May 2012 had the Avengers vs X-Men event in full swing, the launch of the New 52 Wave 2 titles from DC and the revival of Valiant universe. Not only was May 2012 significantly better than the low sales of May 2011 but it was the high sales for any May since 2007. So far, 2012 is stacking up nicely against the other years in the final order era:
Marvel had the largest share of the total unit sales of the top 300 comics with around 41.94% while DC had around 38.97%. Competition like this is good for everybody since it encourages creators and publishers to do the best work they can. While Marvel is outselling DC in the top 300 comics, DC has a higher average unit and dollar sales. The higher average dollar sales is made all the more impressive with DC continuing to hold the line at $2.99 on all standard length comic while Marvel has a number of titles at the $3.99 price point.
Marvel took the top two slot with "Avengers vs X-Men" #4 selling around 178,318 units and "Avengers vs X-Men" #3 selling only slight lower with an estimated 175,683 units. "AvX vs" #2 came in considerably lower with approximately 98,812 units. Since "AvX vs" was pitched as essentially the plot-free slugfest companion title for "Avengers vs X-Men" it stands to reason that more readers are interested in story and plot than simply seeing the characters battle it out. Unfortunately, neither the core Avengers titles nor the core X-Men titles seem to be benefitting from the event. During past Marvel events like "Civil War" and "Secret Invasion," it was not uncommon to see sales double or triple for the tie-in issues of those events. So far, the bump for the "Avengers vs X-Men" tie-in issues seems to be averaging around 20% to 30%. For comparison, the Night of Owls crossover in the Batman family of titles is averaging around a 45% sales boost with titles like "Batwing" nearly doubling in sales. Unfortunately, these sales bumps tend to last only as long as the tie-in issues themselves, with sales reverting to the regular trend for the title immediately afterwards in most cases.
The problem Marvel faces isn't a lack of a huge sales bump for the Avengers and X-Men franchises; the problem is lackluster sales across the board. Marvel is double-shipping a lot of titles which only serves to polarize the potential audience further. Readers who really like the title are happy with the increased output. Readers unhappy with the title, or only marginally happy with it, are likely to use the double-shipping as a reason to drop the title. Instead of coming out with more issues of existing titles as a way to get more money from existing readers, Marvel needs to find a way to re-energize the comic book reading fan base.
The "Avengers" movie is now the third highest-grossing movie of all time, the "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" cartoon is currently airing and there is a huge event centered around the Avengers, yet "Avengers" #26, the best-selling issue of any ongoing Avengers title, only sold an estimated 67,739 to the retailers. Obviously, sales to readers are less than that. In fairness, actual orders are greater than that since these numbers only include what Diamond invoiced for May 2012 to North American direct market retailers. All of the effort Marvel and other publishers make to sway those of us already reading comics is wonderful, but there is a much, much larger potential audience out there beyond those of us who know where the local comics book store is.
Free Comic Book Day was a brilliant idea and continues to be an amazing outreach program for comic book retailers. I think it has been a huge success in getting potential readers to the local comic book store and sampling comics. What we haven't seen over the past decade since it started is any sort of huge influx of new regular readers of comics, at least not of print comics. Currently I don't have any data available to analyze digital sales trends. That is information which potentially could provide incredible insights on end reader buying patterns which could help both digital and print sales.
The DC New 52 Wave 2 titles launched in May replacing some of the lower selling titles of the New 52. "Batman Incorporated" #1 sold the best out of that group with around 96,479 units. While some people might not be surprised by that, it wasn't a sure thing. The first volume failed to launch above 100,000 units when it started, and it ended with sales below 55,000 units and the "Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes" one-shot wrapping up the title's previous run sold around 43,050 units. No doubt some of the delays between issues contributed to the declining sales. DC has been doing an outstanding job of getting the comics out on time which should help this new volume of "Batman Incorporated" maintain story momentum an hopefully that will result in slower sales attrition.
"Earth 2" #1 landed just outside the top ten with an estimated 86,162 units while "Worlds' Finest" #1 sold around 62,574 units at the bottom of the top 20 comics for the May. These two titles were reported at reduced rates since they were sold on partial returnable basis. The same applies to "Dial H" #1, "Ravagers" #1 and "GI Combat" #1. Typically when this happens, we usually see reorder activity down the line, indicating reorders outpaced any returns. "Dial H" #1 made it into the top 50 with around 40,774 units. Given the offbeat nature of this title, I'm curious what other sorts of unexpected titles DC might have waiting in the wings as potential future ongoing titles. "GI Combat" #1 was the lowest setting of the New 52 Wave 2 titles with approximately 30,364 units outselling 16 of the New 52 Wave 1 titles. This chart clearly indicates the increase in total sales for DC resulting from swapping out six of the lowest selling titles for these new ones:
The aggregate sales for new issues set in the DC Universe in May totaled up to an estimated 2,582,063 units. That total is about 80% of the total units sold for the DC Universe titles back in September 2011 during the first full month of sales after Flashpoint. Granted, it is taking 57 comics to generate those sales including a few annuals and the first issue of the second wave of titles. This aggregate total is remarkably close to the 2,600,000 units I originally expected the second issues to sell based on the first issue sales and the typical second issue drop of around 20%. Obviously some titles like "Batman" and "Justice League" are holding strong while other have already been swapped out for newer ones. Prior to the relaunch, the DC Universe titles were averaging around 2,283,613 estimated units a month during the final order era. It isn't significantly higher, but it is higher after nine months, which is impressive. The comics are coming out on time and the reboot is looking to be a continued success.
Outside of Marvel and DC, "Walking Dead" #97 was the best-selling comic with around 53,729 units, up well over 45% from the previous issue. This massive increase is most likely due to the combination of a new story arc which is leading up to issue #100 as well as the interest generated by the television series. It wouldn't surprise me if there were also some retailer incentives or other behind the scenes factors which might explain this increase. "Walking Dead" #98 followed close behind with approximately 49,971 units, losing only about 7% from the previous issue.
"Saga" #3 sold around 38,892 units, losing less than 10% from the second issue. This is slightly less than the standard drop for a third issue. There was another 6,252 units of reorder activity on the second issue. For those wondering, the reorder activity is included in the previous issue sales when calculating the increase/decrease percentages. So, while "Saga" #3 sold 4,245 few units in May than were sold for "Saga" #2 in total, "Saga" #3 sold 2007 more units in May than "Saga" #2 sold in April during the first month of release. Normally this is a moot point since most comics don't post reorder activity on the top 300 comics chart. "America's got Powers" #2 sold an estimated 16,272 units, albeit five week later than expected. The fourth issue has been solicited, lessening the concerns I mentioned about the title last month.
"X-O Manowar" #1 from Valiant Entertainment relaunched that universe with an estimated 42,705 units, making it the third best-selling comics not from Marvel or DC. We'll see how the slow and steady release of one more title over each of the next few months pans out for Valiant. While the strong launch of "X-O Manowar" is a great sign, the slow pacing of that title might result in large declines during the honeymoon period all new titles go through.
May also included the first collected editions for the New 52 with the "Justice League" v1 hardcover topping the trade list with around 8,854 units followed by the "Batman" v1 hardcover with an estimated 8,172 units. A number of other trade paperback and hardcovers collecting New 52 material also placed high on the trades list. Perhaps the most surprising was the "Animal Man" v1 trade paperback at #5 with approximately 5,930 units. On the monthly side, "Animal Man" is in the middle of the pack. No doubt the wait-for the-trade crowd which likes classic Vertigo titles contributed to this success. The strong showing for the New 52 collection helped DC take the 3.89% of the total unit sales for the top trade while Marvel had around 23.62% of those sales. "The Walking Dead" once again provided the majority of the collected editions sales for Image accounting for around 52,162 units of the estimated 69,893 units sold by Image.
I'll be at Comic-Con International: San Diego again this year and would be happy to discuss the sales trends with anyone interested in doing so. Hopefully any panels on the subject will be more upbeat than last year's panel, "Is the Comic Book Doomed?"
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.