For the past six months, DC Comics and Marvel have been in a battle for the lion's share of the sales for the top 300 comics. In February 2012, Marvel accounted for 40.47% of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics compared to the 38.89% for DC. However, for the second month in a row, DC had the top ten bestselling comic books. "Uncanny X-Men" #6 was the top selling comic by Marvel with a chart position of #11, moving estimated 59,827 units.
There has been a lot of discussion over the past six months about how much the market share does or doesn't matter. Normally I'd say it doesn't since that market share, like the breakdown of the top 300 comics, is the measure of a slice of the pie that fails to include how the size of that pie changes from month to month. These percentages do show relative strength of a publisher within a month and can be informative in that light. For example, IDW accounted for 5.35% of the total units sold for the top 300 comics in February 2012. The statistic clearly shows IDW did better in February than Image Comics and Dark Horse.
A common mistake is to compare these percentages from month to month and take the result as an indication of an increase or decrease in sales. For example, Image Comics accounted for 4.04% of the total units sold for the top 300 comics in February 2012 and 4.05% of the total units sold for the top 300 comics in January 2012. Anyone thinking Image Comics sold slightly fewer comics in February than January is misinterpreting what those percentages mean. In February, Image Comics sold around 245,655 units out of the total 6,086,689 estimated units sold for the top 300 comics in that month. In January, Image Comics sold 233,959 estimates units out of the total 5,783,385 estimated units sold for the top 300 comics. While the percentage went down, the estimated number of units sold went up nearly 12,000 units. This is the most common misunderstanding about how the market shares and breakdown of the bestseller lists.
Over the past month or two there has been some discussion about whether or not taking all of the top ten slots matters. Given the huge risk DC took rebooting the entire line of super-hero comics, I think DC taking the top ten two months in a row does matter. It shows six months into the reboot, there is still strong interest in the material. If DC takes the top ten slots in months to come, that too will be important because it will indicate a weakness of the Marvel line of titles. Having the two top dogs in a close fight for first place each month results in stronger sales overall and a healthier industry. Having either DC or Marvel repeatedly shutting all of the other publishers out of the top ten sales slots might be good for that publisher but bad for everyone else.
While those sorts of discussions can be interesting and entertaining, each of these statistics matters in different ways to different people for different reasons. There is no "correct" way to look at this data. To me, the important information is the way the individual titles are trending. While higher sales are obviously better than lower sales, stable and predictable sales are best for all involved. The goal for the publishers and creators should be to increase sales on a title over time in a consistent and reliable manner. Most titles fail to retain sales from issue to issue, which forces most retailers to constantly readjust their orders downward.
A huge bump in sales on a particular issue of a title is all fine and good, but much less impressive or helpful than a slight increase in sales of the title from that issue onward. For example, "Venom" #13 sold around 33,170 units, up noticeably from the 30,709 estimated units for the previous issue. Each of the four weekly issues from #13.1 to #13.4 of the series averaged around 27,192 estimated units, which is a new low for the series. Perhaps these issues were just under-ordered by the retailers, but given the downward trend on the title, it is equally likely that issues #12 and #13 were over-ordered. If readers were sold on the title, not just particular issues of it, then they would keep getting the title issue after issue. Over the years, readers seem to have stopped reading titles and started reading story arcs. That might seem like a subtle distinction, but the ramifications of it are huge. Readers of a titles will continue on a title from story arc to story arc while readers of story arcs need to be constantly re-sold on the title.
It is worth noting only 33 of the New 52 titles made it into the top 100 comics. The titles ending with their eighth issues ("Hawk and Dove," "OMAC," "Static Shock," "Mister Terrific," "Men of War" and "Blackhawks") continue to be six of the lowest seven ongoing New 52 titles. "Captain Atom" continues to sell less than "Hawk and Dove" and is now in the under 15,000 range. Many of the New 52 related limited series are selling extremely poorly. "Ray"#3 sold around 10,858 units. "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #4 sold approximately 8,969 units. "My Greatest Adventure" sold an astonishingly low 6,867 estimated units. "Huntress" #5 sold around 22,256 units, making it the highest selling New 52-related miniseries in February. That miniseries is the precursor to the "Worlds' Finest" and "Earth 2" titles in the New 52: Wave 2 lineup. The limited success of these titles raises the question of the viability of a continued rotation of miniseries in the DC Universe line up. "DC Universe Presents" #6 sold around 18,167 units, indicating a series of miniseries disguised as an ongoing series isn't a particularly viable solution either.
IDW had a strong month with "Magic the Gathering" topping the sales list for the publisher. Issue #1 sold around 28,854 units and #2 sold around 23,846 estimated units. IDW has a fairly diverse lineup of properties with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles, the Transformers titles, the Infestation 2 crossover event and the G.I. Joe titles, as well as having a number of original properties like "Locke and Key" and "Next Men."
The top selling comic for Image is, unsurprisingly, "The Walking Dead" #94 with an estimated 32,357 units. In February 2008, I mentioned the importance of advances and declines and pointed out that "Walking Dead" had just surpassed "Spawn" as the top selling ongoing title published by Image. "Spawn" had been consistently outselling "The Walking Dead," but by a smaller and smaller margin as "Spawn" declined in sales and "The Walking Dead" slowing increased. A few months ago, it displaced "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9" as the top-selling ongoing title not published by Marvel or DC. The slow and steady increase of "The Walking Dead" has resulted in it becoming the title routinely being the top selling comic not published by Marvel or DC.
Over at Dark Horse, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9" #6 sold around 29,874 units. While still the top seller for Dark Horse, it is a clear decline from the 42,945 units for the first issue of that series and a fry cry from the roughly 88,400 units sold of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8" #1 back in January 2008. The Star Wars titles are selling in the 20,000 to 10,000 range. Perhaps it is time for Dark Horse to replace the series of miniseries approach on Star Wars with three or four ongoing titles.
Dynamite Entertainment is a publisher that often gets a knocked for pumping out too many titles for the properties they license. Since they are paying for a license for a set amount of time, this strategy makes sense from that perspective. Over-exposing a property with too many titles does seem to drive down interest in the property to just the diehard fans.
"Project: Superpowers" is an example of a property that started out very hot, dropped rapidly with the first few issues and then continued to decline until it simply stopped about a year ago.
The most over exposed licensed property out of Dynamite Entertainment has to be "Green Hornet" which launched with the Kevin Smith series and was quickly expanded to a dozen or so titles set in various times and continuities. That line of titles has dwindled down to one. "Green Hornet" #22 sold around 7,788 units, is far below the 54,115 estimated units sold of the first issue by Kevin Smith.
It will be interesting to see if the "John Carter" movie will translate into any sort of bump for Dynamite's Warlord of Mars titles which are currently selling in the 10,000 to 15,000 range.
The most recent franchise at Dynamite to expand is the Kirby: Genesis family of titles. The core title -- "Kirby: Genesis" -- has gone from the first issue selling around 36,427 units to around 12,176 units. The spinoff titles started around the 10,000 mark and have drifted down to around 5,000 units. This is probably less a matter of over-exposure and more a reflection of how hard it is for new material to get a foothold in the current market.
Even with the renewed interest generated by various movies, television shows and the DC reboot, it is still a tough time to be publishing comics. Instead of focusing on market shares or ranking well on the bestsellers list, or even selling any particular number of units, publishers and creators should be focusing on maintaining and growing sales. Having the largest market share or taking the top slot on the bestsellers list is only a short-term success if readers don't stick with the titles.
A couple of years ago, Marvel dominated the top ten slots most months. Now, DC is starting to do so. Part of this is the proverbial pendulum swinging back and forth over time, but it also reflects the inability of most comic titles to maintain readership, which translates into sales attrition, over time. In my experience, the only metric which really matters is sales retention. If you keep the readers and sales you have, then, and only then, do you have a firm foundation to build sales on.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.