The November sales estimate headlines are all about how the market is up, owing to Dark Knight 3, Vader Down and a metric ton of Marvel’s relaunched #1’s. You expect a certain amount of that. Stunts sell, as long as the publishers don’t over-extend the market for variant covers (and they sure seem aggressive in emphasizing those instead of the content in between the covers). What you’d miss out on if you only read the headlines is that Marvel’s #2 and #3 issues aren’t getting a ton of traction relative to those gaudy #1 sales totals.
There has been a reasonable amount of retailer head scratching about the consumer interest in the relaunched series being less than they would have expected. There were clues to this in the October sales estimates, with Iron Man (a title Marvel was pushing as a flagship for the relaunch) having dropped from 279,514 copies of #1 to a comparatively puny 66,664 for #2, according to estimates from Comichron. What were the estimates for Iron Man #3 in November? 59,069.
While 59K is a good number for Iron Man, relative to recent runs, if you look at in the context of it being a Brian Bendis mainstream Marvel title, you might be looking for it to settle down to the mid-60s and stick there for a year or two. That’s where he’d had some success with his X-Men titles and Guardians of the Galaxy. Iron Man is already below the 60Ks.
Ideally, you’d like to get an ongoing flagship title selling like Batman has sold for DC (~105K-150K) or at least be like Amazing Spider-Man and spend a fair amount of time selling in the 90Ks.
Still, the pattern for the last several years has been to launch big, lose a large chunk of sales over the first three or four months, settle into standard attrition and when the Avenger and X-Men flagship titles start selling below 60K in the Direct Market estimates it’s time to start planning the next relaunch. Secondary relaunches happen in between for the smaller books, which seem to drop quickly.
How funky has this relaunch been? Let’s count off November’s #2 and #3 issues. Remember, there’s usually at least a 10% drop between a #2 and a #3. #4 usually gets a healthy drop, too – just not as big as #1 to #2. Sometimes things level off after #4, sometimes not.
Amazing Spider-Man #3 – 93,848
Arguably Marvel’s real flagship title, this is _roughly_ where Spidey was selling going into Secret Wars.
Deadpool #2 – 92,008
Of course Deadpool is the exception to prove the rule. That’s actually lower than issue #45, which led into Secret Wars, but more than double the estimates on #44.
Doctor Strange #2 – 65,091
These are great numbers for Doctor Strange. Like Bendis on Iron Man, the point of reference here is Jason Aaron on Thor, which was selling in the low-to-mid 70Ks prior to Secret Wars. And that’s without a hook or a media blitz. You could ask for more, but you’d be greedy to do so.
Extraordinary X-Men #2 – 64,595
The “standard” math says this will be under 60K by issue #3 or #4. If it could stick at ~64K for a couple years, that’s essentially the pattern of recent years. However, this is the second issue and there’s no reason to think it’s found its level yet.
Spider-Gwen #2 – 62,209
The original series ended at ~67K, so this is already down.
All-New Wolverine #2 – 55,634
This one is way up from where Wolverines was, so clear win here.
Uncanny Avengers #2 – 55,008
On the one hand, it actually IS up a little from where the last series left off, but an Avengers book already under 60K with #2? An ill portent if this ends up being the secondary Avengers family title.
Guardians of the Galaxy #2 – 51,690
Perhaps a bit up from the very end, but you’d like to see this settle back in the 60k-ish sales, which doesn’t appear to be happening.
New Avengers #3 – 41,630
This is roughly the sales level the previous series ended at.
Carnage #2 – 41,576
Decent sales for this sort of thing and I’m sure Marvel is happy with this one.
Uncanny Inhumans #2 – 41,321
The zero issue in April did closer to 67K, but it’s considerably higher than the end numbers of Inhuman. If it settles in the 30-35K range and outside of cancellation worries, I suspect Marvel will be happy, since they’re hellbent on serving the overwhelming demand for Inhumans comics they perceive is out there.
Spider-Man 2099 #3 – 34,969
Roughly where it left off, might be up ~3-4K from pre-Secret Wars
Captain America Sam Wilson #3 – 33,984
Below where the All-New Captain America regular series left off.
Howling Commandos of SHIELD #2 – 20,498
Not doing so well.
I’m not talking about any of the #1 issues because they don’t seem to reflect the actual continuing sales of a title. We’re seeing a lot of huge drops from #1 to #2. That’s the variant cover effect. These drops can be well over 50%.
It’s a mixed bag. Several titles are at or below their pre-relaunch levels. Where there’s a decent showing for a lesser property, Doctor Strange is the only one you have confidence will be selling above 50K by issue 6.
This is just the first crop of titles. We don’t know what the other flagship title, All-New, All-Different Avengers will settle down to yet. If it followed the same pattern as Extraordinary X-Men, #2 would come in at roughly 62.5K copies and that’s awfully low for the flagship Avengers title. It might be higher, it might be lower.
As I was saying, Marvel has been following a pattern of relaunches, the last several years. The “All-New” era, if you will. There is a certain level where Marvel isn’t happy with sales and relaunches. You add standard attrition to this numbers and block of Avengers and X-Men titles that have been Marvel’s backbone are going to slip into the range in less than a year. Some already are and it’s not like the Inhumans is jumping ahead of those franchises on the sales charts yet.
If Deadpool keeps those numbers up and has legitimate flagship sales like Amazing Spider-Man, that would help even out the averages. But if titles really do end up averaging a 50%+ drop after the first issue, nothing else debuting in November is going to be selling 70K or more copies with their #2, let alone #8.
This is to say, if you remove the Star Wars franchise from the picture, the Marvel universe isn’t doing that much better than the DC universe. Oh, Marvel is much better pruning the vine and keeping the sales above 20K on their superhero titles, but with the exception of Spidey and perhaps Deadpool, the mid-list is the top list and 40K is starting to be high sales for anything not designated a flagship franchise.
What’s gone wrong? Here’s a round-up of comments from various retailers (I’ll decline to mention anyone by name, but I’m sure a few will pop up in the comments section):
*Secret Wars still hasn’t shipped the last issue and that may have alienated the readers. A combination of not wanting to spoil the ending and/or Secret Wars is supposed to launch the new titles.
*Customers less likely to sample as many titles with the $4.99 cover prices on so many #1s.
*The creator mix is largely the same as before, so the title announcements really didn’t sound “All-New, All-Different.”
*Ceasing publication of the ongoing titles for a few months, breaking the monthly habit, didn’t help the relaunch. (This didn’t work out so well for DC, either.)
*Relaunch fatigue. Let’s face it, relaunches have been done to death and there may be some trust issues with the audience over all this.
Perhaps there will be a lot of reorders. Perhaps when the last issue of Secret Wars finally ships, there will be a flood of people looking to catch up on the last 4 months (5 months?) of Marvel.
I’m occasionally accused of being a bit cynical, but the numbers on this first batch of #2 and #3 issues is what I would have expected to see with the March or April estimates – around #6 for the various series – if nothing clicked with the audience and the usual attrition set in. This really does appear to be slow start for the relaunch. Everyone was hoping to see more titles settling in the 70K-100K range that’s increasingly rare outside of Event comics or multiple covers.
We’ll see if it picks up, but if your local shop owner is grousing about the relaunch or you read some comments from a retailer that this isn’t going exactly the way they envisioned a Marvel relaunch, believe them. The sales estimates really aren’t what you’d expect to see, back up the retailer comments and if they’re not selling out at this levels, that’s notable. And be glad Marvel got Star Wars back.
If you’d like to get a better understanding of how the Direct Market works and how digital comics fit into it, here’s a link to Todd Allen’s book on the industry: Economics of Digital Comics.
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.