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:

DC/DCU Marvel Image
100K+ 1 1 0
90K-99K 3 0 0
80K-89K 0 0 1
70K-79K 2 1 0
60K-69K 3 1 0
50K-59K 6 2 0
40K-49K 13 7 0
30K-39K 10 26 1
20K-29K 9 16 2
10K-19K 10 29 11
Below 10K 3 7 18

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.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics or try some fiction.


  1. Is the something that has changed here in part a move from print to digital? I know that I personally no longer contribute to those sales charts, but I’m actually buying more monthly comics and spending more $ on comics digitally than I ever did when I bought print from a store.

  2. i think they are just publishing more titles , and spreading out the dollars more (with DC and Image) , though with Marvel , they are in a definite down trend–I think for the most part digital does not affect print , sure there are a few people that moved from paper to digital , but for the most part digital buyers are buyers that never bought paper in the 1st place

  3. Yeah, exactly what are the sources of these figures? Scanned article 3/4 times, am I missing it? If just Diamond, who cares? Barely relative to the big picture unless you’re unfortunate enough to own a LCS that hasn’t already diversified.

  4. “If just Diamond, who cares? Barely relative to the big picture unless you’re unfortunate enough to own a LCS that hasn’t already diversified.”

    Sure, because 57% of a billion dollar industry is “barely relative”!


  5. Also, for JP, the last year there is data (2015) shows digital DECLINING, and I’ve not heard anything from people I trust in publishing that would indicate anything new there whatsoever for 2016.

    Outside of a tiny handful of edge cases, I’ve never heard a publisher express any real joy (other than like “Well, it’s another marginal revenue stream, who would turn that down?”) about digital sales, and even those edge cases are not things that can at all be directly replicated.


  6. I can’t say what the problem is at Image since I don’t tend to read their titles, With D.C., maybe people are just getting tired of the company re-booting every five years or so. It certainly caused me to drop most of their titles.

    Marvel is a different story! The douchebags-in-charge decided to abandon more than 50 years of continuity, kill off major characters like Sub-Mariner, Bruce Banner, Wolverine, War Machine & Cyclops (along with one of their best minor characters, Gorilla Man) – and yes, I know they brought Subby back, but it was in a really shabbily-constructed storyline). And to top it off, they turn Steve Rogers into a Hydra-loving, overly-violent prone character.

    They basically pissed off their longtime readers of 30, 40, 50-years or more in favor of trying to reel in more pre-teen to 20-year-old readers, and everything fell apart. And, except for the Iron Man titles, most of the artwork these days is anywhere from barely passable to downright pathetic. And Marvel isn’t the only publisher with poorly-illustrated comics hitting the stands these days.

  7. I’m a 30 year on and off Marvel reader, especially X-Men, and that whole line just suffered drastically since the last revamp. I don’t believe in the conspiracy theories that Marvel wants to kill them off, the minimum number of X-titles has been five or so (Extraordinary, Uncanny, All New, Old Man Logan, Wolverine) But the team books either have terrible editorial vision, or the current writers are floundering to get a vision. And the art doesn’t help. I’m cautiously optimistic about the next line revamp, I think a back to basics approach will help.

    I feel bad for Marvel, somewhat. A lot of great writers built their names up there over the 00’s, and virtually all have jumped ship to Image, leaving Marvel without a solid roster. I blame Marvel too, for contracts without any profit sharing (unless something has changed recently) and forcing crossovers all the time. The corporate end is exerting too much influence?

  8. @def

    Another factor for the X-Books (and probably a few others) is that there isn’t much room for the writers to *have* vision. The current crop of X-Men team books are wrapping at about 20 issues each. How many of those 20 issues had to be wasted on dealing with the fallout of Secret Wars, the set-up for IvX, the Apocalypse Wars nonsense, and then wrapping up IvX? Where are writers supposed to find time to actually tell their own stories in that mess? And it’s not any more fun on the readership side — it’s a disjointed, lackluster experience for the most part, and any momentum that should might manage to build in that mess usually gets derailed by the first event.

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