DC Comics dominated the top of the comics list again in October, 2011. Not only did all of the second issues of the New 52 titles place in the top 100 but there was reorder activity for all of the first issues except "Men of War" with "Justice League" #1 charting at 146 for just the print version and at 248 for the print/digital combo pack. That type of across the board interest in a product line is unprecedented. The end result was DC having 129 of the top 300 items and accounting for 56.07% of the total sales for the top 300 comics in October. For those wondering, that beats the record previously set by Marvel in June 2009.
The New 52 sold a total of an estimated 3,199,096 units in September. That estimate does not include the 46,650 estimated units of reorder activity for "Justice League" #1 in September or the initial sales of that issue in August. Rounding up slightly to 3,200,000 units gives us a benchmark to measure how the relaunched DC Universe line of titles is doing. This benchmark does not include one of the top selling titles nor any of the miniseries which started after the September relaunch. While this makes meeting or exceeding that benchmark easier, it by no means makes it easy. But if selling comics were easy, DC wouldn't have needed to relaunch their entire super-hero universe.
Based on the average sales trend, each title would be expected to lose around 20% of the sales on the second issue. That would put our expectations of the total estimated sales around 2,600,000 units, which is a bit higher than the 2,283,613 estimated units DC has been averaging each month in the final order era which began in March 2003. But that average for those other months includes titles beyond the DC Universe line. In October, the average loss on the New 52 titles was around 22%, but the majority of second issues were reported with reduced numbers to account for potential returns so it may be a few months before all of that settles out and we can really see how this new batch of titles is doing at retaining sales.
The total sales of the second issues of the New 52 in October were 3,217,217 estimated units which exceeded the benchmark. That figure includes both the 180,709 estimated units for the print only version of "Justice League" #2 and the 15,860 estimates units for the print/digital combo pack version. Add in the approximately 148,597 units for the new miniseries titles set in the DC Universe ("Huntress," "Penguin: Pain and Prejudice," "Legion: Secret Origin," "My Greatest Adventure" and "Shade"), and the reorder activity of around 670,380 units for the first issues brings the total estimated sales for the DC Universe line of titles up to a staggering 4,036,194 estimated units. There is also around 220,059 units of sales for DC outside of the DC Universe line. That grand total of around 4,256,253 units exceeds the highest unit sales for the top 300 comics of any publisher for a single month during the final order era. The previous record holder was Marvel in December 2008 with around 4,154,694 units.
One quick point of clarification: "Batman: Odyssey" is not being included as part of the DC Universe product line in these calculations because it is unclear if it is in continuity or not. A solid case could be made for both sides but, frankly, it feels like it is out of continuity. From a business perspective this might seem like an odd and irrelevant distinction, but for a comic book reader it does matter. If the typical comic book reader doesn't consider a title to be in continuity it sells under a different set of rules than those viewed to be in continuity. Typically, being in continuity helps the sales of a title. This effect can be seen within a narrative universe with major events. Those issues seen to be part of the major event tend to sell better than those seen as being out of the scope of that event.
The initial success of the New 52 relaunch of the DC Universe is clear; the question remains, however, of how it will do over the long haul. This second month was astonishingly strong and a large part of that success is because DC was able to keep the first issues available. To put things into perspective, just the reorder activity for those New 52 first issues was more than the total sales on the top 300 comics for Dark Horse, Image and IDW combined. Of course, part of that is due to those first issues pushing other items off the list in October.
Obviously the fact DC is continuing to support the relaunch with returnability helps the retailers out considerably and is making the sales trends we are seeing very different from the norm. With attrition being standard across the board, doing things differently just makes sense. Anecdotally, I'm hearing that not only are new and former readers coming to comic book stores, but a lot of them are setting up pull lists which implies those readers are not just sampling things but actually coming back into the stores on a regular basis. When I spoke with John Rood and Bob Wayne in San Diego a few months ago, they clearly stated their goal wasn't to win the monthly horse race but to bring new readers into the fold. Despite that, they seem to be doing both, so far.
What makes these sales for DC even more impressive is they got them without decimating the sales of the competition. Marvel had a total of around 2,413,010 units sold in the top 300. While that is a little below their average over the past 12 months of around 2,601,650 units, it isn't that far below that average. More importantly, the difference can be attributed to a lack of strong sellers for Marvel, with only four titles selling over 60,000 units and one of them doing so by only a few hundred units.
The top ranked item for Marvel was the newest "Incredible Hulk" #1 at rank 6 with an estimated 106,472 units. While an epilogue in "Fear Itself" #7 preceded and appeared to set up this relaunch, the events in the first issue didn't spin directly out of the main events in the "Fear Itself" series. Those sales did exceed the approximately 95,599 units that "Fear Itself" #7 sold. "Fear Itself: Fearless" #1 continues the overall story of "Fear Itself" and came in at rank 24 with around 59,464 units. So maybe the story not spinning out of the events of "Fear Itself" was a good thing for "Incredible Hulk" #1. In November, the three issue-length epilogues to "Fear Itself" will ship as issues #7.1, #7.2 and #7.3. Presumably the good people at Marvel are using that numbering scheme because these issues are integral to the "Fear Itself" storyline and not as a cheap gimmick to boost sales.
Another high profile launch from Marvel was "Wolverine and the X-Men" #1 which came in at rank 8 with an estimated 95,855 units. The gap between those sales and the 100,000 mark will probably be closed with reorder activity in the November. The bigger concern is the lack of any Marvel titles selling between the 95,599 estimated units of "Fear Itself" #7 and the more modest 59,464 unit sales of "Uncanny X-Men" #544. It wasn't that long ago that the Avengers titles would hover in that area.
DC has shaken things up with the New 52 and it is time for Marvel to step up their game. For that matter, so should all of the other publishers. October 2011 wasn't the highest sales point for the top 300 comics. It wasn't even in the top five (it placed sixth). DC has gotten new readers into the comic stores; now, all of the publishers need to work both independently and cooperatively to keep the readers coming back week after week.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.