MAYO REPORT: October, 2007 Sales Analysis

When I first started looking at the sales estimates from Diamond for October, I noticed the unusual breakdown of the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions. The breakdown is usually into roughly thirds split between Marvel, DC and the other publishers. But in October it was within a few percentage points of being a four-way tie between DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and the other publishers. This is the tightest grouping of the top three publishers on the list in years. DC has 25.95%, Marvel was only a little over a percent behind with 24.85% with Dark Horse in a remarkably close third place with 22.08%. The remaining publishers accounted for the other 27.12% of the total sales for the top 100 trades. This is the first time since June 2005 Marvel and DC combined accounted for less than 51% of the overall sales for the top 100 trades and a major change from just a few months ago when Marvel alone accounted for over 45% of the volume of sales by units. Dark Horse is the only publisher other than DC and Marvel to ever exceed 21% of the total sales of the top 100 trades in any given month.

What is even more interesting about what Dark Horse did in October is the comparison of the total dollars for the comics and trades. While this isn't the first time that Dark Horse has had a higher estimated dollar total for trades than for comics, it is the most even the split has been in the past few years. Dark Horse sales were roughly about $992,500 for the comics and $1,024,500 for the trades. This is the second highest estimated reported dollar total for Dark Horse trades since February 2003 with March 2005 beating it out with a total of around $1,048,900. There is a subtle shift happening with the readers away from the monthly comics towards the collected editions. Dark Horse seems well positioned should the industry reach a tipping point and need to survive based on the sales of the trades and not the monthly comics. DC and Marvel each made well over five times more from the comics as the trades through Diamond in October. Keep in mind that the Diamond data is only a subset of the overall sales and therefore does not include any sales data outside of the Diamond sales channel. Even so, it is clear that Dark Horse had extremely robust trade sales in October through Diamond.

Having 19 of the 100 items of the top graphic novel and collected editions list for October was one of the reasons that Dark Horse did so well. Marvel had 25 of the other items and DC accounted for another 24 of them. Clearly one avenue to a bigger percentage of the overall unit sales is to simply publish more items. On the top comics list, DC accounted for over a third of the list with 107 of the 300 items resulting in the largest share of the sales for the top 300 comics.

VIZ used this tactic of increased production in October when it released another three volumes of "Naruto" in a single week. This resulted in a total of six volumes being released within a four-week time frame. The oddity in the sales estimates was that the first volume of the second batch only sold around 3,550 units to retailers while the other five volumes (v16, 17, 18, 20 and 21) all sold in the 5,100 to 5,200 range.

One of the trades that did very well for Dark Horse was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Long Way Home," which was the top selling trade through Diamond for the month. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" continues to be in top ten on the comic book list each month and the total estimated reported sales for the first issue is around 152,926 units. Given the high level of both initial sales and reorders for those first five issues there was no guarantee that the trade would open as strong as it did. The reorder activity for the early issues has subsided with the release of the trade with only issue #6 making the comics list with reorders in October. Not only are these sales estimates amazing for a Dark Horse title, but they would be very strong for a DC or Marvel title. The shift in writers away from Joss Whedon didn't hurt the title, either. The drop in sales the monthly issues have seen is well within the normal "honeymoon" period for a new title.

But "Buffy" wasn't the only strong trade for Dark Horse in October.

There were a number of other trades with strong sales including "Star Wars: Close Wars Adventures" vol. 9, "Serenity: Those Left Behind," "Empowered" vol. 2 and "Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi Omnibus" vol. 1. Almost half of the items for items for Dark Horse on the trades list were licensed properties, more if you included manga titles like "Oh My Goddess" and "Appleseed Hypernotes," to name a few. This diverse mix of licensed properties, magna titles and original material is what has kept Dark Horse as a major publisher over the last 20 years. 

The second trade of "Empowered" opened over 1,100 units stronger than the first volume. This is one of the few direct-to-trade properties being produced. Most trades are either collected editions of previously released comics or translations of foreign material. In both of those cases the cost of production is far less than for enough all new material to fill a trade paperback. Trades have a similar drop in sales with the second volume and the fact that "Empowered" is a new property and therefore had no built in audience of readers makes this increase all the more impressive.

Both the "Marvel Zombies Covers" hardcover and the "52 Covers" hardcover made the list in October outselling a number of trades with actual stories in them. This is proof that sometimes just the art can support a book. Nowhere is the art more important than on the cover since it is the cover which helps sell a comic or trade. Although these didn't set any sales records, they did well enough that we might see a few more cover collections in the future.

The trades making return appearances on the list are the usual ones like  "Walking Dead" (volumes 1, 6 and 7 this time around), "Watchmen," "The Boys" and "Marvel Zombies." What is a little surprising is the return appearances of "Marvel Encyclopedia" volumes 3 (Hulk) and 4 (Spider-Man). Presumably this is a reflection of stores getting more copies for the holiday season.

The bottom of the top 100 trades list comes in at around 1,480 units. With the increasing importance of trades in the overall marketplace, the list of top trades should be expanded to at least 200 items. Given the long shelf life of trades it would make sense to expand the list to 300 items or simply list all of the items each month for a more inclusive set of data.

Over on the comics side, the breakdown of the top 300 comics was also a bit unusual with DC having 43.08% of the total unit sales beating out the 40.88% for Marvel by 2.20%. This is only the fourth time in the past 57 months that DC has had the biggest piece of the top 300 comics sales.

Coming in with only 0.05% of the overall unit sales for the top 300 comics was Red 5 Comics. This new publisher released its first comic in October with "Atomic Robo" #1 which came in at rank #284 with an estimated 3,689 units sold to retailers. For a new and unknown publisher this is a remarkably strong start and is roughly on par with the estimates sales of established titles like "PvP," "30 Days of Night" and "Wasteland."

One of the oddities about the top comics list for October is that there was no item with an index value of 100.00. Normally the issue of "Batman" for the month is used as the benchmark title although "Detective Comics" has been used a few times recently when no issue of "Batman" shipped during a given month. What happened this time was "Batman" #670 had a variant cover and the sales of that cover and the regular cover were merged into a single entry on the list. In the past, whenever "Batman" had variant covers the combined sales resulted in an index of 100.00. This happened in September 2003 with the multiple covers for "Batman" #619 and again in July 2006 with the two covers for "Batman" #655. In this case the combined sales of both the regular cover and the variant cover of "Batman" #670 resulted in index value of 102.23.

This is the only known case where sales of the regular cover versus the variant cover can be measured as normally the sales of the different covers are merged if they have the same price. We know 100.00 of the index is for the regular cover and the remaining 2.23 is for the 1 in 25 variant cover. Mathematically, the variant cover could have accounted for up to 3.85% of the combined sales if the maximum number of variant covers possible had been ordered. Since not all retailers ordered in even 25 unit increments, the number of variant cover versions retailers were actually able to order was below the maximum potential number of variant covers. In other words, retailers could only order 1/25th the number of variant covers as they did normal covers and obviously couldn't order partial copies of the variant covers. In this particular case there were an estimated 75,138 copies of the normal cover sold to retailers and only about 1,676 copies of the variant cover. This works out to a ratio of about 45 regular covers to each alternate cover. As a result, about 1,279 of the possible total of 2,954 copies of the variant cover never existed except in some theoretical sense. The lower the ratio between the regular and variant covers, the closer the stated ratio and the actual published ratio are going to be.

"Batman" #670

To understand the problems normally encountered in trying to split the sales of multiple covers of a comic we can look at "Action Comics" #585 which had a 1 in 10 variant cover. Both were combined into a single entry in the list with an index value of 72.59 for an estimated total of 54,543 copies. Since retailers could only order 1 of the variant covers for each 10 of the regular covers they ordered we know 1/11th or 4,958 of the estimates total could be for the variant cover. But all that we really know is that at least 49,585 of the regular covers were sold to retailers. While those two statements may appear to be equivalent, they are not. We can't determine how many of the variant covers were ordered, only the maximum number that could have been ordered. On the other hand, we do know the minimum number of regular covers that had to be ordered given the rules for ordering the variant covers. So while the estimate of at least 49,585 copies of the regular cover having been ordered is likely to be an understatement, it is accurate given the granularity of the data available. The split of the remaining 4,958 copies between the two covers cannot be determined without additional data.

Speaking of variant covers, "Justice League of America" #14 dropped nearly 18%, down an estimated 22,295 units from total reported sales the previous issue. This is the first issue of the series without an alternate cover, which had to account for part of the drop. Another cause of the drop was the sales of "JLA Wedding Special" #1 last month of around 72,048. That was over 47,000 copies below the initial sales of "Justice League of America" #13. Many people expected Dwayne McDuffie's first issue of "Justice League of America" to be the start of a new storyline, not the second chapter of it. Not only did the "JLA Wedding Special" underperform in comparison to "Justice League of America" #13 in September, but there was no reorder activity for it in October. Both of these factors have hurt the sales of "Justice League of America" not only for this issue, but probably for the remainder of this storyline.

Due to the delays on the "One More Day" storyline, the only Spider-Man comic to ship in October was "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" #24. Instead of moving towards a thrice-monthly format for the "Amazing Spider-Man," the Spider-Man titles have been reduced to one a month. This is particularly ironic given that DC managed to release three issues of "Action Comics" in October. So even though "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" #24 came in at rank #2 with an increase of an estimated 65,634 units over the previous issue for an estimated total over 110,295 units, the Spider-Man family of titles was down overall in October. This also delays the shift to the thrice-monthly "Amazing Spider-Man." This is going to take months for the Spider-Man franchise to recover from this series of delays on this four issue storyline.

Falling just a few hundred units below 100,000 was "X-Men: Messiah Complex One Shot" which marks the first crossover storyline in the X-Men titles in a decade. However, that doesn't take into account the additional 9,114 units of the variant edition which came in at rank #191. The sales of the variant cover were split into a different item on the list because it was listed with a $2.00 cover price. The combined total of 107,973 for this starting chapter is strong, but not overwhelmingly so when compared to other events titles like "World War Hulk" and "Civil War." The test will be if the storyline boosts the sales on the lower rung titles like "X-Factor" and "New X-Men" or if sales drop due to people skipping the crossover storyline. How well the various chapters of this storylines sell will no doubt have a major influence on how soon we'll see another major crossover storyline in the X-Men titles.

"She-Hulk" sales jumped 30.5% in October

The "Marvel Adventures" line of titles came scattered between ranks #230 and #261 with sales from an estimated 6,417 units down to around 4,846 units. These titles all lost a few hundred units from the previous issue resulting in drops between 3.53% and 7.84%. There comes a point at which a publisher simply can't afford to continue publishing a title and these titles are well below that point based on these estimates. Fortunately these kinds of titles are likely to do better than average outside of the Diamond sales channel. Gateway titles such as these are vitally important as they can attract new and younger readers. For comparison, the DC equivalent titles of "Justice League Unlimited," "Teen Titans Go" and "Batman Strikes" sell between an estimated 8,453 units down to around 6,657 units. One of the advantages that the DC titles have is being based on recent cartoon series. The settling in period for these titles seems to be about five to six months after which the sales don't seem to fluctuate drastically. Usually the sales slowly drift down from the standard attrition. The thing to remember on these kind of titles that are aimed to younger readers is those readers are more likely to find them in mass market outlets than in comic book stores. If the mass market information was available these titles would probably have much strong sales in that channel than in the direct market.

In what could have been a new #1 issue but instead was "She Hulk 2" #22, Peter David started his run on the title. The sales jumped up 30.5% from an estimated 27,211 units to around 35,533. Aside from the first issue, issue #8 which was the "Civil War" tie-in issue and issue #18 with She-Hulk fighting Iron Man, issue #22 is the best selling issue of the series. However, as we have seen before, the arrival of a new creative team restarts the honeymoon period and there is a good chance that the next issue will suffer from the standard second issue drop off around 21%, which would put it right back around how the series had been doing with Dan Slott.

And, finally, the second issue of "Marvel Comics Presents" came in at rank #95 with an estimated 26,546 units, a drop of 30.73% from the first issue. The previous run of this title ran for 175 issues but historically anthology titles like this never do very well and the $3.99 cover price is probably hurting sales of this series and the previous series was biweekly while this one is monthly. The odds of this series lasting more than two or three years are low with there being a decent chance of it ending around issue #12.

As always, 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.

Bat-Family and Superman
Batman Writer Teases a Massive Bat-Family Reunion in Detective Comics #1000

More in Comics