The Mayo Report: Analyzing 2011's Sales, Trends

Thu, January 12th, 2012 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
John Mayo, Staff Writer
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A lot can change in a year, and a lot did change in the comic book market during 2011. The year started off rough at the top of the comics chart with only one comic breaking the 100,000 unit mark in January. In February, "Green Lantern" #62 was the top selling comic with a mere 71,517 estimated units. Not a great way to start the year. By the end of 2011, the top selling comic during a single month was the new "Action Comics" #1, moving 182,748 estimated units in September.

The chart of both the units and dollars from month to month paint a generally positive picture:

The peak in September and October was due to DC Comics' New 52, as seen by these charts which split the units and dollars by publisher:

Marvel has been generally stable in both unit and dollar sales, with some noticeable ups and downs over the course of the year. The aggregate of all of the other publishers continue to be amazingly stable for both units and dollars, with the chart for 2011 looking remarkably similar to the one for 2010. Given the way the titles and even the publishers in this area can shift from month to month, this stability is not something any single person or company can control. And that might actually be why it is so stable; when one company falters, another picks up the slack.

While the month to month picture looks fairly good during 2011, the picture of the advances and declines paints a less favorable picture:

As regular readers of my analysis of top 300 comics list each month know, most of the items on the list each month typically sold less than the previous issue of that title. This overwhelming trend for most titles to sell less and less each month is the fundamental problem facing monthly comics today.

The count of items advancing and declining and the total advancing and declining units was fairly dramatic and a bit misleading for 2011. With the New 52 from DC in September, all of the DC Universe titles neither advanced nor declined. These were new titles with new baseline values. Even with the entire DC Universe line of titles getting a new sales baseline, there were still around a quarter million units in declines in September.

What may seem like an alarming drop in October isn't really that alarming. Simply put, not all readers stick around for the new volume of the series when a title relaunches. Typically this is more than compensated for by new readers but a lot of them are there out of curiosity and soon drop the title. After all, they don't have any long standing attachment to the title or characters so it isn't a big deal to drop the title. Any momentum a title has with a reader can be completely lost with a reboot, renaming or renumbering. Over 825,000 of the million units of declines in October is the result of people who sampled the first issue of various New 52 titles and didn't come back in October for the second issue. This is an all too common sales trend.

So, how can most titles drop in sales while the total monthly unit sales go up? The answer: New titles. In December, the total unit advances was an estimated 19,811 units. A single new title like "Carnage USA" #1 with approximately 37,620 units boosts the monthly total nearly twice as much as the actual increase in sales for all of the titles that increased in sales. And, yes, that phrasing may sound a little odd, but the total net change in sales in December for these returning titles was a loss of over 750,000 units. The average declining issue loses around 2,528 units from the previous issue and the average advancing issue gains around 2,447 units over the previous issue. If most titles just held roughly even in sales from issue to issue, it would be like adding another month of sales to the calendar. Granted, it would be a weak month like January 2011, but I doubt most retailers would be unhappy with those extra sales.

Actually, since the declines are only counted once but lost going forward, the additional sales would be much larger than that depending on the length of the various titles. For example, "Fables" declined by 1,581 units from #101 in January 2011 to #112 in December 2011. If all dozen issues sold the 19,184 estimated units "Fables" #101 sold, it would equate to an additional 8,445 units over the course of the year. A title like "DC Universe: Online Legends" would have sold nearly twice as many units over the course of the 20 issues released in 2011 if they all sold around the 36,519 units the first issue sold. Even a title like "Avengers Academy" would have come out around 1,000 or more units ahead if it all of the issues released in 2011 hit the same 24,016 estimated units #8 sold in January. The interesting thing to note is, five issue of the 16 sold better than #8. Of course, a title like "Walking Dead" would have lost out on nearly 40,000 units if it only held even instead of having a generally upward trend in 2011. Only a handful of titles would be in the same boat as "Walking Dead." In most cases, the key to success is to stop the loss of sales from issue to issue and sometimes that wakes drastic action.

The New 52 from DC was a clear game changer in the second half of 2011, a major success for the publisher which managed to get the largest percentage of the unit sales for the top 300 comics four months in a row, doubling the number of times they have done so during the final order era. DC took a major risk with the New 52, and the above chart of the units by publisher shows that it has been working.

But the honeymoon period for the New 52 is starting to end and this rebooted universe will sink or swim in 2012 based on how well the material clicks with the readers. The challenge the editorial and marketing teams at DC now face is keeping the interest and excitement around the New 52 alive while keeping the titles shipping on time and rotating titles in and out of the mix as needed.

One of the other huge game changers in 2011 was the digital revolution. Digital comics have been around for a few years and IDW had been very active with digital comics for a while. During 2011, however, digital comics went from a sideline to the mainstream as far as the availability of titles. In January, you could find a number of digital comics fairly easily. In December, most of the comics shipping in any given week were available digitally. This digital revolution is going to continue to evolve during 2012. So far, the digital comic audience appears to be an additional group of readers. This is very different from the audience for trades which seems to have been a group of readers who converted from reading comics to waiting for the trades.

In theory, publishers might be able to cut back on the number of trades they offer since that material is now already available digitally. Certainly some titles should remain in print as trades and hardcovers. "Walking Dead" and "Fables" are two examples of titles that have very robust sales in the collected format. The total sales top 300 trades for all twelve months of the year works out to around 3,462,674 units. Many titles, including a lot of the superhero titles from Marvel and DC, might benefit from each and every story arc not being automatically collected. This perceived guarantee of a collected edition down the line seriously undercuts the sense of urgency to get either the individual component issues when they are released and to get the collected edition when it is first released. The threshold a trade has to meet is higher for people waiting for the trade because the reaction to the material, both when it first comes out and again when the trade is released, can factor into the buying decision. I suspect, more often than not, that this prevents a sale instead of making one. Not collecting every story arc into a softcover, hardcover or both removes the safety net for readers and should get many of those the readers waiting for the trades back into buying the comic book format. While there no doubt would be some sort of unintended consequence of this sort of publishing strategy, it seems like it is worth considering.

If 2012 is anything like 2011, we can only imagine what the market place will look like at this time next year. I certainly would not have predicted the current state of things a year ago.

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

Monthly Breakdown of 2011's Top Comics

January, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 1,470,222 units across 76 items for a total of $4,477,125.78
Marvel sold a combined total of 1,978,973 units across 82 items for a total of $7,441,607.79
The top comics list sold a combined total of 4,403,014 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $15,418,039.00 at cover price.

February, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 1,691,819 units across 78 items for a total of $5,310,684.81
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,505,688 units across 99 items for a total of $9,172,758.21
The top comics list sold a combined total of 5,167,585 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $17,999,838.55 at cover price.

March, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 2,009,183 units across 85 items for a total of $6,193,175.17
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,920,922 units across 114 items for a total of $10,560,660.63
The top comics list sold a combined total of 5,939,882 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $20,381,355.71 at cover price.

April, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 1,730,565 units across 73 items for a total of $5,814,721.35
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,657,144 units across 104 items for a total of $9,686,724.34
The top comics list sold a combined total of 5,335,841 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $18,999,017.67 at cover price.

May, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 1,506,845 units across 68 items for a total of $4,782,917.55
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,557,841 units across 96 items for a total of $9,237,639.95
The top comics list sold a combined total of 5,142,713 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $17,831,301.62 at cover price.

June, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 2,175,266 units across 87 items for a total of $6,660,682.34
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,819,595 units across 99 items for a total of $10,283,584.55
The top comics list sold a combined total of 6,015,287 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $20,614,695.41 at cover price.

July, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 2,144,500 units across 90 items for a total of $6,742,412.36
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,751,770 units across 91 items for a total of $10,000,741.82
The top comics list sold a combined total of 5,885,682 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $20,287,153.03 at cover price.

August, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 2,350,238 units across 94 items for a total of $7,906,827.62
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,842,796 units across 102 items for a total of $10,026,032.70
The top comics list sold a combined total of 6,200,042 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $21,553,404.55 at cover price.

September, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 3,387,321 units across 68 items for a total of $10,435,511.79
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,808,420 units across 103 items for a total of $10,026,196.44
The top comics list sold a combined total of 7,270,861 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $24,413,550.28 at cover price.

October, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 4,256,703 units across 129 items for a total of $13,273,459.54
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,413,266 units across 84 items for a total of $8,729,176.34
The top comics list sold a combined total of 7,591,951 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $25,363,385.05 at cover price.

November, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 3,029,209 units across 86 items for a total of $9,457,778.91
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,863,058 units across 90 items for a total of $10,980,812.42
The top comics list sold a combined total of 7,009,647 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $24,342,924.37 at cover price.

December, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 2,644,156 units across 85 items for a total of $8,503,532.44
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,445,588 units across 89 items for a total of $8,860,737.12
The top comics list sold a combined total of 6,157,698 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $21,249,951.73 at cover price.

Monthly Breakdown of 2011's Top Trades

January, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 56,594 units across 74 items for a total value of $1,105,800.06 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 68,379 units across 77 items for a total of $1,726,697.24 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 232,256 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $4,604,964.91 at cover price.

February, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 73,676 units across 84 items for a total value of $1,409,724.24 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 63,091 units across 67 items for a total of $1,741,023.66 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 256,552 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $5,145,924.11 at cover price.

March, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 80,982 units across 81 items for a total value of $1,456,643.18 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 74,444 units across 67 items for a total of $1,558,131.04 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 273,936 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $5,174,815.31 at cover price.

April, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 76,963 units across 76 items for a total value of $1,440,163.37 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 66,926 units across 54 items for a total of $1,758,375.86 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 262,668 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $5,324,961.74 at cover price.

May, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 92,639 units across 81 items for a total value of $1,727,756.76 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 89,407 units across 97 items for a total of $2,233,897.42 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 292,503 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $5,627,218.36 at cover price.

June, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 76,278 units across 73 items for a total value of $1,573,978.73 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 84,534 units across 66 items for a total of $2,084,689.66 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 330,069 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $6,524,345.73 at cover price.

July, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 86,015 units across 72 items for a total value of $1,812,458.68 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 97,313 units across 83 items for a total of $1,955,910.87 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 322,978 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $5,938,673.92 at cover price.

August, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 78,531 units across 71 items for a total value of $1,792,044.18 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 74,620 units across 64 items for a total of $1,863,157.80 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 298,086 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $6,345,584.98 at cover price.

September, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 66,340 units across 66 items for a total value of $1,475,624.60 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 82,095 units across 69 items for a total of $2,034,542.17 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 313,384 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $6,381,307.52 at cover price.

October, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 63,376 units across 61 items for a total value of $1,515,020.24 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 57,352 units across 48 items for a total of $1,561,048.52 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 267,642 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $5,779,317.61 at cover price.

November, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 104,609 units across 73 items for a total value of $2,566,806.54 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 60,477 units across 58 items for a total of $1,525,236.68 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 327,512 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $7,162,484.74 at cover price.

December, 2011
DC sold a combined total of 77,581 units across 81 items for a total value of $1,937,654.53 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 57,264 units across 48 items for a total of $1,551,231.55 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 285,088 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $6,055,538.01 at cover price.

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