MAYO REPORT: September, 2007 Sales Analysis

Before we get to the analysis of the estimated comics sales in September, 2007, I'd ask your indulgence for a moment to discuss the wildfires in San Diego.

I grew up in the Poway/Rancho Bernardo area and watching the news coverage the past few days of the massive evacuations and property damage has been indescribable. Having witnessed a number of bad wildfires during the over 20 years I lived in San Diego, I know how much damage just one such fire can do. The number and scale of these fires is staggering. It looks like the house I grew up in has survived, but was within 1,000 feet of a number of houses that didn't. And that was probably just a matter of which way the wind was blowing. But wondering about the house my parents moved out of seven years ago is far different than worrying about the house you currently live in. All too many people in San Diego have been doing that this past week. My family and I have many friends in the impacted area, some of which have been evacuated from one place and then another and then another.

These wildfires can be exceedingly dangerous and destructive. I sincerely hope that everybody out there is safe and sound and remains that way.

Now, back to the business at hand - comics.

For those of you coming late to the game, yesterday CBR posted my sales estimates for September, 2007 shipping books. As has almost always been the case over the past few years, Marvel had the largest percentage of copies sold for the top 300 comics. This time Marvel accounted for 45.78% of the volume by units compared to DC in second place with 39.63%. But, the total volume was down by nearly 1,000,000 units from last month and that loss was split by Marvel and DC with Marvel down around 725,000 units, while DC was only down around 300,000 units. And, yes, that exceeds the 1,000,000 units drop I just mentioned but fortunately the other publishers seemed to be up by around 35,000 units which offset the losses by DC and Marvel slightly. It is interesting that the big publishers both saw a noticeable loss while the smaller publishers saw gains. Of course some of this is because Marvel had 16 fewer items this month, while DC was only down by one item meaning that the other publishers had those additional 17 slots to help boost their total estimated sales figures for the month.

Buying everything on the top 300 comics list would have set you back $999.69 with the most inexpensive item costing $1.99 and the most expensive priced at $7.99. While the average price was $3.33, the median price was $2.99 and was the price of 189 items on the list. The next most common price tag was $3.99, found on 46 items on the list. This is the highest number of $3.99 comics to ever be of the list and the third lowest number of $2.99 comics on the list in the past year. It sure feels like a price hike is looking more and more inevitable. Personally, I hope the publishers hold off on that for as long as they possibly can.

Out of the top 300 comics, 198 of them went down in sales from the previous issue while 21 went up. As for the remaining 81 items, my database was unable to find a previous issue to compare against.

Unsurprisingly, the top slot went to "World War Hulk #4" with approximately 150,000 units. This series has been doing very well for Marvel as have the tie in issues of other comics. The question is if this success will put pressure on Marvel both internally and externally to meet or beat these sales levels and if Marvel can do that or not. Between "World War Hulk," the death of Captain America and "Civil War," 2007 has been a very good year for Marvel and one that may be hard to match. The cynic in me didn't expect this level of success for "World War Hulk" as I thought that doing another such event so soon after "Civil War" might lead to event fatigue, and while the success of "World War Hulk" is well below that of "Civil War," clearly my concerns were unfounded, at least for this event.

The "mini-event" of "One More Day" boosted the sales of "Amazing Spider-Man #544" by over 37% to an estimated 146,000 units. This was done even with the higher cover price of $3.99. This is going to be a title to watch closely once it switches to the thrice-monthly format. Who knows, if that format is successful, we may see Marvel try it on other properties.

There was about a 9% drop on "Justice League of America #13," but is still came in very strong in third place with nearly 120,000 copies. While DC did clearly solicit the "JLA Wedding Special" as the place where Dwayne McDuffie started his run on the Justice League, I think that many people didn't fully appreciate that fact. The "JLA Wedding Special" came in #21 with approximately 72,000 units. That means that almost 50,000 fewer copies of that first issue by McDuffie were available in stores during September. Hopefully that will result in some solid reorder activity for the "JLA Wedding Special" next month.

The drop on "Thor #3" in slot #5 of around 10.5% is well within the norm for a third issue drop. This puts the title around 110,000 units which is still very healthy. This issue was sort of a "Civil War" tie in with Iron Man guest starring. The alternate cover probably helped sales, too. It is hard to tell if the issue would have dropped more without those two factors. Given the drop on the second issue and the fact that the title is still a bit above what I would consider to be a sustainable level, I suspect this still will probably drop substantially over the next year before it starts to level out. But, like I said last month, it is really too early to tell with this title. The reorder activity for the first two issues in slots 138 and 162 are a good sign that retailers have needed more copies than they originally got.

Dark Horse continues to have success with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," issue #6 of which came in at #8 with an estimated 96,600 units. This is the first time the title has dropped below 100,000, but given that all five other issues of the series have reorder activity ranging from nearly 3,200 units to over 8,300 units, it's a safe bet this book will end up above the 100k mark, which we'll see reflected in Diamond's yearly list of top selling items to come at the end of this year. That will be notable since only three items published by companies other than DC and Marvel have appeared on Diamond's yearly list of the top 100 comics since 2003. Those items were "Transformers: Generation One (v2) #1" from Dreamwave in 2003, "G.I. Joe/Transformers #1" from Image in 2003 and "Conan #1" from Dark Horse in 2004. The real indication of the strength of this title is the continued reorder activity for the earlier issues.

In slots #12 through #15 were issues #34 - #31 of "Countdown" with estimated sales of 82,500 to 80,100. This minor attrition of a percent or two each week indicates that this series is doing reasonably well. Based on the reader reactions I'm seeing and how the "52" trades have been doing, I expect this series to do okay, but not exceptionally well in trade.

Over in slot #54 was the first issue of the new "Marvel Comics Presents" anthology, with around 38,300 units. This is a low starting point for the series and part of that might be due to the $3.99 price point. But, this had five 8 page stories for a total of 40 pages of new material. This is a title that is probably going to be a bit unusual in terms of how it gets packaged for trades. Since the different features run different lengths, this isn't going to be a wait six months then collect those six issues process. Some of the longer running features might get collected when they finish and some of the one shot features might not get collected at all. So people waiting for the trade on this might miss out on some good stories.

I can understand the low starting point, but it does run counter to the vocal requests I hear from some corners of the internet that DC and Marvel should do more anthologies. Here is one such anthology and the sales aren't bad, but aren't spectacular either. If this follows the average drops, the second issue will come on somewhere around 30,000 or so units, maybe a little lower. Then, if the average trend continues, the third issue would come in around 26,000 to 27,000. Those aren't bad numbers (keep in mind they're just hypothetical at this point), but when you factor in a standard level of attrition of just a percent or two and within a year or so the title starts to approach the potential danger zone of sales for a Marvel title of 20,000 units. Once Marvel titles drops below that line, they tend not to stick around long.

The best selling comic not by Marvel, DC, Dark Horse or Image was "The Boys #10" by Dynamite Entertainment in slot 71 with over 32,000 units.

The gap between "Spawn" and "Walking Dead" is closing. "Spawn #99" landed in slot #99 with a little under 23,800 units while "Walking Dead #42" placed in slot #102 with a little over 23,100 units. Both of these were beat out by "Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer #4" which ranked at #98 with over 24,200 units, making it the best seller Image book of the month.

Over at Top Cow, the "Cyblade Pilot Season" one shot did a bit under 8,000 units in slot #182. That is a few hundred units better than the "Ripclaw Pilot Season" one shot did in August. While I'm not sure what sort of numbers Top Cow was expecting for these one shots, the approach of an explicit pilot issue for potential new titles is interesting.

Down in slot #243 was the first issue of "Potter's Field" written by Mark Waid for Boom Studios with only around 3,700 units. This seems to be a clear case of a title underselling. Had this come out from DC it probably would have sold over 10,000 units, possibly over 20,000 units depending on how it was marketed. I'm not sure how well the title would have fit over at Marvel, but being in the back half of Previews certainly didn't help this title. Boom! Studios is a publisher to watch these days, particularly now that Mark Waid is their Editor-in-Chief.

Another title that I think landed lower on the list than it should have was "Thirteen Steps #1" by Desperado Publishing in slot #281 with just under 2,000 units. This amounts to an average of maybe one copy per store. However, since some stores ordered multiple copies it means that many stores ordered none.

While I understand that there are over 5,000 items each month being offered and that Previews is usually well over 500 pages and Marvel Previews is another 100 plus pages each and every month, I continue to be surprised and disappointed by how low some of these quality titles down at the bottom of the list are selling. When the best selling item is selling 100 times better than the lowest selling item on the list of the top 300 comics, I have to wonder why there is such a huge difference in the sales levels? When the bottom half of the list only accounts for less than 12% off the units sold for the month, something seems fundamentally wrong. At the very least, it seems like there should be some way to get more than one or two percent of the existing comic book readers to try some of these other titles. Ideally, publishers would be marketing to new readers as well but if they can't get any noticeable percentage of the existing comic book readers and retailers to buy their titles, why should they expect someone that doesn't read comics to do so?

September was a bit of an unusual month in terms of the breakdown of the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions list (aka "the trades list"). Instead of being dominated by a given publisher, usually Marvel, no single publisher accounted for more that 32% of the pie by units. Marvel came in with the biggest piece of the top 100 trades pie with 31.02% by units and 35.73% by dollars. DC was in a very close second place with 30.04% by units and 34.01% by dollars.

The size of that pie for the top 100 trades was up around 20,000 copies from August and up about 43,000 copies from September, 2006. But, even though the volume of copies for the top 100 trades was up from August, the dollar value was down over $140,000 reflecting a $2.14 lower average price for the items in September. The dollar total was up over $800,000 from September 2006 due to the increased number of copies sold and those items have cover prices an average of $0.52 higher.

This is smallest difference in the percentage of the top 100 trades units between Marvel and DC since October, 2006, when the spread was 0.79%. But the smallest spread between Marvel and DC on record for the trades was in April, 2004, when DC edges out Marvel by a little over 0.02% of the unit volume for the top trades list for that month. Then again, there was the time that DC beat out Marvel by almost 42% of the volume of the top trades back in September 2003 with 56.59% of the top trades list compared to the 14.61% that Marvel that month. What makes this interesting is that it was only a few months ago that Marvel had twice the volume of the top trades list by units that DC did.

Since Diamond started releasing information based on what actually shipped to retailers (versus what they initially ordered), DC has accounted for 28.91% of the units for the estimated sales of the reported top trades which is 2.88% better than the 26.03% for Marvel. It is things like this which has always made me think that DC is playing the long game while Marvel is playing the short game. Obviously it helps a publisher to be successful in the long term by being successful in the short term, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race. While Marvel hit big on the trades recently with "Civil War" and will most likely do so in a few months when the trades for "World War Hulk" come out, DC has a solid track record with their Vertigo trades. Over the long term, that has seemed to pay off for them.

The top selling trade for the month was "Walking Dead v7: Calm Before" by Image which did around 13,200 units. This trade came out on September 26 th and collects issues #37 to #42 of "Walking Dead." The thing is, the title got a little behind for a while. Then it caught up. Issue #37 came out on April 25 th , #38 on June 27 th , #39 on July 25 th , #40 on August 22 nd , #41 on August 29 th and #42 on September 12 th . And while I commend Robert Kirkman for getting the schedule for the title back on track, I have to think that the rapid fire pace of those last three issues right before the trade impacted the sales of both those issues and the trade. This is one of those cases in which I'd love to see a large sampling of sell through data from a variety of retailers. Without that data, there is really no way to determine what impact the schedule had on the sales.

Now, often I use the strong showing of Kirkman's various trades to point out just how much stronger his properties are doing compared to the rest of the Image line up. But I'm not going to do that this time around. Instead, I'm just going to point out that the sales on the "Walking Dead v7: Calm Before" trade paperback exceed the combined sales of all of the other Image items on the top 100 trades list, including the other Kirkman trades (which are volumes 1 and 6 of "Walking Dead"). That first trade of "Walking Dead" has been on the list about three dozen times. The constant steady sales of this series continue to impress me.

And with the "Marvel Zombies: Army of Darkness" hardcover in the second slot with well over 10,000 units, is it really any surprise that zombies are popular right now? While I don't exactly think that the reason those are doing so well is because they feature zombies, it is a reasonable enough theory that a lot of other creators are giving that genre a try. I can't say I blame them.

The top selling DC trade was the third volume of "52" in slot #4 with around 7,800 copies. The second trade paperback of "52" saw some reorder activity pushing the total known sales to around 10,600 copies. While that isn't bad, I'm a bit surprised this series hasn't done better in trade. It was a good self-contained story. The price point of $19.99 doesn't seem unreasonable. We'll probably see another 2,000 to 3,000 copies of the third volume, but they could fall beneath the bottom of the monthly top 100 trades lists.

Every so often, the manga titles make a strong showing in the top ten trades for the month. This is one of those months, at least for one title. Slots #7, #8 and #9 all went to "Naruto" with volumes #18, #17 and #16 respectively. Each volume did right around 5,200 or so units. They were all solicited in the same month and this ranking of increasing sales for each volume is an indicator that the overall retail community seems to currently believe in the strength of this particular series. I'm not sure that VIZ should have released all three volumes in the same week, but these were all solicited with the same release date, albeit a week earlier than when they did ship, so retailers were at least warned that the three volumes would all come out at once. This is another one of those cases in which detailed sell through information could be very interesting to study.

The trade that saw the biggest jump over the previous volume was "Ms Marvel v2: Civil War" in slot #23 with a jump of around 1,000 units over the first trade for that series. Safe money is on the "Civil War" cross over being the reason for the bump.

The estimated 2,400 copies of "Checkmate v2: Pawn Breaks" in rank 40 isn't bad, but given the monthly series is doing an estimated 19,000 units, I have to wonder if this title is going to stick around or not.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me.

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