Before we dive into the analysis of the sales for this month I want to talk a little about the process behind the estimates. Each month Diamond releases the list of the top 300 comics and top 100 trades (and top 10 books and top 15 magazines for that matter) with an index value for each title. That index value is a relative ranking to a key comic for the month. Typically it is "Batman" does in terms of the math, it doesn't really matter what item is the benchmark or if it has an index value of 100.00. It makes the math a bit easier if there is such an item but it isn't required.
This methodology of reporting the data predates Diamond and was originally developed by Milton Griepp for Capital City Distribution in the early 1980s using "Uncanny X-Men" as the key title. These were the days of multiple distributors and it didn't make sense for one of them to tell the others exactly how many copies they were selling of every title. This was long before the internet and most of the tools we take for granted these days. Back then, retailers calculated orders using pencil and paper and possibly a handheld calculator. Knowing the ratio for the aggregate orders for comics helped retailers figure out how much they might be able to sell of those titles. While the system might seem arcane by current standards, it was a logical choice at the time and has remained in use ever since.
One of the myths about the index value system is it completely obscures the changes in sales over time. Allow me to illustrate how that isn't entirely true and how it is possible to chart an approximation of the sales trends for "Batman" over time using only the Diamond data and no outside information. Since it is the key title and virtually always given an index value of 100.00, a chart of those index values for "Batman" would be a straight line at 100.00. By using the dark magic known as "math," it is possible to work around that minor issue.
The blue line in the chart is the estimated sales for "Batman" over the past few years. Sales figures for items on the list each month is required to translate the Diamond index values into estimated units to generate that line. This blue line is included only as something to compare the graph of the Diamond only data against. It is the red line, however, which can be generated using only the Diamond data. While it doesn't map exactly to the sales of "Batman," it does indicate the general sales trend for the title. With more involved math it should be possible to better approximate that chart of the estimates sales for "Batman." But this quick chart illustrates how the index system doesn't completely obscure the changes in sales of "Batman" over time.
The process of converting those index values into an estimated number of units each month requires information on how some of the items on the list sold. With that additional data it is possible to estimate the sales of the key title and "unlock" the list. The more known sales figures you have the more accurate the estimated value of the index point is. Also, the items at the top of the list tend to yield more accurate results than those at the bottom of the list.
The beauty of the index value system is that the numbers can be independently calculated from different source data and will match within the granularity of the source data. The main limitation on precision is the index values only going to two decimal places. If Diamond released the actual units sold for each item there would be no way to identify mistakes in the data as happened back in January. As opposed to obscuring information, the index value system acts like a checksum for the dataset.
This month I switched both the data source I use to calculate the index point value and the process I use for calculating it. Between those two changes, I managed to break my number crunching process and my initial estimates were incorrect. The value I got for the index point value was a too high. Mistakes happen and this time they were on my side. One of my data sources got loaded into my database multiple times and another one didn't get loaded at all. I have recalculated the numbers using my previous methodology and reposted the data. My apologies for any confusion that might have resulted from those initial estimates.
One other point about the data I have this month is it currently lacks the expected shipping dates for most of the items on the list this month due to issues with one of the data sources. As a result I can't calculate how early or late most of the items are this month. I am working on getting a new data feed for this information.
It is clear that both Marvel and DC are back in "event" mode. "Secret Invasion" #2 dropped from the estimated 250,200 units down to 182.447 units but still came in as the top seller by a wide margin. This is a drop of around 28.28% from the first issue (including the 4,187 units of reorder activity for the first issue down in rank 269). This is more than the standard drop between a first and second issue but the difference between the sales of "Secret Invasion" #2 and "Final Crisis" #1 was more than the sales of "Ultimate Fantastic Four" #54 in rank 56. In other words, the gap between those top two items was more than most individual comics sold during May 2008.
"Secret Invasion" #2 had more variant covers than "Final Crisis" #1. But to chalk up "Secret Invasion" #2 outselling "Final Crisis" #1 to nothing more than those additional incentive cover would be to ignore all of the other variables involved. There is more to it than that. There is never a single cause for why a comic sold how it did. More importantly, there is never a single reason why one comic outsold another. Multiple variables come into play and ignoring them would be grossly oversimplifying a complex situation.
One of the key factors influencing the sales of "Secret Invasion" and "Final Crisis" is how they were promoted. Marvel promoted "Secret Invasion" both to existing comic readers and to the general public. Joe Quesada's appeared on "The Colbert Report" promoting the series and putting it in front of a much larger audience than just current comic book readers. In addition to actively promoting the series, "Secret Invasion" had a clear pitch line (shape shifting aliens infiltrate Earth and attack) which "Final Crisis" lacks. The clear pitch line made promoting "Secret Invasion" much easier for Marvel than for DC to promote "Final Crisis." Marketing comic books without spoiling the stories is a difficult task but one that Marvel is doing well these days.
Another variable at play is perception. Marvel currently has a number of titles with that ever elusive "buzz" while "Final Crisis" is spinning out of "Countdown to Final Crisis." The weekly series had average sales of 75,000 units and many people were highly critical of it. Obviously there is a huge difference between a weekly series and a seven issue miniseries but the reader reaction to "Countdown to Final Crisis" was one of the factors retailers were using when deciding how many copies of "Final Crisis" #1 to order.
In addition, Marvel usually sells more comics than DC. Out of the past 64 months (which is the point at which Diamond started releasing what shipped to retailers as opposed to what the retailers initially pre-ordered), DC has only sold a higher percentage of the top 300 comics than Marvel in four of those months (May 2005, November 2005, May 2006 and November 2007). Clearly one of the factors which lead to "Secret Invasion" outselling "Final Crisis" is this history of stronger sales for Marvel.
But I don't want to dismiss the multiple covers as they certainly were one of the many things that influenced the sales of these two items. We should agree on a few definitions for the purposes of this discussion. First, an alternate cover is a simple 50/50 split with neither cover being more available than the other. A variant cover, on the other hand, is not as widely available as the regular cover. Retailer incentive covers are variant covers which can only be ordered based on how many copies the retailer orders of the regular cover. Not all variant covers are retailer incentive covers but all retailer incentive covers are variant covers. The key difference is if the variant cover is available to all retailers that order the required number of copies of the regular cover. Some variant covers are only available through certain retailers or at certain conventions.
"Final Crisis" #1 had two alternate covers with an approximately 50/50 split. So neither cover should be inherently worth more than the other based on it being harder to find. These sorts of alternate covers can and usually do increase sales since there is a contingent of the readership that will by both covers. (I'll admit to doing this myself for the entire run of "Infinite Crisis" a few years back.) While these covers are equally available that doesn't mean that they are equally desirable to the readers. "Final Crisis" #1 has a "character cover" with a full cover image of Green Lantern and a "story cover" with art on only the middle third of the cover.
I would suspect that most stores have more of the "story cover" still on the racks than the "character cover." Had retailers been able to order the two covers independently and those sales been reported individually we most likely would have seen the "character cover" outsell the "story cover." But, as it was, retailers didn't have a choice in the matter and got an equal amount of both covers. Since this was the first issue of "Final Crisis," we don't have a baseline to judge how much the alternate covers may have increased sales for the issue.
With "Secret Invasion" things are a bit more complicated in terms of the covers. The second issue had a regular cover and multiple variant covers in different ratios. For every 20 copies of the regular cover, a retailer could order a copy of the Steve McNiven retailer incentive variant cover. For every 50 copies of the regular cover, a retailer could order a copy of the Leinil Francis Yu retailer incentive variant cover. For every 75 copies of the regular cover, a retailer could order a copy of the Steve McNiven retailer incentive sketch variant cover. In addition to those covers, there was the Dynamic Forces Mel Rubi variant cover which was limited to 2,500 copies and the second printing Leinil Francis Yu variant cover. That results in a regular cover and five variant covers. At least so far, there could be more if "Secret Invasion" #2 goes to a third printing.
The idea behind retailer incentive covers is both to reward retailers for order more copies and to encourage retailers that would otherwise order just below one of the tiers to increase their orders to the next tier. In the case of "Secret Invasion" #2, any retailer ordering slightly below 300 copies of the regular cover would be able to order an additional copy of the 1-in-20, the 1-in-50 and the 1-in-75 variants by increasing their orders for the regular cover to 300 copies. For some retailers it makes a lot of sense to increase the orders a little. But many retailers are likely to be just under the tier for one of incentive covers but not all three of them.
As was the case back in October 2007, one of the two issues of "Batman" released in May was used as the key title for the month and it had an incentive variant cover. This is the second time that the top comics list hasn't had an entry with an index value of 100.00. What this tells us is that the sales of the variant covers for "Batman" #676 were 3.12% of the sales of the regular covers. Had that variant cover been listed separately it would have placed in rank 291 (provided all of the other variant covers weren't also broken out into distinct items on the list). This variant cover was a retailer incentive cover with a 1-in-25 ratio. If the maximum number of these incentive covers possible had been ordered, it would have had an index value of 4.00. Since it fell below that mark, we know that not all retailers raised their orders to the next 25 unit increment and ordered that additional copy of the incentive cover. After all, it is one thing to order two or three more copies to get an incentive cover but it would be much less appealing for retailers who need to order closer to another 20 copies to get that additional incentive cover.
Seven of the top ten comics had alternate or variant covers. Eight if you include the second printing variant cover for "Mighty Avengers" #13. Alternate and variant covers are a proven method of increasing sales. Some of the bumps we've seen for "Amazing Spider-Man" over the past few months have been on issues with more than one cover. But multiple covers are far from any sort of guarantee of success and certainly not the only factor in comic book sales. Marvel has earned a lot of the sales of "Secret Invasion" through marketing, content and a history of strong selling events over the past few years. While DC is publishing some equally strong content, they aren't doing as good of a job marketing it and currently don't have the best sales track record.
But all of this could change drastically over the course of a few months. Perhaps not the next few months but at some point DC will be back on the upswing. Personally, I hope it is sooner rather than later as I don't think it is good for the majority of the sales of the top 300 comics to becoming from a single publisher.
As always, if you have any questions or comments on these numbers and what they do and don't mean, please feel free to .