It’s time to look at the sales distribution charts for May. (See bottom for standard disclaimers and explanation of method). As is our custom, we’ll start with DC.
What’s all that activity at the left side of the chart? Special Events, that’s what.
Doomsday Clock managed to ship in May and was ordered into the Direct Market at ~147K (AKA, holding audience, despite delays that somebody probably should have seen coming on the editorial side). A couple Batman issues back up over 100K (barely) as the Wedding approaches.
Justice League: No Justice debuted with ~86.8K orders and then placed 3 more issues in the 60Ks sales band. Man of Steel debuted with ~79K orders. Hey, isn’t that most of the left-most quadrant? Yup.
Let’s break that out a little.
Pull out those relaunches and things look a bit more familiar. The two Batman’s at the top. Sean “my comics sell” Murphy keeps on trucking to the tune of ~73.6K orders, and then we’re back to the 50K bracket with Flash, which is up a bit, a Batman Wedding Special, and Detective. Detective is also close to dropping below 50K. Maybe they’ll be announcing a new permanent team at SDCC to get it back up a bit.
We’re now mid-relaunch for DC, so it’s time for some real talk. The No Justice numbers did not impress that much. Yes, ending up at 64-65K for a Justice League title is a definite improvement, but that’s low end for such a ballyhooed Scott Snyder relaunch. I had JL pegged for somewhere between 90K-60K in a world where Batman has been bouncing between 105-95.
- The way I’ve been hearing it from retailers, a lot of them were awfully nervous about going all in on back-to-back weekly minis they were ordering without sell through data. This could be artificially lower sales as a result.
- The actual (post No Justice) Justice League title is outselling Batman on Comixology. Two issues in a row. I didn’t see that comic. I’m hearing mixed results from retailers, but a few are saying that it’s selling similar numbers to Batman, so there may be some upside to the regular launch.
With Man of Steel, you’ve got that issue of ordering without sell through data, compounded with the Bendis preview in Action #1000 being widely viewed as no good. The actual miniseries has much better word of mouth, so perhaps the sales won’t end up having dipped as much, though they’ve never overtaken Batman on Comixology.
Bendis has been set up for an odd sort of commercial failure on the Superman books. By cutting them back to monthly, he needs to double the old sale totals or a certain number of retailers are going to contend they’re losing money on his run by virtue of them not double shipping. It’s not a completely unreasonable complaint. Since DC raised the entire line to $3.99, they’re not going to give him an adjustment there. The question is whether they’re marking the circulation he needs to double at 40-45K/issue (80-90K as a monthly) or ~50K/issue (100K as a monthly). So he could theoretically be selling 70K of Action and Superman each month – in this underwhelming market – and still have it looked upon as a bust by a certain set of retailers. Strange times we live in, but I’ve had this sentiment expressed to me in very clear terms.
Unless there’s significant word of mouth, it’s looking like the Superman line is going to be more like 60-70K, which *is* an improvement, but not what was hyped. However, Justice League is surprising in its post-event performance, so there’s hope.
All that said, look at how few comics sell over 29K for DC and realize that most of the titles in those sales bands ship twice a month. DC needs to keep relaunching. We gather Green Lantern is next, but they shouldn’t stop there.
Young Animal, which is having a bit of turmoil, didn’t get above 10K this month. The Hanna-Barbera superhero crossovers did decidedly better than the monthlies, which continue to be down a bit for this round. The less said about the current state of Vertigo, the better, though a relaunch is in the offing there, too.
In better news, Action Comics #1000 moved an extra 52,000 copies in reorders in May. That is nothing to sneeze at.
In summary, the initial stages of the Justice League and Superman relaunches were definitely progress in the right direction, but are on the low end of expectations for such things as we wait to see if the formal launches of the regular titles produce a bit more heat, of which there are some indications that might be happening. The rest of the line seems stagnant.
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 sales – 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 it took the US audience 3 weeks to reorder, it’s probably not going to be reflected here.
What’s a sales band? It’s 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.
Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work? Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics