April 2014 was another strong month for Image Comics on the trades list, as the publisher accounted for 27.52% of the total unit sales of the top 300 trades, beating out DC which had 25.71% and Marvel's even 21%. On the top 300 comics list, Marvel dominated the total unit sales with 46.65% of the total units compared to 29.17% for DC and 9.01% for Image. While the top comics list has expended to 400 units, these breakdowns only include to top 300 comics in order to remain consistent with previous data.
"Amazing Spider-Man" #1 sold an estimated 532,586 units, accounting for 7.63% of the total unit sales for the top 300 comics which is more than any publisher except Marvel, DC and Image. Sales over the half million mark are almost unheard of. The last time a comic sold over 500,000 units was "Amazing Spider-Man" #583 with around 501,757 units due to the President Obama cover, and those sales were split over January and February of 2009. Prior to that, "Fantastic Four" #60 from August 2002 had an estimated 705,277 units of preorder activity with the $0.09 cover price. In January 2002, "Batman: The 10 Cent Adventure" #1 did an estimated 654,128 units of preorder activity with a ten cent cover price. Last month, it took the top 8 items for Marvel to sell 543,971 units to retailers. Everything thing month from rank 301 to rank 400 combined sold an estimated 398,673 units. To say the first issue sales of "Amazing Spider-Man" are unsustainable is an understatement. The sales will drop down over the course of the next few issues, with the title probably settling in around 80,000.
In April, Marvel announced it had reached sales "just shy of 600K" for "Amazing Spider-Man" #1. The sales numbers Marvel reports are what they sold. The Diamond numbers only includes what Diamond sold to North American retailers. So any UK sales, subscription sales, newsstand sales or other sales outside of Diamond would be included in the Marvel sales number, but not in the Diamond sales data. Marvel might also be counting any copies Diamond ordered to cover damages and reorders, but since Diamond is a sales agent for Marvel and not a true distributor (that would literally purchase the comics from the publisher, taking true ownership of the units and then resell them to retailers) for Marvel like they are for the smaller publishers, I would hope any overages for damages/reorders aren't being included. Variants with a different cover price than the base copy are usually not included in the sales estimates, but are listed as a different item.
Marvel had a total of 3,258,365 estimates unit for the top 300 comics compared to the 2,037,291 units for DC. As expected, Marvel massively outperform DC in April by over a million units as I predicted last month. In addition to the influx of sales from the high profile launch of "Amazing Spider-Man," many Marvel titles shipped more than a single issue during the month, while DC missed a number of its big titles, like "Forever Evil." Over the past few years, a noticeable portion of Marvel sales are coming from these additional issues per month.
The total sales for the top 300 comics went up by an estimated 765,497 units from March 2014. From that perspective, things look good, but viewing things through the aggregate sales perspective hides the high level of churn in titles in recent years. There were 86 first issues and two zero issues out of the 417 items on the top comics list. Over 20% of the items were new titles. Sales on new titles are volatile, with second issue drops averaging nearly 32% in April. The average change in sales on a title in April was down 7.85%. Only 42 items increased in sales. Of those 42 items, 12 of them were up by a percent or less over the previous issue sales. Those are sustainable growth rates. The total increase in sales on the 42 items was an estimated 97,023 units. The rest of the increase in the aggregate sales was from new titles and other shifts in which titles are released from month to month.
Marvel has a bunch of new first issues again this month. "Hulk" #1 launched around 73,551 units. "Iron Fist: Living Weapon" #1 opened with 53,616 estimates units. "Elektra" #1 sold approximately 47,676 units. "All New Ultimates" #1 sold an estimated 30,308 units, putting it less than 1,200 units above "Rai" #1 from Valiant. Perhaps the most interesting launch at Marvel was "Original Sin" #0, which kicked off that event at Marvel with 73,024 estimated units. The issue was solicited as the prologue to the series and it is possible sales with go up on the next issue.
The aggregate sales for Marvel and DC are much closer if you compare just the sales of the first issue of each title per month. Marvel double shipped "All New X-Men," "Avengers AI," "Avengers Undercover," "Hulk, "Wolverine," "Thunderbolts," "X-Force" in April. In some months, as many as a dozen or more Marvel have shipped multiple issues within the month. The spike for DC in September 2013 was caused by the 2D and 3D covers for all of the Villains Month issues which, since they had different prices, were considered different issues shipped within the same month.
This is one of the many ways that looking at the aggregate sales slants the perceived health of the industry in a more positive direction than looking at things from a title by title basis. Virtually all titles are declining in sales with the periodic bum in sales from a new creative team, new relaunch or some other marketing gimmick. While some of those creative changes to a title can result in a sustained increase in sales, the majority of them have little to no positive impact on the sales of the title. Low enough sales result in a title getting cancelled and a different title being published which normally enters the sales chart at a much higher level than the cancelled title. Which, frankly, is a good thing since the industry would be in a world of hurt if/when new titles start routinely launching at cancellation levels. This is how sales on most titles can be down while the aggregate sales continue to appear strong.
"Deadpool" #27 is a great example of sales gimmicks in action. The issue sold an estimated 62,037 units, up 17,896 units over the previous issue. To get that bump in sales, the issue had four variant covers and increased page count and the lead character getting married. In addition to all of that, one of the covers received the Guinness World Record for the most characters on a comic book cover. Presumably the cover for the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" hardcover didn't count since it was a hardcover and not a traditional comic book. Apparently part of the trick to getting a Guinness World Record is phrasing the claim appropriately. While the cover was indeed impressive, it was something people could talk and blog about which got the issue increased awareness. The next issue will almost certainly drop back down to how the title had been selling prior to that issue.
"Deadpool" is one of the cases in which they have been tweaking the tone and style of the title from volume to volume and seeing increased sales as a result. The past few issues of "Deadpool" have been increasing in sales. Is Marvel better off with the current volume with higher sales that have been declining for most of the last year or so or the previous volume which had had lower but reasonably steady sales around 30,000 units for the last half of that volume. Obviously, higher sales are better, but there is a lot to be said for consistency, which implies a more loyal fan base.
"Batman" #31 sold an estimated 108,998 units, down almost 8,000 units from the previous issue. In another issue or two, we might see this volume dip below 100,000 for the first time. "Batman Eternal" launched with sales around 96,140 units and dropped over the course of the month down to approximately 70,917 units with the fourth issue. The 20% drop on the second issue is more likely a reflection of the first issue having multiple covers while later issues didn't than being a standard second issue drop.
In the past, weekly series have experienced minimal drops between issues, with a little bit of a more pronounced drop with each new round of solicitations. It make sense to see a more noticeable sales change since retailers and reader have another month worth of information for decision making.
DC kicked off the weekly "New 52: Futures End" series at the start of May, giving the publisher two concurrent weekly titles. "Original Sin" gets into full swing over at Marvel, and the final issue of "Forever Evil" should ship in May. Of the Marvel titles at the top of the list in April, only "Original Sin" is likely to remain seated in the top of the in May. "Superior Spider-Man" ended in April, replaced by "Amazing Spider-Man" which will plummet from the crazy high launch numbers down to more reasonable sales. A standard second issue drop would put "Hulk" down around the 55,000 to 60,000 range or possibly lower. "Batman" will probably remain above 100,000 units for another issue. "Batman Eternal" has already dropped to around 70,000 units. Depending how the new titles perform, it is possible there might not be much over the 100,000 mark in May.
If you'd like to listen to an in-depth discussion of the sales data, check out the Mayo Report episodes of the Comic Book Page podcast at www.ComicBookPage.com. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.