Periodically (pun intended), it’s useful to take a look at where the sales of a publisher’s titles are clustered. It helps widen the picture of how things are going. The idea is to break the sales chart into 10K slices. How many titles or issues sold 100K copies or more? How many sold 90K-99K? How many sold 40-49K? How many sold under 10K?
The conventional wisdom has been that when things are healthy, DC and Marvel will have a couple titles each selling over 100K and then the bands will fill out with a few titles in 90Ks, 80Ks, etc., etc. Now it’s time to start filling in the bigger picture and put DC, Marvel and Image on the sale distribution chart.
And now the numbers:
That’s not a real pretty picture. A rule of thumb I’ve heard used among retailers is that everyone is more or less happy with a title if they can order 10 copies, sell 8 and have a couple for the shelf in case somebody wants to try the title. Figure there are around 2500 shops, so when you see an order total – particularly from DC or Marvel – under 25,000, you can start to assume that the majority of shops can’t justify 10 copies and you start to see those titles as special orders that don’t necessarily have shelf copies. Lots of probably special order-only titles on that chart.
The most striking thing is how bare the distribution is on the top side. In healthier times, you’d see more books selling above 60K. Let’s be blunt and cold here: if you throw out Darth Maul #1 as an unsustainable first issue sales figure, Walking Dead is outselling everything Marvel puts out by a significant margin. (The sound you just heard was not the Green Goblin cackling, it was Robert Kirkman.) DC’s about to have some Events to theoretically boost things, but they just had the first issue of Batman slide under the 100K mark in recent memory. They have mid-list again, but the top list cupboard is a little sparse. And let’s be clear: while I’ve been writing about the rise of collected edition sales, that doesn’t account for the drought of comics selling 70K+ titles. 40K Green Lantern or X-Men readers didn’t switch to tpbs. They may well have switched their attention to different publishers and scattered 40K sales across 30 different titles in a variety of formats, but something has changed here.
Image is particularly fascinating to observe from the perspective of this chart. Walking Dead is a juggernaut. We don’t see Saga in February, but it would likely pop up in the 40Ks band. They have their hits, and we’re at a point where a decent portion of their sales overlap with the lower tiers of DC and Marvel. That hasn’t always been the case. Can Image take one more step up put a few more books in that 30K+ range or is the trade paperback their real future?
Titles that sell ~20-25K+ tend to be profitable for everyone involved. There are plenty of those. What the sales band chart is telling us is that the market is short on the cash cows that let everyone take more chances on new titles and properties, while being heavy on niche sales titles that retailers need to keep a careful eye on managing, even more so in current conditions.
Prognosis: When you look at the chart, you see an industry desperate for some hit books. A few hits would normalize a lot of things. Real hits, not the 60K seller that passes for a hit these days. Past that, everybody from publishing to retailers really needs to know their individual customer right now.
- DC Comics Sales Band Report For February 2017
- Marvel Comics Sales Band Report For February 2017
- Image Comics Sales Band Report For February 2017: Steady As She Goes
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.