September 2008 was yet another great month for Marvel Comics. While the publisher accounted for only 27.43% of the total unit sales of the top 100 trades -- compared to the 34.7% for DC Comics and the 37.87% for all the other publishers -- Marvel more than made up for it on the comic book side. Marvel took 55.44% of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics in September 2008 while DC only had 29.57% and all the other publishers only had 14.99%.
Marvel took the top slot with Secret Invasion #6. The title was down 1,254 units from the previous issue, which works out to a drop of about 0.76%, with estimated sales of 164,394 units. Marvel took 23 of the top 30 slots. Rank #11 went to Dark Horse with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #18 with an estimated 77,567 units. The other six slots in the top 30 went to DC.
Had an issue of Final Crisis, Batman, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America or Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds shipped in September, then DC would have had a much stronger showing at the top of the list. In August 2008, those five titles sold a combined 450,460 units for DC. For comparison, the lower 47 items for DC on the top 300 list for September amounted to combined sales of an estimated 447,095 units. Obviously, those five titles not shipping in September had a significant impact how DC performed that month.
The 25.87% difference between Marvel and DC on the top 300 comics list is the largest gap during the final order era (starting in February 2003). There was a similar gap over 25.39% between Marvel and DC back in March 2005. During the 67 months since the final order era began, Marvel has had the largest percentage of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics in 63 of those months. DC has only done so in four months, and the largest lead DC has had in those four months is a gap of 3.02%.
On the surface, the unit percentages of the top 300 comics list make it seem like DC hasn't been doing too well over the past few years. But the estimated unit sales, and not the percentages, show a bit of a different picture:
The green line is the estimates number of total units sold for items on the top 300 comics list for Marvel. The purple line is for DC and the red line is for all of the other publishers. Clearly, Marvel is doing very well and has an upward sales trend as shown by the green trend line. While DC has had a bit of a rough year as indicated on this chart, the overall trend line is still going upward, and at almost the same slope as the Marvel trend line. One thing to note about the sales for Marvel and DC is that the Marvel sales have much more pronounced gains and losses from month to month, while the DC sales don't bounce around as wildly. The overall trend line for the other publishers is downward but sales have been picking up in this area over the past year or so.
What should be a big wake up call for the people at DC is the fact that the publisher had only one item in the top 10 comics for September, only two in the top 15 comics, and only 30 in the top 100. Items by DC don't start showing up in any quantity until rank #30, where DC took ten consecutive slots on the list.
The top-selling comic for DC was All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #10 in rank #4 with an estimated 94,031 units. This was the issue with the improperly blacked out profanity, and was the subject of much discussion online. Even with all of that free publicity, sales were only up by about 327 units from the previous issue. The second best-selling item for DC was All Star Superman #12 in rank #15 with approximately 70,404 units, up 70 units from the previous issue.
One thing DC could and should do to increase sales is fix the problems preventing titles from shipping on time each month. All Star Superman #12 was six weeks late, Fables #75 was seven weeks late, and Titans #4 and Ex Machina #38 were both eight weeks late. As mentioned above, some of the top selling titles for DC in August didn't ship in September. Final Crisis #4 was solicited with an expected shipping date of September 17, 2008 and didn't ship until five weeks later on October 22. Batman #680 was originally expected to ship on August 27, 2008 and shipped on October 1, five weeks late. Justice League of America #25 had an expected shipping date of September 17, 2008 and shipped only two weeks late on October 1. Justice Society of America #19 should have shipped on September 24 but didn't arrive in stores until three weeks later on October 15. Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 shipped on October 15 instead of four weeks earlier on the original expected shipping date of September 17.
In fairness, other publishers are also plagued with late shipping titles. Fantastic Four #560, from Marvel, shipped six weeks late. Over at Image, it is more unusual for a comic to ship on time than for it to be late. Invincible #52 shipped 25 weeks after the expected ship date. Savage Dragon #137 was 27 weeks late. Pax Romana #3 was 32 weeks late. The most puzzling late title from Image is PvP #40, which shipped 35 weeks late and 27 weeks after the previous issue. PvP is a collection of a webcomics, so of all of the Image titles, PvP should be one of the easier ones to get out on time each month. Image is addressing some of these problems by re-soliciting some of the chronically late titles.
When I first started reading comics, titles shipped each and every month. Some titles would always come out on the first week of the month, others always on the second week, etc. If a comic didn't ship the week it normally did, it was considered late. In most cases, it would ship a week or two later. These days, complaining about a comic shipping a week or two late is tantamount to nitpicking. Shipping a comic late is considered acceptable behavior for a publisher. How often have we heard things along the lines of do you want it good or do you want it now? from publishers? It is too much to ask for both? Late comics equate to missed sales.
On a bi-monthly schedule, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #20 would have shipped in September. So, in that (theoretical) sense, the title could be considered 10 issues behind. As it is, the title is shipping on an average of once every four months. All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #11 isn't scheduled to ship until November 26 -- according to the September solicitations. And based on the track record of the title, it is likely to ship late, possibly not coming out until 2009.
DC’s Birds of Prey #122 placed in rank #111 with an estimated 21,312 units. It is a title hovering right above (or possibly in) what I used to consider the theoretical danger zone for mainstream DC Universe titles. It used to be when a DCU title dropped to 20,000 or under, it was likely to get canceled. Over the past year a number of titles have dropped to 15,000 and under without getting canceled. The danger zone seems to have been lowered to perhaps the 15,000 to 12,000 range. In either case, Birds or Prey is not a top-selling title for DC. The total reported estimated sales for the book in 2008 are 200,919 units, which is 13,184 units more than the total reported estimated sales for 2008 of 187,735 units for All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.
Not only has an issue of Birds of Prey shipped each and every month since the series began in November 1998, but two issues shipped in July and August 2004. More importantly, Birds of Prey #123 already shipped on October 22 and the following two issues are very likely to ship in November and December. The total sales for those three issues should be at least 60,000 or more. Even if another issue of All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder does ship in 2008, it is likely to outsell Birds of Prey during 2008 by more than about 20,000 units.
It is chronic lateness that allows a title that normally ranks between the 33rd to 43rd best-selling comics for DC every month during 2008 to potentially outsell the title that has been the best or second best-selling comic for DC in every month that it shipped.
DC is able to get titles out each and every month. For that matter, they have proved with 52, Countdown to Final Crisis and now Trinity that they can produce comics on a weekly basis. The people at DC seem to be aware of the shipping delays and seem to be working on fixing them. Getting all of their titles back on track and coming out each and every month would go a long way towards improving how DC does on these lists every month.
I mentioned last month that based on the sales trend for the hypothetical average title, Family Dynamic #2 would sell around 3,978 units and Family Dynamic #3 about 3,557 units. I arrived at these numbers by taking the estimated sales of the first issue of 5,083 units and applying the average drop in sales for a second issue and third issue. These percentages shift a little over time as more information becomes available each month. After factoring in the data for September 2008, the average drop for a second issue is around 21.77% and for a third issue about 10.59%. These are averages and, as such, can only be used to give ballpark projection of how a title might do if it follows the average sales trend. Obviously, some titles drop more than others and Family Dynamic was one of those cases. The sales for Family Dynamic #2 were down over 32% from the first issue to around 3,455 units. This further justifies the decision at DC to end the title early. Unfortunate but true.
Over on the top trades list, DC took the top two slots with Watchmen moving another 8,133 units into comic book stores and 100 Bullets vol. 12 selling an estimated 6,986 units. The Watchmen International Edition was in rank #16 with about 3,619 units. The consignment program for Watchmen is still in place and there are reportedly nearly a million copies in print right now. Yet only about 8,133 copies were bought by comic book stores through Diamond in September.
Normally we would need to factor in stores ordering copies through other book distributors on more favorable terms, but the consignment program is currently allowing comic book stores to get returnable copies for free. It is hard to understand what could be considered more favorable terms. As such, it begs the question of how well the current infrastructure of the comic book direct market is able to service the potential market for these items.
With the “Iron Man” DVD having sold well over 7 million units, it would be a shame if the full demand for the comic book version of the character really is down around 60,000 units. Not everyone who bought the DVD is going to suddenly become a comic book reader. But all of them don't have to. If just a single percent of the people that bought the DVD picked up Invincible Iron Man #6, the sales for that title would double from the 60,427 units for Invincible Iron Man #5 to around 110,000 units. That would put the title up near the top of the list. It is within the realm of possibility, given the first issue sales of an estimated 120,618 units.
Ironically, it might be a best-case scenario if the current direct market infrastructure isn't meeting the full demand for the products. After all, that would mean there is a larger demand for these products and room for the industry to grow.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.