Marvel is next up for our look at the sales distribution charts for January 2018.
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 sale – 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.
That’s a whole lot of white space on the left hand side of the chart, isn’t it?
We’re viewing Marvel at a time when there isn’t a big crossover event going. I suppose I wouldn’t argue too much if you wanted to call the weekly Avengers run an event, but it’s not the sort of big crossover Marvel’s been propping itself up with lately. It’s also an incredibly odd thing to judge with retailers having to order blind for a few issues before they have a chance to adjust sales based on the first issue, never mind the fourth. Sure, the first issue is just under 80K, but half those orders are lost by the end of the month. We’ll start to have a better understanding of the series when the February estimates come out, but this is a hard one to judge.
Next up at ~63K is a Venom special (he’s getting a movie, you know…) and then the debut of Old Man Hawkeye at ~57.5K. You know you these Marvel #1s drop off, but if they could get Old Man Hawkeye to stick in the 30Ks, that would be a win by current standards.
Star Wars is, as usual, the best-selling ongoing at ~56.5K/53.7K for its two issues of the month. Yes, that means Marvel can’t break the 60K barrier on an ongoing title. Then again, DC can’t either unless it’s Batman.
Amazing Spider-Man is the bestselling Marvel universe title at ~51.4K.
Let’s see how things looks with the #1s removed:
Note: the scale is different for the #1s chart.
And what we’re left with is that Avengers kickoff issue up top, whose sales don’t seem to be sticking around at that level, Star Wars & Darth Vader, along with Spidey on the other side of the chasm as regular sales start.
You could argue that the Phoenix mini-series could be pulled as an event. It was selling low 50s/high 40s for its weekly run and that’s high performance for the Legacy era of Marvel.
What we’re seeing is roughly 1/3 of Marvel’s output being ordered into the Direct Market at under 20K, which means sell through probably would put that at a higher percentage of DM titles not being purchased by readers. You have a handful of titles like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur that make their money in collected editions outside the DM, but if Marvel were to reinstate the cancellation like of 20K, which was where the danger zone started a few years ago, that would be an absurdly high percentage of the line.
So we have a “Fresh Start” promotion (which sure sounds like a new name slapped on the Legacy slate to me) getting announced. What are they trying to boost so far and what might it fix?
- Avengers: let’s call its current sales level 37K in the weekly format and look to Feb for adjustment to that expectation.
- Hulk: currently ~24K
- Black Panther: currently ~21.3K (new #1, not a creative change)
- Thor: currently ~42.1K
- Venom: currently ~37.5K
- Captain America: currently ~37K
- Cosmic Ghost Rider: mini-, not currently an active series
- Multiple Man: not currently an active series
- Ant-Man & The Wasp: mini-, not currently an active series
At the moment, Thor, Avengers, Venom and Captain America are actually some of Marvel’s better performing monthlies. Hulk is probably the most broken, in terms of traditional sales levels relative to the status quo (though it’s not been a huge seller in recent years).
The general plan would seem to be banking on Jason Aaron’s to regain some of his old sales magic from a few years ago and get Avengers and Thor back somewhere in the 60K-80K range after the inevitable variant cover minimum order demands. (Assuming retailers don’t balk.) See if a new #1 brings more readers to the Black Panther monthly… although they might want to take special care it’s really a jump on issue and not just the next issue mid-continuity as Marvel is prone to do. See if Coates can stir up mainstream interest in his Captain America run. See what Donny Cates can generate with a clean start, now that Marvel audiences have seen him.
Without adding to the creator pool, these seem like reasonable bets if Marvel fears doing a formal relaunch, but will they be able to re-ignite fan interest without larger changes? The surest bet to move the needle past the status quo is probably when the Coates Captain America collected edition hits the bookstore, which might be where the Coates audience lives. Otherwise, it’s an attempt to see if sales can bump by 20K-30K by shuffling the current creative bullpen or just issuing a new #1. And reaping all those first issue variant sales if they haven’t poisoned that well, which is the epitome of short-term thinking.
As always, the proof will be in the sell through.
Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work? Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics