October 2012 marks the beginning of the Marvel NOW! campaign and, unsurprisingly, Marvel had the largest percentage of the sales for the top 300 comics with 44.46% compared to the 36.51% accounted for by DC.
As expected, “Uncanny Avengers” #1 took the top slot by a wide margin with sales to retailers in excess of 300,000 units. The top DC item was “Batman” #13 which sold around 148,293 estimated units. The sales for “Batman” #13 are up about 18.4% over the previous issue because of the Death of the Family crossover which will continue through “Batman” #17. “Batman” has been at the top of the charts since the New 52 reboot/relaunch last year. Many Marvel relaunches in recent years have had second issue drops over 50% or more. What could be the key difference next month is much of those sales each title retains in November.
Just like DC Comics’ New 52 initiative last year, the true success of the Marvel NOW! initiative will be measured be sales retention, not the initial flash in the pan the titles make when they relaunch. With “Uncanny Avengers” #1 selling over five times better than “Avengers” and “Uncanny X-Men,” and sales over 300,000 being unsustainable, the question isn’t if sales will drop on the second issue drop but how far they will drop.
Re-entering the top ten just a few months after taking the top slot was “The Walking Dead” #103 with around 74,372 units. “The Walking Dead Michonne Special” placed at rank 39 with approximately 49,926 units. “Spawn” #224 was at rank 138 with around 17,757 units which is less than a quarter of the units sold by “The Walking Dead” #103.
Just a few years ago, “Spawn” was the top-selling ongoing title at Image Comics with “The Walking Dead” far below it but gaining in sales while “Spawn” was slowing losing sales. This illustrates the value of watching the sales trends on titles.
This is the second time this year “The Walking Dead” has spiked in sales, the first time involving the issues leading up to the highly promoted #100. Thanks to the numerous incentive covers, “The Walking Dead” #100 sales shot up far beyond the increase for issues #97 to #99. With #101, sales dropped below the level for #99 to #99 but well above how the title had been trending prior to that. Now, with issue #103 we are seeing another bump of around 21,309 estimated units which is the highest sales for the series aside from the anomalous sales on #100. I can understand and explain the slow but steady sales on the series in the past, but these recent jumps in sales are a bit surprising. If sales remain around this level, then the series will be the fifth best-selling ongoing title behind “Batman,” “Justice League,” “Green Lantern” and “Detective Comics.” “The Walking Dead” has retained and gained sales more consistently than any other title out there, so while I can’t entirely explain these recent jumps to my own satisfaction, it is not unreasonable to expect the title may be able to sustain this higher level of sales.
One sales tactic to keep an eye on in the coming months is multiple covers. DC Comics’ Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne has stated that DC will be pulling back on the number of variant covers starting with the solicitation cycle for March 2012 shipping items. DC will start with cases where “it didn’t seem the variant was making a substantial difference the buy-in for the book or the perception of the books.” Back in November 2007, Marvel was seeing an additional 5,000 to 7,000 units on titles with the Marvel Zombie variant covers. Now, five years later, DC is making the decision to stop doing variant covers on titles were those variants are not materially helping sales. What was once a reliable way to bump sales is now ineffective on the titles that need those kinds of sales bumps the most.
Of course, in the current solicitation cycle for February 2012 shipping items which just started this week with the initial solicitation announcements, DC is doing a regular cover and another 52 variant covers for “Justice League of America” #1. Since the term “variant cover” is slightly confusing and not very descriptive, I tend to refer to things like these 52 additional covers for “Justice League of America” #1 as “independently orderable” covers since retailers can order as many or as few copies of each as they want. While this inflates the number of order codes it is by far the fairest approach to multiple covers. It allows retailers and readers who pre-order the chance to get the cover they want. These state covers all feature the same art as the regular cover but with the United States flag replaced by the flag for a particular state with Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico included to get that magic number of 52. The extra effort required to do this is minimal. I’m not saying or even trying to suggest that the cover gimmick isn’t cool. It isn’t as cool as the “Godzilla” #1 cover IDW did with alternate covers for various stores, but the concept isn’t bad. The scale is the problem with 53 covers being an excessive number of alternate covers. Regardless of who buys which covers and why they do so, this should be an insanely cost effective the gimmick for DC.
From the data available from Diamond, it is difficult to tell exactly how much of an influence multiple cover have on sales. The idea behind incentive covers is to encourage retailers to order a few more copies of the regular cover in order to qualify to buy copies of the incentive cover. Back in August, the consumer order form had a single order code of AUG120550 for “Uncanny Avengers” #1. The retailer order form was another matter entirely. It had 12 order codes, one for the regular cover and one for each of the 11 other covers available. The requirements for the incentive covers ranged from having to order only 50 to requiring 300 copies of the regular cover purchased to qualify. Obviously retailers with fewer customers are unlikely to qualify for those higher incentive benchmarks based on what they normally sell.
Since those incentive covers can be sold at much higher prices, it can make financial sense for a retailer to order a few more of the regular cover to qualify for the incentive which can be sold at a price that covers the retailer’s cost for all of those copies. Even when it makes financial sense, it is potentially bad for the industry as it actively encourages the collectability over reading. For comics to succeed they need to be read. Getting the consumer hooked on the story will drive them back to the comic book shop or online store for digital comics in a way alternate covers can’t.
With around 80% of the items on the list having an issue number of 24 or lower, title aren’t lasting as long as they used to. Whether you think issue numbers or important or irrelevant, short lived titles result in short lived sales which is not good for the industry. With evidence the sales power of the alternate cover has diminished to the point of no longer being worth doing on some titles the question that comes to mind it how much longer before the sales juice of a new #1 is equally diminished? If readers don’t stay on existing titles and relaunching a title no longer attracts a meaningful number of new readers, what happens then?
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.