The talk has come up recently about Civil War, and the strength of its sales in the direct market. However, I think that it is worthwhile examining how variant covers have helped to dramatically skew the "real" sales of Civil War. To do so, let's start by taking a trip to Wizard Universe...
Here Wizard Universe is advance selling a 1 in 75 sketch variant cover by Michael Turner to Civil War #6. Note the price. $179.99. I think that's probably a good deal higher than most retail stores would sell it, but note that Wizard is enabling you to get it,while you might not be able to GET it at your local retail store.
Here, then, is a link to an eBay auction for a sketch variant cover by Michael Turner for Civil War #1. Note the amount - one in seventy-five! That's right, apparently Marvel has the order incentive total for #6 (and #2, 3, 4, 5 and 7) at the same level as they do for #1.
"But wait," you might say, "Brian, don't #1 issues sell a lot better than the other issues in a series?"
Yes, yes they do.
But due to this variant cover incentive, Marvel has arranged so that it is in the financial best interest of retailers to order more copies of Civil War then they think they can sell.
As an example, take the orders we will see for Civil War #6.
It's a 1 in 75 cover. So to get three, a retailer would have to buy 225 copies. 225 x $1.50 cost = $337.50, plus an extra $6 for the three variants, brings it to $343.50.
If the retailer sells the three variants for $75 (and note that Wizard Universe is advance selling them for $180), they will bring in $225. Therefore, after selling the three comics, for the other 225 copies of Civil War #5, the retailer will only be on the hook for $112.50. To get back the money on $112.50? The retailer only has to sell 38 copies of Civil War (this is presuming no discounts - with discounts to customers, let's say 45 copies).
Therefore, even if the retailer only thinks s/he will sell 100 copies, it makes every bit of sense in the world to order 225 copies, even if it means sitting on one hundred and twenty-five unsold copies of the book.
Now, all retailers might not be doing this, as this would require a store's ability to SELL three copies of a $75 comic book. But you have to figure the big chains are doing this. And the big chains are the ones who make up the vast majority of the direct sales buying force. Therefore, it is very likely that the orders for Civil War, past #1, are pretty skewed.
I certainly do not begrudge Marvel for doing this. They are making retailers money here, and if retailers do not want the incentive covers, they can order as little as they want.
My only point is that, when reporting on the striking direct sales of Civil War, these incentives should be taken into consideration.
And further, perhaps there's an issue here over "short term success vs. long term growth" that needs to be addressed.