First, the big news: the final issues of "Brightest Day" stayed near the top of the charts in April 2011. Regardless of any positive or negative critical acclaim the title may have received, from a sales perspective, the series did very well for DC Comics. The downside of that success is, two of the top items for DC over the past few months won't be around next month, taking away around 140,000 units a month for DC. "Justice League: Generation Lost" also ended, but it was selling around 30,700 units per issue so that loss won't hurt as much. The net loss from just those two titles ending is an estimated 201,410 units or about 11.6% of the total units in the top 300 comics for DC in April 2011. While other titles like "Flashpoint" might replace those sales, the profits those two titles, which anchored the last 12 months of DC's releases, are gone.
Overall, the industry has shifted away from most titles being long term, ongoing series lasting years or even decades to short term miniseries lasting a story arc. These titles, with built in expiration dates on them, create a barrier to sales that didn't exist in the previous century.
When each of these titles end, the publisher needs to transition the readers to new titles or lose those sales. Sometimes this is easy to do; often, it isn't. With "Brightest Day," the clear transition title is the three issue "Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing" miniseries. Of course, since that miniseries lasts only three issues, readers will need to be transitioned to yet another title in a few months. Presumably that title will be a new Swamp Thing series since the object of most "Search For" titles invariably tends to be found at the end of the initial story.
With "Justice League: Generation Lost," the transition title is the yet to be solicited "Justice League International." This sort of attempt to migrate readers from one short-lived title to another is not limited to DC and Marvel. IDW is currently attempting the same thing, hoping to move readers from "Infestation" to "Infestation: Outbreak" (and possibly "Zombies vs Robots: Undercity") having featured these characters in the framing miniseries which surrounded the non-crossover "Infestation" event. All in all, it wasn't a bad plan.
But there is little reason to think all of the readers of an ending title will transition to the replacement title. Heck, for most titles, all of the readers don't even stick around from issue to issue. When most titles are dropping in sales to retailers, does it really make sense to push away readers by ending a title? In theory, retailer orders should reflect how those titles are selling for those retailers. Replacing a title with a similar but not identical title introduces a bunch of sales variables for the retailers to factor in when ordering the new title. The simple fact is, the end of a title acts as a jumping off point for readers. While a replacement title provides somewhere for readers to transition to, the truth is, ending a title breaks the existing sales inertia.
Different rules apply to the small publishers in the back half of Previews which are fighting for the 5% to 10% of the total sales of the top 300 not taken by Marvel, DC, Image, IDW and Dark Horse and whatever they can take below that radar. For those publishers, the miniseries approach is a very smart move as it allows them to get a title in and out of the market place effectively. Smaller publishers should be taking a guerilla warfare approach of hit-and-run tactics against the premiere publishers. Slugging it out over the long haul against DC and Marvel is a losing battle. It is better for a smaller publisher to market strong with a miniseries followed by another miniseries and then another. This allows the creative teams to get the work done so it can come out on time. It allows the publisher to effectively market each miniseries and slowly build a readership.
One technique Marvel has been using over the past few years is the string of miniseries which essentially equate to an ongoing title or a longer miniseries. Does it really make sense to end the run of "Ultimate Avengers" after every story arc?
Yes, sales tend to drop from issue to issue on most titles. Yes, a new first issue often gets a sales bump. So, yes, this can work in the short term. But the short term tends to be very short these days.
Here are two charts for the "Ultimate Comics: Avengers" series of miniseries:
The first chart lines up the various miniseries by issue number. The second chart lines them up chronologically as if there were a single series. Notice the single issue spikes from the first issue of each miniseries and the subsequent overall downward trend. The increase on the "Ultimate Avengers vs New Ultimates" is due to that miniseries being part of the line-wide Death of Spider-Man event going on in the Ultimate Universe. The upcoming retooling of the Ultimate line is yet another opportunity for readers to bail out of the entire line of comics if there are looking for an excuse to drop the titles.