Is Marvel’s Relaunch Stumbling Out of the Gate?

Is Marvel’s Relaunch Stumbling Out of the Gate?

Orders dropped off pretty fast for Iron Man's relaunch.

Orders dropped off pretty fast for Iron Man’s relaunch.

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.

Comments

  1. says

    Welcome to the cynical circle, Todd! :)
    Only two comments:
    – comparing Dr strange and Thor numbers doesn’t seem fair at all, especially for the Doctor. The last ongoing serie for the doctor was so much time ago that there is no real point of comparaisons, except that Dr strange was never a huge seller, but did manage to keep its ongoing title during more than 20 years.
    – the creator mix is quite different. Many names are new and some associatiosn are quite new, let’s be fair. We can’t say that Marvel hasn’t put a lot of innovative titles with this relaunch. Of course, if you only lokk at the big titles, nothing has changed much, but the rest of their catalog is quite daring and innovative (and expensive too :p ).

  2. Bob says

    Looking at the diamond numbers for the past couple of years gives such a flawed idea as to how its doing. Its not like the way it was in the past where the direct market is the main sales number and even then the Diamond numbers were still flawed. It doesn’t take into account the rather sizable digital numbers, where books like Spider-Gwen have such a huge audience that’s not reflected in these numbers. All the numbers to is allow people to manipulate them and show a small example in order to push their agenda.

  3. MBunge says

    “It doesn’t take into account the rather sizable digital numbers, where books like Spider-Gwen have such a huge audience that’s not reflected in these numbers”

    And where can we see this digital numbers? I can totally believe Spider-Gwen selling big online but I’d like to check out the sales figures myself.

    Mike

  4. Todd Allen says

    Bob, who’s your source on Spider-Gwen’s digital sales? The only digital comic at Marvel I’ve gotten confirmation *from Marvel* on a consistently percentage of digital sales is Ms. Marvel. From what I could tell, and I couldn’t get a straight enough answer to suit me, Ms. Marvel seemed to be selling close to (but not quite) print numbers in digital. Which was an anomaly. If Spider-Gwen is doing the same, then that’s two books out of the entire line.

    Depending on who you talk to, digital is still 10%-15% of total sales and since there’s no more newsstand for Marvel, that leaves 85%-90% of the sales to Diamond. It reflects the reality of the Direct Market, where many retailers rely on Marvel to get them into the profit column each month.

    But really, accusing somebody who wrote a book on how the digital market works of ignoring digital to push a print agenda? Grow up. There’s better trolling to be done than that.

  5. says

    To be fair on Dr Strange, Marvel tied the incentive for variants on Dr Strange to Thor, so Marvel expected some sort of comparison. Sadly it was exceed 175% of Thor to get the variants, so they expected it to far outsell Thor

  6. says

    From an artist perspective that Iron Man Cover looks okay, but the computer lettering with all those style filters (embossing) added looks hideous. I don’t collect super hero books these days, but I would think all the movies and cartoons out there are creating a somewhat over saturation of the market. Perhaps people are looking elsewhere for something new. Rebranding of things don’t make for new.

  7. says

    Marvel need to do something to create buzz beyond the first issue. How they do this I don’t have the answer, but I would say this would need to be a long term thing and not reliant of the variant covers. Possibly they could do a big push on the tpb collections with an attempt get people to jump onto the floppies after.

  8. Tim says

    Once the delays and extra issue were announced I dropped Secret Wars. It was the first Marvel event I’ve indulged in since 2010 and I don’t see any reason to do these anymore.

    I’m trying all of the #1s but reboot fatigue, lack of star talent and cost are looking like ANAD is a jumping off point for me. It’s looking like I’ll settle around the 6-7 title mark where pre-Secret Wars I was at the 15-16 title level.

    Same thing happened with DC’s reboot too though. These reboots tend to shake the tree enough that I guess I’m one of the old base that falls off and haven’t really come back in any substantive way. I guess it’s up to some new fan to take my place at the superhero shops at this point.

  9. says

    I suppose Marvel should just switch over to an “every issue is a #1” relaunch! Maybe an Amazing Spider-Man #1, Amazing Spider-Man #1 (and in tiny print 1.1) and A,mazing Spider-Man #1 (1.2), and so on. ;) I jest, I jest, but I swear, this is how it’s going. At some point the companies (not the fans) decided the only thing that sells are #1’s and variant covers. It’s the usual short-term money making thinking, unfortunately. And the fanboys blindly fall into the trap, and become addicted to the idea, as well.

    But also, wow, the new creative teams on these relaunches are just a big no for me. Even my best friend, and we’ve both read comics since we were in grade school, told me every single Avengers relaunch is horrible. We both bought them all before the relaunch, after, every single one dropped. And The Vision, Starbrand and NightMask, Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange, etc. – it’s just a personal preference, but the whole “indie” art thing at Marvel has killed my desire to buy these books, books that, if they had a more “traditional Marvel art style” I’d probably snatch up! I think overall the relaunch is just a mess in terms of characters and creative teams.

    I personally like more “realistic” artwork, which is why most of my money goes to Independents now. Butch Guice, Alex Maleev (one hold=over at Marvel), Mike Perkins (the other), Michael Lark, Bill Sienkiewicz, Steve Epting, Gabriel Hardman, etc. All, at one point, Marvel artists…

  10. Badgermushroom says

    Fascinating stuff, thanks to Todd Allen for the insights.

    Didn’t Dark Horse have the Star Wars license before Marvel? Everyone is acting like Star Wars comics are a new amazing thing when really there’s been Star Wars titles for years. I bet there’s some green eyes over at Dark Horse right now…

    “Depending on who you talk to, digital is still 10%-15% of total sales and since there’s no more newsstand for Marvel, that leaves 85%-90% of the sales to Diamond.”

    Small point, but there are also non-US/Canada sales missing from Diamond numbers (because Diamond doesn’t sell comics outside US & Canada). Most common guesstimate I’ve heard is that that adds ca. 10%. So Diamond figures capture about 75% – 80% of sales.

    That’s not counting tbp sales either but I don’t think there have been any trades out for ANAD titles yet? So that’s a (big) part of the story that is remains to be told.

    -BM

  11. says

    “because Diamond doesn’t sell comics outside US & Canada”

    Diamond US absolutely sells to at least *some* non-US accounts — I know because there were non-US accounts in the Marvel class-action settlement, and that only derived from DIamond-US sales.

    “That’s not counting tbp sales either but I don’t think there have been any trades out for ANAD titles yet? So that’s a (big) part of the story that is remains to be told.”

    Speaking as a retailer, poor-selling frontlist virtually always yields poor-selling backlist.

    -B

  12. Skottie says

    “the whole “indie” art thing at Marvel has killed my desire to buy these books, books that, if they had a more “traditional Marvel art style” I’d probably snatch up!”

    Then they’d be tonally exact like the big team books, so what would the point be?

    Granted, that’s not a criticism of you. Marvel is really screwed in its attempt to “diversify” a line that’s basically all telling the same kind of story.

  13. Shawn Kane says

    Marvel has created the idea that if you don’t like the current run of a book, just wait for the next relaunch that will have a different creative team and/or possibly a new cast or concept. Iron Man itself has turned into a series of mini-series the last few years. I still have a hard time believing that people don’t want to buy comics with large numbers on them and that relaunches are necessary.

  14. says

    Diamond surely sells worldwide, I suspect any retailer can open an account with them, unless it is possible to ship to him, and possible for him to pay for it. There used to be some disclaimer on the sale chart about North American sales only, or something about excluding Diamond UK numbers ?

    Anyway, under the current list at Diamond it says the data is worldwide ?
    http://www.diamondcomics.com/Home/1/1/3/597?articleID=172235

    Data for Diamond’s sales charts — which includes the monthly market shares and all top product charts — are compiled by Diamond Comic Distributors from sales made to thousands of comic book specialty shops located in North America and around the world. Additional sales made to online merchants and other specialty stores may be included as well.

  15. Al@ says

    There are just too many titles these days. The Preview Catalog is huge every month; are people really buying that many comics? I think there is a market correction coming, where companies will trim back their lines.

  16. Kevin Fisher says

    You said it, Al@. I think trimming is on the horizon. I feel as if Marvel is flooding the market just to take up shelf space, sometimes. I like what companies like Valiant are doing, where they try to have high quality titles and avoid overstretching themselves (I do acknowledge they are a young and small company, however).

    Still, I think trimming would do the line a lot of good. The fact there are 4 Avengers teams (and The Ultimates) seems like overkill.

  17. says

    well, for everyone complaining about an output too big to cope with from marvel and dc and the distributor (diamond) why not take a look at the book market, the music market, bluy/dvd-market etc, where you have a lot more product coming out every month. i think we should be glad for the diversity and yes, everyone knows that in the long run, single issue magazines aren’t gonna win. it would be quite the sensation to contradict basically every other printed medium. as much as i despise it a reader and customer, i can’t really blame the publishers to inflate their numbers with any kind of trick possible (re-numbering, variants, incentives etc). having said that, can’t really see where the mainstream market will go from here…

  18. Skottie says

    “why not take a look at the book market, the music market, bluy/dvd-market etc, where you have a lot more product coming out every month.”

    Because they don’t give us a better understanding or justification of the comics market, and your argument boils down to “Well, they’re also doing it wrong, so it’s okay for Marvel to do it wrong.”

  19. Steve says

    I give Marvel credit for diversification; however, they need to cut at least 10 titles from their schedule. I anticipate fans and retailers will quickly kill books like HOWLING COMMANDOS and VISION. Unfortunately, Marvel has a stable of 5,000 other unsellable characters and will lose no time in greenlighting more rack filler designed to exploit retailers.

    Steve

  20. JCG says

    Perhaps the retailers could just not order those rackfillers then? Or am I missing something?

  21. Steve says

    Retailers are cutting orders. For example, Marvel double shipped free copies of VISION recently due to low orders. I believe they are double shipping RED WOLF also.

    Steve

  22. TheDropIn2016WillProveMeRight! says

    Marvel and DC are a blight to the industry in there current forms, they are just flooding the market with cheap crack cocaine comics when people are after the high grade stuff Art comics.

    Look at what happens when DC decides to make Art with Sandman and TDKIII, they get record sales.

    Marvel are jokers, making more money of all the Star Wars comics Dark Horse did the legwork on than their own Star Wars comics.

    People are moving on to the other companies products cause while they are smaller companies, they also look after their products because they have to as it’s their only source of income, so people can dig it cause they see the effort that goes into the product, unlike Marvel and DC with their big sugardaddies underwriting their losses on the dross getting pumped out.

    Or getting so burnt out by it all they are leaving the game entirely.

    Smaller companies can get by publishing the same comic for 31 years like Usagi Yojimbo for example but Marvel can’t get by without a yearly reboot, smh and all the top ‘analysts’ are wondering why the market is bottoming out.

    People are smarter than you think, the cheap crack aint keeping them hooked no more, they searching for the higher grade art or getting out.

  23. Skottie says

    “people are after the high grade stuff Art comics. . . Look at what happens when DC decides to make Art with Sandman and TDKIII, they get record sales.”

    Oh yes, sequels to best-selling franchises were definitely produced with ART foremost in mind.

  24. says

    I have a question? Has the graphic novel market also had an impact on comic book sales? I have been reading and collecting comics for the past 40 years and some times I wait for the trades to come out before picking up a certain title.

  25. Rich H says

    The problem with Marvel’s relaunch is Marvel not being clear why they’re relaunching. There’s been no clear direction of their intention.

    Is it to get new readers? Then the books would need to be accessible, affordable and feature classic versions of the characters (IMO) because casual readers recognise those, e.g. one Spider-Man, Bruce Banner = Hulk, X-Men “everyone hates and fears them”, etc.

    Same goes with lapsed readers.

    So it’s clear ANAD is ONLY for existing readers, those there pre-Secret Wars and the only people who understand the existing continuity. Marvel had no interest in the other groups, just in mining their hardcore fans.

    It’s possible people in the other groups sampled the No1s, hence the high numbers. Maybe these people really do want to buy Marvel comics, except they can’t, because the books just aren’t made for them.

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