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It’s that time of the month where comics sales pundits analyze monthly sales. ICv2 has it’s industry standard sales estimates, and praise for how DC turned the ship around with Rebirth.

Comic sales in September demonstrate just how dramatic the “Rebirth” impact on DC Comics sales has been.  A year ago, in September 2015, there were just six DC titles with sales over 50,000 copies (see “Top 300 Comics–September 2015”).  In September 2016, one year later, there were 38 DC titles with sales over 50,000 copies (see “Top 300 Comics–September 2016”).

Here’s the rest of the figures:

Sept. 2016 Dollar Analysis
TOP 300 COMICS ACTUAL–SEPTEMBER 2016
TOP 300 GRAPHIC NOVELS ACTUAL–SEPTEMBER 2016

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John Jackson Miller also chimed in, with the exciting addition of 20 year comparisons, and also praised DC’s rebound:

Even as the Great Recession was raging, average comics cover prices continued to increase until 2010, when DC rolled back most of its line from $3.99 to $2.99. The move was, to paraphrase one insider, one of the most popular yet least financially successful moves the publisher had tried; even with the price drop, comics sales continued to struggle until the DC relaunch in the fall of 2011. In the years since, most of DC’s line had risen back to $3.99 — when for “Rebirth” DC determined to have a price drop coincide with its relaunch event, with returnability on the first few issues thrown in to boot. The result continues to resonate in the Direct Market, as DC placed 39 titles in the Top 50 in September. Click to see the comics sales estimates for September 2016.

But even as DC’ new branding strategy triumphed, Marvel noticeably dropped out of the top 10, and had only 20 titles in the top 50.  And here’s the third analyst, CBR’s John Mayo asking the question all the doomsayers will cheer: Why Did DC and Marvel’s Sales Drop in September? Mayo usually delivers a monthly sales analysis but this kind of drill down is more recent – or was harder to find on the old site, so basically, one good thing for the new CBR. Anyway:

The main cause is many titles last month were at unsustainable sales levels with thirteen titles selling over 100,000 units totaling to 1,992,846 units and accounting for 21.3% of the unit sales for the top 300 comics in August. In contrast, in September only four titles sold over 100,000 units into retailer stores totaling to just 532,394 units. Two of those high selling titles last month, “Harley Quinn” and “Amazing Spider-Man” dropped significantly on the following issue during last month, with other titles such as “All-Star Batman” and “Suicide Squad” having a significant issue-over-issue drop landing in September. Double shipping compounds the impact of this considerably. The two issues of “Harley Quinn” in September sold a combined total of 155,313 units compared to the combined total of 476,608 units in August.

I think he’s saying “not as many splashy #1s.” But then the short term nature of  “shocking the body into life” method:

Unsustainable sales is nothing new. Launching titles with a heavy promotional push and numerous incentive covers followed by issues without that sort of marketing support yield high sales followed by much lower sales. First issues and the start of new story arc get a stronger promotional push in Previews as well as on websites and podcasts. Promoting jumping-on points heavier than the average issue makes sense. Shorter lifespans of titles is increasingly impacting the month-to-month sales. Flipping an existing title to a new volume gets a bump in sales for the first issue. One of the consequences of this constant restarting of titles is the publishers have to keep reselling retailers and readers on those title as each new volume is as much of a jumping-off point as a jumping-on point. Any readers jumping off titles is usually hidden by the sales generated from the promotional push and incentive covers on the first issue.

Mayo then drills down on why Marvel is slogging right now, comparing the Big Two habit of cancelling and then reintroducing books as “crop rotation.” This is a real world technique to make sure the soil doesn’t become so leached of all nutrients by over farming that it can’t sustain new growth. But what does that have to do with comics? It seems Marvel’s planting cycle ws wonky. In September Marvel Now! ’16 hasn’t hit yet and the old crops were turning to hay.

The reason the crop rotation strategy isn’t working for Marvel right now is the strategy only works if you keep rotating in new titles. Having a lot of titles playing out with no new ongoing title launching right results in lower overall sales for a publisher. Marvel is in an awkward “end of season” position with 25 comics on the list below 20,000 units. Many of these were for titles either ending with the issue on the list, or announced as ending soon. All of them have an issue number of 12 or lower.

Marvel seemed to have mastered the crop rotation strategy over the past few years, so it is surprising it is in this position right now. Somehow it ended up with a period of time with no new ongoing titles launching. “Deadpool and Mercs for Money” #1, launched on July 20, was the most recent ongoing title launched by Marvel and the next ongoing title launched by Marvel were “Champions” #1 and “Jessica Jones” #1 on October 5th. Those two titles will be in the next set of sales data since they were released in October. No new ongoing title launching in ten weeks makes it harder to place a first issue on near the top of the list. Marvel only places ten items in the top 50 in September, which isn’t a coincidence.

But the launch of MArvel Now! ’16 in October is going to solve everything, right? Or did they put on enough fertilizer? Well, as a much shared series of tweets by Dublin retailer John Hendricks yesterday revealed, at least in one shop, Marvel Now! ’16 has tanked!

Poor Solo! I’d been wondering about Marvel’s sudden line of “aggro male heroes” like Solo, Thrasher, Venom, etc. And Mosaic. It didn’t make any sense except as a kind of IP incubator and rebuke to those who say the women have taken over.

While some of the Marvel Now Stuff sound great – Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charterier on The Wasp? Take my money! – they could also be Nighthawk II – critial darlings that shops don’t support.

Am I worried that Marvel is going down the drain and will claw the rest of the industry with it as it frantically tries to gain purchase?

No. Not at all. Whatever the internal Game of Thrones at Marvel is after the great Film/TV schism, they don’t seem to be afraid to keep trying new things and branching out. Maybe those Scholastic Book Fair and Target and Wal-Mart sales really are terrific. (And BTW, Diamond’s chart does NOT include the graphic novel sales that make up the greater part of the Book Fair sales.)

If Marvel was in a panic they’d be doing things very differently.  Maybe the panic begins later. We’ll see. More to come!

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6 COMMENTS

  1. “as DC placed 39 titles in the Top 50 in September.”

    “Marvel noticeably dropped out of the top 10, and had only 20 titles in the top 50. ”

    Hm, 39 plus 20, in the Top 50…

    Hooray for New Math
    New-ew-ew Math
    It won’t do you a bit of good to review Math
    It’s so simple
    So very simple
    That only a child can do it!

    That’s 10 in the Top 50 for Marvel

  2. I believe Marvel counted on Civil War II to boost sales of tie-ins, which did not happen, apparently. But I think it was their strategy and that’s why they held back launching new monthlies for a little while.

  3. Marvel sales are in the gutter. Jessica Jones did ok but the other new titles were DOA! Marvel sales are worse than pre-Rebirth DC sales. Marvel’s business plan of trying to trick retailers into buying more issues than they can possibly sell has finally come home to roost. I think that the House of Ideas is really and truly out of ideas. Time for new management…..

  4. People have gotten sick of the Social Justice Warrior influenced Marvel. Marvel alienated its loyal readers. Those loyal readers have moved onto action packed video games.
    Good Luck Marvel trying to bring your loyal audience back.

  5. I’m half-interested in some of the new books Marvel is putting out (as much for the creative teams as the characters), and the X-Books are where I started reading comics 20+ years ago. But at $4 and especially $5 a pop, it’s just not worth it to buy single issues for the most part, when pre-ordering trades and reading reviews/spoilers to see whether or not I cancel in the meantime means I tend to end up happier with how I spend my money, if I spend with Marvel at all.

    Meanwhile, DC’s $3 books, even the twice-monthly offerings, feel like less of a risk. I’ve had quite a few impulse buys out of the Rebirth line-up that I ended up enjoying and positively hyping to my circle, even if I opted not to stick with the title. Most of my monthly pull is still Image, Boom!, IDW. etc. but DC’s actually on my radar for the first time in some years.

  6. IMO the problem with Marvel are multiple. Not only are they trying to do too much with the constant replacing of longtime characters, many of the character narratives and motivations are poorly thought out and done for purely for shock value.
    I also think the Marvel buying public is burnt out on Heroes beating up other heroes.

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