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” and “Sensational Spider-Man” with two more issues a month of “Amazing Spider-Man?”
I expect what might happen is the sales of the thrice-monthly “Amazing Spider-Man” series will drop from the current levels but, frankly, I think that was bound to happen sooner or later anyway. The sales will average above what “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” and “Sensational Spider-Man” were doing, but a bit lower than how “Amazing Spider-Man” was doing before the nonstop rollercoaster of events started. I suspect that the net result will more or less be a wash at best. Those readers that were getting all three titles will probably keep getting all three issues a month. Those readers that only got one title may drop the title they were getting and not get any of the thrice-monthly issues on a regular basis.
Now, there is more to this than simply renaming and renumbering issues. Instead of being three different storylines a month, a single storyline will be told at a time. (Or at least that is my understanding of the plan but I could be wrong.) This is an important point because it will mean that story arcs will finish faster which means that trades might be released faster. It is entirely possible that a trade could be solicited before the first issue of the arc hits the shelf. This seems like it could encourage some readers to wait for the trade. One thing we may see is a bit more of a shift in sales from arc to arc as readers get more selective about which ones they pick up.
All in all, I’m really curious what prompted Marvel to make this decision as the sales dynamic between the various Spider-Man is nothing new. I’m also very interested in what Marvel has defined as the success criteria for the change. Is it a leveling out of the sales for the issues or do they expect a jump in the overall level of sales for Spider-Man? This is one of the more interesting changes in the publishing model that we’ve seen in a while and has to have been at least partially due to the success of “52” which finished in May with #52 in slot fifteen with around 102,046 units. While the sales for “52” did drop from the initial numbers, they quickly slowed to a very modest drop between issues, stabilized around the start of the final quarter of the series and started a bit of a climb at the end. Clearly a weekly series has the potential to be successful and the shift to a thrice-monthly “Amazing Spider-Man” series should test that theory.
Slot eight was filled by “Mighty Avengers” #3 with around 115,407 which is a drop of about 7%. This early in a series these sorts of drops are very common, particularly on a high profile launch like this series had. It will probably be another few months before we have any real idea where this title might level out at.
Slot nine was taken by the long delayed “All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder” #5 with around 114,269 units. This is down 46,074 units, a drop of 28.73%. This drop is a combination of the series both fairly new in terms of the number of issues and fairly old in terms of the year long delay between issues.
And rounding out the top ten was “World War Hulk Prologue: World Breaker” with 111,121 units marking a strong start for the event. Right behind it in slot eleven was “Incredible Hulk” #106 with 110,150 units which is an increase of 53,205 units over the previous issue, a jump of about 107%. While I’m skeptical if Marvel can duplicate the sales success of the “Civil War” event, the initial indications seem promising for the “World War Hulk” event.
On the flipside, “Countdown” over at DC started at around only 91,057 units which is below the minimum number of units for any issue of “52” (which was around 93,482 units for “52” #44). While this isn’t a bad launch for a new series, it is a bit of a weak start for a series being hyped as the spine of the DC Universe for the next year. The drop between issues #51 and #50 of this backwards numbered series was only about 7,330 units which equates to about an 8% drop which isn’t bad at all. The drop from #50 to #49 was only 2,266 which is a drop of only about 2.7% indicating that this series may level off much faster than “52” did if it follows the same sales pattern. If “Countdown” will follow the same sale trend as “52” or not is a major question. Unlike “52,” “Countdown” is not a self contained storyline but has already crossed over into the JLA/JSA storyline and Teen Titans. Until the first dozen or more issues are out we won’t really have enough data to see how it is really doing. At that point the orders will start to reflect the contents of the series and how the readers have been reacting to it.
Another item of interest is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” #3 which came in at slot twelve with around 106,604 units, which is only down about 8.5% of the total sales for the second issue. The drop of about 9,913 units should be compared to the reorder activity of around 20,201 units for issue #2 and about 15,235 units for issue #1 just in May. This results in a net increase for #3 of initial orders over those of #2 which is a great indication of the potential strength of this series.
“The Boys” made the transition from DC to Dynamite Entertainment in May with the release of issue #7 in slot seventy-seven. It sold about 31,607 units, down about 11.25% from the approximately 35,170 units that the final issue from DC sold. That still puts the issue above the sales for issues #3 to #5 and only about 400 units shy of the sales for #2. All in all, this transition seems to have been fairly smooth with no major unexpected shift in sales because of either the change in publishers or the five month gap between issues #6 and #7.
May 2007 was also a record breaking month for graphic novel and collected edition sales coming in at nearly a million dollars over the previous two high months of March 2006 and April 2007. These highs were not due to inflated cover prices, but corresponded with record high unit sales.
It might come as no surprise to those that noticed the numerous “Civil War” related trade paperbacks released in May, Marvel once again dominated the market share for the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions with a 46.5% market share by units and a 49% market share by dollars. DC came in a clear second place with a 21.5% market share by units and a 21% market share by dollars. This is more a reflection strong Marvel sales this month, as DC only dropped about $8,300 from April to May while Marvel jumped up by over $362,900. Image came in third with 9.9% market share by units and 9.4% market share by dollars with Dark Horse fairly close behind with a 7.9% market share by units and a 7.8% market share by dollars.
Half of the top ten slots on the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions list from Diamond were Marvel titles and all of them were “Civil War” trade paperbacks. This included the “Civil War” trade paperback that collected the seven issue series with reorders of around 8,587 units in slot six. Over a third of the Marvel items on the list had “Civil War” as part of either the title or subtitle. Other notable Marvel items on the list in May included the first “Amazing Spider-Girl” trade paperback with around 2,099 units and the “Marvel Zombies” hardcover with another 6,304 units of reorder activity. “Marvel Zombies” is one of the stronger selling hard covers for Marvel. The top selling Marvel item was “Civil War: Captain America” which sold around 10,020 units to retailers.
The most interesting one of the group is the second “Civil War: Front Line” trade paperback. This opened stronger than the first volume opened, but about 18.5% below the combined sales of that first volume over April and May. Last month in the discussion I do on my Comic Book Page podcast covering the trade sales, Chris Marshall of the Collected Comics Library podcast suggested that Marvel could have released the entire series in a single trade paperback volume at either $24.99 or $29.99. He presented a solid case for why he thought it should have been released at one volume versus two. The question is if that would have done better for Marvel or not. It seems that by splitting the series into two trades that Marvel is giving the trade readers a chance to drop the series halfway through.
DC only had two items in the top ten slots in May. The “Y: The Last Man v9: Montherland” trade paperback landed in the top slot with around 12,960 units. These opening numbers are down only 21.34% of the total known sales for the previous volume and it will almost certainly close that gap in the coming months. This trade opened with sales that are about half the average sales of the component issues. Other Vertigo items on the list included “Hellblazer: Devil You Know” in slot 36, “Fables v1: Legends in Exile” in slot 92 with around 1,434 in reorder activity and “Y: The Last Man v1: Unmanned” in slot 93 with around 1,424 in reorder activity.
The other DC item in the top ten slots was the first “52” trade paperback which landed in slot five with around 8,755 units. It will be interesting to see how this volume does as the later ones are released.
Over at Image, it was another great month for Robert Kirkman with “The Walking Dead v6: Sorrowful Life” trade paperback in slot two with around 12,423 units, “The Walking Dead” v2 hard cover in slot 38 with around 3,340 units, “The Walking Dead v1: Days Gone Bye” trade paperback in slot 74 with around 1,802 units, “The Walking Dead v2: Miles Behind Us” trade paperback in slot 89 with around 1,490 units and “The Walking Dead v5: Best Defense” trade paperback in slot 91 with around 1,434 units. These trades continually show up on the top 100 list and the volumes that don’t are probably falling just below the cutoff point. Kirkman is clearly doing something right with “The Walking Dead,” as these trades are perpetually strong sellers.
Other Image trade paperbacks on the list include “Fell v1: Feral City” in slot 21 with around 4,934 units and “Girls” v4 in slot 41 with around 2,972 units. The first “Fell” limited edition hard cover also appeared on the list in slot 83 with around 1,602 units.
The “Mouse Guard v1: Fall 1152” hardcover from Archaia Studios opened with sales to comic book stores of 7,601 units through Diamond. “Mouse Guard” seems to be doing very well outside of the direct market and according to ICv2.com has moved around 11,000 units to bookstores and libraries and another 4,000 to 5,000 units to the Science Fiction Book Club. It isn’t the least bit surprising that this is doing well in the bookstores as “Mouse Guard” is a great all-ages story. This single item gave Archaia Studios an impressive market share of 2.2% by units and 3.12% by dollars of the market share for top 100 graphic novels and collected editions.
Rounding out the top ten slots is the first trade paperback for “The Boys” by Dynamite Entertainment (containing the first six issues of the series that were published by DC) in slot ten with around 7,337 units.
I might be a little later than usual next month in releasing the data and my comments on it since I’ll be in San Diego during the end of July for Comic-Com International: San Diego 2007. Please say “hi” if you see me wondering around the exhibit hall floor. I’m looking forward to meeting any Comic Book Resources readers that are at the convention. And if you have any questions or comments on these numbers and what they do and don’t mean, please feel free to email me at john.mayo@ComicBookResources.com.