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The Mayo Report: DC Comics’ Gatefold Cover Gambit

by  in Comic News Comment
The Mayo Report: DC Comics’ Gatefold Cover Gambit

For the full sales charts, click here.

Marvel once again dominated the top 300 comic sales with 44.16% of the total unit sales for the top 300. DC Comics came in second place with 29.81% and Image in third with 8.81%. IDW was firmly in fourth place with 5.17% of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics.

Image has a strong month with “Jupiter’s Legacy” #1 selling 105,431 estimated units, outselling everything expect “Batman” #19 and “Thanos Rising” #1. “The Walking Dead” #109 wasn’t far behind with around 90,357 units. This marks yet another bump in sales for that title.

Over the past year, sales on “The Walking Dead” have increased dramatically. While some of the increase can be attributed to the hype around the one-hundredth issue, the continued upswing in sales is impressive. The television show is certainly a contributing factor as well. But, at the core, it is the solid storytelling which generates great word of mouth marketing for the title combined with high reader retention resulting in the continued strong sales of the title.

With “Jupiter’s Legacy,” “Saga” and “East of West” joining “The Walking Dead” in the top 50 comics, Image seems to have turned a major corner. In addition to having an amazingly diverse set of titles, they are showing that they can once again place multiple titles near the top of the best sellers list on a routine basis.

Marvel had a great month but continues to see sharp declines during the honeymoon period on new titles. “Guardians of the Galaxy” #2 dropped by nearly 60% going from around 217,947 units on the previous issue down to an estimated 88,179 units. “Wolverine” #2 dropped from approximately 117,643 units down to healthy but more modest 57,162 estimated units.

Daredevil #25 was up nearly 7% putting it around 39,820 estimated unit and “Hawkeye” #9 increased by just over 7.5% to approximately 39,676 units. Both of these titles have stabilized and are starting to go up in sales in what looks to be a sustainable manner.

April saw the release of 50 of the 52 one-time “WTF Certified” gatefold covers for the New 52 comics from DC. “Aquaman” #19 shipped a week late arriving in stores during the first week of May and “Justice League of America” #3 shipped a full month after the original expected ship date, arriving in stores the second week of May. Overall, DC has done an excellent job of getting the New 52 line of comics out on time even if it sometimes required creative team changes to make that happen.

The aborted “WTF Certified” promotion was met with mixed reactions. Some people reacted very negatively to the proposed”WTF” tagging, which may have undercut the effectiveness of it. For that matter, promoting the covers at all in advance may not have been the best move. The gatefold covers, which revealed more of the cover image when opened up, were seen as geared more towards increasing sales from retailers to readers than sales into retailers. As such, while the retailers should have been informed of the covers, they didn’t need to be a featured item in the February 2013 Previews.

The covers seemed to fall into a few different types. One type of cover tried to set one expectation up on the front only to have the gatefold reveal go in a different direction, like “Action Comics” #19. Another type served as spoilers of sorts by revealing one of the twists to the story like “Birds of Prey” #19. Some provided additional information that might have helped to boost sales had the content been known earlier, such as “Batman and Red Robin” #19. Some, like “Flash” #19, seemed to tease the following issue and not the one at hand. Others, like “Green Lantern: Next Guardians” #19, felt like bait and switch reveals. A surprising number of the covers like “Supergirl” #19 revealed a guest star on the gatefold.

The gimmick centered around getting potential readers to pick up the comic, open the cover and presumably be so surprised by the reveal they felt they had to buy the issue. While not an inherently bad idea, it does have some major flaws. First, if the potential reader already has the issue in hand and has flipped opened the cover, there is nothing to stop them from flipping through the issue and realizing the gatefold reveal either told a key aspect of the story, had little to do with the story or was a bait and switch. Any reader that didn’t open up the covers in the shop obviously couldn’t be convinced to get the issues based on the hidden reveal they never saw. The cover is one of the potentially most effective ways to market a comic. To hide the hook for an issue with a gatefold reveal is a puzzling decision. It was an interesting idea, but the execution could have been better.

No doubt some readers picked up some issues they would not have otherwise gotten because of the gatefold covers. I’ll leave it to retailers like Brian Hibbs to report on how the covers worked for the sales to readers. Hopefully it sparked some interest and increased sell through. Perhaps if retailers can give DC some constructive feedback on the stunt they can improve on it and try it again with more success.

How did the gatefold covers impact sales to retailers? Well, sales were down on average by 2.56% from the previous issues of each respective title. For comparison, in March the New 52 titles were down an average of 7.31% from the previous issues of each respective title. The March average includes all 52 titles and both issues of “Superman” that shipped in March. This is an example of nominally succeeding even with a net loss. Sales to retailers were down but not as much as before.

While the New 52 has reduced the apathy and resulting decline on DC’s sales prior to “Flashpoint,” obviously, the New 52 isn’t an unqualified success. A third of the initial titles have been replaced. Numerous creative team changes have happened, sometimes with minimal notice. A few titles like “Stormwatch,” “Green Arrow” and “Batwing” have needed major shifts in tone, style and/or direction.

But all of those things which can legitimately be seen as failures were also successes of a sort. By doing things like rotating in new titles as existing ones dropped in sales, changing creative teams as needed and retooling titles, the editorial team at DC has shown that it is paying attention to how the comics are being received and taking action. The gatefold cover promotion was an experiment which clearly illustrates that the marketing department at DC is working on figuring out better ways to get readers to try out titles. And really, that is what it is all about: trying new things when the existing methods don’t work.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at

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