You’ll recall last week we told about how Challengers Comics + Conversation in Chicago didn’t have the greatest 2017 on record and was down $21K in Marvel single issue sales?

Well, they got a lot of attention.  And they got a lot of people asking them questions and giving them advice on how to fix their problems.  Not all of it helpful and some of it a bit aggressive.  They seem a little surprised and perhaps occasionally even taken aback by the attention.

Since Pat and Dal do have day jobs (i.e. running a store), they decided to answer as many questions as possible about their 2017 sales on their Contest of Challengers podcast, which you can listen to here.

A few relevant highlights:

Regarding the drop in tpb sales

  • 2/3 of their drop in tpb/graphic novels sales were from DC.  They’re not entirely sure exactly what constituted that drop as they didn’t really sell all that many New 52 collections.  Possibly its a sign of the continuing decline of Vertigo, but that’s just their best guess.
  • Image tpbs were actually down less than 10% when they looked closer, which they mostly attributed to Image not having that many many new series that really popped for them.
  • Marvel tpbs were down a little, but not that much.

The distribution of the their tpb/graphic novel sales was:

Dark Horse – 5%
DC – 19%
IDW – 3%
Image – 19%
Marvel – 20%
Sidekicks (all their YA titles, which are in a separate showroom) – 11%
All other publishers – 20%
Uncategorized – 2%

Regarding that $21K drop in Marvel single issues

Marvel was down roughly 23% overall.  The larger problem being that Marvel has a halo effect and when people stop buying Marvel a certain number of people will just stop coming to the shop altogether, so sales on Batman and Saga could also take a hit.

The Publisher Problem nobody wants to talk about

They make a very good point about something very few people are willing to go on record about: that DC and Marvel aren’t good a pitching comics to an audience outside the “Wednesday Warrior” crowd and some of the titles they’ve been launching really aren’t intended for the traditional Wednesday crowd, despite the fact the titles are promoted as though they were.  Examples being Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl and the Young Animal line.  There _is_ an audience for the books, but the publishers aren’t necessarily good at getting that audience aware of the material and guiding them to the Direct Market.  (It sounds like Challengers does well with some of those titles anyway.)  Conversely, the Super Hero Girls line, which debuted from a different wing of Warner, has all kinds of brand awareness and parents (and kids) coming in looking for more of it.

How diverse is their product line?

In 2017, Challengers stocked products from 113 different vendors/distributors/creators.  So not just Diamond.

What happened to their pull box customers?

They also noted the disturbing figure that 94 of their pull box subscribers (31%) did not visit the store in December.  Which is a pretty high percentage not to pick up their comics for an entire month.

The intent of the 2017 sales conversation, and Challengers releases their top 100 sales lists every year, is to foster discussion about industry trends in hopes that some of the negative trends can get fixed.  The conversation is continuing.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics


  1. “DC and Marvel aren’t good a pitching comics to an audience outside the “Wednesday Warrior” crowd and some of the titles they’ve been launching really aren’t intended for the traditional Wednesday crowd” so much this. Marvel and DC suck at marketing their wares to anything beyond the base. It over values a certain brand of customer and fails to meaningfully build new ones. At this point I feel like pointing those people to Amazon or to buy digital or bookstores (assuming those are still around) is their best best, because saying go to comic shop locator an what not is a bit much.

  2. “At this point I feel like pointing those people to Amazon or to buy digital or bookstores (assuming those are still around) is their best best, because saying go to comic shop locator an what not is a bit much.”

    And this is the real problem that DC and Marvel both have. Even if they want to push their product with some kind of ad campaign, how do they do it? And how much would doing it anger the retailers?

    For example – one thing that DC could pretty easily do is advertise their comics during the various CW DC comics shows. They’re perfect vehicles for it – the viewers are already interested in the characters and the tone of the shows is a pretty good match these days with the tone of the comics. But how? You can’t just promote a Supergirl comic if nobody knows where to buy them. Comics aren’t like soda – they don’t sell them at the grocery stores anymore. And they aren’t like hamburgers or new cars where the brand is the retail outlet. So they’re weird. And while you can point prospective customers at the store locator website, as you say it’s a bit much.

    One thing they could do is advertise the digital comics – it’s pretty easy to direct people to the Apple store or Google Play or Amazon for a digital comic book – but that doesn’t help moving the physical books at all and would likely be seen by retailers as undercutting them in favor of digital sales. So that might cause more problems than you’d think.

    (And that’s before we get into the “value proposition” of digital comics. I bought a game this weekend for $3 on my tablet. I’ve already had far more hours of entertainment from that app than I get from single issues of a comparably priced digital comic. The value proposition of comics is pretty terrible, and as people have more and more outlets for their entertainment dollars, I can completely understand why the pool of people buying comics is shrinking and not growing.)

  3. The argument here, is that the content is great, but golly gee, nobody knows about it!

    Not true, or at least, not realistic. People know comic books exist, and they know where to find them. More awareness isn’t going to change anything in a major way.

    The medium itself, is dying maybe dead. It’s niche, the same way radio is never going to make a huge comeback, no matter what the content is.

    Everywhere you look, brick and mortar stores are dying, and not just direct market shops, but all retail shops.

    The art form will survive, but not in its current medium, which is probably a good thing, given the devestation printing has had on our planet.

  4. the comics industry needs to invest real money in advertising and marketing. Word of mouth, creators tweets and in-shop promotions only goes so far as we are seeing. Every other industry on the planet advertises their products. Comics aren’t special. The Big2 are part of billion dollar media empires, it shouldn’t be this complicated.

  5. Comics Beat must also be having declining revenue, if just clicking on this story launched 8 pop-ups, and I had to Force-Quit it twice. Are you and Bleeding Cool and CBR in a contest to see who can have the most ad intensive site?

    Sorry, but when a website resorts to such tricks, it’s usually a sign that bankruptcy is just around the corner. Stop giving into desperation, Heidi.

  6. Regarding Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Spider-Gwen and more, there will be the animated shorts and an animated movie called Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors coming out in 2018. That should help brand awareness among the young audience & parents.

    However, with DC Superhero Girls, they did more than just animated shorts and a movie, but a whole massive brand launch, of toys, books, animated shorts and then comics. Comics was just one small section of the big launch.

    Marvel could pull the same thing off as DC Superhero Girls if they wanted too. However, it seems that Disney is instead trying the same brand strategy launch with Star Wars instead with the new brand “Forces of Destiny”. That’s where Disney is launching the animated shorts, toys, books and more featuring the female characters of Star Wars for the pre-teen market. They are making comics for Forces of Destiny, but strangely enough that line of comics will be coming from IDW instead of Marvel.

    Anyways, I’m very much aware of this because I have a young daughter at home, who has been very interested in both the DC Superhero Girls and Star Wars; Forces of Destiny lines.

    Maybe if Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is a success, they will expand that brand as well?

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