In March 2014, Image Comics released "Walking Dead" volume 20 trade paperback which topped the trades list at around 25,290 units and "Saga" volume 3 trade paperback with an estimated 21,030 units. The "Nemo: Roses of Berlin" hardcover from Top Shelf sold approximately 8,777 units to retailers and "Avatar: The Last Airbender" volume 7 trade paperback did about 8,084 units. Any one of those would have normally topped the list by a wide margin. Having four such strong sellers in a single month resulted in March being the highest unit sales totals for the top 300 trades in years, surpassed only by April 2009 in total unit sales for the top trades.
The top 300 comics had an estimated total of 6,218,948 units in March 2014. While a little less than the average of 6,467,944 units for the final order era (from March 2003 to present), it is only about 250,000 units below it. "Batman" #29 was the only item over 100,000 units with an estimated 116,926 units. A few more items over 100,000 units could have made up the difference from the month being below average to average or above. Early word on "Amazing Spider-Man" #1 has those sales just below 600,000 units -- we'll see what the direct market numbers for "Amazing Spider-Man" turn out to be once it is released.
Marvel accounted for 41.36% of the unit sales for the top 300 comics with DC taking 31.16%. Image had a strong showing with 10.71% of the units, beating out both Dark Horse with 4.71% and IDW Publishing with 4.23%. The remaining 7.83% of the unit sales for the top 300 comics were split across ten publishers, including Dynamite Entertainment, BOOM! Studios and Valiant.
There is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation going on here. The smaller publishers are in fewer stores, causing them to sell less, which in turn causes them to be in fewer stores because they sell less. In many cases, sales will go up on a title if retailers and readers would just give it a chance. The problem is, there is no major incentive for retailers to put a title on the rack in the hopes it will sell. When ordering in the single digit number of units, it is very risky for a retailer to take a chance on a title. The best way to remove that risk for a retailer is to tell you retailer about the comics you are planning on buying during the preorder phase. If you seem something you want to buy in Previews, help your retailer out and tell them. Some people dislike the preorder nature of the comic book industry, and there are many valid reasons for this. However, the reality is, the current marketplace is preorder-driven, and those preorders determine what does and does not get published in the future.
There was about a gap between the breakdown of the total units for the top 300 of about 10% between Marvel and DC. It isn't unheard of. Marvel often has very robust sales. Two things will almost certain increase that gap in April. First, "Amazing Spider-Man" #1 is scheduled to ship on April 30. As mentioned above, the early reports are projecting sales around 600,000 units. But the second thing is what won't happen: Three of the four top items for DC in March won't ship in April.
DC is experiencing some delays on a few titles. Part of the solicitation for a comic is the expected shipping date. When a comic ships after that date, it is late. Since the publisher set the expected ship date originally, it doesn't seem unreasonable for them to meet that self-imposed deadline.
"Forever Evil" #7 was scheduled to ship on March 26, but is being delayed until May 21. Related issues are also impacted. "Justice League of America" #14 will ship on May21 instead of the original expectation of April 9."Nightwing" #30 was going to ship on April 9, but is now scheduled for May 28. "Justice League" #30 will ship on May 21 instead of April 9. Presumably, this will delay "Justice League" #31, which was originally expected to ship on May 21. There have been cases at Marvel and some other publishers in which two issues of a title shipped the same week. Doing so robs the earlier of the two issues from every being the most recent issue on the rack, making it something of a lame duck issue in some respects. Habitual readers are most likely going to get both issues, but casual readers might not even notice both issues shipped the same week so maybe it doesn't really matter. That having been said, shipping a single issue of a title a week seems like the better way to go as it reinforces the habitual buying pattern and downplays the delay of the earlier issue. "Suicide Squad" #30 will ship on May 28 instead of April 9. Obviously this will make April 9 a smaller shipping week for DC than originally expected.
"Superman Unchained" #7 should have shipped in February, but is now scheduled for April 30. "Superman Unchained" #8 seems to now be scheduled for July 30 and "Superman Unchained" #9 presumably will be resolicited. "Batman/Superman" #8 shipped three weeks late starting the crossover behind schedule. "Worlds' Finest" #20 shipped two weeks late. "Batman/Superman" #9, the third chapter of the crossover, should have shipped on March 5 and is delayed until April 23 but "Worlds' Finest" #21, the final chapter of the crossover shipped two weeks ago on March 26. "Worlds' Finest" #22 gets back on schedule with it shipping on April 9.
Lateness isn't unique to DC. Far from it. It does seem like DC is having a sudden problem with lateness with the New 52 titles. But how much of that is perception and how much is reality?
Here is a chart of the number of issues released as of the end of March for each of the New 52 titles, counting the 2D cover and 3D covers during Villains Month as distinct issues. The green portion of each bar represents the number of issues that shipped on time, the yellow are the number of issues shipping a single week late and red is the number of issues shipping more than a week late. The location of the colors does not reflect which issues were late.
Looking at the various New 52 titles, including annuals, specials, miniseries and one-shots, we see DC has a fairly impressive track record of getting issues out on time. Certain titles such as "Forever Evil," "Batman/Superman" and "Superman Unchained" are suffering from repeated delays, while the majority of titles have a perfect record for shipping on time.
Looking at the date from a monthly perspective, we see there were only 11 items that shipped late during the first year, and 7 of those were late by a single week. From October 2012 to August 2013, 37 items shipped late, with 19 being a single week late. From October 2013 to March 2014, there have been 20 delays, with 6 being a single week and 14 delays longer than a week.
I skipped over the September months for two reasons. The first is everything shipped on time in each September. September 2011 was the launch of the New 52, so DC had time to prepare the titles and get however many they were able to before the launch date. September 2013 was the Zero Issue month, and September 2013 was Villains Month. In both cases, many of the issues were done-in-one stories which could have been done in advance or by a different creative team. In short, those months acted as built in catch-up months in the schedule. Even so, we are seeing more delays in recent months, and a few particular titles seem to have more scheduling issues than the majority which are able to ship on time every month. By my math, only 3.94% of the 1,723 issues shipped were late with only 2.08% being more than a week late.
If you are interested in how things look on a week by week basis:
In addition to those delays, "Sandman Overture" is taking longer to come out than originally expected. Both the second and third issues had to be resolicited due to the delays. Actually, that might not be technically true. DC probably didn't have to resolicit the issues but opted to do so. If so, we should thank DC for having the courtesy to do so. "Brilliant" #5 from the Icon line at Marvel shipped 110 weeks late on March 26th off the December 2011 item code making it unclear what mandates a resolicitation.
Each of these delays represents either a permanent loss of income or a delay in getting that income. This impacts not only the publisher and creative team, but also the retailers. A single week delay can have a big impact, but is also somewhat understandable. A minor delay resulting in a key thing not happening on time can cause an issue to ship a week late. But titles chronically shipping late, shipping out of order (like happened with "Hawkeye") or the lateness being measurable in years (such as with "Brilliant") kills story momentum and doesn't help anyone. The definition of "on time" is defined by the publisher with the solicitation.
The bottom line is DC will be shy a number of titles in April because of these delays. Even the launching of the weekly "Batman Eternal" series might not be enough to compensate for around 500,000 units on the list in March that won't be on the list in April due to delayed issues, the end of the various ongoing titles and the "Forever Evil" related miniseries titles. Since the launch of the New 52, the average difference in sales between Marvel and DC within the top 300 comics is around 145,223 units in favor of Marvel. Close enough for a single top of the chart title to make the difference. We've seen Marvel outperform DC by over million unit only once since the launch of the New 52. April has all of the signs of it happening again, as much because of delays within DC and because of a high profile relaunch at Marvel.
If you'd like to listen to an in-depth discussion of the sales data, check out the Mayo Report episodes of the Comic Book Page podcast at www.ComicBookPage.com. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.