The Mayo Report: Analyzing "The Walking Dead's" Chart-Topping Numbers (UPDATED)

Topping the charts in July 2012 was "The Walking Dead" #100 with approximately 335,082 units, along with another 30,969 units for the chromium edition in rank 70 for a combined total of around 366,051 estimated units. This, of course, is a record high for the sales of the title. I mention that not because it is news, but because it may well be the last time such as thing can ever be said for the monthly sales of "The Walking Dead."

While the total sales of around 366,051 is about 17,561 units less than 383,612 units reported as shipped to retail by Image Comics a few weeks ago, there are a number of possible explanations for this difference of around 17,561 units. First, the numbers reported here and elsewhere on the internet are estimates calculated from the known sales of other titles in combination with the order index value provided by Diamond, which only includes North American comic book specialty shops. That alone could easily account for the difference. The figure reported by Image Comics is an exact number, but exactly what that number measures is not entirely clear. The number represents units "shipped to retail," but not necessarily to retailers. A subtle distinction, but an important one since the data from Diamond reflects what was shipped and invoiced to retailers. And, of course, not all of the sales necessarily happened through Diamond.

UPDATE: Image Comics has informed CBR that the 383,612 total was reported to the publisher by Diamond, which includes copies of all versions shipped to retailers -- including those shpped to Diamond UK and the copies of the exclusive cover Diamond sold at Comic-Con International in San Diego 2012.

It is easy to jump to the erroneous conclusion that these estimates are somehow wrong when what is really happening is an apples to oranges comparison. That having been said, I want to stress that the data I deal with involves estimates and probably are off a bit from the exact sales data. But any such discrepancy should be systemic and reasonably consistent over time, allowing for valid trend analysis as the Diamond data does not represent the totality of comic book sales. What makes it useful information is that it represents the majority of the sales for most comic book titles. Since April 1997, when the exclusivity war between distributors ended, Diamond has been the dominate comic book distributor with exclusive arrangements with the majority of the comic book publishers. How things sell through Diamond is exceedingly influential to what comic book titles continue to be published and which don't.

As a comparison point, "Amazing Spider-Man" #583 with the President Obama cover sold around 352,856 units during its first month of release and around another 148,800 units the following month. While the combined total for "The Walking Dead" #100 is higher than the first month sales for "Amazing Spider-Man" #583, the reorder activity the following resulted in much higher total sales. Of course, who knows what sort of reorder activity we might see for "The Walking Dead" #100 next month.

Excluding the $9.99 chromium cover, "The Walking Dead" #100 saw increase in sales of over 500% compared the previous issue. To say that is remarkable is an understatement. Keep in mind, the increase is in addition to the nearly 17,000 unit jump on the title between issues #96 and #97. Add in the $9.99 chromium cover for issue #100, and it outsold both issues of "Avengers vs X-Men" that shipped in July, combined. Clearly this is a huge sales success for "The Walking Dead," Robert Kirkman and Image Comics. It is also a huge opportunity for a permanent increase in sales for the title.

With the stellar sales of "The Walking Dead" #100, it makes it difficult to see how the title has been doing prior to that issue. Removing that issue and scaling the chart accordingly gives us this:

Historically, "The Walking Dead" retains sales. Sure, there have been a few issues that spiked in sales that were then lost on the following issues, but those spikes have been few and far between. Specifically, issues #50, #75, #83 and #87 saw an increase on those issues, but not the following issues. There have even been a few cases in which sales started to drop off on the title. Again, these have been few and far between. The recent jump with issue #97 in and of itself was impressive due to both the size of the jump and the fact that it is sustained over the following issues. The real sign of success is going to come over the coming month as we learn how many new regular readers the title picks up from the massive spike in sales on #100. Certainly, a portion of the sales came from people getting more than one of the 13 covers. Hopefully the multiple covers sales gimmick will help kick the sales up a notch on this title. Based on how the title had been doing and the recent increase in sales, odds are the sales would have kept increasing over time based on the quality of the story and not based on other factors like alternate, variant and incentive covers.

Over on the trades list, "The Walking Dead" moved enough units to outsell all of the publishers on the list except DC, Marvel and IDW. As amazingly successful as the title is on the comic book side of the equation, it continues to be a strong evergreen title on the trade side as well. No doubt it is equally strong digitally. All of that is a clear indication that most readers who try the title stay with it in one format or another. All it would take is around a 20% jump in sales from how "The Walking Dead" #99 sold for the title to outsell every ongoing Marvel title currently being published, and gaining another 10,000 readers out of a bump in sales of nearly 280,000 seems like it should be possible for a title like "The Walking Dead," which has a strong track recorder of retaining and gaining readers.

Marvel stayed in the top ten with "Avengers vs X-Men" #7 selling around 179,233 estimated units and #8 selling approximately 174,935 units. The companion slugfest title of "AvX Vs" #4 sold a fraction of that at around 86,539 estimated units. This implies readers are interested in plot over just action and attempts to "wow" the readers aren't as desired as some creators and editors might think. Unfortunately for Marvel, "Uncanny X-Men" #15, which was the best-selling ongoing Marvel title, only sold around 66,123 units. "Uncanny X-Men," "Avengers," "New Avengers" and "Wolverine and the X-Men" are averaging less 64,000 in sales per issue while a major Avengers and X-Men event is going on. With only 13 items on the list selling over 50,000 units, Marvel has a lot riding on the Marvel NOW! initiative.

Over at DC, the Before Watchmen titles have cooled off with a 36% drop on "Before Watchmen: Minutemen" #2, a nearly 39% drop on "Before Watchmen: Comedian" #2 and an over 40% drop on "Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre" #2. While these are larger than average second issue drops, DC could still have a long term success with these titles in the collected form so it is far too early to consider these to be unsuccessful.

Prior to the New 52, DC averaged around 2,283,613 units during the final order era which began in March 2003. That average included titles set outside the mainstream super-hero universe. The total sales of the New 52 and related titles has dropped below the two million mark with total sales of around 1,977,880 estimated units. Add in the other titles and the total comic sales for DC is 2,533,159. "Batman" and "Justice League" remain above the 120,000 level and a number of other New 52 titles remain strong. DC took a major risk with the New 52 initiative and nearly a year later it is still successful.

July also saw the release of the "Batman: Earth One" hardcover which sold 32,918 estimated units -- over twice the initial sales of "Superman: Earth One" in October 2010. "Fables" v17 sold around 10,741 units. Once again, DC had the largest portion of the total units sold for the top 300 trades.

Outside of Marvel and DC, "Saga" #5 sold around 40,562 units and remains a strong seller at Image. "Bloodshot" #1 launched from Valiant with around 29,228 units. "X-O Manowar" #3 dropped another 14.6% down to around 18,152 units while "Harbinger" 32 dropped by around 46.3% down to 17,241 estimated units. While these are not minor drops by any means, given the incentives on the initial issues, they are not surprising. By the current standards, the Valiant relaunch has been fairly successful. Not original-Valiant levels of success, but virtually nothing has that level of success these days.

While the total for the top 300 comics sales was down slightly again in July, the rolling 12 month average continues to increase. Marvel is poised for a potential comeback and we could see Marvel sales dramatically increase over the coming months. In general, since it will be a slow roll out over the course of many months, the Marvel Now initiative will be harder to judge than the New 52 reboot at DC. The slow approach could be an advantage or a major disadvantage for Marvel depending if readers like the new titles as they are released or if readers and retailers grow wary of a new #1 every week for months on end. Either way, it should make things interesting in the coming months.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.

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