Marvel’s 2012 Graphic Novel Sales Reveal Surprising Trends

thanos quest Marvels 2012 Graphic Novel Sales Reveal Surprising TrendsYes, much like the annual tradition of looking at last year’s sales lists, it’s time for another annual tradition: scratching your head and wondering why Marvel does so well selling monthly comics but is a failure in the graphic novel/trade paperback category (relative to their monthly sales).

Diamond released its list of the 500 top selling graphic novels.  I pulled out Marvel’s top 25.  Honestly, it’s debatable whether or not their best selling (through Diamond, anyway) graphic novel is actually a graphic novel.  At $7.99, Thanos Quest is the same price as Amazing Spider-Man #700.  But here’s Marvel’s top 25 for the Direct Market/Diamond.  The number preceding the title is the sales rank for the year in the Diamond sales hierarchy.

31 THANOS QUEST #1
47 KICK-ASS 2 PREM HC (MR)
48 CIVIL WAR TP
53 INFINITY GAUNTLET TP
72 DEADPOOL KILLS MARVEL UNIVERSE TP
80 FEAR ITSELF PREM HC
87 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 02 DEATHLOK NATION
91 DAREDEVIL BY MARK WAID TP VOL 01
94 AVENGERS VS X-MEN HC
101 WOLVERINE OLD MAN LOGAN TP
111 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 01 APOCALYPSE SOLUTION
119 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 03 DARK ANGEL SAGA BOOK 01
131 SECRET INVASION TP
134 VENOM BY RICK REMENDER TP VOL 01
143 X-MEN SEASON ONE PREM HC WITH DIG CDE
147 AVENGERS VS X-MEN ITS COMING TP
155 FEAR ITSELF TP
156 FANTASTIC FOUR SEASON ONE PREM HC WITH FR DIG CDE
165 SPIDER-MAN SEASON ONE PREM HC WITH DIG CDE
166 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 04 DARK ANGEL SAGA BOOK 2
172 HULK SEASON ONE PREM HC
182 ULT COMICS SPIDER-MAN BY BENDIS TP VOL 01
186 KICK-ASS TP (MR)
196 DEADPOOL TP VOL 08 OPERATION ANNIHILATION
200 AVENGERS CHILDRENS CRUSADE HC

What’s the trend here?  Three things.

1) Mark Millar comics.  His Icon, creator-owned Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2.  Civil War still sells better than any Marvel universe graphic novel with current material and Kick-Ass 2 sold better than Civil War.  Old Man Logan was the #10 Marvel tpb in 2012, so Millar may be Marvel’s answer to Alan Moore when it comes to the book market.  In terms of annual sales, Civil War seems to be Marvel’s equivalent of Watchmen.

2) Self-contained titles.  That is to say, collections of comics that weren’t part of an Event cross-over.  There are 3 volumes of X-Force, one of Daredevil, Old Man Logan is self-contained.  The “Season one” line shows up high.

3) Core “event” titles.  Civil War.  Secret Invasion.  Fear Itself.  Avengers Vs. X-Men. I’m not sure whether you’d call  Children’s Crusade a self-contained book (it was… to an extent) or a core event book (as unannounced lead-in to AVX… although it’s interesting that the official lead-in, Avengers X-Sanction, is all the way down at #354 on the list).

What are we not seeing?  The collections supporting the Events.  Where are Iron Man: Fear Itself and all those titles?  Where are all the Avengers and X-Men titles that are so integral to the “universe” part of all the cross-overs?  They’re not there.

It seems clear that readers will show up for the big events, but could care less about the supporting crossovers in book form.  Can you really blame them?  The supporting issues of Avengers, Spider-Man and so forth take place between the issues of the actual Event, so either you need to integrate them into the collected edition or the reading experience is going to be drastically different.  (Here’s how convoluted the Secret Invasion experience is when you try and read the expanded universe in book form, for an example.)

Marvel might be taking a break from the approach with Marvel Now.  We’ll have to see how that plays out the rest of the year.  If they keep the new book editions as independent story units, things may improve.

Rick Remender seems to be Millar junior on this list, with the first volume of his Venom series (and that volume is better than you might expect for a Venom comic) joining those X-Force volumes.  Speaking of those X-Force volumes, there might be more of them if they were consistently in print.  Marvel’s making more of an effort these days, but things still fall out of print.

Finally, there’s Deadpool again.  Two titles in Marvel’s top 25 for the books.  Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe is their best seller, in terms of current/new content (that isn’t an Icon title), coming in at #72 overall.  IIRC, Deadpool will also show up on the Bookscan lists, so there’s a reason Marvel has so many Deadpool comics, despite what the monthly numbers look like.

That’s the state of Marvel’s Diamond accounts as Diamond reports them, so unless a lot of retailers have been using Baker & Taylor for their Marvel graphic novels, that’s how it was in 2012.

Comments

  1. Torsten Adair says:

    Thanos Quest was originally a two-part graphic novel in the 1990s. (It’s in WorldCat… has EANs.)

    So, EAN, it’s a book.
    UPC, it’s a periodical.

    Now, there are serials which are books. Frommer’s travel guides have ISSNs as well as ISBNs. The Serial Number allows libraries to catalog a book quickly… you just slap a year on the call number, add the copies to inventory, remove the older editions, and nothing changes on the cataloging record. Book Numbers allow a store to sell the EXACT copy.

    Gemstone placed EANs on their squarebound Disney titles, so they could be sold in stores (they appear on BN.com, for example). In comics shops, they were monthly comics.

    As for price… where do you draw the line? Is Saga, selling at $9.99 a book? Is Fables #100 a book? If Marvel sells Spider-Man #700 in a hardcover binding, is it a book, or an issue?

    Answer: it’s whatever the publisher says it is, for whichever market.

  2. I’ve always gone with this: If it has a spine, it’s a graphic novel (or book or trade paperback; whatever), and if it has staples, it’s a comic book (serial, pamphlet, floppy, comic book-comic book, whatever).

    I don’t know how widespread it is, but in the Ohio libraries I’ve visited/got trades from, Marvel’s branding effort/crossover stuff does a lot better than their non branding effort/crossover stuff. I don’t know if it’s just easier for librarians to order everything with the worlds “Fear Itself” or “Civil War” in the title than to navigate the X-Men and Avengers franchises or what, but I’ve never had trouble finding anything with those or “World War Hulk:” in the title through a library, whereas regular series can prove challenging to come by.

  3. Pedro Bouça says:

    No love for Jim Starlin at the analysis? He had two of the top five Marvel GNs…

    And his Captain Marvel and Warlock stuff is still out of print, else he could have more!

  4. blacaucasian says:

    I continue to scratch my head at Marvel’s approach to trades in general.

  5. Torsten Adair says:

    Is it a failure if Marvel places 104 titles, second only to DC Comics’ 207, and double Image’s 55?

    Could Marvel and DC have parity, if Marvel did a better job of managing the backlist? Would Runaways chart if it were in print? (Oops… it is in print. Guess that answers that question.)

    Marvel’s bigger problem is that they have no popular backlist like DC. Even the stuff that should be backlist (Runaways, Ultimate titles, Essential titles) isn’t.

    (To be fair, DC’s Showcase titles don’t chart on this list either.)

  6. Synsidar says:

    Aren’t Marvel’s problems the natural result of selling characters rather than stories? The way Marvel’s events are structured, the series’ tie-ins end up being filler unless a writer comes up with an excellent angle.

    How many writers have ever talked about having a dream storyline for a hero? “If I could write one Hulk (or Iron Man or Captain America or. . .) story, it would be _______.” There’s hardly any point in having one, because if the story was dramatic enough to change him “forever”, it would be unacceptable or soon retconned out of existence.

    Creators sell stories; WFH creators sell characters. I was just thinking, re Ellis’s comments re indie creators, that if a (superhero) writer’s goal is primarily a steady income, he might be better off doing WFH than trying to do his own monthly series. Marvel and DC already compete against themselves, to some extent; a writer trying to do his own monthly superhero series will be competing for the same readers, but with less support.

    SRS

  7. I think there’s been two problems from Marvel in terms of collections: constant title name changes and volume numbering. They’ve been good about volume numbering lately, and they need to keep this up with Marvel Now, but their back catalog suffers horribly from this. I remember I was in a Barnes and Noble killing time and thought, “I want to pick up Slott’s first Spider-Man book,” and for the life of me didn’t know where to start just by looking at the books on the shelf.

  8. Scratchie says:

    Is this really a mystery?

    1) They let their trade paperbacks go out of print constantly.

    2) Their numbering sucks horribly, as Shags points out. I stopped buying Captain America trades after buying a large chunk of Brubaker’s run, partly because I couldn’t figure out what came next, even after reading the title for five years.

  9. Wonderer says:

    “…….scratching your head and wondering why Marvel does so well selling monthly comics but is a failure in the graphic novel/trade paperback category (relative to their monthly sales).”

    Hmm, couldn’t the issues be related?? If they (intentionally or not) neglect having a proper trade/HC collection, wont people be driven into single issue purchases for collecting, hence gutter-like collection sales and stellar single issue sales??

  10. Torsten Adair says:

    @Wonderer
    Marvel does collect just about everything. It’s a way to make a second sale on material.
    Marvel does not make any money on paper back-issue sales. Once that copy is sold to a store, Marvel makes no additional money on the subsequent sales.

    True, they could be doing this to encourage people to go digital… but Marvel would be smart to make money in as many different markets as possible: comics, trades, digital.

    Marvel had a tight operating budget. That’s why titles go out of print so readily.

    The volume numbering is one reason why the Ultimate line remained in print so long. Each volume had a number on the spine, and it was easy to follow. It’s why manga sells so well.

    You would think a company like Marvel, which knows how important issue numbers are, would do the same with their trades. Yes, it’s hard to do when you’ve got 50 years worth of comics… where do you start?

    Well, with Spider-Man, you start with Brand New Day, or the EXACT POINT where all the Spider-Man comics were rebranded under one title.

    Another thing the publisher does is include a line on the back cover stating:
    “Collects NAME OF TITLE #abc – #xyz.”
    Include that in the synopsis sent out with the electronic data, so it shows up in cataloging records.

    Holee… here’s the Brubaker Captain America run (FOUR “Volume 1″s!):
    Captain America: Winter Soldier Volume 1 (#1-7)
    Captain America: Winter Soldier Volume 2 (#8-9 & 11-14)
    House of M: World of M Featuring Wolverine (#10 and other House of M tie ins)
    Captain America: Red Menace Volume 1 (#15-17 and Captain America 65th Anniversary Special)
    Captain America: Red Menace Volume 2 (#18-21)
    Civil War: Captain America (#22-24 and Winter Soldier: Winter Kills)
    Captain America: The Death of Captain America Volume 1: The Death of the Dream (#25-30)
    Captain America: The Death of Captain America Volume 2: The Burden of Dreams (#31-36)
    Captain America: The Death of Captain America Volume 3: The Man Who Bought America (#37-42)
    Captain America: The Man With No Face (#43-48)
    Captain America: Road to Reborn (#49-50 and volume 1 #600-601)
    Captain America: Two Americas (#602-605 and Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield?)
    Captain America: No Escape (#606-610)
    Captain America: The Trial of Captain America (#611-615 & 615.1)
    Captain America: Prisoner of War (#616-619)

  11. Pedro Bouça says:

    There is a Captain America: Reborn in the mix too. I *think* it goes after Road to Reborn (makes sense, doesn’t it?).

    Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier and the Winter Soldier books have to fit somewhere too.

    Screw that, I’m buying it on the Omnibii!

  12. Arrgh! says:

    The point is Marvel has never understood how actual book publishing works.

  13. Their numbering structure for trades is more for what they think will get better sales by using the comic book store method of new #1’s to get better sales.

    If they figure attrition factors into trade sales, like it does in monthly comic book sales, then a buyer seeing more #1 should be better for sales of a series overall. A “trade” buyer that sees volume 1-10 of captain america series is less likely to even bother trying. But if you break down the 10 volumes into volumes of 2 it becomes easier to digest.

    Ofcourse I hope their thinking isn’t this simple because it’s evident that it doesn’t work.

    A trade will never work like a a monthly comic book no matter how much Marvel would like to think they do.

    As Arrgh! pointed out more succinctly “The point is Marvel has never understood how actual book publishing works.”

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  1. […] somewhat uneven performance of Marvel’s graphic novel program is a frequent topic of analysis when we talk about graphic novel programs here. Both the Diamond and Bookscan numbers for 2012 […]

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