By Brian Hibbs

There’s a particular Myth of the market that says that the “Wednesday Warriors” – the hardcore, most committed fan, who comes in every week without fail, usually on a Wednesday – are the core of the business that we should be catering to. This is a narrative that is regularly advanced by the largest publishers: search “Wednesday Warrior” and “Dan DiDio” to get scores of hits for the DC publisher, and Marvel’s Joe Quesada recently got into the game. Even the sell-through reports at Bleeding Cool are designed around the idea that the first few days on the rack are the key ones.

This is not a completely incoherent opinion, because you only have to walk into a comic book store on a Wednesday to see things are busy; often very busy – but how much real scrutiny does the premise hold up?
52-Issue#1.jpgI have two stores. One (the larger and older one) runs much more like a bookstore, while the other could hardly be more of a traditional periodical-oriented store. If you’d like some deeper and longer perspective of the stores and how and what they sell, please read this.

Now, these are absolutely just two data points from a single city, but they’re the only data points that I have free rein to analyze and go deep into – it’s possible (if not especially likely) that we’re somehow wildly and insanely different from other comic stores, though no anecdotal evidence that I am aware of would actually support that conclusion. It was easier for me to doubt my own data when I just had a single store, but with the second (again, primarily focused on the weekly-comics experience), I’ve come to believe that my data is not so very different from the majority of my peers.

And what my data shows is that while Wednesday Warriors are absolutely a significant part of the business, they’re not actually as much of a driver as the Myth would say.

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We use a Point-Of-Sale (POS) system to track sales and inventory and customers. We strongly encourage customers to get into our system by becoming “subscribers” to the series they consistently follow. Those customers we can track week-over-week, while non-subs are listed in the sales record as “anonymous”. On any given day the exact percentage of sales-to-subs and sales-to-anon can vary pretty wildly, but when you’re looking solely at sales that involved any amount of periodical comics, I can generally state that subs spend (on average) roughly twice the amount that a non-sub does, while being roughly half the number of transactions. This is actually pretty consistent between the two stores – within just a few percentage points – and I think very strongly state that the periodical focused customer is a different “kind” of customer than the book-focused one.

So, at the periodical-focused store, we have roughly 225 subs at any moment. I did an analysis of the three strongest months for periodical sales last year, and found consistent enough results that I’m comfortable presenting the strongest of those months in fair detail.

Of the ~225 subs, only 129 of them came in during that calendar month – call it roughly 60%. Not only was this matching roughly from month-to-month, that also matched pretty close from store-to-store. This is one of the reasons retailers are constantly asking folks to pick up their comics.

Of those 129 subscribers, the actual breakdown of visits looked like this during this four-Wednesday month:

Came 1x in Month: 65

Came 2x in Month: 31

Came 3x in Month: 13

Came 4x in Month: 15

Came 5x in Month: 4

Came 7x in Month: 1

In the other two months that I checked, the results were essentially the same – roughly three-quarters of the subs that came in either shopped once or twice a month.

Obviously, we can’t really differentiate between “anonymous” customers in any significant way, but our anecdotal evaluation of customer behavior suggests the same thing – the majority of periodical buyers are not coming in weekly; the largest number come in monthly or less.

Again, this sales pattern was played out the same at both stores, during multiple months that I checked in on.

TAW267_pq2.pngNow what is true is that the folks who came in weekly or better absolutely bought more series, on average, then those who did not. And it appeared to me (though there’s really nearly too many data points to look at to be 100% certain) that those customers tended to be the folks who were more likely to purchase the lowest-selling series and “subs-only” titles. But I’m very much not certain if that’s a great tradeoff to make – what we want is more strong-selling titles that sell widely, and to a variety of customers, not more books where we’re essentially acting as a catalog shop.

I took a look at our best-selling series at the periodical-focused store – “Batman”, currently – and when looking solely at anonymous customers, or named customers who are not subscribed to the series, about a third of the copies sold go on the first day, with about twenty percent more selling in that first week, while the remaining about forty-percent trickling out over the next month.

Taken all together, this seems to suggest to me that while weekly buyers are very important, they’re pretty far from the driving force, even just looking solely at periodicals – an “average” customer is far (far!) more likely to show up roughly monthly to buy comics.

And if you start extending into book format product, the numbers scale away even further (simply because a clear minority of book sales happen right in that first week) – at least for any product with “legs”. Certainly, somewhere around twenty percent of the book format product we bring in only ever sells one time, ever, and never turns a second copy. That’s usually not in week one (though it is almost always in month one) – but perennial format buyers often shop somewhere between monthly and quarterly.

But let’s stick with the periodicals for now – the evidence seems pretty damn compelling to me that the customer, even the most dedicated and focused ones, are not, on average, shopping weekly. There are weekly buyers, they are significant (often very!) spenders, but the numbers suggest to me that not only is the majority of periodical sales outside of the “Wednesday Warriors”, but that, much more importantly, the potential for growing new periodical buyers means focusing on monthly-or-wider time horizons.

So, and this is where we get to the title of this column, this is why retailers as a class generally hate weekly comics – that isn’t how the majority of customers shop. It’s also harder – significantly harder – to correctly order weekly comics than it is to order monthly books. The Final Order Cutoff cycle means that with a weekly comic that lasts a month, you’re ordering the entire series without having even received issue #1. If you order too many, you don’t have the ability to cut your orders, and if you order too few, it’s very expensive to get replacement copies in anything remotely like a timely fashion. It’s very difficult to sell issue #2 of a series if you’re out of #1, but on a weekly series, many of retailers aren’t getting that level of turnaround.

More and more “major” projects are trying to ship weekly – recently we had “Phoenix: Resurrection”, the “Avengers: No Surrender” storyline, the JLA/Young Animal crossover from DC, and they’ve announced that both Scott Snyder’s Justice League revamp and Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman are going to launch with weeklies.

The level of increased risk that weekly ordering brings inherently brings down the initial orders for such projects. Without some sort of mitigating counterweight (like returnability – which used to be absolutely de rigueur for weekly series: think projects like 52 and Countdown) this puts an unreasonable burden on retailers, and makes it significantly less likely that we can find the ceiling on such projects in a responsible way. Give me a monthly Bendis Superman launch, and I’ll probably go solidly triple-digits on orders. On a weekly one? I have a hard time seeing going up over, dunno, fifty-sixty copies? Purely as a matter of frequency, and received risk.

Here’s the thing: if you’re doing a weekly series in order to launch a different (or multiple) monthly book (as Phoenix: Resurrection leads to X-Men: Red, and the weekly Man of Steel will lead to runs on Action and Superman), this native conservatism is going to cap out those projects as well.

I’m even going to go a step farther: in a world where publishers appear to be more interested in filling slots on the rack than making sure that each of those slots pay off the most, retailers as a class need to insist that publishers respect the tenets of Final Order Cutoff – that every comic ordered should have the benefit of a full week’s sell-through data from customers of the previous issue before FOC orders are due. If not, then those comics should be made returnable as a matter of policy, and respect to the needs of the market.

TAW267_pq3.pngYes, that ultimately means that I believe that any book that ships more-frequently-than-monthly, even bi-weekly, needs to be made regularly returnable for the long-term health of the market. (I can certainly show mathematical evidence to suggest that the majority of bi-weekly post-“DC Rebirth” title in the last six months has been only mediocrely profitable for us)

This is the kind of demand that I think that retailers, as a class, need to make to our publishing and distribution partners as the nature of selling periodical comics changes (due to publisher action!) I call upon my fellow retailers to take up this cause this year at the annual ComicsPRO meeting in Portland, and at the Diamond Summit in Chicago!

Honestly, there’s a whole list of things that retailers need to start insisting upon from our partners – and whoops, I almost started writing an entirely different column before I just judiciously hit the “Delete” key – but this seems to be low-hanging fruit: by all means: go ahead and do weekly comics (despite how much they suck for retailers), but please don’t ask retailers to shoulder the risk for your non-traditional publishing plan.

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Brian Hibbs has owned and operated Comix Experience in San Francisco since 1989, was a founding member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, has sat on the Board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and has been an Eisner Award judge. Feel free to e-mail him with any comments. You can purchase two collections of the first Tilting at Windmills (originally serialized in Comics Retailer magazine) published by IDW Publishing, as well as find an archive of pre-CBR installments right here. Brian is also available to consult for your publishing or retailing program.

22 COMMENTS

  1. You didn’t touch on how this affects customers. I think weekly and twice a month shipping titles leads to more customer burnout, especially if they don’t come in once a week. Just keeping up with titles with more than once a month frequency means they will make a cut on some other title they get. Then there’s the fact that even if a person has money to get the weeklies and twice a month shipping titles, they have to find time to read them and when they find that they’re not finding time, they just give up. Publishers will not stop doing sales stunts like this until sales go down, Right now Marvel is selling out of the weekly Avengers and weekly Phoenix and going to second prints so that tells them that customers want more weeklies. They really don’t and when customers realize that most weeklies means having multiple creative teams that’s another reason for them to stop getting them.

  2. Not to mention the strain created by that level of production that usually results in frankencomics: a writer chaingang, at least 3 artists, a bajillion inkers…that’s what I think of when I think about a weekly comic. And that level of slapdash quality generally makes for lousy collections.

    Weekly publishing strikes me as a kind of smash and grab.

  3. I would imagine that a store with a reliable subscription service actually relieves the customer of the “burden” of visiting the store on a weekly basis to avoid missing out on a title for which they don’t want to miss any issues.

    Years ago I was able to drop by my LCS on a weekly basis. But increased responsibilities at work and at home preclude that now. But a subscription service means that weekly trip is no longer required. In other words, if subscription services didn’t exist, those customers might feel compelled to come in weekly b/c they are concerned about missing an issue of a particular title. One of the things that subscription services do is address this type of FOMO. So I suspect that to some degree there may be a “chicken and the egg” phenomenon going on when it comes to subscription customers coming into the store on a less than weekly basis.

  4. From 1984-1996, I was a weekly comics shopper.

    From 1984-1993, I didn’t have a subscription box, I shopped off the racks at Dragon’s Lair in Omaha, usually on Saturdays, usually after Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends ended. Later, I’d wait until Friday, when I got paid, and hop off the bus on the way home.

    From 1994-1996, I shopped at Big Planet Comics in Bethesda. I had a subscription box, plus monthly special orders. I’d travel every Saturday to shop, usually with a weekly budget of $100. (Most times, I spent less than that.)

    Since then, I’ll go months without stepping inside a comics shop. If I do, I’m either looking for a specific issue, or browsing.

  5. Weekly comics seem like the kind of short term financial grab business go for when they’re desperate to get revenue from the market.

    I feel bad for comic shops. Marvel and DC seem like the worst possible partners.

  6. Retailers are being shafted and the large publishers’ attitude is that store closings will continue until the morale improves. Returnability should have been required the second day and date digital started. Publishers could suddenly use digital to get money from devoted readers (hello Marvel Unlimited and the rapidly approaching DC platform) and use comic shops to get money from speculators with multiple variants, renumberings/rebootings and first appearances of derivative characters, (all things which only serve to confuse and turn off the tiny number of potential new readers who weren’t already put off by the relatively high cost to story ratio of the single issue serialized comic). Readers want the content and those who don’t just steal it from torrent sites, now know that they can read those comics digitally before the shop even opens without the hassle of driving across town and ordering it three months in advance. If a corporate-owned publisher can’t afford to allow returns of their unsold entertainment products from a tiny pool of sole proprietor comic book retailers then they need to improve the product until they can.

  7. Heidi actually *changed* the latter on me, Kurt — I had “rein” in the original! “Tenets” is damn autocorrect.

    I don’t have direct access to editing an article (that’s why Ace’s pic is at the bottom of the piece and not my mug), so it takes her magic powers to do it.

    But, it’s probably not actually a Tilting without at least 3 solid typos!

    -B

  8. I can remember when Marvel went through an era of bi-weekly shipping for some books during the summer. Of course, that was back when kids were a big percentage of comic book buyers.

    What Hibbs seems to be describing is a bunch of long-term fans who are using the pull box to hang onto a habit they no longer really enjoy or have time for. Given the sheer number of comics being published now, if 40% Hibb’s subscribers are not visiting their shop at least once a month that feels like people who aren’t terribly invested or interested in what they’re buying. That’s inertia, not fandom.

    Mike

  9. I’m not sure if I’d be a Wednesday Warrior, but I do try to be a biweekly warrior! I’m not a fan of weekly comics either, but I do have to say I’m enjoying the biweekly approach to a SELECT number of titles. I don’t like random double ships, I don’t like $3.99 biweekly titles, and I don’t like biweekly schedule PLUS annuals in the same month. But I do like the fast pace of short story arcs in series like Action, Detective, Superman, and Batman. If even buy a cheap biweekly Spider-Man or Hulk book. I’m bored by drawn out 8 part arcs, even when told over 4 months.

    I do feel bad for retailers having to order weekly series, because I hate having to buy them. I suspect readers are more likely to sit them out, or possibly buy them later in trade (probably for cheap and probably online).

  10. First off, Mr. Hibbs, I have to say that I am often if not always in complete agreement with what you write in your “Tilting At Windmills” columns. I am not a retailer, though I worked at stores a bit in the mid-90’s, but you are often sharing what I am thinking.

    I am of a mixed mind, though, when it comes to weekly books. It might be a decent idea if, say, the four weekly issues could be combined into a monthly trade paperback or something… but I also have to say, I’d much rather have Avengers on a weekly basis vs. four different Avengers titles that really have no difference aside from the characters within, all cannibalizing each other. This way I know there’s one title to follow, and keep following. Events like the Phoenix Resurrection are okay because it’s an event and I’d rather get through it faster.

    Weekly comics are a TERRIBLE idea, though, when they ship late, as I remember the 3x monthly Amazing Spider-Man sometimes did, with two issues of the same series coming out on the same day! Asking a reader to buy $8 of the same title in one day is overkill.

    Best case scenario, of course, would be to have ONE Avengers book. One X-Men. But we know that’ll never happen because they want to flood the market with as much nonsense as possible, so those ancillary titles are never getting checked out if all the interest is going to one family.

  11. I’m a Wednesday Warrior. Have been for a very long time. The Avengers weekly actually relieved the pressure on my wallet as it cancelled three books I was buying monthly. I have no desire to read that mess they have currently flooding the racks. For giggles I made a list of what I will be buying today and then crunched a couple of numbers. Remember, for the longest time I was a die hard Marvel Zombie.
    Here’s the list;
    Giant Days #35
    Dejah Thoris #1
    Greatest Adventure #9
    Jem Dimensions #3
    I Hate Fairyland #16
    Scales & Scoundrels #6
    Deadman #4
    Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #2
    Green Arrow #37
    Swamp Thing Winter Special #1
    Black Bolt #10
    Iron Fist #77
    Rise of the Black Panther #2
    She Hulk #162
    Spider-Man/Deadpool #27
    Spirits of Vengeance #5

    For those keeping score that’s 6 independent books, 4 DC Books and 6 Marvel Books. This is a pretty busy week for me and of the 16 books two of them are on last issues, one is a one shot and another (She-Hulk) has one more issue to go. Three more are limited series. This means to me that next month at this time I will save even more money because of series ending as long as I pick up nothing new. I do have a few DC bi-weeklies that I do not miss, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Flash, Wonder Woman, but I have never participated in any of this weekly event things. I give myself a weekly budget of fifty bucks and try to stick to it. I don’t have room in there for a weekly book. A few bi-weeklies are fine, but weekly?
    Yeah, I don’t think so.
    For fun I went to the previews for Marvel in April. In the month of April, the month mind you, I have ten titles I will be buying.
    That can’t be good.
    Thank God for all those great independent comic books.
    Great column, sir.

  12. The weekly delivery format is something they’ll see a good return on, when they start doing .99/1.99 digital weeklies as their main universe stories – something that will be coming, say, in the next 10 years. But that too, is another column. Currently, absolutely, it’s a terrible thing to ask of the print comics medium in general and shops.

  13. I’m still irked at Marvel not printing enough Avengers #676 so that it wasn’t a first day sellout. If you’re going to make retailers order weeks in advance, at least support the product by having enough extras available that if people respond to the weekly event well that you can give them more copies of the SECOND darn issue. I get putting most of the burden on the retailer (I don’t like it, but I get it), but this seems like going overboard and almost like not having faith in your own product by not doing an overprint of the second issue of a weekly comic (especially when the first issue had all the bells and whistles to make it get ordered as much as possible).

  14. As a reader, I like weekly comics. Or rather, I like the weekly comics that I like — smart, fast-paced writing with a lot of twists, and an art team that works well together. I really enjoyed 52 and Trinity; Countdown, on the other hand, felt oppressive — I dropped it about 10 issues in, when I realized that buying it made me like every comic in my pile less. Each issue was poisoning the rest of the week.

    The four-week JLA event seems like something that will appeal to me. Most of DC’s biweeklies appeal to me, too — the lower price and the more frequent schedule mean I haven’t forgotten important plot details by the time the next one ships. I’m still in the grip of suspense. Whereas sometimes even excellent monthlies need a refresher after a month slips by. (ESPECIALLY the excellent books, actually — the ones that reward attention to small details are the ones in which those small details are likely to be forgotten by the time the next issue comes out. A book like Lazarus, through its very intricacy, is a more rewarding read in a collection, despite the loss of the text pieces and backmatter.)

    I don’t envy retailers in making the ordering decisions on weekly comics. And I would certainly like publishers to support the retailers better, with returnability, overships, and anything else that helps them make an informed decision. I think they’re a difficult challenge for an industry that’s struggling now.

    But I can’t deny that when a weekly series grabs me, it makes me all the more excited when Wednesday rolls around.

  15. Going back nearly a decade, I miss projects such as DC’s Wednesday’s Comics. When I got laid off from Sony Television, that project helped me through three months of unemployment. Because when you’re unemployed and you STILL want to be in the comic book shop every week, you want to be committed to the cheapest product available and see it through to the end. $2.50 a week (or whatever the cover price was) was more than manageable and you got some halfway decent talent and some great storylines to follow. I wish DC would consider doing a sequel.

    Same with Marvel, during that same period they did a monthly repackaged book that reprinted six of their current titles, which if I remember, I kept picking up at a 7/11 and went for $8.00. Immortal Iron Fist and Nova were a couple of the titles reprinted in that book.

    I was a fan of Action Comics Weekly back in the eighties. You got a lot of boost for a buck and a half. Same with Marvel Comics Presents which came out bi-weekly

    I think all companies should experiment with a weekly anthology title that feature 7 – 8 page stories. I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic lately.

    ~

    Coat

  16. Tyler,

    What about … a monthly book that’s 20 pages that comes out consistently with good art and writing and manages to tell a full, entertaining story each month.

    Haha … I’m joking of course. This isn’t last century where such quaint ideas were the norm.

  17. So the first half of this article is basically concerned with slamming traditional dedicated comics fans. All under the guise of disproving the importance of the “Wednesday Warrior” idea. But Hibbs even has to backtrack several times and admit that WWs ARE important, just not AS important as the myth makes them seem. Well I never knew there was a fixed level of importance to WWs. Hibbs says they’re 30% of sales. Is that important? Seems like it. How important? I guess “30% important” is the only correct answer. Could your store survive without that 30%?

    I just don’t get the point of the first half of the article. Seems like yet another excuse to slam traditional dedicated old-school comics fans.

    So, yet another case of someone in the industry looking for an excuse to slam fans. Nice.

    What’s also missing here is a sense of whether WWs have declined over the years or not. Sure seems like they have, especially since the last three or four years in particular, within the fan community, have been largely about how the Big Two and Marvel in particular do everything they can to alienate and insult their old-school fanbase. So, that happened. And now that that’s happened, we get an article like this pointing out how WWs aren’t “as important” as you might think. Well gee, wonder why that might be. You’ve spent years alienating them and insulting them, both in the media and within the subpar quality comics, and now you’re wonder why their dollars aren’t there in great numbers right on Wednesday.

    I’ve never been a Wednesday Warrior myself, but honestly… If this level of passive aggressiveness were directed toward any other group, it would jump out at you how the first half of this article basically tries every trick Hibbs can think of to say “You don’t matter” to dedicated fans, even while begrudgingly admitting that 30% isn’t insignificant. Nice.

    “The weekly delivery format is something they’ll see a good return on, when they start doing .99/1.99 digital weeklies as their main universe stories – something that will be coming, say, in the next 10 years.” — Yeah, 99-cent digital comics. Day and date. People have been talking about that happening for literally 15 years now. Well it’s 15 years later, your fanbase is smaller, the buying power of the American dollar is less than it was, the cost of everything is up, and still you think you’re going to get new Big Two digital comics for under a buck. Digital Utopians never learn…

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