November 2015 was a very strong month for the Direct Market, coming close to setting a new record for the total number of units sold by the top 300 comics. The 8,299,977 units for November was only 108,972 units shy of the 8,408,949 units sold in October 2014, which is slightly less than the average sales for a top 10 comic. Marvel accounted for 51.27% of the unit sales for the top 300 comics, DC had 28.57%, Image has 9.48% with the remaining 10.68% split across the other 19 publishers with items in the top 300.
This was another record setting month for Marvel’s total unit sales in the top 300 comics, with 4,255,476 units. The increase of 80,733 units is less than the sales of an average top 25 comic. A large part of the success for Marvel this time around was the 29 first issues including the extraordinary success of the “Star Wars: Vader Down” #1 one-shot with kicked off the Vader Down storyline across the various Star Wars titles. “Star Wars: Vader Down” #1 was in second place with 384,968 units. The two incentive covers — a 1-in-25, and an “exceed 100% of orders for ‘Star Wars’ #8” cover — don’t explain the sales of this issue. Presumably, it will show up in one or more of the subscription boxes in December, like LootCrate or ComicConBox.
The number of incentive covers offered these days is dangerous. If there is a significant number of people getting these incentive covers, then there is a significant amount of risk in the marketplace. In the ’90s, variant covers were all the rage — until they weren’t. Then, in the span of a very few months, those incentive cover sales dried up. With most comics seeming to offer a variant or incentive cover these days, it seems like the industry is dangerously reliant on the addition sales those incentive covers generate; without the sales generated by the incentive covers, November would not have been a record breaking month for Marvel.
The question is, would lower selling titles like “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” #1 (the character’s second #1 this year) have been published without the additional sales these incentive covers generate? The 1-in-25 incentive cover on that particular issue isn’t what is in question — it’s the other 130 or so incentive covers Marvel offered in the September Marvel Previews (which is the Previews for most of what shipped in November). DC only offered around 37 incentive covers in the September Previews. Without the sales of those incentive covers, the sales across the board would be much lower, making lower selling titles less viable of an option for publishers. In the ’90s, that revenue stream dried up, and it could happen again. Hopefully it won’t, but it is dangerous for the industry to be so reliant on that revenue stream.
Thirteen items over 100,000 units is a good thing, but with few of them likely to still be over 100,000 units with the next issue, it isn’t something to get overly excited about. “Deadpool” #1 sold 180,565 units, only to drop 49.04% on the second issue to 92,007 units. Those second issue sales are still very strong, and Deadpool is both popular now and has a movie coming up, so that title will likely be fine. “Extraordinary X-Men” #1 sold 133,715 units and then dropped 51.69% to 64,594 units on the second issue. “All New Wolverine” #1 sold 119,785 units and then dropped 53.56% to 55,633 units on the second issue. As I’ve mentioned before, first issues, particularly first issues at Marvel, are no longer indicative of the strength of the title. The average second issue drop at Marvel in November was 51.35%. Of the 131 or so incentive covers Marvel offered in the September solicitations, 93 of them were on first issues.
“Uncanny X-Men” #600 sold 126,446 units, up 162.92% from the previous issue, “Uncanny X-Men” #35, which shipped back in May 2015. The sales were up despite the delay thanks to 10 alternate covers which retailers could order as many as they wanted of provided they ordered more copies of the regular cover of “Uncanny X-Men” #600 than they did of “Uncanny X-Men” #31. An increase in sales on the final issue is not uncommon as some readers just want to know how the story ended but don’t seem to care as much about how it gets there. This bump in sales put the volume at sales level it hadn’t seen since the first issue back in February 2013.
These sorts of benchmark sales goals are fairly common these days. With the short volume lengths of at Marvel, these sorts of benchmark incentive covers can result in the goal for a first issue being based on the sales of the second issue of the previous series. An example of this is the Brooks Hip-Hop variant cover of “Astonishing Ant-Man” #1 which shipped in October. Retailers were able to order that cover if their order exceeded sales of “Ant-Man” #2. The result was “Astonishing Ant-Man” #1 selling 75,797 units compared to the 40,192 units sold of “Ant-Man” #2 in February 2015. Those sorts of sales tactics boost the first issue sales, but lead to sharp drops in sales on the second issues. “Astonishing Ant-Man” #2 dropped 58.52% in November to 31,358 units. Sales incentives work to sell particular issues, but they don’t sell retailers or readers on a title.
Incentive covers explain the crazy sales of “Dark Knight III: Master Race” #1 which sold 440,234 units. There was a 1-in-10 cover, a 1-in-25 cover, a 1-in-50 cover, a 1-in-100 cover, a 1-in-500 cover and a 1-in-5000 cover. The second issue also has a 1-in-10 cover, a 1-in-25 cover, a 1-in-50 cover, a 1-in-100 cover, a 1-in-500 cover — but not the 1-in-5000 cover. We’ll see a drop on the second issue, but not as large of a drop as we’d see if it didn’t have all of those variants.
“Batman” #46, which sold 106,989 units and “Batman Europa” #1, which sold 80,721 units, were the only other DC titles which sold over 59,000 units. “Harley Quinn” #22, which sold 58,343 units, and “Justice League of America” #5, which sold 52,604 units, were the only other DC titles over 48,000 units. DC only had three items in the top 30, all of which featured Batman. DC didn’t come out of “Convergence” strong. The weekly “Batman and Robin Eternal” seems to be doing well, but not as well as “Batman Eternal,” which is to be expected.
Most of the items in the top 100 which weren’t from Marvel or DC were published by Image and included the expected titles. “The Walking Dead” #148 sold 65,526 and continues to be the best-selling ongoing title not by Marvel and DC. Currently, the only ongoing titles outselling “The Walking Dead” on a routine basis are “Batman,” “Star Wars” and “Darth Vader.” While there are other titles which outsold “The Walking Dead” this month, most are either first issues or miniseries. The recently re-relaunched “Amazing Spider-Man” is outselling “The Walking Dead” by a wide margin, but with only three issues out so far, it is still in a honeymoon period when the retailers had to order it sight-unseen. That being said, it is likely “Amazing Spider-Man” will join the list of the handful of ongoing titles which routinely outsell “The Walking Dead.”
“Archie” #4 sold 25,824 units, down 6.88% from the previous issue. It was the first issue with Annie Wu on art, and the first issue retailers were able to order knowing how readers have reacted to the titles. It might drop a little more, but the reboot seems to have worked very well and the title could level off around 20,000, units making it a better seller than many ongoing (but soon to stop-going) Marvel and DC titles. “Black Hood” #7, on the other hand, sold 3,217 units, which is below what would be considered viable sales at Marvel or DC.
“Klaus” #1 launched strong for BOOM! Studios, with 25,674 units. The next best-selling item from BOOM! Studios was “Adventure Time” #46 with 8,536. By current standards, an issue number of 46 marks a long-running series. Only about two dozen items on the list had a higher issue number, most of them from Image, Bongo and IDW.
“Captain Canuck” #5 sold 4,197 units, which is only a few percent lower than the prior issue. The title has been reasonable steady since the second issue, losing only 200 or 300 units per issue. The challenge this title and publisher face is getting onto comic book store shelves and being noticed on those shelves. It is a shame when good work by small publishers that seems to be able to keep an audience is selling modest numbers while other items are selling well beyond sustainable sales because of incentive covers and subscription boxes. Sales based on the story content are much more stable than those based on the collectability of the cover.
“Usagi Yojimbo” #150 sold 4,538 units, up 3.14% from the previous issue. It is one of only 21 titles items which increased in sales in November. Every issue being a great jumping on point making the series very accessible to potential new readers. This is a series has a loyal following but because of the nature of the series with many done-in-one stories, it has the potential to sell much better than the current sales level.
“James Bond” #1 launched with 35,631 units for Dynamite Entertainment. The blank cover and the 1-in-10, 1-in-20, 1-in-30, 1-in-40, 1-in50 and 1-in-60 incentive covers contributed to that success. In addition to those covers, there was a store-exclusive cover available to retailers ordering 500 units or more. As a result, we should expect much lower sales of the second issue, which only offers 1-in-10, 1-in-20 and 1-in-30 incentive covers.
Over on the top trades list, the “Sandman Overture Deluxe Edition” Hardcover topped the list with 12,549 units. The trades for “Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shatter Empire” and “Star Wars: Princess Leia” sold 7,075 units and 6,782 units respectively. We should see a lot of Star Wars trades and hardcovers on the list next month with the new movie coming out and the holiday season.
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. In addition to those episodes, every Monday is a Weekly Comics Spotlight episode featuring a comic by DC, a comic by Marvel and a comic by some other publisher. I read around 200 new comics a month so the podcast covers a wide variety of what is currently being published. If you are looking for more or different comics to read, check out the latest Previews Spotlight episode which features clips from various comic book fans talking about the comics they love. With thousands of comics in Previews every month, Previews Spotlight episodes are a great way to find out about things which may have flown under your comic book radar.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.
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