MAYO REPORT: August, 2007 Sales Analysis

Thu, October 4th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
John Mayo, Staff Writer

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Based on some feedback on my articles from last month, I've reworked a few things in my process and changed some of the terminology. One of the side effects of this was that the process that I use to compile the monthly data got a little confused and reported the breakdown percentages to be off by a multiple of 100. I've fixed that part of my process and hopefully that mistake won't happen again. But that is one of the reasons I mention in those articles that the numbers might get a bit battered and bruised. Mistakes happen and that was one of them.

This time around, we are going to take a closer look at the breakdown of estimated sales for the top 300 comics and top 100 graphic novels and collected editions sold though Diamond to retailers during August 2007. The full list of sales estimates can be found here.

On the comic book side, Marvel had the largest percentage of the top 300 comics sold to retailers through Diamond in August with 49.31% by units and 49.63% by dollars. DC came in second with 38.44% by units and 37.57% by dollars. Between Marvel accounting just under half of total units units reported on the top 300 comics and DC accounting for well over another third of those units, only about 12.25% of the total units remain of the top 300 comics for all of the other publishers. As a result, neither Image nor Dark Horse managed to break the 5% mark this month. Image came in a distant third place with 2.90% by unit and 2.86% by dollars. Dark Horse followed close behind with 2.37% by units and 2.23% by dollars.

Many people have been discussing on line the pounding that DC seems to have been taking lately in the comic book market shares. The tone of some of these discussions seems to be about what DC is doing wrong these days. This seems to assume that things are going poorly for DC. While some readers might not be happy with the interconnectedness of DC's storylines right now, both the unit and dollar totals for the comics by DC in the top 300 as reported by Diamond is still trending upwards over the period of the past four or five years.

Here are charts of how DC and Marvel have been doing each month in terms of total units sold for the top 300 comics and the value of those sales at full cover price:

As you can see, in comparison DC may not be doing as well as Marvel, but it's far from doing poorly. One of the things giving the impression that DC might not be doing so well is that the both the unit market share and dollar market share are trending down for DC. But the market share isn't something that can be used to determine how a publisher is doing over time since the size of the market changes each month.

Things do seem to be going well for Marvel these days and perhaps something can be learned from what is working for them. Marvel has been doing exceptionally well recently with events like "Civil War" and now "World War Hulk." Both of the events had very easily explained plots which were equally easy to sell potential readers on. Meanwhile, DC had "52" which they sold as "a year without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman" which was enough to turn off many causal fans. While the series sold very well, particularly for a weekly series, it wasn't the major blockbuster that "Civil War" was. In addition, most Marvel titles saw a noticeable sales bump from both "Civil War" and "World War Hulk" while "52" provided no such sales bumps due to it being a self-contained series. And the current "Countdown" series seems to lack that sort of solid sales pitch other than it counts down to something, apparently another "Crisis."

Enough with the big picture, let's take a look at some of the specific titles. Marvel continued to dominate the top ten slots in August, taking nine of them with the remaining spot claimed by DC. Marvel has taken over half of the top ten slots each month of 2007. While interesting, this is somewhat meaningless as it's a subjective comparison and not an objective measurement. Still, cases like January 2005 when Marvel shut all publishers out of the top ten for the month are worth noting.

The top slot in August went to "World War Hulk" #3 which did an estimated 151,523 units through Diamond. There were another estimated 5,003 units for the variant edition of that issue hidden on the list down at slot 252. While "World War Hulk" may be failing to reach the level of overwhelming success "Civil War" achieved, it's still a very solid hit.

DC's entry in the top ten was "Justice League of America" #12 in slot #2, with an estimated 131,420 copies. This has been a strong title for DC while Brad Meltzer has been writing it. All eyes will be focused on the results for issue #13, when writer Dwayne McDuffie begins his run on the series.

One of the more interesting items in the top ten was "Thor" #2 which placed in slot six with an estimated 108,609 copies. This is an estimated drop of 84,422 copies which works out to about 43.73% of the first issue sales. (The top slot in July went to "Thor" #1 which did an estimated 165,250 units.) Even with this drop, so far this is a very impressive relaunch for the title which started around 30,000 units better than the previous relaunch of "Thor" back in May 1998. High profile titles like this usually launch strong before eventually settling into a more sustainable sales level. This is as good a time as any to discuss this common sales trend.

Because many readers will sample new titles and because retailers might be uncertain how a title will do initially, typically a title will launch (or in this case relaunch) strong and then drop with the second issue. On a monthly title, this second issue drop happens before the first issue has been seen by the retailers or readers. This is an indication of how conservative retailers have become in ordering. Given how much risk there can be in new titles and how little information is available sometimes, I can't blame retailers for being conservative on how they order.

On rare occasions the sales for the second issue will exceed the first, but normally they are down by an average of 21.8%. If "Thor" had fallen victim to the average standard second issue drop then that second issue should do around 129,225 units. Clearly that didn't happen. The average is just that, an average. Averages like these can't be applied like a mathematical formula with a guarantee of accurate results.

This is where it is a matter of perspective on how the title is doing. One perspective might be that the title dropped by about twice the average and therefore somehow failing. Another perspective is the perhaps the initial level of sales for the first issue were overly optimistic and the drop simply reflects reality asserting itself. The other thing to factor in on this is that title had been dormant for a few years and the new series was highly anticipated. Looking at it a bit more objectively based on how many units the second issue sold, it would be hard to consider "Thor" #2 a failure in any respect. Any sort of judgment on the title at this point would be premature. It will be a few months before we have enough data to see how the title is doing. And even then it could change drastically based on any potential upcoming changes the storyline or creative team.

But, as I said earlier, it will be a few months before we know how "Thor" is really doing. It needs to get out of this honeymoon period and the retailers need at least a month or two to adjust their orders either up or down based on how the title is selling for them. In that respect, the sales for months four through six of the title can potentially be much more informative about the long term health of the title than the sales for the first three months. Note that I'm talking about months, not issues. For titles like "52" and "Countdown," the honeymoon period lasted the same three months but included a dozen issues for each title instead of the normal three.

Issues #39, #38, #37, #36 and #35 of "Countdown" landed in slots 11, 13, 16, 17 and 18 with estimated sales of approximately 88,021 units, 87,260 units, 86,260 units, 85,536 units and 84,350 units respectively. This point in the series is just after the honeymoon period that I mentioned above and with issue #39 there is what appears to be a 22.13% jump in units over the previous issue. At this same point in "52," there was an apparent jump of 21.07% in units over the previous issue.

Here is a chart of how "Countdown" is doing versus "52" in terms of the estimated number of reported units sold to retailers:

I want to stress that this is an apparent jump in sales with issue #13 of "52" and #39 of "Countdown" which may or may not reflect an actual change in sales. This is because Diamond calculated the index for the returnable issues at a "reduced level to account for possible returns" and this is the point at which the issues stopped being returnable. Presumably Diamond only initially reported the nonreturnable sales and any units that could have been returned but weren't would later be reported as reorder activity. In any case, the significance of the reorder activity on these issues is that it implies that the numbers reported for those returnable issues are solid. With "52," most of the returnable issues had reorder activity, but with "Countdown" only issues #50, #49 and #48 have had any reported reorder activity.

The numbers of units for "Countdown" are below how "52" was doing in the corresponding point in that series. From the perspective of the number of units sold, "Countdown" is not doing as well as "52" did. However, if you look at it from the perspective of reader retention, "Countdown" is losing readers at a slower pace than "52" did. In that respect, "Countdown" is actually doing better than "52," even though it is selling less than "52".

Here is a chart of how "Countdown" is doing versus "52" in terms of the percentage of the maximum estimated number of reported units sold to retailers for each issue:

It will be interesting to see how this series does as it approaches the end of the run and the big event it is counting down towards.

Another weekly series was released in August by DC: "Outsiders: Five of a Kind." The first issue featuring Nightwing and Boomerang landed in slot 74 with an estimated 36,656 units. Seeing a drop of 4.04% from that was the second issue featuring Katana and Shazam in slot 77 with about 35,087 units. The third issue featuring Thunder and Martian Manhunter placed came in at 79 with around 34,702, down only 1.10%. Ranking at 80 was the fourth issue featuring Metamorpho and Aquaman down another 1.66% with an estimated 34,125 units. The fifth and final issue of the miniseries featuring Grace and Wonder Woman fell another 1.26% with about 33,694 units. This series saw the same reasonably shallow drop off between issues that both "52" and "Countdown" have seen. It is looking like the weekly frequency may help reduce sales attrition based on this minimal evidence. More data on weekly titles is needed before an informed conclusion can be reached, though.

The top selling comic book for Dark Horse was "Star Wars Legacy" #15 in slot 88 with and estimated 31,539 copies. The only reason that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" wasn't the top seller for Dark Horse in August was that no issue shipped during that month. There were an estimated 5,318 copies of reorder activity for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #5 during August which placed in slot 243.

The top selling item for Image Comics in August was "Spawn" #170 which placed in slot 106 with an estimated 23,721 units. Immediately behind it in slot 107 was "First Born" #1 with around 23,704 units. Those are only off by 0.01 index points which is the smallest measurable level of granularity for the Diamond data. It is possible that the margin between these two titles is even narrower than the estimated units indicate. It could be as small as a single issue or two.

In slots 109 and 110 are issues #40 and #41 of "Walking Dead" with an estimated 22,989 units and 22,681 units respectively. While issue #40 saw a 2.28% gain over the previous issue, #41 was down by 1.34% from #40. This is a title I enjoy watching the sales on, mainly because overall it tends to trend upwards.

Over the past few years, as often as not, "Spawn" is the top Image title. While other titles have outsold it for a few months, no ongoing Image title has managed to overtake it. That could change soon. Based on the sales trends for "Spawn" and "Walking Dead," there is a good chance that "Walking Dead" could supplant "Spawn" as the top selling ongoing title for Image. By my estimation, if both titles continue on the current output schedule and sales trends, then "Walking Dead" could start outselling "Spawn" as soon as November of this year.

Here is a chart of the total reported estimated units sold for each issue of "Spawn" and "Walking Dead" released since the start of 2006:

The trendlines intersect on October 31st, 2007 at around 23,000 units. This is based on past performance which, of course, is no guarantee of future performance for the titles. Still, it will be interesting to see how this develops in the coming months.

The first issue of "Mouse Guard: Winter 1152" placed in rank 125 with an estimated 19,656 units through Diamond. This is about 8,084 units above the sales of "Mouse Guard" #1. For comparison, the other "mice-as-knights" series, "Mice Templar" #1 has an estimated 16,993 units in slot 137. While I'm not convinced that the demand for the "mice-as-knights" genre is big enough for two concurrent titles, both seem to be doing well above the median sales for the month. Maybe there is more demand for this sort of material and "mice-as-knights" could be the new hit genre.

In slot 134 was "Super Villain Team Up: MODOK's 11" #2 with around 17,355 units. This is down about 23.22% from the first issue which is a slightly larger than average second issue drop. This is a title that I think might do surprisingly well as a trade paperback.

In rank 159 was some more reorder activity for "Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special" #1 with another 13,838 units. That brings the total estimated sales up to 89,358 units. So far, the reorder activity of 32,572 units which accounts for 36.45% of the total reported sales through Diamond for the title. It is very unusual for a title to do this well in reorders. DC should be commended for keeping this item available to retailers and readers.

The $.25 cent "Clockwork Girl" #0 landed in slot #174 with 10,074 units. While this is not bad at all for new title by a smaller publisher, given the cover price of only a quarter, we will probably see a sharp drop off due to the much higher price on the #1 issue.

Down in rank #271 was the first issue of "Ghosting" from Image with an estimated 3,548 units. It is possible that the placement in Previews may have contributed to the low sales. It was almost hidden in the back of the Image section and surprisingly easy to skip past without noticing. Ironically, Platinum Studios moving to the back half of Previews could actually help this title.

On the graphic novel and collected edition side of things, Marvel had the most total units out of the top 100 trades list with 34.93% by units and 42.76% by dollars. DC was second with 29.73% by units and 28.26% by dollars. Tokyo Pop came in third with 7.60% by units and 3.94% by dollars of the top 100 trades. Dark Horse has 6.12% by units and 6.62% by dollars.

In terms of the total units for the top 100 trades for July, DC was down by about 2,558 units from July but up around 2,246 units from August 2006. Marvel was up about 14,083 units from July but down around 260 units from August 2006.

Out of the top 100 trades, only the top 21 items sold over 3,000 units in August.

The top collected edition for August was the "100 Bullets" v11 trade paperback from DC with an estimated 7,712 units. This is the lowest top selling trade for the month since June 2006 when the "Power Girl" trade sold an estimated 6,153 units.

The top selling item for Marvel Comics was "Ultimate Spider Man v17: Clone Saga" in slot 2 with an estimated 7,689 copies. The item with the biggest increase over the previous volume for Marvel both by number of copies and by percentage gain was "New Avengers v5: Civil War" in slot 4 with an increase of 1,463 over the previous issue for an estimated 6,542 copies.

Robert Kirkman accounts for all but one of the items from Image for an estimated total of 7,195 units between the "Invincible" v3 hardcover in slot 44 with an estimated 2,255 units, the "Walking Dead" v6 trade paperback in slot 53 with about 1,993 units, the "Walking Dead" v1 trade paperback with approximately 1,562 units in rank 70 and the "Walking Dead" v2 trade paperback with an estimated 1,385 units. That works out to a hair over 2.99% of the units on the list for the month.

In slot 74 was the second "52" trade paperback with around 1,516 units of reorders bringing the total reported sales through Diamond to an estimated 9,497 units.

In slot 80 we see yet another appearance of the "Marvel Zombies" hardcover on the list with another 1,447 units. That brings the total estimated sales that have appeared on the monthly lists up to an estimated 44,068 units.

And since I had some charts of how DC and Marvel have been doing for the top 300 comics, here are the equivalent charts of total units sold for the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions and the value of those sales at full cover price:

That huge spike recently for Marvel was the wave of "Civil War" trade paperbacks.

Keep in mind that these numbers only cover the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions sold to retailers through Diamond during August. Conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence indicates that the sales outside of Diamond is a much larger percentage of the overall sales for graphic novels and collected editions than seems to be the case for periodical comics.

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

 
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