The second issues of Batman and Teen Titans have appeared at Walmart and the saga of the exclusive comics continues to be a very fluid thing.

My spies observed 2 copies of Batman 2; 6 copies of Superman #2; 3 copies of Teen Titans #2; 2 copies of Justice League #2; and  2 copies of Batman #1 in Cedar Rapids… and we’ll come back to the oddities of that sighting in a moment.

The Beat’s own Joe Grunenwald observed 5 copies of Batman #2; 5 copies of Teen Titans #2; 1 copy of Superman #2; 1 copy of Justice League #2; and a single copy of Batman #1.  His story also had a neat and tidy display with the usual cardboard box.

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So it looks like they’re continuing to drop 5 copies of each title on initial release and then do some restocking.  Which effectively means increasing the initial stocking of Superman and Teen Titans.  DC’s Dan DiDio has spoken about increasing the print runs and it’s going to be interesting to see how many copies are dropping when the King and Bendis issues arrive next month.  Those two are what’s really driving the buzz and they haven’t arrived yet.

So about that Cedar Rapids location.  Some things were unusual there.  First off, the comics weren’t in the usual cards and collectibles aisle, they were in the book section.  Sort of.  This is going to take a little explaining, particularly if you live in a place like NYC and haven’t been to a lot of Walmarts.  There seem to be two different section layouts in Walmarts.  One layout has a books aisle in the back of the store, usually near the DVDs.  The other layout has a sort of U-shaped area at the front of the store, often with a couple little aisles inside it.

This store had the U-shaped books area.

 

As you can see, the comics are packed in between some candy and some Pokemon and Magic cards, so it would seem some of those collectibles are in a different area in that store.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but that’s how things were displayed.  No cardboard, just a pile of comics.  I would think being in a corner of the book section probably still gets you a little more appropriate foot traffic.  And… hold on… what else was in the pile with the new DC titles?

X-Men Blue…  “Only at Walmart.”  There were two of these packs there.  I’m assuming when they say “Only at Walmart,” they’re referring to that pack of 3 comics only being sold there?

And guess what?  The Beat’s own Kate Willaert also had a Marvel comics pack siting at her local Walmart.

Guardians of the Galaxy and yet another X-title mixed in with the old DC 3-packs.

I’m not actually sure if these Marvel packs are new or not.  But the point is, they’re getting mixed into the pile in some messy sections.  Kate reports that they had too many comics to fit in the display box and that old failed DC Showcase magazine was also in the display box.  The #2 issues were in a stack with some of the comic packs mixed in.  So a section of stacks.

The net effect is similar to that Cedar Rapids store.  And I suspect both piles were a bit less neatly stacked before being prepped for photography.

It’s just kind of a sloppy flea market look when those cardboard display boxes aren’t used and I know there are more than two stores in this situation.

What can we take away from all this?

  • It doesn’t appear the #1s are being removed when the #2s arrive.  And this is a good thing if DC wants to get new readers.  If there’s a still a #1 lying around, a new reader can start at the beginning of the story.
  • If the comics aren’t selling through at a given store, there are going to be stacks lying around sooner or later.
  • There appears to be some consolidation of the various comics that have been sold over the last couple of years into the same area.  Whether this is intentional or not, I have no idea.  But the DC comic packs and the Showcase issues are definitely at least 6 months old, probably closer to a year.

I’ll probably be passing by a Walmart with one of those U-shaped sections tomorrow and I’ll have a look to see if their comics have moved from the collectibles area to the book section.  That would be an interesting development if it isn’t an isolated incident.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Saw 10 copies of all four titles Friday at the Walmart in Onalaska, Wis.

    That X-Men Blue is #1 from last year. Can’t place that Guardians of the Galaxy cover but it does say “direct edition”; could be someone selling back issues in bulk to a repackager.

  2. Okay, that’s another 2017 book, Guardians of the Galaxy: Dream On #1 — and the other Marvel book is All-New Wolverine #19, also from 2017. Three-packs with all of these issues are on eBay — and there are several more; search “Walmart Bundle Pack Exclusive” on the Grand Comics Database. They appear to be covers unique to Walmart, with the exception of X-Men Blue #1 which appears to be the regular cover.

    They do not appear to be recent products for Walmart; that Guardians cover was added to the Marvel Wikia page in April 2017.

    None of the eBay sellers are actually opening the bags, so it’s unclear what the other two issues in each of these packs are.

  3. At my local Walmart, the display box disappeared after the initial sell-through of the #1s and never returned. The #1s were never restocked and the #2s have not appeared. In place of the comics is a similar display box for something called Pokémon Celestial Storm.

    Maybe the boxes are getting discarded by vendor employees or store employees who aren’t aware that they’re intended to be re-used?

  4. Last night, I bought all four #2 issues at the Walmart in Algonquin, IL. They were all in the DC cardboard rack. There appeared to be 6-10 copies each of the four titles, but the copies of the Teen Titans were turned around with the back covers facing out. I think DC will fail with these titles due to the poor management by their distributor. The distributor fails to remain consistent in the presentation of product among all Walmarts. There are Walmarts in Rockford that still only have first issues on the rack or nothing at all. The distributor does a great job stacking boxes of Pokemon cards but can’t handle periodicals very well before it starts looking like a junk shop presentation.

  5. I recall that in Gold Key’s last days, they were selling their comics in bags at department stores, possibly including Walmart. Maybe this is where Marvel and DC are headed, as the direct market declines.

  6. It was the Direct Market that solved the newsstand problem that forced Marvel and DC to turn to Western/Gold Key for its Whitman bagged-comics distribution in the first place. Circulation through those bags was seldom huge, except in the case of the Star Wars reprints. The Direct Market’s been up for five of the last six years and 11 of the last 15, so these outside efforts are likely more supplemental than an intended replacement.

    MJ Holdings is the firm that stocks the collectibles sections, and is handling the books for DC. They’re a sportscard distributor. I would suspect Walmart’s people aren’t touching the shelves at all — it’s MJ’s people.

    As to disappearing display dumps, I’m not surprised they’re walking off. Record store employees and movie theater workers used to go home with posters and standees all the time.

  7. “The Direct Market’s been up for five of the last six years and 11 of the last 15, so these outside efforts are likely more supplemental than an intended replacement.”

    That’s a stark contrast to the weekly reports here about comic shops going out of business.

  8. Just because publishers have gotten retailers to increase their orders for 11 of the last 15 years has no bearing on retailer sell-through to readers which, for all anyone knows, could be down in 15 of the last 15 years. Tens of thousands of nonreturnable comics are “sold” to retailers every month in order to qualify for rare variants. The increased scarcity of a “hot” variant leads to an increased glut of the unsold standard edition.

  9. There’s anecdotal, and there’s the aggregate. The aggregate figures can be seen on Comichron’s yearly pages, but store closure reports are worth a few words.

    Those reports, when they appear, are indeed data points — instances filtered through a news system that is, for reasons of audience appeal and logistics, far more likely to report on closings than openings. In its often-cited tally, BleedingCool counted fifty closures in 2017, but explicitly added that no attempt was made to look at the number of openings or expansions. There are reports that those reduced the net loss considerably, but there aren’t nearly as many places to trip over that information.

    There’s a further issue that closures being reported are much more likely to be of stores you’ve heard of than ones you haven’t — because stores you’ve heard of are more likely to be reported on in the first place. But that isn’t a method for selecting statistically valid samples of a population. Worse, the highest-profile stores often face issues that are peculiar to the very geographical locations that made them high-profile — again, making reports of their circumstances less representative.

    Certainly, it is worth reading these things as they happen — and then looking next at the aggregate, to see how everyone’s doing, as well as the history, to see both what the trajectory is, and what kinds of up- and down-swings are routine.

  10. Sitcomics, no argument here that incentive structures that produce waste distort the market’s self-correcting measures. They surely do. The scale of the distortion, however, is probably not enough to result in phantom growth in all of those years — especially when most of the growth during that time came from graphic novels, which aren’t generally subject to the same incentives. Dollar sales overall are up 68% in the last 15 years; core inflation is only up 36%. That’s partially more comics being sold by units, but mostly more trade paperbacks.

    Another significant factor is the proliferation and improved performance of middle-tier publishers; the titles at the bottom of the charts sell many more copies than they did 15 years ago. Variants are a big factor, for sure — but the 300th place comic book 15 years ago this month sold 909 copies, versus what this month is likely to be over 4,000. The slate of offerings has broadened a great deal, and that’s impacted the overall.

  11. Here in Central NE, my town has 2 Walmarts – and neither one has seen ANY 2nd issues of these new DC books. The dumps have been at least half full of the old Showcase volumes from the beginning – which indicates that those were sold to the distributor as non-returnable?

    I am beginning to suspect that my local stores may only ever see the #1 issues.

  12. John Jackson Miller, your 15 year period includes 2009 when Diamond raised distribution thresholds requiring publishers to increase orders from $1500 to $2500 (a massive percentage increase) just to remain in the monthly catalog. A lot of smaller publishers have had to increase variants and cover prices just to stay in the game. I’d be interested to see what’s left in the top 300 if you only included issues without any variants or if you showed the sell-in numbers of each individual variant separately, instead of combining all covers of any given issue and then showing a cumulative total for all variants. Would any indies still be listed in the top 300 if the 28 different covers of Iron Man #1 took up 28 separate spots on the top 300? The shop closings show that a market self-correction keeps happening on the retailer side but, thanks to these gimmicks and non-returnability, not on the publisher side.

  13. My local Walmart in SE Wisconsin recently got in their #2’s for Batman and Teen Titans (and they still had #2’s of JLA and Superman as well plus few #1s left). The display dump is still there as well (in the CCG isle up front).

  14. It’s Diamond that merges the variants offered with the same cover price, so there’s no real way to break those up. But I’m not sure there’d be a good reason to. I accept as a given that structured purchasing tiers for variants distort actual demand in a bad way — and that variants increase the logistical burdens on retailers. Yet I also think it’s a mistake to wholesale equate variants today with variants of the past.

    Originally, as we all know, comics covers were governed by Henry Ford’s “you can have the Model T in any color you want, so long as it’s black” rule. When variants started to proliferate in the early 1990s, subsets of print runs were, by technological necessity, much larger and thus not likely to hold collectible value — hence the well-deserved negative aura.

    Today, in an era where customers expect customization in just about every other consumer product area, it’s more feasible and affordable to produce much smaller runs and thus offer more options. If it’s demonstrably the case that people are more likely to shell out $4 if they have a choice of covers — and publishers are able to produce them and retailers are willing to stock them — it’s hard to see how throwing a caveat on sales figures for the role of variants makes much sense. When more than half of the comics offered each month have variants — and the vast majority of the bestsellers — it’s a basic and, increasingly, expected product feature.

  15. I think the argument for splitting up the numbers for each individual variant is that the customer most commonly being referred to in all the articles about declining sales is the reader, but the analysis is almost always limited to the raw numbers ordered by the retailer. That’s a massive disconnect that renders a lot of the conclusions made of that analysis, at least when it comes to readership, utterly pointless. Are unit sales of individual variants kept confidential by the publisher?

  16. Diamond has all of that information — it would have to! — but it was decided years ago that breaking up the variants, as was done in the charts in the early 1990s, was unworkable once print runs on those variants got smaller and smaller. It pushed too many titles — and too large a percentage of the the sales of specific issues that did make the list — out of the Top 300, which was all that could be reported in Diamond’s magazine and that most websites (except for Comichron) will publish.

    The distributor charts are designed to be a commodity report telling retailers how many copies are in circulation; because the books are nonreturnable, the statistics are useful because they do represent what publishers sold outright. Charts that said what retailers resold are impossible short of a Bookscan-like service — and may not be worth the considerable expense, since numerous sell-through reporting projects over the years (including a couple of mine, and another by Diamond) suggested that sales to consumers on ongoing series correlated strongly with what retailers ordered for a couple of months down the line. (It’s why most titles tend to trend downward, even as overall sales rise and fall.)

    Barring distorting effects from poorly designed variant incentive programs, the best available evidence of shop sales volumes remains the orders reported a couple of months down the line. Certainly, somebody could spend a few million dollars to track register sales for sure, but it’s not clear how much it would add to what we already know.

  17. An industry where “Amazing Spider-Man” can’t even sell 50,000 copies some months doesn’t strike me as very healthy.

    I’m afraid the comics pamphlet is one of those pieces of Americana, like jazz or radio drama, or drive-in movies, that will never return to the popularity it once enjoyed. It’s just kept alive by a dwindling, aging group of fans who don’t want to let go.

  18. Thanks, Sitcomics. I’m just trying to make sense of it all.

    Bill, 50,000 copies would indeed be a dire number — in 1970, when single-copy sales were the only source of revenue for a story.

    In 2018, the periodical may not have to sell more than that — so long as it keeps generating material for the graphic novel collections. Just the newer Spider-Man collections sold well over $2 million worth just at Diamond last year — and more still in the book channel. Ms. Marvel sells a million dollars a year in collections to Diamond and through the book channel. If the ongoing library is large enough, it doesn’t matter as much what the individual issues sell, so long as they keep feeding new material to the trades while they’re subsidizing the creative teams.

    The standard that ought to matter is whether the medium is profitable enough to keep as many people working, creating, and selling comics stories as are talented enough to do it. At many times in the past, when the unit sales were much higher, the answer was emphatically no. Comics may not always keep as many employed as we’d like, now, but we don’t see a lot of major publishers being sold to chemical companies, or walking away entirely — which happened in those supposedly halcyon higher-circulation days.

  19. The fact is, Mr. Miller, that fewer PEOPLE (several hundred thousand fewer) are reading pamphlets today than were reading them 40 years ago.

    Came across some interesting tweets from one Paul Guinan:

    “Fun Fact: Comics companies are run by fans nostalgic for floppies and use a distributor that has a lucrative monopoly and thus zero interest in changing that format in the direct sales market.”

    He identified this distributor as Diamond, and added that comics are “the only industry I can think of that is not just dependent on a distribution monopoly, but is entirely shaped by it.”

    Mr. Miller wrote: “we don’t see a lot of major publishers being sold to chemical companies”

    No, they’re bought by movie studios that want to exploit the characters in movies, TV shows, videogames and merchandising. That’s where the real money is. As far as I can tell, Disney isn’t concerned that Marvel’s comic-book sales have plunged even as Marvel movies rule the box office.

  20. There’s little about the comics market 40 years ago to be desired today. That market had just avoided collapse, was suffering from runaway inflation, and the readership — which may not be larger than that for comics today when graphic novel readers are considered — was reached mostly through incredibly wasteful overprinting. Not many would go looking for that today. 21st century media isn’t so much about broadcasting as it is about finding depth of commitment, and engaging for years.

    As to how that engagement happens — well, most plans I’ve seen for alternative distribution methods would fail to benefit all the stakeholders they’d have to in order to be adopted. But you never know. The idea of fans setting up stores to buy comics directly from the publishers was probably once just parlor talk.

  21. I want one of those display boxes and am working up the nerve to just snatch one off the shelves of one of the local Walmarts around here. I don;t want to resell it on ebay or nothing, I just want one. And the Walmarts in the area I am in are all pretty full most of the time.

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