The Mayo Report: What Does Villains Month's Sales Success Really Mean for DC?

As expected, September 2013 was a big month for DC Comics, with the publisher's output accounting for 46.5% of the unit sales for the top 400 comics compared to the 31.03% for Marvel. While Diamond released a list of the top 400 items this month instead of the usual list of 300 items, looking at just the top 300 items, DC accounted for 48.59% of the unit sales while Marvel accounted for 32.34%. Thanks to it being extended another hundred items, a few publishers made the list that would not otherwise have done so: Black Bull, Broadsword Comics, ONI Press, Big Dog Ink, Red 5 Comics, New England Press and Kenzer & Company.

The top 300 comics totaled to 8,147,785 estimated units. This is the first time the total units sold for the top 300 comics has exceeded 8 million units. The bottom hundred items sold another 430,104 estimated units bringing the total units sold for the top 400 comics to 8,577,889 estimated units.

A number of things contributed to the record breaking sales for September. The events going on at DC and Marvel were a factor, with "Forever Evil" #1 from DC topping the list with approximately 139,971 units and "Infinity" #2 from Marvel selling around 125,980 units to retailers. "X-Men: Battle of the Atom" #1 did another 113,924 units for Marvel.

The biggest factor, however, was the 3D covers from DC. "Batman" #23.1 Joker (3D cover) sold the best of the bunch with an estimated 107,676 units. All5 2 of the 3D covers and all 52 of the 2D covers made it into the top 300, with only three of the 2D covers fell below the top 200: "Green Arrow" #23.1 Count Vertigo, "Superman" #23.4 Parasite and "Swamp Thing (2011) #23.1 Arcane. The rankings were different between the 3D covers and the 2D covers. It is challenging to know what to learn from that since the 2D covers were announced late in the process, the sales of the 3D covers were capped because of the allocations and the allocations themselves may have increased the perceived desirability of the 3D covers.

There are a number of ways to look at the sales of the Villains Month issues. Since only a third or so of the issues directed readers to a specific title, it is difficult to map these one-shot issues to the ongoing titles and compare the sales that way. Not directing readers to where the villain will be seen next seems like a bad exit strategy for those Villain Month issues. What good does it do in the long term to get someone interested in a villain if they have no idea where the character will appear next?

Looking at the sales trends by title, "Batman" and "Justice League" have a sales curves similar to the familiar slope caused by standard attrition but most of the titles didn't.

Here are the Villains Month issues sorted by title and issue number with the sales split between the 3D covers and 2D covers with those bars side-by-side and stacked:

Here is that same data sorted by the total sales for both the 3D and 2D covers:

Here is that same data sorted by sales of just the 3D covers:

Again, this time sorted by sales of just the 2D covers:

Once more, this time sorted by the featured villain:

In some ways, Villains Month was a big success for DC. They "won the month," for whatever that is worth. The 3D covers were popular and the allocations of them were not. The cover gimmick got two versions of all 52 issues on the top 300 list.

But how is the New 52 doing overall?

The sales of DC's core titles have dropped since the launch of the New 52. This should come as no surprise to anyone: Sales drop over time. That is just the way things work. ("The Walking Dead" is one of the very few exceptions to that generality.) Not all of the 52 initial titles of the New 52 were going to succeed. A few of them obvious risks, but 60% of those Wave 1 titles are still around. That isn't a bad batting average, two years in. The odds of success of some of the more offbeat titles like "Dial H" and "Green Team, Teen Trillionaires" were not particularly high.

This was the best-selling month for the New 52, edging out October 2011 which had the second issues and strong reorder activity on the first issues. Given how well the cover gimmick did, I'd be surprised if we don't see more of these in the future. Either more of the 3D covers or simply more cover gimmicks of a different nature.

On a month by month basis, the initial decline in sales is clear. The significant sales attrition during the first few months is as much a sign of the huge sampling rates on the titles as anything else. The rotating in of new titles as lower selling ones were ended has kept the sales reasonably stable for the line. Only five months dropped below 2,000,000 units and thee of those did so by less than 100,000 units.

Another way to look at the sales is on a title by title basis. For this, I'm considering a renamed series to be a new title. For instance, "Batman and Robin" and "Batman and ..." are distinct entries on the chart as are "Phantom Stranger" and "Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger." The chart includes both ongoing titles and miniseries:

Clearly, some titles, like "Batman" and "Justice League," are far more successful than titles like "Batwing" and "Stormwatch," which is to be expected. Sorting that same data by total estimated sales provides an interesting view of it:

One way to guess which titles are next on the chopping block is to find the longest running title with the lowest sales, such as "Batwing" and "Stormwatch." "Batman/Superman" which launched just a few months ago is about to outperform "Batwing" which was part of the original wave of titles. While the new direction on "Batwing" is great, it is probably too late to save the title as most people seem to have given up on it. It also says something that the single issue of "Forever Evil" released as of the end of September has already sold more than the entire runs of "Men of War," "Sword of Sorcery," "G.I. Combat" and "Threshold" did. Event titles and crossovers work, so expect to see them continue until they stop working.

Since the top comics list ran to 400 items, we get to see some titles that usually fall below the radar. This list ends around the 2,600 mark instead of up around the 6,400 unit mark where it would have had the list cut off at rank 300. Of those additional 100 slots, 52 of them compensate for the additional 52 slots taken by DC because of the dual slots taken by the 3D covers and 2D covers for Villains Month. There are a number of great titles down in this area but these titles are riskier for retailers to stock. There is little margin for error for most stores in terms of figuring out how many copies of these titles to order. Even a single unsold copy, if it is one of a two or three ordered can wipe out the profit for the title at that store. That having been said, readers that buy these titles are probably a lot more likely to get them next month than people that bought the 3D covers for Villains Month.

I was about to say that we'll see in the coming months if there is any carry over from the Villains Month issues -- but we won't. The problem is, not only did the 3D covers create a smokescreen around the sales for the month, so did the one-shot nature of the issues, and all of that will be compounded by the event influence of "Forever Evil" and the "Batman: Zero Year" tie-ins over the coming months. It will be a while before things stabilize to any degree and we can see how the titles are naturally trending. While the influx of sales from these things is good in the short term, they usually have no lasting impact in the long term. Healthy titles sell on the basis of sustained reader interest which is generated from solid storytelling and art.

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

PREVIEW: Wonder Twins #1

More in Comics