MAYO REPORT: "Walking Dead" Rises, DC Holds the $2.99 Line

The division of the top 300 comics for May 2014 was much closer between Marvel and DC than we've seen in some recent months. Marvel accounted for 39.92% of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics while DC accounted for 35.54%. Looking at it from a dollars perspective, the gap was much larger with Marvel taking 43.39% of the total dollars for the top 300 comics and DC taking 32.94%. Marvel had both higher prices items and a much high average cover price.

While there was major push back from the fan community on the $3.99 cover price, it is here, and has become the default price point in many respects. $2.99 comics are far from gone, but the number of titles at that price point continues to decline. Marvel had only seven items in the top 300 at $2.99, while DC had 52 items. DC does seem to be trying to compete on price point, but is doing so very quietly. By not making a big deal out of the $2.99 price point, DC has the ability to quietly shift a few more titles in its line-up over to $3.99.

"Original Sin" #1 topped the comic book sales chart with an estimated 147,045 units. Some previous Marvel event titles have launched better, but these are very solid sales for a Marvel event. The series went up about 67,855 units from the "Original Sin" #0 -- an 85.69% gain -- but dropped to approximately 92,643 units for "Original Sin" #2. The sales on this series are going to be both interesting and confusing to watch over the next few months as Marvel has decided to embed two miniseries into the "Original Sin" title. What hits the shelves as "Original Sin: Hulk vs Iron Man" #1 to #4 will be "Original Sin" #3.1 to #3.4 on the sales charts, and what is titled "Original Sin: Thor and Loki: The Tenth Realm" #1 to #5 will be listed as "Original Sin" #5.1 to #5.5. Those two embedded miniseries will be shipped biweekly in parallel to the normally numbered issue of "Original Sin," a numbering and shipping order which is unnecessarily confusing for retailers and readers.

Marvel is doing another embedded miniseries inside of "Amazing Spider-Man" with the "Year One: Learning to Crawl" miniseries being numbered between the first and second issues of "Amazing Spider-Man," even though they are being released on a monthly basis. Clearly, the people at Marvel are expecting better sales by embedding these miniseries into a popular series rather than releasing them as different titles, and the approach worked on "Amazing Spider-Man" #1.1, which sold around 116,555 units. "Amazing Spider-Man" #2 sold better with an estimated 123,945 units. The end result is a non-event miniseries sold over 100,000 units by a wide margin, and that alone makes the embedded miniseries approach successful. The question is, how long will the technique work? The implication is that readers are not smart enough to recognize these embedded miniseries for what they are. A publisher's attempts to trick readers results in defensive readers, which yields lower sales over time. The embedded miniseries seems like a very transparent marketing device, and therefore might end up with a short lifespan.

Over at DC, "Batman" continues to be a strong seller, moving around 107,499 units. "Forever Evil" #7 ended the DC event with around 96,098 units, which is up from the previous two issues. With event titles and other stories featuring a big ending, some readers come back to see how things turned out, and this was clearly one of those cases. Given how the issue is a turning point for a number of characters and titles, it makes sense for readers to want to know what happened.

In addition to "Teen Titans," New Suicide Squad" and "Grayson" relaunching out of "Forever Evil," "Justice League" gets a new line up and direction, effectively putting it back into a honeymoon period for a few months. The end of the long running Zero Year storyline in "Batman" may put that title back into the honeymoon period again as well when the title shifts back to the present day adventures of Batman. While these shifts could kick sales up a knock for the respective titles, none of them are likely to do so for long.

"New 52: Futures End" launched at around 70,788 units, dropped by 19.27% on the second issue, another 5.91% on the third issue and about 1.1% on the fourth issue to end the month around 53,178 units. "Batman: Eternal" #5 sold around 66,795 units, down about 11.71% from the previous issue, which was in the previous batch of solicitations. The title dropped about 3.39% on sixth issue and another 3.85% on the seventh issue but had a slight increase of 0.4% after that, putting "Batman: Eternal" #8 around 62,294 units. Both of these titles are being reported by Diamond at reduced quantities to reflect possible returns -- DC typically makes the first three months of weekly title returnable to avoid putting too much risk on the retailers. This allows retailers to be a bit less conservative than they would be if they had to order about a dozen issues before knowing how their customers reacted to the title. With multiple concurrent weekly titles, it was more important than normal for DC to make the initial few months of these titles returnable. As result of this, the sales seem to jump up about 20% when the issues stop being returnable around issue #13 of the title.

"The Walking Dead" #127 was at rank 8 with 71,352 estimated units, placing it firmly in the top ten. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have worked long and hard to get their zombie epic into the top ten comics. Sure, it might get bumped out from time to time by event titles or other sales gimmicks, but, as it currently stands, "The Walking Dead" is currently the fourth best-selling ongoing title in the industry. "Justice League" #30 sold 77,456 units, which is only about 6,104 units above "The Walking Dead." For a title that started out in the ballpark of 6,100 units, it stands to reason we may not be all that far from "The Walking Dead" becoming comics third best-selling ongoing title. With "Amazing Spider-Man" still in the new title honeymoon period, it could happen as soon as the June numbers. As for "Batman" and "Justice League," the other ongoing titles currently outselling "The Walking Dead," all it takes is a creative team change and a once strong title or franchise can start dropping in sales -- something "Walking Dead" is unlikely to see happen.

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.

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