Marvel had a dominating 46.35% of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics in March 2013. For comparison, the total sales of the other four premiere publishers (DC, Image, IDW and Dark Horse) combined accounted for 47.39% of the total unit sales of the top 300 comics leaving only 6.25% of the sales to the other 14 publishers with items in the top 300.
The top two trades in March were the "Batman (2011) v2: The City of Owls" hardcover with an estimated 9,054 units and the "Batman (2011) v1: The Court of Owls" trade paperback with around 7,222 units. Not far behind those two was the "Hawkeye (2012) v1: My Life As Weapon" trade paperback with an estimated 6,988 units. For comparison, "Hawkeye" #8 sold around 36,898 units at the end of February, no issue shipped in March.
Topping the chart with an estimated 211,312 units was "Guardians of the Galaxy" #1. A number of things contributed to that placement on the list. First, the creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven are high profile creators at Marvel. The property being turned into a movie is also a factor. The other contributing factor was the numerous covers the issue had. Some of the covers were retailer incentives for exceeding orders of "Avengers vs X-Men" #11. In addition, there was a 1 in 50 incentive cover, a 1 in 100 incentive cover and a 1 in 150 incentive cover. Even with all of that, I did not expect "Guardians of the Galaxy" #1 to outsell "Age of Ultron" #1 and the latest "Wolverine" #1. Neither "Age of Ultron" #1 nor "Wolverine" #1 had the number of alternate covers "Guardians of the Galaxy" #1 offered. Next month's numbers for the title will also be skewed by incentive covers since "Guardians of the Galaxy" #2 offers them at 1 in 25, 1 in 50, 1 in 100 and 1 in 200 ratios. "Guardians of the Galaxy" #3 has incentive covers at the 1 in 25, 1 in 50 and 1 in 100 ratios. The ratios on the covers drop with "Guardians of the Galaxy" #4 down to a 1 in 25 cover and two 1 in 50 covers. It may be a while before we get a chance to see how the title without incentive covers.
For better or worse, incentive covers are part of the marketing of comics. Personally, I think they contribute "bad profits" and are damaging the hobby and the industry. That having been said, I have a number of such covers in my comic book collection, including double dipping on some issues because I liked both of the covers. So, from a reader perspective, I see the appeal of the covers and have nothing against them. From a business perspective, sales are sales and if slapping another cover on an issue boosts sales it can make financial sense to do so.
I consider sales bumps from cover gimmicks to be bad because they generate additional sales based on something other than the contents of the issue. The story in the comic is what is going to bring the reader back for the next issue, not the rare, collectible cover. Encouraging the collecting of comics over the reading of comics tends to result in lower sales. The cynic in me is tempted to point out sometimes encouraging the reading of comics can result in lower sales of the title but since quality is in the eye of the beholder, I won't go there.
As expected, "Justice League of America" #2 had a massive second issue drop of 71.94% down to a still very strong 91,734 estimated unit. This, of course, is a result of the sales of the first issue being inflated by the 52 alternate covers. To DC's credit, retailers were able to order exactly the number of each of those covers, if any, they desired.
"Age of Ultron" #1 sold around 174,952 units. The second issue dropped by 37.48% to an estimated 109,383 units and the third issue dropped another 8.26% to approximately 100,347 units. This event is supported by special AU issues of selected titles and not by the flood of miniseries that most events in recent years have had. On the one hand, "Superior Spider-Man" #6 outsold #6AU this month by around 807 units. On the other hand, "Fantastic Four" #5AU outsold #5 by around 3,166 units. This numbering gimmick seems to have given readers an easy out on the tie-in issues if they wanted to skip them since they aren't part of the numbering sequence. With "Civil War" and "Blackest Night" some of the tie in issues skyrocketed in sales. While most of tie in issues for those events doubled or tripled in sales, a few went as high a five times the sales of the surrounding issues. Obviously we are seeing nothing like that with "Age of Ultron" so far.
"Batman Incorporated" #8 had strong reorder activity with an additional 34,679 units in March. Most of the Batman family titles that were part of the "Death of the Family" crossover dropped back down to the levels they were at prior to the crossover.
Over at Image, "Walking Dead" #108 with an estimated 67,423 units keeps the title firmly in the lead spot for that publisher. "Saga" #11 sold around 50,023 units with "East of West" #1 right behind it with approximately 49,518 units. "Sex" #1, with 23,630 units, is the only other Image title in the top 100 comics. "Invincible" #101 sold slightly less than "Invincible" #99.
Mark Waid's "Green Hornet" #1 was the top selling comic from Dynamite Entertainment with approximately 15,114 units. "Garth Ennis' Red Team" #2 dropped around 40.56% from the first issue putting it at around 9,941 units.
The top comic from IDW was "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" #4 with 41,541 estimated units. "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" #5 also shipped in March and dropped by 12.49% to around 36,354 units. "My Little Pony Microseries" #2 was the third bestselling comic from IDW with approximately 25,473 units, down a hair over 26% from the first issue.
At Valiant, "X-O Manowar" #11 increased by 16.74% to an estimated 15, 765 units with the start of the Planet Death storyline. "Shadowman" #5 increased by 4.9% to approximately 13,145 units with the start of the second story arc for that title. While "Harbinger," "Archer and Armstrong" and "Bloodshoot" declined in sales, Valiant saw an overall increase in sales of about 1,829 units from February 2013.
Another major drop was "Legend of the Shadowclan" #2 from Aspen which dropped by 84.1% from the first issue sales of around 33,246 down to an estimated 5,287 units. Given the promotional price of $1 on the first issue and the regular price of $3.99 on the second, this drop is neither surprising nor alarming. At Image, "Son of Merlin" #2 dropped by 57.36% from the first issue sales of around 12,575 down to an estimated 5,362 units. The price on that title shifted from $1 on the first issue to $2.99 on the second. Promotional pricing of the first issue of a new series increases the chances of a reader trying out the title. This is a risky but fair and effective way to market a new title.
"Justice League of America's Vibe" #2 dropped 29.42% to an estimated 19,092 units which places it into the potential danger zone for a DC Universe title. The DCU titles selling below the 20,000 level include "Katana," "Phantom Stranger," "All Star Western," "Legion of Super-Heroes," Threshold," "Stormwatch," "Dial H" and "Demon Knights." I think all of the other DC universe titles selling below 20,000 have lareayd been announced as ending. With "Katana," "Justice League of America's Vibe" and "Threshold" already entering the potential danger zone shortly after launching, I'd suggest DC consider miniseries but as we've already seen that doesn't seem to work any better for them.
Perhaps DC Comics editorial might want to consider back door pilots as a way to get new properties into the market. A back door pilot uses an existing series to establish a new character or potential series which can then spin out of it. Many of the longer running titles at DC and Marvel essentially, if not literally, started out this way. If properly done, new or existing characters can be featured in an existing title without relegating the lead characters of that title to supporting characters. By building an audience and a demand for a new series before launching the title, maybe the title might sell better without the need to resort to cover gimmicks.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.