Marvel Month-to-Month Sales: September 2014: There’s life in that there death

deathofwolverine2

by Jason Enright

September is always an interesting month because DC does its big line-wide event with crazy covers and Marvel has to find a way to compete. The answer this year was Death of Wolverine, which shipped two issues this month and landed the number 1 and number 2 spots. DC still won overall market share, but Marvel still managed to make a few headlines themselves and capture those top two spots. Beyond those books, there is a lot of standard attrition this month and a lot of books ramping up for AXIS which is likely to lead into several new series and rebooted series over the next few months. Below is a breakdown of some of this month’s stats which includes a rise in the number of $4.99 books, which is very interesting.

79 books in total
11 double shipped books
5 X-Men books (7 if you count X-Factor and X-Force)
7 Avengers books (8 if you count the Ultimates)
2 Annuals
4 Original Sin and Original Sin Tie-In books

2 titles over 100,000 copies
2 titles between 75,000 and 100,000 copies
13 titles between 50,000 and 75,000 copies
27 titles between 25,000 and 50,000 copies
35 titles under 25,000
14 $4.99 books
61 $3.99 books
4 $2.99 books

Thanks as always to ICV2.com and Milton Griepp for their permission to use these figures.

1, 2. WOLVERINE
09/04  Wolverine v3 #19 –  65,042
09/09  Wolverine v3 #78 -  60,651
09/11  Wolverine v4 #16 -  37,796	 
09/12	 Wolverine #313	 -  39,262	 
---	
09/13  Wolverine v5 #9  -  35,920  (  -9.8%)
10/13  Wolverine v5 #10 -  34,651  (  -3.5%)
11/13  Wolverine v5 #11 -  35,394  (  +2.1%)
12/13  Wolverine v5 #12 -  32,274  (  -8.8%)
01/14  Wolverine v5 #13 -  31,164  (  -3.4%)
02/14  Wolverine v6 #1  -  88,923  ( 185.3%)
02/14  Wolverine v6 #2  -  47,339  ( -46.8%)
03/14  Wolverine v6 #3  -  40,735  ( -14.0%)
04/14  Wolverine v6 #4  -  37,732  (  -7.4%)
04/14  Wolverine v6 #5  -  37,563  (  -0.4%)
05/14  Wolverine v6 #6  -  35,571  (  -5.3%)
05/14  Wolverine v6 #7  -  35,039  (  -1.5%)
06/14  Wolverine v6 #8  -  40,491  (  15.6%)
06/14  Wolverine v6 #9  -  32,333  (   4.5%)
07/14  Wolverine v6 #10 -  47,813  (  12.9%)
08/14  Wolverine v6 #11 -  49,181  (   2.9%)
08/14  Wolverine v6 #12 -  50,570  (   2.8%)
09/14  Death of Wolv #1 – 261,975  (418.0%)
09/14  Death of Wolv #2 - 129,999  (-50.4%)
---
6 mnth  ( 219.1%)
1 year  ( 261.9%)
2 year  ( 231.0%)
3 year  ( 243.9%)
5 year  ( 114.3%)
10 year (  99.1%)

What does it take to give Wolverine the best sales he has had in years? You just have to kill him. This is going to be a 4 part series, and the first two issues bring in Marvel’s best sales this month. This is a 4 issue series split over 2 months and it will be interesting to see if the final issue (where Wolverine actually dies) gets a big sales spike like issue 1 did.

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Graphic Details: Driven to Distraction

I was walking through the aisles at BEA (BookExpo America — the biggest book industry event of the year) a few weeks ago; the show had been cut down to two days from the usual three. The show has changed radically over the years. It used to be a place where publishers could meet with their customers – the retailers, librarians, and wholesalers. That’s all changed – fewer independents walking the floor, more librarians, and more rights deals being done. Barbra Streisand and Sarah Ferguson were the stars of the show. Does it really take an aging diva and a scandal-ridden royal to get the show any attention?

Why not take a cue from the comic book world and open the doors to the public to generate some attention and excitement? Comic cons have been open to the public for decades -– it gets the fans excited about their favorite authors and artists and it gets them excited about new books coming out. These cons are an incredible way to promote to consumers.

The subject of opening BEA up to the public came up at the panel I moderated at BEA. One of the panelists said that he had had several conversations with publishers about bringing the public into the hall for a day, but the powers that be didn’t think it was a good idea. I asked why and the answer he gave was, “The publishers are resistant to the idea because they view the public as a distraction.”

Excuse me? The people who put down their hard-earned money and buy their books are a distraction? Maybe this is what is wrong with mainstream publishing. Yes -– retailers are their customers and they too pay their hard-earned money to bring the books into their stores and deserve attention. But, ultimately a book will only succeed only if consumers buy it. So aren’t they kind of important?

Comic book publishers have always excelled at involving the reader. From the days where editors would make notes in the body of the comics to fans to supporting consumer based cons, the talent gets to meet the public and the fans eat it up. And now these cons are popping up all over the country. I don’t see book shows scheduled in major cities across the country – a few things like Miami Book Fair – but even New York Is Book Country is gone.

Why not take advantage of the fact that an enormous show with dozens of authors is being staged in the publishing capital of the world and open to the public? Publishers and their executives need to come out from behind their desks and go face to face with the buying public. I know it’s scary to talk to people outside of the publishing world, but these people do pay your salaries.

Maybe they are afraid that it will become too much like a comic con and that they will have to confront fans dressed as Sherman McCoy, Atticus Finch, or Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. But, would that be so bad? Getting the paying public so excited about seeing their favorite authors and books engage in a little cosplay? It just might be good for business.

On the other hand, comic book publishers need to learn some lessons from mainstream publishers. While mainstream publishers are seemingly frightened by the public -– they have made a science out of promoting their talent at shows like BEA. Comic book publishers are not so good at this and I can give an example.

I was walking through the graphic novel area at BEA and I saw that Todd McFarlane was standing in the Image booth. I thought, he must just be dropping by, he can’t be signing. I hadn’t heard he was signing so I looked around -– I didn’t see any signs touting the fact that one of the biggest comic book creators was scheduled to sign. I didn’t think any more about it and went about my business.

Later in the day I walked by the Image booth again and there was Todd MacFarlane sitting and signing. There were maybe ten people in line. Here was the man who is arguably a legend in the world of comics and he had ten people in line. Do booksellers just not care about comic book creators? Or do they not know them?

I think that some people are aware who he is, but there are many who are not familiar with him. The event wasn’t promoted enough. Image wasn’t making a big enough deal that he was there. Comic book authors and artists can be exciting and successful at BEA. While I was at DC Comics, for most of my run there, I managed the trade show presence at BEA, the library shows, and even a few of the regional book shows. Over the years I hosted many authors and artist at BEA; Frank Miller, Alex Ross, Neil Gaiman, Brad Meltzer, Brian Azzarello, Jill Thompson, Colleen Doran, and Harvey Pekar. The DC booth at BEA was 1,000 square feet and the lines for these comic book authors and artists would wrap around the booth.

But we promoted it and made it an event. We had huge banners in the booth letting people know who was going to be there and when they were signing, we handed out fliers with the signing schedule. There was enough interest in the signings that we had to give out paper bracelets to control the crowds. If you have a bracelet on, you get a book. These signings brought a lot of attention to graphic novels in a new market –- and this was ten years ago. Why aren’t these events happening on a bigger scale now?

When I later checked the internet to see if the autographing was promoted at least online, it was mentioned on a few comic book sites that he was signing. But these are for fans who probably wouldn’t be going to BEA. I couldn’t even find him on the BEA list of autographing sessions. Todd McFarlane signing at BEA without any fanfare at all was a missed opportunity. What a shame. He deserves better, the medium deserves better, and the industry deserves better.

We have to stop looking at graphic novels and manga as one big “thing” to promote. Those days are over –- people know what they are now and it’s time to move to the next level. There are huge sections at book retail; they are in libraries, and dozens of movies are being made from these books. It’s time to act a bit more like traditional publishers and begin to build a bigger awareness for the talented people who create these books. We need to show everyone how to do it right. San Diego Comic-Con attracts over 125,000 people; New York Comic Con in just a few short years had 77,000 people pay to come to the show in 2009. Just two shows attract over 200,000 consumers -– that’s doing it right.

Frank Miller has announced that he has a prequel to 300 coming out –- let’s show the book industry what it would be like if he had an exclusive signing at the B&N on Fifth Ave. Let’s send Bill Willingham or Brian Azzarello on a tour of independent bookstores. Let’s get Stan Lee to BEA next year. It’s been years since graphic novels have been in bookstores -– it’s time to step up the game and show everyone what the medium and the talent are capable of.

Graphic Details: The iPad Cometh

That sound you heard recently was the iPad landing in America and thousands of bookstores and comic book shops across the country closing and locking their doors for the last time. That’s what happened – right? The world changed overnight and everyone is reading all their books, magazines, comics and newspapers on a digital devices.

So, wait – that didn’t happen? I can still walk into a bookstore and pick up a chunk of dead tree and enjoy a good read? Cool. The world of publishing is changing – just not as fast as everyone thinks.

The biggest change is that for the first time in publishing history consumers are being asked to invest in an expensive piece of hardware to allow them to read a book. Yes, audio books require either a cassette or CD player, but those were devices that most people already owned. To read an e-book you need a new device to view the books. Reading a book on a computer just doesn’t cut it. A book is easily portable so the device also needs to be portable.

The iPod made music incredibly portable, thousands of songs on one little device. It made what was not easily portable…portable. So what is the purpose of the e-reader when you have always been able to carry a book around with you? Matt Lauer was given a demonstration of the Sony e-Reader on a recent Today Show, it was described to him as a “portable reading device” and he asked “Isn’t a book portable?” Why yes, it is, Matt. Its purpose is to allow you to carry around hundreds of books. But, I can only read one book at a time, so do I really need to carry around hundreds of books? Can e-Readers save trees? Yes, so why aren’t the makers of these devices marketing them as “green machines”? Buy a Kindle – Save a Tree! Can it core a apple? Sorry, I was channeling Ralph Kramden for a second. They are even stressing how portable it is in the TV commercials, where they show a young mom on the beach reading an e-reader. All I could think of was, what if sand gets in that thing? I don’t think that about my paperbacks.

These devices are expensive! I need to spend how much money on equipment to read a book? Why don’t I just buy the damn book? Does the e-reader improve the reading experience? Well, not with a traditional prose title, it doesn’t. The words are the words, so the experience is not so different than reading a physical book. Reading a book, for me, is a tactile experience; the feel of the paper, the smell of the ink, the weight of it in your hands. I guess I could give that up; after all, I gave up vinyl years ago, but still in a way miss the feel of the different covers and reading the liner notes. But I think I’d miss the physical book even more.

I would also miss putting that book I just read up on the shelf. I am strangely comforted by having books around me. I feel somewhat disturbed when I walk into someone’s house for the first time and see that they have no books on display. I like looking at other people’s books; I feel it helps me get to know them a little better. You know what I mean? You’re browsing their book shelf and you see a copy of Glenn Beck’s book and realize it could be an interesting conversation at dinner. If they have an e-reader, what am I going to do? Pick it up and scroll through their books? I feel like that’s an invasion of privacy. I don’t do that with someone else’s iPad either. But, I will look through a record or CD collection in a heartbeat.

So what are the reasons for buying an e-reader? Well, even though I was excited by the idea of an e-reader, I didn’t feel the visceral need to run out and buy one like I felt with the iPod. I remember seeing the commercial and thinking, “I NEED to have one of those things!” I felt the same with the VCR and the DVD players. I remember seeing what may have been the first e-reader back in the early 1990s – it was called the Sony Dataman. Even then while I loved the idea of the Dataman, I didn’t see the need to buy one. Glad I didn’t, it bombed and was quickly removed from the shelves.

There is the immediacy of downloading a book. It’s certainly an advantage when you’re standing in an airport book shop and you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for. And if you get bored with one book, you can easily find another one. But you certainly can’t load your e-book reader up with all those books you’ve been meaning to read – like you are able to do with the iPod. That made the iPod an even cooler investment – I could load my entire music library on this little thing. I’m certainly not about to scan books and put them on my e-reader.

What will the iPad mean to all of this? Well, as we all know it’s in color and it’s not just an e-book reader, it’s a multimedia player. That may be worth the money – movies, music, internet, books all on one device. It’s a big iPhone that doesn’t make calls. But it is better for viewing comics than any other e-reader out there. You know, I downloaded a few comics on my iPhone and out of force of habit after I read them I bagged and boarded my phone. I couldn’t find the damn thing for a week. Will these devices kill the comic collector marker – or make the comic more collectible?

I think that there are a lot of people who just want a book or the comic or the magazine and don’t really care about a digital version. I also think that publishers aren’t doing enough to incentivize people enough to drop a couple hundred bucks for one of these things. Right now they are very elitist devices. They have to get cheaper. A guy buying $100 worth of comics a month is not necessarily going to spend several hundred dollars in order to buy comics from a limited list of comic book publishers who currently offer a good digital comic. I think the iPad has the potential to bring new or lapsed readers in to comics and graphic novels, the way book stores found new readers for the medium. Someone who owns the iPad might be surfing around the bookstore and see some Iron Man comics and think, “I loved the movie and I haven’t read a comic in years, I’ll spend a couple of bucks on a comic.”

This is why I think that digital distribution for comics and graphic novels are potentially a bigger growth market than digital is for other categories. While graphic novel distribution has grown and it’s easier to find a graphic novel, not so for the comic book. Outside the direct market shops and bookstore chains they are almost impossible to find. It is even harder to find one that isn’t a super-hero book or an Archie comic. Printed books will survive; comic book shops and bookstores will survive for many years to come. But publishers need to be more creative in using the digital book to drive people to the printed book and vice versa.

So, I agree with a comic book industry executive who, during our discussion of the business over drinks recently said, “The iPad is the new newsstand.” In its day, the newsstand serviced millions and millions of readers. It fueled the fire of reading. Adding another avenue that will get books into the hands of people and turning them into readers.

It’s Good To Be the Dream King: Part Two

I was moving an exercise machine – The Total Gym -down to the basement on the sly. My wife and I had discussed moving it from our bedroom – she wanted to keep it there and I wanted to move it to the basement. So, of course I moved the machine behind her back.

Now, the thing weighs about 90 pounds and has ropes and pulleys so it’s awkward to carry. As I wrestled with it coming down the stairs, I missed the last step, and landed on my left ankle. As I went crashing to the ground, the Total Gym followed and came down on my chest…just as my wife was turning the corner. She screamed thinking I had died. When she realized that her idiot of a husband was alive, she started yelling at me for being an ass for carrying it down on my own and reminded me she didn’t want it moved at all. Even though the machine was still on my chest, my wife was crying and yelling, and my ankle hurt like hell and was ballooning up to the size of Schwarzenegger’s bicep, all I could think was; “Shit, the Neil Gaiman book is coming out soon – I have too much to do.”  Then I asked my wife for an Advil.

2003 turned out to be an important year, for me and for graphic novels. DC Comics was publishing a BIG book, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Endless Nights. It was Neil’s return to Sandman comics and it was not a collection of comics, but an original graphic novel. There was the idea floating around the office that maybe, with Neil’s success with his novels and the fact that American Gods had hit the New York Times Bestseller List, we could have a bestseller on our hands. It was of a dream of mine, to have one of our graphic novels become a best seller.

Everyone pulled together to try and make this dream come true. Peggy Burns – now at Drawn and Quarterly – put together the most amazing publicity campaign. She was able to get a four page story on Neil – complete with a photo shoot – in Entertainment Weekly. Neil appeared on the front page of the Life section of USA Today – it was astounding coverage.  I remember Peggy bringing a writer from Publishers Weekly to our BEA party in Los Angles and how Karen Berger and I spent a good deal of the night talking to him about Neil,  graphic novels and Sandman. Karen had even brought some of the pencils of the book to show him. He decided he wanted to interview Neil.

 I secured the front cover of PW and a few pages inside for one of their late summer issues. I contacted his other publishers to tell them about our marketing plans for the book and let them know about our cover for PW. I suggested they might want to take an ad out to support their books by Neil. I was hoping they would – I wanted to show the breadth Neil’s work.  When the magazine came out Neil was on the cover, several ad pages were devoted to his work and to top it off, there was a seven page article on Neil. I affectionately call it the Neilzine.

The marketing plan also included the American Library Association producing a poster of Sandman with art by P. Craig Russell. It’s still available on their web site. We wanted everyone – booksellers, librarians, everyone to know this book was coming out.  We needed to tour Neil, and have him appear before his fans to promote the book. He appeared at the street festival New York Is Book Country, first speaking to a packed auditorium at the Equitable building on Fifth Avenue who had paid to hear him speak and attend a private signing afterward. He then moved to the streets of New York and sat at a table in the middle of Fifth Avenue and signed more books. In the end he had to be rushed out of the event like he was one of the Beatles.

The night before the street festival I had gone to a celebration for the event and on the way home – it was a late night and I had arranged for a car to take me back home. It was raining like crazy and my driver lost control of the car and we crashed into the medium. My back hurt but I was otherwise ok  – but combined with my slowly healing ankle I was not in great shape. But I survived and the show must go on.

The next day after New York is Bok Country Neil and I flew to a manager’s meeting for a major book retailer. He was scheduled to sign at the meeting and at one of their stores.  The hotel where the conference was held was on the beach in Florida – a beautiful place. The signing the night before went well and the next morning my Sales Manager Alicia Wilson and I set up our booth and the table for the signing. The staff for the retailer couldn’t have been nicer to us. Bringing Neil to the event came late in planning his travels – we heard there was an opportunity for us to bring Neil and we jumped on it.

During the weekend I was responsible for the care of feeding of Neil and making sure he got to where he needed to go. Now, my only previous experience with an author tour was when I was with Scholastic and drove Ann M. Martin, the author of The Baby Sitters Club series, around independent bookstores in the Albany area. She was a lovely woman and very nice and we were met by enthusiastic crowds, but traveling with Neil I felt like I his road manager. Neil couldn’t have been more gracious, kind, and generous and extremely easy going and I never had to sort out the brown M&Ms. In the middle of all this traveling he would disappear to his hotel room to write 1602 for Marvel.

The day of the signing Neil decided he wanted to pay a visit to Will Eisner who lived a short distance away. Neil had a car take him to Will’s home and I had to stay back with Alicia and I set up our booth for the trade show. After Alicia and I got everything set up we ran upstairs to our rooms to get dressed in our business clothes for the trade show. When we came back down the authors who were signing in the same area as Neil were starting to arrive and their publicity people were getting them settled at their tables. The signing tables were set up in this massive hallway outside the trade show floor with a row of tables, one for each author. I don’t remember who else was there signing, what I do remember is that they each had a few people in line waiting to get their books signed. Neil had about thirty people waiting for his arrival! These were bookstore managers! I recently learned from one of the organizers that she had to shoo away some people from Neil’s line so it didn’t look so overwhelming unbalanced to the other authors.

Soon all the authors were seated and signing – except Neil. He was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t in his room and I couldn’t reach him by cell phone. I started to freak out. I was debating going to the gift shop to buy black jeans, a black t-shirt and a leather jacket, a wig and sunglasses so I could sign for him, when suddenly my phone rang – it was Neil. He was in the lobby. I went to meet him.

Now, this hotel had a huge escalator that leads to the convention level and I see Neil at the bottom talking on his phone. He slowly rises up to meet me. He gets to the top of the stairs and one of his fans waiting in line to get his autograph sees him and shouts his name… and the crowd goes CRAZY! Coincidently the CEO of this bookstore chain just happens to be roaming the hall with a video camera crew to chronicle the event. He and the crew hear the crowd cheer and he turn to see why they are cheering. The camera crew naturally turns the camera toward the source of the excitement – Neil. The CEO and the camera crew walk up to Neil and they interview him. Neil excuses himself saying he needs to start signing and heads to the table, escorted by one of the staff members.

The CEO and I exchange cards and we discuss the book and Neil for a few minutes, then this CEO asks me, “Do you think he’d sign a book for me?” And I’m thinking, “You’re the CEO of this company I’m pretty god damn sure he’ll sign a book for you.”  We walk over to the table and I ask Neil if he could sign a book for our new friend. Neil takes a copy of Endless Nights, signs one and gives it to the CEO who thanks him and then goes off to find their graphic novel buyer on the exhibit floor. He tracks down the buyer, who has no clue as to what had just happened; the CEO stops him and says, “This Neil Gaiman is a rock star!! Tell me all about graphic novels.”

A few days later I am back home and I am out picking up a pizza for my family, when I see I have a voice mail. It was Paul Levitz, the President and Publisher of DC Comics. I cursed myself for missing the call and was tempted to immediately call him back, but decided to hear the message first. I held the phone to my ear and listened; “Rich, this is Paul I wanted to let you know Sandman hit the Times list, terrific job we’ll celebrate when you get back,” Tears welled up in my eyes the dream had come true – we had a bestseller. I remembered that buyer who, a few years before, told me graphic novels were dead – dead my ass.