Big Events, Relaunches Boosted Comic Book Sales in 2015

Fri, January 15th, 2016 at 8:58am PST

Comic Books
John Mayo, Staff Writer
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2015 had some ups and downs, the most notable being for Marvel Comics between September and October, but the overall trend for the monthly top 300 comics was positive. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise since publishers cancel lower selling title and replace them with new titles. Between the "Secret Wars" event at Marvel and the "Convergence" event which put the mainstream DC titles on hiatus for two months, 2015 was far from a typical year. In the case of "Convergence," the first month was good for DC Comics but the second month wasn't. For Marvel, the turning point was the launching of the post-"Secret Wars" titles in October and November.

Marvel Titles Accounted for Over Half of 2015's Top 1000 Comics

Since the top 1,000 comics list for 2016 did not include an index ranking, I used the known sales for the items on the list and calculated the minimum number of unreported units each item needed to rank as it did. While the Total Estimated Report Units estimates are as accurate as the data released from Diamond, both the unreported units and Estimated Yearly Total Sales are ballpark estimates and should be treated as such. All of the charts use the calculated estimates from the monthly top 300 lists.

The chart of both the units and dollars from month to month show a peak in both units and dollar in April and a valley in September:

Top300ComicsDollarsTop300ComicsUnits

In these charts, which split the units and dollars by publisher, we see strong initial interest in the post-"Secret Wars" titles at Marvel and what could be the start of a possible rebound for DC at the end of the year. Given the beginning of the calendar year is usually weak, it will be challenging for DC to get through the first quarter of 2016 with strong sales.

Top300ComicsDollarsByPublisherTop300ComicsUnits YearlyByMonth

Overall, 2015 was a strong year for Marvel according to the top comics lists. Marvel had 40 of the 50 best-selling comics of 2015. DC only had eight in the top 50 and BOOM! Studios and IDW each placed one item in the top 50.

Rolling12MonthsAverage
YearlyMonthStackedChart
Top300ComicsUnits YearlyByMonth

The rolling 12-month average has remained strong. As I mentioned in the past few years, the short lived nature of current titles could put the success of the past years at risk. Publishers are rolling over titles on a regular basis, which runs contrary to the habitual nature of reading comics. Relaunching titles works against building story momentum and causes readers to have to work to keep track of ever changing titles.

The average and median sales are bouncing around a lot. The average is the total unit sales of the top 300 divided by 300 and the median is the sales at the middle of the list which equates to the average sales of the items at ranks 150 and 151. The average being higher than the median indicates outliers at the items topping the list which are biasing the average upwards. Both are low enough to put a Marvel or DC title are risk on cancellation but are also high enough to be considered fairly successful for a title published by any other publisher.

Top300Comics AverageAndMedianUnits

2015 was a year of transition for Marvel with virtually none of the titles from 2014 surviving into 2016. "Marvel Universe: Avengers Assemble: Season Two" which started in November 2014 and ends in February 2016 seems to be one of the few such titles. The result was massive turnover in volumes and titles at Marvel. The benefit was some strong first issue sales. The downside is a weakening of the sales power of first issues and steep second issue drops. The Secret Wars event was a success even with the delays at the end of the run with the eight issues published in 2015 selling a combined total in the ballpark of 1,964,349 units. Marvel had at least 69 items which sold over 100,000 units, 31 of which were first issues. The Star Wars property was a strong sales force for Marvel accounting for around 20% of the comic book unit sales for Marvel. "Star Wars" #1 sold at least 1,070,352 units and the franchise as a whole accounted for 7,761,318 units across the monthly top 300 comics lists for 2015.

The "Convergence" event at DC was far from a sales success. The second issues of seven of the related miniseries failed to make it into the top 1,000 comics for 2015. The nine issue "Convergence" series sold a total of a little over a million units. "Dark Knight III: The Master Race" #1 topped the list for DC with around 449,098 units. DC had 18 other items over 100,000 units with most of them being issues of "Batman" and "Convergence."

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"We Stand On Guard" #1 was the best selling comic from Image in 2015 with at least 84,970 units beating out "The Walking Dead" #145 which was the best-selling issue of that series with 82,792 units. "The Walking Dead" dominated the sales for Image with 14 of the top 17 items for Image on the list.

"Orphan Black" #1 with 497,002 units both topped the sales for IDW and exceeded the total sales of the other 9 items from IDW in the top 1000 comics for 2015. There was a subscription box bulk purchase for that issue. "Back to the Future" #1 was the second best-selling title from IDW with at least 79,496 units, 75,028 of which were reported on the monthly top 300 comics lists. While the "Back to the Future" title dropped to around 25,000 units after the first issue, it has done well enough to get promoted from a miniseries to an ongoing series.

"Fight Club 2" was a clear winner for Dark Horse accounting for eight of the ten items the publisher had in the top 1,000 comics for 2015. "Archie vs Predator" #1 and #2 were the other two items. In 2014, all of the Dark Horse items on the top 1,000 comics list were the licensed properties: "Serenity: Leaves on the Wind," "Star Wars [Lucas Draft]" and the ongoing "Star Wars" title. Losing the Star Wars property didn't help Dark Horse. Dark Horse has 2,679,390 units across the monthly top 300 comics lists in 2014 and 2,220,287 units across the monthly top 300 for 2015. Given that the Star Wars titles accounted for 732,893 units in 2014, a drop of 459,103 units from year to year isn't bad.

Only 20 issues from the back half of Previews made the top 1,000 comics. "Bravest Warriors: Tales of Holo John" #1 topped that list with at least 502,736 units. "Archie" #1 did at least 109,388 units with 104,347 of that reported on the monthly lists. The second and third issues of "Archie" also made it on the list. "Rick and Morty" #1 sold at least 32,174 units to place where it did at rank 945 with 17,609 of those units reported on the monthly top 300 comics lists. given the upward trend on this title, it wouldn't surprise me to see multiple issues of "Rick and Morty" on best-sellers list for 2016.

"Saga" took the top three slots on the top 1,000 trades list for 2016. Note, that isn't the top three for just Image but for all publishers. Given the long shelf life of collected editions, the number of unreported units on the top 1,000 trades can really add up. Based on known reported units from the monthly top trades lists, Image sold the most trades with 1,037,590 units. Add in the potential unreported units and that total goes up to 2,156,218 units. DC, however, had reported sales of 1,019,380 units on the trades list with 2,062,300 potential unreported units adding up to 3,081,680 units. Marvel had known sales of 923,194 units with another 1,683,483 unreported units for a potential total of 2,606,677 units.

Overall, 2015 was the strongest year for the top 300 comics since the final order era began in 2003. While the first and third quarters were somewhat weak, the second and fourth quarters more than made up for it. The question is if the unit totals for the top 300 comics are indicative of the true health of the industry. Incentive covers, constant relaunches, bulk subscription box orders and other sales gimmicks tend to inflate the sales total beyond what the audience is interested in reading. Collecting and speculating on comics is fine but with it comes the risk of the speculator bubble bursting and sales plummeting. Around 172 comics on the monthly top 300 comics list from Marvel and DC sold below 10,000 units.

So while the state of things looks good from an aggregate perspective, it is the sales trends of the individual titles which might so the real state of the industry. The typical sales trend is down. Heavily at first and the slower after that. The result is titles lasting shorter and getting restarted more often. The average issue number on the top 300 list in December was 12.9. When I first started podcasting about comic book sales in December 2005, the average issue number was 51. So while the forest looks health, the tree might be dying. Hopefully that isn't the case but we should take our favorite comics for granted. Support the comics and creators you love and hopefully 2016 will be a great year for comics.

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TOP COMICS

January, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 1,940,695 units across 80 items for a total of $6,605,562.05
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,475,583 units across 79 items for a total of $14,999,621.34
The top comics list sold a combined total of 6,885,246 units across the 329 items on the list for a total value of $27,192,730.24 at cover price.

February, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 2,102,992 units across 83 items for a total of $7,202,343.08
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,120,796 units across 79 items for a total of $12,771,876.21
The top comics list sold a combined total of 7,273,190 units across the 323 items on the list for a total value of $27,888,991.07 at cover price.

March, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 1,853,401 units across 75 items for a total of $6,178,018.76
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,193,880 units across 81 items for a total of $12,849,645.20
The top comics list sold a combined total of 6,850,063 units across the 325 items on the list for a total value of $25,503,418.47 at cover price.

April, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 3,218,988 units across 77 items for a total of $13,235,988.12
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,472,424 units across 103 items for a total of $14,360,911.40
The top comics list sold a combined total of 8,565,491 units across the 338 items on the list for a total value of $34,426,916.07 at cover price.

May, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 2,154,012 units across 68 items for a total of $8,754,816.88
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,632,139 units across 81 items for a total of $15,839,621.61
The top comics list sold a combined total of 8,084,812 units across the 322 items on the list for a total value of $33,673,783.25 at cover price.

June, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 2,272,114 units across 64 items for a total of $8,445,799.71
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,480,378 units across 80 items for a total of $14,135,002.22
The top comics list sold a combined total of 7,580,758 units across the 322 items on the list for a total value of $29,316,650.26 at cover price.

July, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 2,085,756 units across 73 items for a total of $7,705,045.44
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,449,317 units across 81 items for a total of $14,237,060.83
The top comics list sold a combined total of 7,679,125 units across the 319 items on the list for a total value of $30,103,616.81 at cover price.

August, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 1,952,784 units across 69 items for a total of $7,020,187.16
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,874,290 units across 73 items for a total of $11,552,518.10
The top comics list sold a combined total of 6,583,161 units across the 316 items on the list for a total value of $25,178,769.37 at cover price.

September, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 1,841,987 units across 70 items for a total of $7,156,519.13
Marvel sold a combined total of 2,740,911 units across 79 items for a total of $10,687,056.89
The top comics list sold a combined total of 6,323,476 units across the 318 items on the list for a total value of $24,505,735.03 at cover price.

October, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 1,975,093 units across 76 items for a total of $7,042,146.10
Marvel sold a combined total of 4,174,721 units across 68 items for a total of $17,845,089.79
The top comics list sold a combined total of 7,977,185 units across the 314 items on the list for a total value of $32,119,256.58 at cover price.

November, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 2,371,450 units across 78 items for a total of $9,768,788.50
Marvel sold a combined total of 4,255,476 units across 71 items for a total of $18,687,164.24
The top comics list sold a combined total of 8,368,607 units across the 320 items on the list for a total value of $35,091,980.36 at cover price.

December, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 2,684,589 units across 95 items for a total of $10,762,009.11
Marvel sold a combined total of 3,739,424 units across 80 items for a total of $15,752,689.76
The top comics list sold a combined total of 8,089,620 units across the 331 items on the list for a total value of $32,750,190.42 at cover price.

TOP TRADES

January, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 82,196 units across 82 items for a total value of $1,780,840.10 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 80,048 units across 59 items for a total of $2,064,295.07 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 331,024 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $6,625,346.86 at cover price.

February, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 87,618 units across 79 items for a total value of $1,744,688.82 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 65,403 units across 65 items for a total of $1,727,364.96 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 300,522 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $5,958,895.92 at cover price.

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March, 2015,/b>
DC sold a combined total of 70,017 units across 74 items for a total value of $1,355,480.83 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 78,092 units across 61 items for a total of $1,913,372.63 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 328,501 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $6,227,997.11 at cover price.

April, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 121,727 units across 75 items for a total value of $2,661,396.02 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 102,122 units across 69 items for a total of $2,714,525.24 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 447,740 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $9,008,708.03 at cover price.

May, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 99,091 units across 74 items for a total value of $2,100,792.09 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 100,272 units across 75 items for a total of $2,428,791.41 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 370,135 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $7,269,545.14 at cover price.

June, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 86,153 units across 62 items for a total value of $1,813,257.95 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 135,408 units across 107 items for a total of $3,547,006.30 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 391,931 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $8,108,714.24 at cover price.

July, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 117,604 units across 74 items for a total value of $2,581,393.76 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 139,707 units across 113 items for a total of $3,368,427.79 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 398,195 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $8,160,653.64 at cover price.

August, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 104,969 units across 92 items for a total value of $2,194,915.71 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 91,432 units across 67 items for a total of $2,301,216.75 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 374,822 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $7,282,064.23 at cover price.

September, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 127,388 units across 86 items for a total value of $2,640,316.11 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 76,082 units across 55 items for a total of $1,756,996.98 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 426,792 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $7,774,400.37 at cover price.

October, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 100,837 units across 74 items for a total value of $2,380,921.63 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 101,428 units across 55 items for a total of $2,812,066.92 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 394,278 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $8,660,411.18 at cover price.

November, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 87,293 units across 72 items for a total value of $1,952,585.90 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 117,447 units across 61 items for a total of $2,543,210.70 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 350,770 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $7,118,033.96 at cover price.

December, 2015
DC sold a combined total of 93,328 units across 80 items for a total value of $2,258,676.64 at cover price.
Marvel sold a combined total of 81,779 units across 62 items for a total of $1,930,490.01 at cover price.
The top trades list sold a combined total of 332,641 units across the 300 items on the list for a total value of $7,217,944.66 at cover price.

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 covering the past decade of comic book sales. In addition to those episodes, every Monday is a Weekly Comics Spotlight episode featuring a comic by DC, a comic by Marvel and a comic by some other publisher. I read around 200 new comics a month so the podcast covers a wide variety of what is currently being published. If you are looking for more or different comics to read, check out the latest Previews Spotlight episode which features clips from various comic book fans talking about the comics they love. With thousands of comics in Previews every month, Previews Spotlight episodes are a great way to find out about things which may have flown under your comic book radar.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.

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