Marvel once again had the largest percentage of the unit sales for the top 300 comics in August 2012 with around 41.42%. DC was not far behind with 39.37% of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics. The difference in sales between them is around 145,000 units which equates to a single title near the top of the list. With "Avengers Vs. X-Men" ending soon, we could see DC once again take the lead in the coming months.
Marvel has a lot riding on the Marvel NOW! relaunch. "Amazing Spider-Man" #692 sold 91,072 estimated units and was the only ongoing title from Marvel over 62,000 units. The nearly 50% increase over the sales of "Amazing Spider-Man" #691 was due to the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man and the majority of that sales bump will almost certainly vanish with the next issue.
With the phased approach to the Marvel NOW! relaunch, I expect to see Marvel dominate the top five slots over the Marvel NOW! launch window with titles rotating in with the first issues and then quickly dropping on subsequent issues. Of course, a lot of the initial bump will be a combination of people curious about the new takes on the titles with little intension of getting the titles on a regular basis and speculators snapping up the retailer incentive covers. The first group, the curious, can be convinced to get on board the title if it is to their liking. The initial sales of a new volume almost always exceed the ending sales of the previous volume because the people curious about the relaunch usually outnumber those using the relaunch as a jumping off point for the title.
The second group, people speculating on the value of the retailer incentive covers, is very difficult to convert into loyal readers. Sure, there are people who are loyal readers and also speculate on retailer incentive covers. It is the group of people trying to flip the issue for a profit who are the flash mob which provide the illusion that relaunching a title always increases sales. The massive second issue drop as the speculators move on to the next comic with the "hot" incentive covers gives the illusion of a mass exodus which rarely helps the reputation or sales of a title.
Here is the sales chart of "Captain America" over the past decade:
The large spike in sales in 2006 was the death of Captain America. The spike at the end of 2007 was when the new Bucky took over as Captain America and the spike in 2009 was around the time that Steve Rogers came back. The trend of occasional spikes and period of slow attrition are common. Looking at the sales of the first 16 issues of last three volumes of "Captain America" provides another way of looking at the sales influence of relaunches.
By lining up the issues of the different volumes, we can see the initial excitement of the new title wearing out and boiling down to the core group loyal readers of the property which slowly shrinks over time. The fact that each volume generally sold a bit less than the previous is worth noting. Each time a title is relaunched, some readers jump off the title. The readers replacing those older readers are probably newer to the property and therefore less attached to it. This increases the risk of reader attrition compared to readers that have been with a title for years or decades.
A great example of the sales bump speculators can cause was "The Walking Dead" #100, which sold around 366,102 units last month with another 21,987 units of reorder activity in August. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the sales bump on #100 vanished with "The Walking Dead" #101 which sold an estimated 51,732 units and landing at rank 31. Using "The Walking Dead" #100 as a comparison point is a bit unfair given the ridiculous number of covers it had. Unfortunately, the sales for #101 were around 10,000 units below the sales level of #97, #98 and #99. "The Walking Dead" #101 did sell around 20,000 units more than the title was doing a year ago, so regardless of which recent issue you want to use as a comparison point, the title is still selling very well.
The approximately 388,089 units of "The Walking Dead" #100 are roughly half of the missed potential sales for the title. The release schedule of the title has been uneven at best. The title would occasionally fall behind schedule with it getting as much as three or four months late at times. To Robert Kirkman's credit, he did try to get caught up resulting in three issues of "The Walking Dead" coming out in a four-week period about five years ago. In recent years, the lateness has not been as much of a problem but the end result is if the title had been released on a monthly frequency, there would be about a dozen or more issues out by now. With the title selling over 50,000 units in recent months, the additional 16 issues that would have been released if the title were on a consistent every four weeks schedule would total to over 800,000 units. Add in the two additional trade paperbacks, another hardcover and half of a Compendium and the cost of those delays over the past 100 issues really adds up.
Over at DC, the "Before Watchmen" titles continue to do well for DC with "Before Watchmen: Rorschach" #1 selling around 85,474 units and "Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan" #1 selling an estimated 77,578 units. The sales on the other miniseries have fallen a little with the later issues but remain in the 57,000 to 60,000 range. The solid sales no doubt contributed to the decision to greenlight the two issue "Before Watchmen: Moloch."
"Before Watchmen" was a risky move for DC that generated a lot of initial skepticism. So far, the move seems to have paid off. There are still a few more months to go before we'll know how the miniseries do overall. The bigger question remains how the collection of this material will do for DC. The ideal outcome for DC would be for them to add a few more evergreen trades which place on the top trades list nearly every month to an already strong backlist. Who knows, maybe we'll see a "Before Camelot 3000" series of miniseries based on the success of "Before Watchmen."
August 2012 marked the end of the first year for the New 52 titles from DC. While some titles have been replaced, sales remain exceedingly strong on "Batman" and "Justice League" with both of them selling in the 120,000 to 125,000 range. The majority of the top 20 titles were ongoing titles from DC. A little surprising is the strong sales of "Green Lantern" #12 with around 77,188 units and "Green Lantern Annual" #1 with around 67,649 units compared to the significantly lower sales of approximately 41,778 units for "Green lantern Corps" #12 and around 41,479 units for "Green Lantern: The New Guardians" #12. Perhaps the "Rise of the Third Army" will raise sales on these other Green Lantern titles. "Red Lanterns" sold approximately 35,070 units and should also benefit from a sales boost.
Historically, annuals usually came out during the summer months. With the number of New 52 titles, I find myself wondering if DC might have benefited from using the annuals instead of the #0 issues we'll see on the list next month as a place for origin stories and more timeless jumping on points. The number of titles also lends itself to doing one of those every week of the year which would have the additional benefit of evening spreading the cost of the annuals around the entire year for retailers and any readers "all in" with the New 52. As it is, the last week of August contained the annuals for "Detective Comics," "Flash," "Green Lantern" and "Superman." This seems as inconsiderate to the readers and retailers as not evening splitting the shipment of the titles within a franchise evenly across the weeks of the month.
Things like that make me wonder if some of the people creative and publishing comics have lost touch with what it is like for those of us reading the comics. It might not seem like a big deal and maybe it isn't. For people who budget their comic book spending on a weekly basis, it could make the difference between getting an issue and not getting it. And once a reader decides to not get an issue of a title, the sales inertia on that title is broken and then the publisher faces the challenge of getting the reader to get back on board with that title. Doesn't it make a lot more sense to take advantage of the sales inertia on titles and not do things to make readers question if they should keep getting a title? The habitual buying process for ongoing titles can be a very powerful sales force.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.