And finally, the comparison chart of DC, Marvel and Image. So we can see where the biggest sales sit on the Direct Market Landscape. And at the end, we’ll look at the charts through the lens of Game of Thrones. Just because.
Standard disclaimers: The numbers are based on the Diamond sales charts as estimated by the very reliable John Jackson Miller. These charts are pretty accurate for U.S. Direct Market sales with the following caveats: 1) you can add ~10% for UK sales, which are not reflected in these charts; 2) everyone’s best guess is you can add ~10% for digital sale – while some titles do sell significantly better in digital (*cough* Ms. Marvel *cough*), that’s the average rule of thumb; 3) it’s not going to include reorders from subsequent months, although reorders will show up in subsequent months if they’re high enough. So if you’re a monster seller in Southampton and the it took the US audience 3 weeks to reorder, it’s probably not going to be reflected here.
What’s a sales band? It’s another way to have a higher level view of the market. The general idea is to divide the market into bands of 10K copies sold and see how many issues are in each band. How many issues sold between 90-99K copies, 80-89K copies, etc. etc. In very broad terms, the market is healthier when there are several titles selling in the 70K-100K+ range because titles that move a lot of copies give the retailers some margin of error on their ordering. When you see titles selling in the 20-29K band and especially below, there’s a pretty good chance a lot of retailers aren’t ordering those titles for the shelf (pull box/pre-order only) or minimal shelf copies at best.
And at first glance, this chart looks a little familiar. Marvel’s back to having all kinds of issues that shipped underneath the 20K line and I have heard a few “how many Marvel titles are doing Image numbers” jokes – which might not be completely fair as it’s likely those Marvel sales in the 10K-19K band are spread out over more stores than the Image sales in the same band.
The top list from 60K up is a bit sparser than it’s been in past months, though.
We take out the DC/Marvel Events and Marvel’s incentive-distorted #1s+variants numbers and what do we have left when we’re only looking at ongoing titles/issues? Yeah, Marvel and Image DO have a similar title count in that 10-19K sales band. DC’s got their fair share, too.
Once more, the question must be asked, if you throw out the top ongoing titles (Batman and Star Wars), it there really so much difference between DC and Marvel. DC’s a little better with issues selling in the 30K+ rang and Marvel’s got more special order-only candidates, but there’s not that much difference between the two.
So let’s get our Game of Thrones on and talk about the real problem here.
If you look at the chart, particularly the chart of ongoing titles only, you notice The Wall, separating all the comics kingdom selling less than 60K – which is almost everything, from the icy wastelands of the North. What can survive north of the wall? Walkers (Walking Dead), The Jedi Watch (Star Wars) and The Dark Night King (Batman). That’s it, apparently. At least in terms of ongoing titles.
Oh, you’ve got some events, specials and tricked out #1s that will show up on the master chart (although it’s not clear those Marvel #1s have over 60K in audience when you strip out what’s been ordered strictly for variant covers). But if you want a healthy and sustainable market, that wasteland needs to get repopulated by regular, ongoing titles.
The real question is why can Batman sell so much, but NONE of the other DCU or Marvel U. comics can crack that 60K barrier anymore? For the rest of the superhero world, it really is like there’s a wall at 60K and the audience is capped.
Over-production? Almost has to be at least a factor. Digital? Not unless a lot of readers switched to digital last October and I haven’t heard anybody crowing about digital sales being up. Well, unless it’s Marvel’s digital sale with clearance-like prices at Amazon. Marvel Unlimited? DC doesn’t have an Unlimited yet, so why are they hitting the same wall, especially when they’re a little heavier in titles selling over 30K? Reader satisfaction problems? You’d have to find the people who’ve stopped buying and ask them to be sure. Switching to tpbs? Could be part of it, but do the tpb sales seem to be that much higher? We await the annual leaking of Bookscan numbers to see if those clarify that theory.
And so we wait and see if anything is announced at NYCC that could bring some actual heat and melt some of that ice north of the sales wall. If not… well, it’s the end of September and Winter is coming.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.