Finishing up our look at the May sales band charts, it’s time to contrast the relative health and performance of DC and Marvel… and we’ll throw in Image just for giggles.

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? Its 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.

We start out with the full chart, which includes events and #1s and DC and Marvel.  This chart looks fairly competitive.  Marvel looks a little stronger at the top of the chart, then DC takes a lead in the number of mid-list titles, while Marvel has a higher count with the lower mid-list into bottom list.  Image starts filling in as DC tapers out.

And then we take away the events and Marvel’s #1/variant selection and the top list almost completely goes away.  This is where we truly notice where Image’s Walking Dead is the #2 bestselling ongoing comic, outselling everything except Batman.

What’s the difference between DC and Marvel right now?  Marvel seems to be a little better at moving sheer numbers of variant covers.  If you combine the two covers for the Batman and Flash issues of “The Button” event, they compare favorably to Secret Empire, so Event competition goes to DC if you choose to look at it that way.  Marvel is doing more stunts with the covers and first issues, but we all know that those #1 with variants sales don’t remotely follow through to subsequent issues.

When we remove the stunts, DC has Batman and Marvel has Star Wars. Both have a big drop off after their top selling title.  DC has a few more titles selling over 40K and they aren’t publishing nearly as many under 20K (in their main superhero line).  Marvel is making up an awful lot of volume with low selling issues (that may sell better in trade paperbacks outside the Direct Market).

But really, in terms of U.S Direct Market sales, there’s not that much difference between DC and Marvel.  DC probably is getting less grief because it has more titles in that 40K+ range and those tend to be titles retailers can more easily make a profit on and still stock for the shelf.  Marvel’s got a lot of volume that’s going to be pull-box/special order only for a lot of shops.

Without some new title launches that stick, standard attrition is going to be dragging DC closer and closer to those Marvel ongoing sales levels that everyone is complaining about.  And when Scott Snyder’s All-Star Batman wraps up, right now it looks like there could be a 40K drop from Batman to DC’s next bestselling title, which would probably be Detective Comics if things remain in the same order they were in May.  That’s bizarre, but we’re looking at market where sales at the 60K+ level for an ongoing book are increasingly scarce.

The charts don’t necessarily show anything to make you worry if you weren’t already worrying about sales and they don’t show anything to make you stop worrying if you’d started.  The real question is whether the Fall events can start improving ongoing sales or if retailers are going to need to take their cues from DC and especially Marvel, grabbing non-reoccurring sales whenever an event or gimmick hits. (Or put a little more effort into diversifying sales into other publishers, although that’s absolutely not an overnight transistion.)

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics or have a look at his horror detective series on Patreon.


  1. ” DC probably is getting less grief because it has more titles in that 40K+ range and those tend to be titles retailers can more easily make a profit on and still stock for the shelf. ”

    Ryan Higgins on the Comic Conspiracy said that pretty much in their latest episode. If he were selling 20-40 issues of random Marvel title he’d be a whole lot happier about the state of things.

  2. To concur with Mazz and Todd, I think retailers view the mid list books more favorably because of the wiggle room in sell through. I also think the readers view the mid list books more favorably, because there is more to be said for reading and enjoying the same books as other people. You don’t feel like the one guy or gal reading a title when you pick up a book like Superman and you can read or watch reviews of the same book. You can talk to the shop owner or other customers about the book. I really hope Marvel can improve their marketing of several books into that range, because I have enjoyed those types of mid list books from them in the past. There’s currently just too many options in the low end to know what I should read that also won’t be cancelled in a month or two.

  3. Marvel’s unbelievably large number of poor-selling titles dramatically increases retailers’ risk of losing money. (If your retailer orders 10 copies of a book and sells 7 copies he/she probably lost money on that title.) That’s one of the reasons retailers are so upset with Marvel’s rudderless editorial and marketing direction. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY spin-offs like ROCKET and I AM GROOT should have been money-makers, not drains on cash flow. (Both of them tanked after Marvel drove their GOTG comics franchise into the ditch.)

  4. I wonder how much Marvel Unlimited effects Marvel’s sales? I stopped buying any new comics from Marvel, because I know in 6 months I can read everything for a $6 monthly subscription.

  5. Not wanting to wait 6 months for select titles on Marvel Unlimited got me to step foot inside a comic shop for the first time in over a decade.

    Marvel’s heavy publishing schedule and penchant for crossovers, events, random oversized issues and random double shipping has me regretting that decision and reconsidering going back to Marvel Unlimited 100%.

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