The monthly publication here of Paul and Marc-Oliver’s sales chart comparisons are always occasions for analyses across the comics blogosphere and industry sites. Although as we all know by now the numbers are low by about 10-12%, the trending is still accurate, and the trending right now is that Marvel is beating DC by a wide margin. As the main architect of the current storylines, Dan Didio is being blamed for the downturn, but a few cooler heads are looking at the larger picture, including Marc-Oliver Frisch himself:
Plainly, DC isn’t looking desperately good right now. Industry observers are wondering whether a dismissal of DC Comics executive editor Dan Didio, who seems to be responsible for the current direction of the publisher’s mainstream line of superhero titles, may be imminent. (There have been conflicting rumors, according to Rich Johnston.) But that would be be an overreaction. After all, DC’s performance in the direct market has improved drastically since Didio took over in 2002 – as of May 2007, the average DC Universe title sold almost 50% more than it did four years ago. For a brief while, it even looked as if DC were establishing itself as a permanent threat to Marvel’s status as the direct market’s number one publisher. So, bearing this in mind, a dismissal would be premature; despite its recent string of failures and misfires, DC is still much better off than it was before Didio’s tenure.
A poster at NEWSARAMA says much the same thing, but with CHARTS!:
Sales have declined from May 2006, when they were at an all-time high. This is an alarming trend and a sign that DC failed in some ways to capitalize on the success of Infinite Crisis and OYL. However it is important to note that the natural trend of all series is to decline in sales. And outside of May 2006, sales are historically higher and on an overall upward trend. What this says is that people are trying out DC Comics and while some have moved one, base readership has grown, by about 1 million issues per month. The following numbers are year-over-year sales and further indicate that DC has achieved long-term and sustainable growth, despite the recent decline in sales.
Sales through May:
At least some of this growth has to be attributed to the general upswing in the market due to the increased popularity of Marvel and graphic novels, but it’s worth looking at.
Beside, the greater mystery still remains what happened to all the readers of 1990? Tom Brevoort, whose excellent blog we don’t link to nearly often enough reproduces actual sales numbers from 1990, from the very month that Todd McFarlane’s SPIDER-MAN #1 set sales records (that would later be eclipsed by JIm Lee’s X-MEN.) This book sold two million copes.
I can remember at the time that nobody was surprised that Todd’s SPIDER-MAN was a hit–it was a new ongoing Spidey book produced by the most popular artist to illustrate the web-slinger in a long time. But the actual extent of its success raised the bar and changed the industry. Because, having done this once, the powers-that-be above editorial expected a repeat performance the following year. Hedging his bets, EIC Tom DeFalco working with X-MEN editor Bob Harras decided to launch a new X-MEN #1 and transition NEW MUTANTS into X-FORCE that following year, hoping that between the two titles, they’d be able to deliver the same sales spike as SPIDER-MAN #1. And then, of course, X-FORCE #1 moved 4 million copies, and X-MEN #1 moved 8 million–and suddenly, there was an even bigger hurtle to deal with the year after that.
It’s also interesting to see the range of material Marvel was producing at this point. Far from simply focusing on the super hero titles of the Marvel U, there was an aggressive licensed property program, a line of books aimed at younger kids, the creator-owned Epic line, and a number of other projects that defied easy categorization. Not all of it was wonderful, but there was definitely some diversity going on.
It’s that latter part that provides the real surprise. We’ve still never really recovered those missing readers, although there’s been partial improvement. (You can see all of the sales figures at Tom’s blog.)