By Todd Allen
There’s been some concern over Marvel’s sales in the last six months or so. “But AVX is frickin’ huge,” you say. And it is. But that might be masking Marvel’s inability to sell comics that aren’t part of a crossover/Event. Marvel’s Next event is the pseudo-relaunch of Marvel NOW! and nobody’s quite sure what to make of that just yet. Last week, Brian Hibbs penned a column expressing concerns about Marvel NOW!’s viability and the poor general state of Marvel’s and non-Event top list and mid-list. I think it’s time to compare some of the numbers on this.
The key problem facing Marvel right now, as I see it, is that, with the exception of AvX, their line is slowly withering. While high-performing miniseries, or one-off stunts like Northstar’s gay marriage, can spike some sales up, the bread-and-butter for a periodical company is the month-in-month-out sales performance of their 12(+) times a year regular ongoing books. This is also the bread-and-butter for the retailer, as well.
Prior to AvX crossovers (in March), Marvel’s best-selling not-issue-#1 ongoing book (this time: “Uncanny X-Men” #8) had dropped below 60k copies. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the absolute nadir of sales for Marvel’s top ongoing. While this was a very long time ago, indeed, when I first got into this business in the 80s, Marvel would routinely cancel books that sold that low.
He’s got a point. As I type this, the complete July estimates aren’t out, but Marvel doesn’t look so bad in June. You’ve got huge numbers for a couple issues of AVX. A Big Debut (and decent second issue) for Spider-Men. Big Numbers for AVX Versus… and the gay wedding issue of Astonishing X-Men. You’ve got a rising tide of 15K-20K a title for the Avengers and X-family titles crossing over with AVX. And then you start to drop.
I’ve pulled some numbers from The Comics Chronicles to illustrate what Hibbs and people with similar concerns are thinking about. The top 20 sales figures for:
- DC’s August 2011 – the last month of the pre-relaunch DCU. You have the first issue of the relaunched Justice League and some Flashpoint crossover material propping it up, but that’s the sales numbers of a company ready to choose the nuclear option
- Marvel’s February 2012 – A month without an Event and nothing over 60K. When people say they can’t sell without an event, this is why
- Marvel’s June 2012 – The rising tide of AVX
- DC’s June 2012 – Yes, you’ve got some Before Watchmen in there, around the 100K mark. You’ve got Batman and friends juiced a little with a crossover, but for the most part, those are Event-free numbers.
|DC August 11||Marvel feb 12||Marvel June 12||DC Jun 12|
|(JL #1) 171,344||59,834||190,705||130,265|
Now, you can clearly see Marvel never crashed as far and as fast as DC did, but let’s compare February and June for Marvel. The last 6 titles, #14-20 for the months are pretty similar between the two months. Most of what’s above it is Event-related material. Take away the event, the question is whether or not Marvel could hold their February orders or would fall below that.
You look at DC, the numbers do thin out and there certainly is a drop-off as you approach the mid-list, but their non-crossover numbers are much, much stronger.
Can Marvel Now! match the numbers that AVX has generated? That the big question. And AVX has been a slam dunk, raise all the boats in the crossover harbor hit. There is no denying it that. But as Hibbs says:
Here’s the thing, though: the Direct Market needs a strong Marvel comics. And as strong as the sales of AvX have been (and they’ve been spiffy, thanks!), that’s really is supposed to be just a little bit more than what the sales of the regular monthly adventures of those two teams should be. Not 2-300% of the regular monthly sales!
Yes, AVX really is selling 3x of the regular titles. It’s a little odd that the two families combine so much higher than the sales of the regular titles. Even with the crossover bump.
From a business standpoint, the point of Marvel Now seems to be cycling in a regular stream of new #1 issues to give you big numbers each month and then you hope some of the readers stick around. The trouble is Marvel’s been relaunching a lot of #1s in recent years at that got them to February 2012’s sales levels. This time the #1’s _are_ the Event. So we’ll see how that resonates with readers and hope that “new #1 fatigue” doesn’t set in by December.
The danger with new #1’s is that when you end a series, just as the #1 is a jumping on point, the last issue of the old series is a jumping off point. Worst case scenario here is lowering the trough that was February sales if long time readers check out.
This danger is not helped by Marvel Now’s lack of identity. How does Axel describe it in his weekly appointment at CBR this week?
Shingen, Marvel NOW! isn’t the Marvel Universe “starting over again.” It simply offers a line-wide entry-point into the Marvel Universe that you’re already reading about. All of the stories take place in the aftermath of “Avengers Vs. X-Men. The strength of the initiative is that it all starts with new creative teams that will take your favorite titles in bold new directions, and writers that are deeply invested in their books and have long-term plans for them. We’ll be saying more and more about each of the titles in coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Axel’s constant declarations that Marvel doesn’t feel the need to reboot is taking the air out of the hype and reducing to new #1’s and deckchair shuffle with creators. Announcing this was part of the buildup to “the next big summer story” didn’t exactly help, either.
Brian Hibbs is just about the biggest booster of the Direct Market you’re going to find. He wants to sell Marvel products. He’s concerned he might not be able to. There’s some math to back up his concerns. More to the point, you’d really think John Cassaday returning to a monthly comic would be a bigger deal.
Marvel hasn’t dropped to the depths DC had, but they’re not as strong as they used to be and the appearance is given that they’re still running from Event to Event, trying to make the quarterly numbers, rather than addressing the problem of non-Event books having poor sales.
We’ll see what happens with Marvel Now! when it’s December and January. In the meantime, you have some retailers contemplating what happens should recent roles flip and you face the possibility of a strong DC and a weak Marvel, when what they really want is for both to be strong.