Topping Diamond Comics sales list for December 2012 was "Amazing Spider-Man" #700, moving around 200,957 units for a gain of about 168.3% over the previous issue. Overall, Marvel took six of the top ten slots with the rest going to DC Comics. Thanks to a number of Marvel NOW! relaunches, Marvel had the largest share of the unit sales for the top 300 comics with 39.42% followed by DC with 38.31%. Only five comics sold over 100,000 units to retailers in December, with sales all charting below 60,000 after the top 25 comics.
While the aggregate sales of the Marvel NOW! relaunches are strong, the individual titles are seeing the expected drops during the initial honeymoon period all titles go through. With an average drop of around 43% on the second issues and about 15.35% on the third issues that shipped in December, we are still a month or two from these relaunches starting to stabilize. "X-Men: Legacy" has already dropped from 87,089 units on the first issue to 45,405 on the third. "All New X-Men" #4 sold 80,661 units, which is a little under 44.4% of the 181,710 estimated units sold of the first issue. A lot of these early drops reflect the various retailer incentive covers on the early issues and are likely not a reflection of any sort of mass exodus of readers.
While not officially part of Marvel NOW!, "Hawkeye" seems to have stabilized almost instantly after the first issue between a low of around 33,438 on #6 and a post launch high of around 35,400 on #3. Not many titles level out this quickly.
"My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" #2 was the top selling item for IDW with approximately 39,839 units. The next IDW item on the list was "Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation" #8 with around 20,552 units. Much of the IDW list of titles is licensed properties with a creator-owned title or two like "Locke and Key: Omega" in the mix.
The Valiant relaunch seems to have leveled out around the 12,500 to 15,000 units range. The bump on "X-O Manowar" #5 was the first appearance of Ninjak. Given the tight grouping of the titles, it wouldn't surprise me if most Valiant readers are getting all of the titles.
For those wondering how Dark Horse will do if/when it loses the Star Wars license, the various Star Wars titles are selling around 10,000 to 15,000 units. Dark Horse will survive without the Star Wars franchise perfectly fine. The better question is if the Star Wars comics will do well without Dark Horse. Marvel had a successful run with "Star Wars" when the original batch of movies first came out but times are very different now. Back then, between movie releases there were few ways to get new Star Wars stories. Today between the "Star Wars: Clone Wars" television series, the novels, the DVDs of the films and the various video games, there are a number of ways for people to enjoy Star Wars without reading the comics. Dark Horse has a number of other properties split between licensed, creator-owned and company owned.
Unlike Dark Horse, almost all of the Dynamite Entertainment titles on the top 300 comics list are licensed properties. In and of itself, there is nothing inherently wrong with a publisher doing mainly licensed titles, but it is potentially risky as it ties the fate of the company to the ability to retain licenses. While there were other factors involved, the reliance on licensed titles proved to be a weakness for Devil's Due.
Dynamite Entertainment made a very interesting decision with "Masks," having Alex Ross provide art for the first issue and only the first issue. In November, the first issue sold around 63,938 estimates units with another 11,559 units or so of reorder activity in December. Typically a series will drop on a second issue. Switching from a super-star artist like Alex Ross to a non-headliner artist will usually result in lower sales. "Masks" #2 dropped by around 77.6% from the total of 75,497 units of the first issue down to an estimated 16,922 units. One the one hand, Dynamite got the additional sales on the first issue and we got an issue with Alex Ross art in it. On the other hand, any artist coming in behind Alex Ross on a story is pretty much set up to fail.
The best-selling item from BOOM! Studios was "Deathmatch" #1 with an estimated 30,945 units. It was a risky but wise move for BOOM! Studios to release this first issue for $1 instead of the standard $3.99 price point. Obviously, the publisher makes little, if any, money when they offer a first issue at a door-buster price like this. They are gambling more people will try out the series than would have otherwise and they will have better sales over the life of the series. At a buck, a reader that is considering getting it is fairly likely to give the series a try.
Some superhero fans tend to avoid superhero titles not by Marvel or DC. Personally, I don't get that mindset since there are some stories which would be fun to read that simply can't be told with Superman, Spider-Man or the other major characters. "Deathmatch" looks to be one such story. "The Red Ten" from ComixTribe is clearly a riff on the Justice League, telling a story that couldn't be told with the actual Justice League. Bill Willingham's "Pantheon" series from Lone Star Press was a great example of what can be done with superheroes without the restrictions of a few dozen other titles set in the same narrative universe.
As we've seen many, many times before, the first issue sales often set a high-water mark for a series. With the price effectively quadrupling with the second issue, we are very likely to see a massive drop as retailers probably ordered that issue very conservatively. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to strong reorder activity on the second issue and for the series benefit from the promotional pricing on the first issue in the long run. Unfortunately, I don't have access to sales data from a parallel dimension identical to our except for "Deathmatch" #1 being priced at $3.99. It would be very interesting were such data available to see how effective the technique of a lower price on the first issue does on a truly apples-to-apple comparison. If you haven't read "Deathmatch" #1, the next time you are at your local comic shop, check it out. We should support publishers when they do reader-friendly things like this.
Both "Masks" #1 and "Deathmatch" #1 used sales tactics geared to getting readers to tryout the title. "Masks" felt more like a bait-and-switch tactic while "Deathmatch" seem like the publisher was showing faith in the series by lowering the price. Readers of "Masks" #2 are going to compare the art to the first issue and probably find it wanting. "Deathmatch" #2 readers are likely to find the quality of the series to be on par with the first issue. The technique used on "Masks" seemed to be trying to get as much money upfront as possible while the approach on "Deathmatch" seemed to be going for the long term benefit of more readers of the series. I think BOOM! Studios made a better choice than Dynamite Entertainment did in terms of how these two titles were launched.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.