DC Comics Pulls Ahead of Marvel in March’s Direct Market Sales

March 2017 had 6,635,631 units in the top 300 comics list, an increase of 309,340 units from last month putting the month around 10,000 units below average. DC accounted for 40.73% of the units for the top 300 comics. Marvel accounted for another 38.9% of the units. Image had 8.14% of the units for the top 300 comics but did have over 10% market share both by units and dollars. The market share reported by Diamond includes all invoices sales for comics, trades and magazines while the breakdown of the top 300 comics only includes the top 300 comics. The gap between DC and Marvel in the top 300 comics was 120,967 units in favor of DC and was much wider this month than the narrow gap of the past two months.

RELATED: Amazing Spider-Man Tops Direct Market Sales in March 2017

Only two comics were over 100,000 units and everything outside of the top 10 comics was under 62,000 units and only the top two dozen items were over 50,000 units.

Sales were up a little from last month for all of the premiere publishers except Marvel which was down 29,562 units from last month.

If we zoom in a bit on the delta chart, we can see Dark Horse was up the most with around 106,337 units, followed by Image with 81,837 units, DC with 74,317 units, the aggregate of the non-premiere publishers with 49,115 units and IDW with 27,296 units. Most of the gain from the non-premiere publishers came from Valiant Entertainment, Dynamite Entertainment and Archie Comics which more than compensated for the losses by BOOM! Studios, Titan Comics, Aftershock Comics and Oni Press. Below the line, with a loss in sales for Marvel of 29,562 units. The net result is an increase of 309,340 units over last month.

As should be expected, the bulk of the sales came from continuing titles which lost sales. I say that should be expected not because continuing titles should lose sales but because the generally do. Whichever publisher can solve that problem and maintain stable sales on the majority of their titles will find themselves with a huge competitive advantage over the other publishers.

Continuing titles gaining sales added 173,027 units in sales over last month.

Three dozen titles gain sales in March. “Amazing Spider-Man” #25 gained 51,891 units with the over-sized issue and Stuart Immonen taking over as artist. This was the largest issue-to-issue gain and the largest month-to-month gain in March. The issue had the regular cover, a Johnson Venomized variant and a Christopher action figure variant which retailers could order a many as they wanted of each if their orders of the regular cover exceeded 90% of their orders of “Amazing Spider-Man” #22, a 1-in-25 classic incentive cover, a 1-in-50 Immonen incentive cover and a 1-in-1000 remaster piece incentive cover. Given those sales promotions, it is highly likely “Amazing Spider-Man” #26 will drop back down to the 64,000 to 75,000 unit range the title has been selling recently.

“All New Wolverine” #18 was up 29,255 units. It had a Bengal-illustrated connecting variant cover which retailers could order a many as they wanted of each if their orders of the regular cover exceeded 90% of their orders of the regular cover of “All New Wolverine” #13, and a Mattina-drawn Venomized variant retailers could order a many as they wanted of each if their orders of the regular cover exceeded 90% of their orders of the regular cover of “All New Wolverine” #15. “All New Wolverine” #17 only had a regular cover and a Bengal connecting variant cover which retailers could order a many as they wanted of each if their orders of the regular cover exceeded 90% of their orders of the regular cover of “All New Wolverine” #12.

All of the Marvel titles in this category, down to and including “Captain America: Steve Rogers,” have a Venomized variant cover. While that isn’t the only factor causing the increase, it is a common factor, indicating slapping a Venomized cover on a random Marvel title can cause a noticeable bump in sale. This is nothing new; back when Marvel was starting up the themed variant covers with the Marvel Zombies variant a decade ago, we saw the same sort of sales bump. Of course, back then it was a larger bump because themed variants weren’t a monthly occurrence for the majority of Marvel titles.

“Action Comics” #975 had an increase of 5,670 units on that issue and a drop of only 536 on “Action Comics” #976 resulting in a 9,469 units increase for the month on that title.

Continuing titles releasing more issues this month added 43,278 units in sales over last month. March was a five week month allowing a few titles to get an extra issue in during the month.

The second and third issues of “Justice League of America” shipped in March but only sold 8,359 units more than the first issue sold in February. The second issue drop of 42.94% dropped sales from 93,494 units down to 53,349 units which fell another 9.08% on the third issue to 48,504 units. “Justice League of America” #3 placed at rank 25 so those aren’t bad sales.

Continuing titles with relatively stable sales, losses over no more than 250 units for the month, removed 1,792 units in sales compared to last month.

Unfortunately, a slow attrition in sales can be a problem. “Earth 2: Society” has drifted down in sales from the launch around 41,000 units down to 13,653 units of the series finale this month. Potentially the end of this series might pave the way for a return of the Justice Society on the mainstream DC Earth.

Continuing titles releasing fewer issue this month removed 130,113 units in sales compared to last month. A half dozen titles which released two issues in February only released a single issue during the five weeks of March. Generally speaking, it cut the sales for those titles roughly in half. “IvX” #6 and “Deadpool the Duck” #5 were the final issues of those miniseries so there was no other issues to release in March.

Continuing titles with dropping in sales removed 404,898 units in sales compared to last month.

“Batman” lost 6,132 from last month which isn’t much but this is the first month since the New 52 launch in September 2011 “Batman” hasn’t sold over 100,000 units.

The average second issue drop was 35.38% in the top 300 comics for March. “Star Wars: Darth Maul,” “Super Sons,” “Elektra,” “Bullseye,” “Wild Storm,” “Kingpin,” “Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern” and “Old Guard” all had second issues released in March resulting in a net loss of 208,208 units.

Some of the drop is retailers and readers sampling first issues but a lot of what appears as a second issue drop is really an inflation of first issue sales with heavy marketing promotions. That might seem like a semantic difference. The distinction is between regular issue to issue changes in sales because of the content of the issues versus changes in sales caused by things other than the contents such as the number of variant and incentive covers geared specifically at increasing the sales of a specific issue. Sales based on the story contents of an issue are much more likely to translate into sales of the next issue than sales based on the comic gimmick for an issue which rarely translate into sales for the following issue.

New titles added 806,274 units in sales over last month.

“Iron Fist” #1 with 89,652 units was a strong launch. “Iron Fist” #1 has a 1-in-25, a 1-in-50 and a 1-in-100 incentive cover and a variant retailers could order a many as they wanted of each if their orders of the regular cover of “Iron Fist” #1 exceeded 200% of their orders of the regular cover of “Daredevil” #14. Using the average second issue drop from this month we can guesstimate sales of around 57,933 units for “Iron Fist” #2. We could be pessimistic and use the 55.51% second issue drop on “Man-Thing” #2 which was the largest second issue drop for a Marvel title in March and guesstimate sales of around 39,886 units. Or we could be a lot more optimistic and use the smallest second issue drop on a Marvel title in March of 31.32% on “Kingpin” and guesstimate sales of about 61,572 units. If we average those three guesstimates we get around 53,30 units.

A couple of the items in the category were one-shots such as “X-Men: Prime,” “Inhumans: Prime,” “Clone Conspiracy: Omega” and “Jughead: The Hunger” among other. Eventually my number crunching system will be able to identify some or most of the one-shots and move them into the annual/specials category.

Returning titles added 485,688 units in sales over last month.

“Dark Knight III: The Master Race” returned to the list in March after skipping January and February bringing back 107,892 units to the top 300 comics list.

“Silver Surfer” returned to the list having last been seen in November. It was down 135 units from the previous issue so it would not have been enough to close the gap between DC and Marvel last month.

Suspended title titles removed 291,142 units in sales compared to last month.

“Slapstick” fell into the suspended category because the sales of “Slapstick” #4 which shipped on 2017-03-01 fell under the radar of the top 300 comics. “Slapstick” #1 sold around 33,088 unit in December. “Slapstick #2 dropped 67.32% down to 10,813 units in January. In February, “Slapstick” #3 dropped another 42.53% down to 6,214 units. The top 300 had a floor of 4,812 unit meaning “Slapstick” #4 sold fewer units than that. Even at 4,812 units, that would be a drop of around 22.56%. Apparently being in “Deadpool” and “Deadpool and the Mercs for Money” in 2016 wasn’t enough of a launch pad for a solo “Slapstick” series in 2017. Or maybe the problem was too many other member of the Mercs for the Money team also got a series at the same time.

Defunct title titles removed 448,1568 units in sales compared to last month.

A lot of these items are things like the “True Believers” one shots from Marvel accounting for 139,886 units or Rebirth one shots from DC which accounted for another 126,047 units. Of the remaining 182,223 units lost by ending titles, “Clone Conspiracy” with 48,780 unit was the most notable title.

“Solo” from Marvel ended last month with 4,903 units. “Foolkiller” #5 was down 20.74% ending that series at 6,573 units. Both of these titles also spun out of “Deadpool and the Mercs for Money”.

“Karnak” launched in October 2015 with 63,672 units and concluded the six issue run last month with 17,004 units. The lengthy gaps in released didn’t help the story momentum or sales of the series.

Annuals and Specials added 87,395 units in sales over last month. As soon as I can figure out a way to identify the other one shots, I’ll rename this category to one-hosts and put them here which should clean up the new titles and defunct titles categories a bit.

“Green Lantern/Space Ghost Special” #1 was the best selling of the DC Universe/Hanna Barbera crossovers with 25,149 units. “Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Special” #1 was close behind with 24,834 units. “Adam Strange/Future Quest Special” #1 sold around 18,134 units and “Booster Gold/Flintstones Special” #1 sold 15,795 units. DC has solicited another round of these specials for release in June so presumably DC is happy with how they sold.

The various Monsters Unleashed tie-in issues from Marvel have not done particularly well typically selling well under sales level for those titles. Apparently many readers are considering the Monsters Unleashed issues to be non-essential reading. The “Monsters Unleashed” #5 ended the miniseries with 33,205 units. An ongoing series launches in April.

Reorder volume was down 10,221 units compared to last month.

Perhaps the most interesting thing with the March sales is what isn’t there: any sort of clear rallying point for DC, Marvel or any other publisher near the top of the list. There is no major title readers seem excited about. Maybe that will change with “Secret Empire” from Marvel. Maybe “The Button” storyline will kick the Rebirth meta arc into full swing and get readers excited. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of great titles being published right now. But none seem to be the sales giants they used to be. Even “Batman” is slipping in sales. DC and Marvel need more titles selling over 50,000 units.

But instead of trying to create than next blockbuster hit title, the publishers and creators should focus on improving the titles they are working on. Tell slightly better stories. Make issues a little more accessible to new readers. Make each issue so good there isn’t a question of if it is worth the cover price or not. Make each issue matter to the characters and those issues will matter to the readers. For an issue to matter to a character, it has to have impact and consequences to the character. Those don’t have to be life changing, nothing will ever be the same again sorts of consequences. Each issue need to matter enough that it is worth reading. Good examples of this are “Saga” and “The Walking Dead” both of which had trade paperback which topped the trades lists by a wide margin over the third best selling trade.

For a more in-depth discussion of the sales data, check out the Mayo Report episodes of the Comic Book Page podcast at www.ComicBookPage.com. The episode archived cover the past decade of comic book sales on a monthly basis with yearly recap episodes. In addition to those episodes on the sales data, every Monday is a Weekly Comics Spotlight episode featuring a comic by DC, a comic by Marvel and a comic by some other publisher. I read around 200 new comics a month so the podcast covers a wide variety of the comics currently published. If you are looking for more or different comics to read, check out the latest Previews Spotlight episode featuring clips from various comic book fans talking about the comics they love. With thousands of comics in Previews every month, Previews Spotlight episodes are a great way to find out about new comic book titles that may have flown under your comic book radar.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.