Out with the old, in with the new? As we’ve been reporting, October comics sales were pretty damn massive. It’s the culmination of a year that started a little rocky but has blossomed as new trends blew into town behind a strong trade wind. Multiversity’s David Harper has the much needed big think piece on what’s happening complete with CHARTS. First he points out that The Big Two are still the big two:
Before we get into the bad, let’s look at the good. Marvel and DC continue to be the backbone of the industry. In October, the pair combined to account for over 67% of units shipped by Diamond, and they are and will continue to be the 800-pound gorillas that comics are mostly known for. Some often wish they would just go away, but they aren’t just necessary, they’re the absolute foundation of the livelihood of comics. With them gone, it would likely be difficult to impossible for the books you love to succeed or even exist.
What do I mean by that? Well, it’s pretty simple. In an industry that’s worth $50 million on average, DC and Marvel account for two thirds of that revenue. Without them, comic shops would have a hard time making enough money to survive. Without Marvel and DC, print comics would likely die just like the doomsayers are always saying they’re about to. In that way, Marvel and DC’s success is tantamount to the health of the industry, and we’ve seen them reach enormous heights in recent years.
BUT events, the backbone of the last 10 years of Big Two sales, are definitely losing their punch. Harper has charts that will show it all but here’s one stat on first issue sales:
House of M #: 233, 721 (2005)
Axis #1: 138,966 (2014)
At DC, events and weeklies are showing similar sales erosion.
But they sure do love their weeklies (or bi-weeklies, in the case of “Brightest Day”), and with three running right now, DC is seeing lower and lower sales on their debuts with each passing launch. The latest, “Earth 2: World’s End”, opened at a mediocre #57 with about 55% lower sales than “Batman Eternal” started with earlier this year. Anecdotal evidence from retailers have indicated that these books have sold less and less as their runs have went along, and it’s quite likely that DC’s huge bet on weeklies isn’t hitting the levels they were aiming for.
It has taken all my self control not to post those charts (PLEASE GO TO LINK) but I can’t resist this one, which I’ve meant to do when I had a spare moment myself: a chart showing Image’s market share growth from 4% in 2009 to its current 12%:
The chart you see above is Image’s growth in both unit share and in dollar share of the marketplace over the past five years. Between January 2009 and October 2014, Image’s unit share in the marketplace has more than quadrupled. And that’s not even an apples to apples comparison, as industry revenues have skyrocketed during that time, moving from $31.31 million in January 2009 to $56.09 million this month. That means Image is taking a bigger slice of a much bigger pie.
Now, this month their 12.28% number is a bit inorganically boosted – as I said before, “The Walking Dead” #132 was featured in October’s Loot Crate, and issue #133 (also in October) sold nearly 80% less without the Loot Crate bump – but that’s still a very impressive number that speaks to how effectively they’ve grown. It’s not even how big they’ve gotten that impresses me the most, though. It’s their Terminator like relentlessness in growing their market share. This wasn’t an overnight thing, but a steady progression.
But what else are those trade winds blowing in? Marvel and DC are betting their 2015 on Secret Wars and Convergence (although the latter is, to be fair, a stop gap.) Meanwhile, the usual poster children—Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Harley Quinn and not Batgirl and Gotham Academy—are finding a strong audience. And others have trimmed their sails (while boosting sales) as well:
Meanwhile, other publishers are embracing change more than ever. Boom! and Dynamite are putting together effective impersonations of Image’s creator-owned direction. Dark Horse is launching a bevy of awesome looking new titles from creators like Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, Mike Mignola, and more. Archie has, against all odds, become a bastion of innovative and forward thinking storytelling. Valiant is attempting to bridge the gap between Marvel and DC’s universe building and Image’s creator friendly nature.
Harper leaves his analysis with a comparison to Motorola: a once dominant player that fell off the charts when they stuck with their tried and true business plan—small communication devices—while the world tacked to smart phones. About 14 years ago I gave a speech about the same thing at an industry gathering, but the telex machine was my metaphor: even pre internet, the telex machine had been done in by the fax machine, and tried to adapt by allowing you to send faxes from a telex. It didn’t work. The comics industry was in grave danger of sticking with a dying model back in 2000 when I delivered this speech.
Now, I don’t think Marvel and Dc are going to go way of the telex machine, or even Motorola—which is still around but in diminished capacity. Not with those 40 movies on the schedule. But…things have finally changed: I will allow myself one more theft as I construct my unified sales theory: Here’s the top 30 books from October, via ICv2:
|TOP 300 COMICS – October 2014|
|1||274.55||WALKING DEAD #132 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||326,334|
|2||139.31||DEATH OF WOLVERINE #4||$4.99||MAR||165,582|
|4||119.10||DEATH OF WOLVERINE #3||$4.99||MAR||141,567|
|5||116.92||AVENGERS AND X-MEN AXIS #1||$4.99||MAR||138,966|
|7||97.64||AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #7||$3.99||MAR||116,051|
|8||83.75||AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #8||$3.99||MAR||99,549|
|9||81.87||HARLEY QUINN ANNUAL #1||$5.99||DC||97,312|
|10||74.01||AVENGERS AND X-MEN AXIS #2||$3.99||MAR||87,964|
|11||71.27||AVENGERS AND X-MEN AXIS #3||$3.99||MAR||84,708|
|12||63.44||JUSTICE LEAGUE #35||$3.99||DC||75,400|
|13||63.32||JUSTICE LEAGUE #34||$3.99||DC||75,264|
|14||62.41||CAPTAIN AMERICA #25||$4.99||MAR||74,183|
|15||60.18||DEATH OF WOLVERINE LOGAN LEGACY #1||$3.99||MAR||71,532|
|16||58.52||WALKING DEAD #133 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||69,561|
|17||57.68||HARLEY QUINN #11||$2.99||DC||68,557|
|18||57.21||WYTCHES #1 (MR) [*]||$2.99||IMA||67,996|
|20||51.38||GUARDIANS OF GALAXY #20||$3.99||MAR||61,072|
|21||50.51||ALL NEW X-MEN #33||$3.99||MAR||60,032|
|22||49.28||GUARDIANS 3000 #1||$3.99||MAR||58,574|
|23||48.72||UNCANNY X-MEN #27||$3.99||MAR||57,908|
|24||48.65||ROCKET RACCOON #4||$3.99||MAR||57,830|
|25||48.28||DETECTIVE COMICS #35||$3.99||DC||57,385|
|27||46.72||SAGA #24 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||55,534|
|28||45.95||BATMAN AND ROBIN #35||$2.99||DC||54,616|
|29||45.60||BATMAN ETERNAL #26||$2.99||DC||54,199|
Setting aside the freakish Loot Crate numbers of The Walking Dead, this is not the chart you ever expected to see in the biggest sales month ever, with the Harley Quinn annual selling ealy 100,000 copies, Scott Snyder and Jock’s Wytches debuting at #18, and the new, Doc Marten’d Batgirl at #19. More teling to me—Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon is still selling 57,000 copies at issues #4. That is not a flash in the pan (Although I will wait for Jason’s monthly analysis for any variable I don’t know of.) The graphic novel chart for October shows a similar lemony fresh scent: the top five are two Batman Books, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye and Jonathan Hickman’s East of West. Even Paul Pope’s Aurora West made the top 20.
This is the new thing. I doubt that Marvel and DC’s reliance on events will go away, and I similarly doubt that they will cause the Big Two’s fleet to founder in shallow waters. It’s all ADDITIVE. While events are hard to order and offer diminishing returns, they still create a foundation for hundreds of stores.
The point is we finally have something of a healthy diversity in comics. The last time this happened was, ironically, in the switch over from the newsstand to the comics shops. Mainstream comics were experimenting with all kinds of wacky stuff in the late 70s, from Howard the Duck (a big hit in its day) to Jim Starlin. As he “direct sales market” arose, even Fantagraphics titles would sell 50,000 copies a month. Love and Rocket once sold what Rocket Raccoon does now. It only took us 30 years. And where we go from here?
Where we’re going there are no charts. But it looks like clear sailing for days and months to come.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.