In the bonus episode this month, Chris and I discussed some of the issues behind the sales estimates and why we think it is worth analyzing and discussing the sales estimates each month. We also talk about why we don’t have all-inclusive information to work with and why we are unable to report on how items sell outside of the Diamond sales channel.
Things have been exceedingly busy for me at work since I got back from Comic-Con International: San Diego back in July so I'm running a little late on my analysis this month.
I used to wonder if anybody actually looked at my data and read my analysis. I stopped wondering that last week…. It seems that people are reading my articles and a few of them haven't been shy in stating what they think of my work. I appreciate all of the constructive feedback I get on this as I'm constantly trying to improve my analysis of the data and how I report on it.
These are estimates and only estimates, not the exact number of units sold through Diamond to retailers. I want to be exceedingly clear that the data I have does not include all sales of all comics through all channels.
But enough of the caveats and disclaimers, I might as well move on to the part where I paint the huge target on myself by attempting to make sense of the available comic book and collected edition sales information. This time around, we are going to take a closer look at the estimated sales though Diamond to retailers during July 2007.
On the comic book side, Marvel was the decisive leader in July with a market share of the top 300 comics of 51.38% by units and 51.51% by dollars. DC came in a distant second with only 33.2% by units and 32.11% by dollars. Between Marvel accounting for over half of units in the top 300 comics and DC accounting for nearly another third of those units, only about 16% of the units remain for all of the other publishers to fight for.
Not even Dark Horse managed to break the 5% mark this month with only 4.74% by units and 4.59% by dollars. The 5% market share is the level that was rumored to be required for CrossGen to move out of the “Other Publishers” section in Previews into the “Premiere Publishers” section in the front of the catalog. But that was for the overall market share, not the market share for just the top 300 comics which is what I'm talking about. Diamond reported that Dark Horse had 5.13% by units and 5.33% by dollars of the overall market share for items sold through Diamond to retailers during July.
Many people have been discussing on line the pounding that DC seems to have been taking lately in the comic book market shares. The tone of some of these discussions seems to be about what DC is doing wrong these days. This seems to assume that things are going poorly for DC these days. While some readers might not be happy with the interconnectedness of the storylines over at DC these days, both the unit and dollar totals for the comics by DC in the top 300 as reported by Diamond is still trending upwards over the period of the past four or five years. One of the things giving the impression that DC might not be doing so well is that the both the unit market share and dollar market share are trending down for DC. But the market share isn't something that can be used to determine how a publisher is doing over time since the size of the market can change each month.
Things do seem to be going well for Marvel these days and perhaps something can be learned from what Marvel is doing these days.
Marvel has been doing exceptionally well recently with events like “Civil War” and now “World War Hulk”. Both of the events had very easily explained plots which were equally easy to sell potential readers on. Meanwhile, DC had “52” which they sold as “a year without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman” which was enough to turn off many causal fans. While the series sold very well, particularly for a weekly series, it wasn't the major blockbuster that “Civil War” was. In addition, most Marvel titles saw a noticeable sales bump from both “Civil War” and “World War Hulk” while “52” provided no such sales bumps due to it being a self-contained series. And the current “Countdown” series seems to lack and sort of solid sales pitch other than it counts down to something, apparently yet another “Crisis”. Don't get me wrong, I like a good “Crisis” as much as the next DC reader but going back to this kind of event so soon after “Infinite Crisis” seems like a major gamble for DC. I will credit DC for being willing to take some major risks over the past few years.
I think that one of the core problem for DC is that even when they have something that clicks with the readers like the “Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special” seems to have done, the sales are good but not great. Both Marvel and DC (and a number of other publishers) are all producing some terrific comics these days. The difference is that Marvel is able to effectively market their titles and sell them. But enough with the big picture, let's take a look at some of the specific titles. Marvel continued to dominate the top ten slots in July with eight of them and the other two going to DC. Marvel has taken over half of the top ten slots each month of 2007. But while interesting, this is somewhat meaningless as it a subjective comparison again the other titles and not an objective measurement. Still, cases like January 2005 when Marvel shut all of the other publishers out of the top ten slots for the month are worth noting.
The top slot in July went to “Thor” #1 which did an estimated 165,250 units through Diamond in July. This is a very solid relaunch for the title and around 30,000 units better than the previous relaunch of “Thor” back in May 1998. As impressive as this relaunch looks now, it will be a few months before we see how the title is really doing. High profile titles like this usually launch strong before eventually settling into a more sustainable sales level. This is as good a time as any to discuss this common sales trend.
Because many readers will sample new titles and because retailers might be uncertain how a title will do initially, typically a title will launch (or in this case relaunch) strong and then drop with the second issue. On a monthly title, this second issue drop happens before the first issue has been seen by the retailers or readers. This is an indication of how conservative retailers have become in ordering. Given how much risk there can be in new titles and how little information is available sometimes, I can't blame retailers for being conservative on how they order.
On rare occasion the sales for the second issue will exceed the first but normally they are down by an average of 21.8%. If “Thor” falls victim to the standard second issue drop then that second issue should do around 129,225 units. Going a step further, the third issue of a title usually drops by an average of another 10.4% which would put “Thor” #3 around 115,785 units if it follows the average trends. Odds are that it won't. The average is just that, an average. Averages like these can't be applied like a mathematical formula with and guarantee of accurate results. My gut feeling is that the sales for issue #3 will be lower than the 115,785 calculated from the average drops.
But, as I said earlier it will be a few months before we know how “Thor” is really doing. It needs to get out of this honeymoon period and the retailers need a month or two to adjust their orders either up or down based on how the title is selling for them. In that respect, the sales for months four through six of the title can potentially be much more informative about the long term health of the title than the sales for the first three months. Note that I'm talking about months, not issues. For titles like “52” and “Countdown” the honeymoon period lasted the same three months but included a dozen issues for each title instead of the normal three. But we'll discuss “Countdown” when we get to it a bit further down on the list.
This sales trend can also be seen sometimes with ongoing titles when there is a major shift in direction and/or creative team. The biggest example of this was the One Year Later event that DC did last year. Every title in the DC Universe had a major shift in the status quo for the characters and most of them also got new creative teams. It was a major risk for DC to make changes of this nature across the board. And what we saw was a big initial bump on the titles followed by dropping sales. The irony is that the dropping sales were compounded by the initial bumps and the initial success of One Year Later was the eventual failure for it too. DC was successful at getting a lot of readers to try a lot of titles they hadn't been getting. This caused the initial surge in sales. Then, as titles either didn't click with some readers or reader simply had to cut back down to their normal spending levels, sales dropped. Readers who might have been willing to stick with one additional retooled title were less willing to stick with half a dozen or more. Even if everything that was part of the One Year Later retooling was brilliant and clicked with all of the readers, sales still would have dropped some from the initial levels because of many retailers and readers have budget limitations. As it is, a number of the titles seem to have been quietly retooled again since One Year Later with mixed results. Many of these retooling were major enough to put the titles into a new honeymoon period. This makes it hard for a title to establish a solid track record for how well it sells.
The remainder of the top five also went to Marvel. In the second slot was “Fallen Son: Death of Captain America – Iron Man” doing around 156,800 units. That was the final issue for that miniseries that spun out of the death of Captain America. Taking the third position was “World War Hulk” #2 doing around 155,250 units. The fourth place went to “Wolverine” #55 with 130,650. In slot five was “Dark Tower Gun Slinger Born” #6 with 128,280.
Just as a quick aside as what I think is an interesting comparison, the reported number of attendees of Comic-Con International: San Diego 2007 which was held in July was around 125,000. Only the top five comics for the month did better than that. I can remember when the attendance at Comic-Con was a fraction of what most comics sold. Now most comics sell a fraction of the attendance of Comic-Con. This is a reflection on how both the comic book marketplace and Comic-Con have evolved over the years. Things like that make me think that there has to be a larger potential audience for comic books than either the direct market is hitting. Unfortunately information on how comic books and collected editions are selling outside of Diamond is not available for analysis.
The top selling comic for DC in July was “Justice League of America” #11 which took slot seven with an estimated 122,775 units. One of the things that have helped the sales figures on this series is the alternate and variant covers that have been on each and every issue of the series so far. In a few cases there were two alternate covers and a limited variant cover.
I am of the opinion that alternate and variant covers are not good for the long term health of a title or the marketplace. This title may illustrate one of the downsides of them in another few issues when Brad Meltzer leaves the title and Dwayne McDuffie takes over as writer. After McDuffie's first issue, the title will no longer have any alternate or variant covers. The result is that the sales for Dwayne McDuffie's first issue will reflect the change in the creative team and his second may get hit by the lack of additional sales from the alternate and variant covers. DC should be doing whatever it can to help the new creative team be successful. Phasing out the alternate and variant covers immediately after a new creative team takes over a title runs the risk of some people attributing any drop in sales on the new creative team and not the lack of the alternate and variant covers. Of course, the best way to avoid this problem is to avoid the alternate and variant covers to begin with. Dwayne McDuffie is a very talented writer and a great choice to take over the series. Not only did he do a great job on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon but he is an established and talented comic book writer. Out of the handful of ongoing titles that have been able to sustain sales over 100,000 units, “Justice League of America” is one of the few published by DC titles. The other such titles are “All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder” ,”All Star Superman”, “Amazing Spider-Man”, “Astonishing X-Men”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born”, “Mighty Avengers” and “New Avengers”.
The top selling comic book for Dark Horse was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” #5 in slot 12. While this didn't make it into the top ten, it did remain above 100,000 units although only by about 785 or so units. As strong as this title is, there are probably a lot more potential readers for it out there as these sales are a small percentage of the size of the audience of the television series. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Dark Horse was able to get a reprint of the first issue of the series included in the DVD box set for the final season of the television series. They did that for the recently released special edition of Serenity so it is within the realm of possibility.
In slots 25, 26, 28 and 29 were “Countdown” #43, #42, #41 and #40 with sales of approximately 73,880 units, 73,085 units, 72,590 units and 72,075 units respectively. This puts the series right at the tail end of the honeymoon period I mentioned above. While the numbers of units are far below how “52” was doing in the corresponding point in the series, “Countdown” is losing readers at a slower pace than “52” did. More importantly, by week 5 “Countdown” seemed to already have settled into the minimal attrition slope that “52” didn't hit until after around week 13. In that respect, “Countdown” is actually doing better than “52” even though it is selling less than “52”. But it is the number of units sold that matters and these numbers are less than impressive for an event series. Hopefully the series will improve as it goes.
In slot 35 was “New Avengers/Transformers” #1 with around 60,500 units which is a solid showing for a series that was initially mocked by some people when it was solicited. Timing the release to coincide with the movie probably didn't hurt sales any.
The first issue of the three of the “Annihilation Conquest” titles all launched in the 35,000 to 38,000 range. The best selling of them was “Annihilation Conquest: Wraith” #1 in slot 69 with around 37,225 units. Just behind it was “Annihilation Conquest: Quasar” #1 with an estimated 37.032 units. And trailing a little further behind was “Annihilation Conquest: Star Lord” #1 with about 35,818 units. The fourth “Annihilation Conquest” title is the “Nova” ongoing series which came in slot 65 with issue #4 and did around 40,156 units.
In slot 102 was “Super Villain Team Up: MODOK's 11” #1 with around 22,603 units. This is a title that I think might do surprisingly well as a trade paperback. It isn't uncommon for a trade paperback to sell about 10% of how the component issues sold. If this title follows the trend I described above using “Thor” as the example, the sales for the second issue might come in around 17,675 units and the third issue maybe around 15,837 or so units. That averages out to around 18,705 which yields a potential ballpark “guestimate” for the trade paperback sales level of around 1,870. While the periodical issue sales might follow the standard trend, I'm thinking that “Super Villain Team Up: MODOK's 11” might do a bit better than average as a trade. We'll see how things turn out for this in coming months.
In rank 122 was some strong reorder activity for “Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special” #1 with another 18,734 units for that issue. That brings the total estimated sales up to 75,520 units with some more likely to appear on the lists in the next few months.
The strength of “World War Hulk” can be seen in the reorder activity for the first issue of it and for “Incredible Hulk” #106 and #107 in slots 169, 173 and 180 respectively. The reorders ranged from just under 9,000 units to just under 10,200 units.
Coming in at the halfway point on the list in rank 150 was “Stephen Cobert's Tek Jansen” #1 with an estimated 12,796 units. While this was a little late (18 weeks), it was beat out the “Who Wants to be a Superhero: Feedback” one shot from Dark Horse which landed in slot 156 with 11,917 units. Apparently being a tie in to a cable television show featuring a real live hero is only good for around 12,000 to 13,000 units of sales to comic book stores.
Down in slot 296 was “PS 238” #24 with about 2,203 units. This is another very modest increase for the title. This is around the same level of sales as Archie titles like “Betty” #167 in slot 294 with 2,228 units and “Veronica” #181 with 2,177 units. The big difference is that the Archie titles have a much larger presence in mass market outlets like grocery stores and newsstands.
I wanted to point out “PS 238” because I see it as an indy success story in the making. This title is gaining readers a handful at a time. Given how many titles from larger publishers like DC and Marvel can lose more readers in a month than this title has, the fact that the sales on “PS 238” are going up is a success that I think deserves to be pointed out. And part of the reason for that is to get the title I little bit more exposure and hopefully get some more readers and retailers aware of the fact that the title exists.
I hope that by reporting on the sales figures and trends and by occasionally mentioning some of the titles near the bottom of the top 300 list that I'm helping sales and not hurting them. It certainly isn't my intention to make anything look like some sort of “failure” because of how it sold within the direct market through Diamond. This isn't a complete picture of how everything is selling but it does give us an insight on how these items are selling to the core audience: the readers that buy comics on a routine basis through the comic book retailers serviced by Diamond. It is the sales of these periodical comics to this core audience that is a major determining factor in which titles continue and which ones don't. That in turn influences what collected editions we will see in the future.
If there is any “failure” happening, it is in the lack of support that these lower selling titles are getting in the industry. I have to think that titles like “PS 238” would sell better if the right readers knew about the title and had a chance to pick up the title and flip through it. This could be solved by a better flow of information between the publishers and retailers about what items are available and what the various different types of readers are buying. Until that happens, I'll continue to analyze the data that is available and trying to make some sense out of it.
On the graphic novel and collected edition side of things, DC came in first place by units with 31.13% of the top 100 trades and 32.3% by dollars. Marvel was a strong second place with 29.36% by units and beat out DC with 34.69% by dollars. Dark Horse came in third with a market share of the top 100 trades of 8.55% by units and 7.48% by dollars. Image followed closely behind with 7.41% by units and 6.59% by dollars. This is a much more balanced split of the pie than we had been seeing in the past few months.
In terms of the total units for the top 100 trades for July, DC was up by about 4,927 units from June while Marvel was down around 11,833 units from June. By dollars, DC was up an estimated $102,336.15 from June while Marvel was down $282,470.67 from June. Keep in mind that these numbers only cover the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions for June and July and are not a reflection of all of the sales through Diamond or any of the sales outside of Diamond for those months.
The top collected edition for July was the “Anita Blake Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures” v1 hard cover from Marvel with an estimated 8,475 units.
In second place for the month was the second “52” trade paperback with around 7,981 units. This is down around 22% from the reported sales of the first volume. Since the first trade paperback of “52” did not appear on the list this month, it may have sold as many as another 1,072 or so units. That could make the drop for the second volume as high as about 29.43%.
Robert Kirkman accounts for an estimated total of 13,056 of the units on the list between the “Invincible” v8 trade paperback in slot 3 with an estimated 5,234 units, the “Ultimate X-Men” v7 hard cover in slot 53 with around 2,052 units, the “Walking Dead” v6 trade paperback in slot 66 with about 1,650 units, the “Walking Dead” v1 trade paperback with approximately 1,415 units, the “Battle Pope” v4 trade paperback in slot 79 with around 1,373 and the “Walking Dead” v3 trade paperback with an estimated 1,332 units. That works out to nearly 5.49% of the units on the list for the month.
In slot 6 we see another appearance of the “Marvel Zombies” hardcover on the list with another 4,573 units. That brings the total estimated sales that have appeared on the monthly lists up to an estimated 42,621 units.
Another item that keeps popping up on the list is “The Boys” trade paperback. This time it landed in slot 46 with around 2,169 units bringing the total reported sales to 10,917 units.
And just to make sure that nobody is confused, the total reported estimated sales for “Watchmen” in slot 60 is 47,926 with 1,884 of those units happening in July. That total only includes the data reported by Diamond. Given how long this trade paperback has been out and that the list of top selling trades that Diamond reported only started in February 1998 with 10 items, growing to 25 items in April 1998, expanding to 50 items in March 2002 and finally to the current 100 items in February 2004, it is possible that there are up to an estimated 132,749 unreported units of the “Watchman” trade paperback that sold through Diamond to retailers if it fell immediately below the list of reported items each month.
Since we known when an item appears on the list or not, we can estimate the total reported and the maximum potential unreported sales for an item. For instance, “Walking Dead” v6 has been on the list every month since it first appeared on the list in April 2007. That means that there are no unreported sales for it and the total estimated sales of 18,560 units should be a reasonably accurate figure for what sold through Diamond to retailers up through the end of July.
But, “Walking Dead” v5 hasn't been on the list every month since it first appeared on it in September 2006. We can estimate the total possible unreported sales for the months of June and July 2007 when it failed to make the top 100 for the month. That gives us a total reported sales of 23,048 and a maximum potential unreported sales of 2,283 units.
And, finally, for a potentially more controversial example, “DMZ” v2 only appeared on the top 100 list in February 2007 with an estimated 5,488 units. A recent post by Brian Wood on his LiveJournal account indicated that this estimate was only off by a single unit. But, he also feels that it under reports how the trade paperback sold. And he is right, it does. It only includes the data reported on by Diamond of the top 100 graphic novels and collected editions sales through Diamond. Furthermore, Brain Wood feels that my total reported sales figure makes it look even worse since that were no other reported sales for that trade. With a bit more work, I can estimate the maximum potential unreported sales for the trade through Diamond for the missing months and get a total of around 5,683 units. This means that the range of sales for “DMZ” v2 though Diamond is somewhere between 5,488 units and 11,171 units.
And that range still doesn't include any sales outside of Diamond. Trade paperbacks can do well in the mass market outlets. But, until I get access to that data, I have to leave it out of my analysis. For an older item like the “300” hard cover the range is going to be from 36,540 to 192,573 with the upper end grossly over reporting the potential sales. I'm open to suggestions on an ideal way to handle this.
As always, if you have any questions or comments on these numbers and what they do and don't mean, please feel free to .