DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: July 2012

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As retailers keep slashing their orders on Before Watchmen and the replacement “New 52″ titles, DC’s overall figures decline again in July. That, in itself, is not surprising, however, and the company is still doing quite well. I see no reason to disagree with anything prominent retailer Brian Hibbs said in his recent look at “New 52″ numbers. With regard to DC’s overall performance, Hibbs makes some of the same points that I’ve been making here in the months since the relaunch, and as far as his own store is concerned, his observations seem to match the market climate. “The reboot was a remarkable success,” Hibbs says, and: “There hardly could have been a better result.” I agree, all things (such as the stifled potential of the comic-book format and the stifling way the major publishers are set up now, structurally) considered.

But it’s also worth remembering that what we talk about now when we talk about comic-book sales that are “doing quite well” and a relaunch that’s “a remarkable success,” and note that “there hardly could have been a better result,” are the kinds of sales figures we used to see more regularly five years ago, when the DC Universe imprint was publishing fewer comic books than it is now. (From 2007 through 2009, the average number of published DC Universe titles was 52. From 2010 through August 2011, it went up to 57. Since the relaunch in September 2011, it’s been an average 63 DC Universe titles per month. “Keeping it at 52“? Not very much, Dan DiDio.)

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: June 2012

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In May, DC reminded us that the old sales-boosting tricks still work. In June, we’re reminded how short-lived those sales increases are. Coming out of the “Night of the Owls” crossover, the Batman line basically dropped right back to its previous levels, and the same applies to other titles participating in other crossovers in May; second, DC cut many of its variant-cover editions in June, with predictable results; third, the six replacement “New 52″ titles all show second-issue drops between 20% and 44% in June; finally, a range of “New 52″ titles display bigger-than-usual drops for no readily available reason in June, so it seems retailers weren’t done yet trying to catch up with actual demand, after all.

As a result of all this, DC’s numbers were actually slightly down in June, despite the Before Watchmen launch and despite the fact that DC published two more DC Universe (and one more Vertigo) titles than they did in May. The DC Universe imprint’s estimated average comic-book unit sales dropped from 39,179 units in May to 37,599, total unit sales from 2.69 million to 2.67 million, and total dollar sales from $9.05 million to $8.98 million.

On the up side, though, the numbers are still golden overall, thanks, of course, to the four juggernaut debut issues of the Before Watchmen line, all of which made the Top 10 and cleared between 110,000 and 120,000 units each. Consequently, average DC Universe unit sales were still the 25th highest ever since March 2003, total DC Universe unit sales the 8th highest, and total DC Universe dollar sales the 6th highest. While it seems unlikely that DC will be able to sustain these types of sales levels through the rest of the year, it’s well worth mentioning: They’re doing very well right now.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: May 2012

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With “New 52″ numbers settled down (see here for a long-term breakdown), May marked a return to a variety of old-fashioned direct-market sales boosters: six of the loowest-selling “New 52″ titles were replaced with new launches Earth-2, Worlds’ Finest, Dial H, G.I. Combat, The Ravagers and Batman, Incorporated; new creative teams (meaning Rob Liefeld, mostly) were instated on Hawkman, Deathstroke and Grifter, three of the lower-selling “New 52″ books that haven’t been cancelled; Annuals for Batman, Animal Man and Teen Titans, three of the more popular “New 52″ series; and, finally, four separate crossovers involving 21 titles, notably the “Court of Owls” storyline running through most of the Batman line.

And those tricks still work quite well, as it turns out: For the DC Universe imprint, average comic-book sales, total unit sales and total dollar sales soared back towards their highest respective levels since November 2011, which is pretty good. With Before Watchmen around the corner and September’s issue-#0 stunt and the next round of “New 52″ replacements coming up, it seems safe to say that the publisher will be able to build on the ground recovered thanks to the “New 52″ relaunch through the second half of 2012.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: April 2012

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Houston, we’re leveled out. It took seven months, but as of April 2012, it looks like DC’s superhero line of comics, relaunched under the “New 52″ banner in September, have mostly settled into what we love to call “standard attrition.” The average “New 52″ drop in April was 2.9%, which is a good number, at this stage. Thanks to a number of low-selling titles ending in March, the average sales figures for the publisher’s comic books are slightly up on March, even.

Overall, this means that the numbers are still significantly up on this time last year. The average DC Universe comic book sold an estimated 35,264 units in April 2012, for instance. The last time DC hit that point prior to September 2011 was in July 2010. Likewise, the total unit sales figures for the DC Universe imprint are the highest since October 2009. Total DC Universe dollar sales are actually lower than they were in August 2011, one month before the relaunch, but back then, the imprint had 80 titles on sale, to be fair — in April 2012, it was 60.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: February 2012

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Although DC’s “New 52″ relaunch was well past its prime in February, sales were still good enough for the publisher to take the Top 10 slots on the Diamond Top 300 chart again, for the second month in a row. The average “New 52″ title dropped by 7.6% in February, which is in line with January’s 7.4% drop and suggests that, while the bigger drops seem behind us, the numbers haven’t quite found their level yet, either.

The average DC Universe title now sells fewer copies again than it did two years ago (34,456 vs. 35,895), but then again, the company’s main imprint had 20 more titles on sale this time around: In February 2010, it was 47; in February 2012, it’s 67. On balance, consequently, DC is still selling a lot more superhero comics than it has in most months in the last 10 years. In the 108 months since March 2003 we have comparable data on, February 2012 is only No. 71 in terms of average DC Universe sales, but it’s still No. 17 in total DC Universe unit sales (2.3 million) and No. 20 in total DC Universe dollar sales ($7.3 million).

Looking at the individual “New 52″ books, meanwhile, we’re once again getting a mixed picture. The top-selling books mostly continue to be very stable, but the farther down the chart you go, the steeper the decline. There were 14 “New 52″ books selling below 20K in February (up from 10 in January) and 21 selling below 25K (up from 19).

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: January 2012

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Beyond sweeping a perfect 10 out of the month’s Top 10 comic books, DC’s “New 52″ titles are also starting to show first signs of stabilization in January. The average “New 52″ title dropped 7.4% in sales, down from 17.4% in December and 19.6% in November.

This gives reason to be cautiously optimistic on the longer-term prospects of DC’s relaunched line. The trend should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as DC made a number of changes to its various retailer incentives in January that may be affecting sales one way or another. On Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, Superman and Aquaman, the returnability incentive was replaced with 1:25 variant-cover incentives. Batwoman, Green Lantern: New Guardians and Swamp Thing, which were promoted with a special-discount incentive from September through December, also switched to 1:25 variant-cover incentives in January. Finally, the threshold retailers were required to meet in January to qualify for returnability on the 37 titles that weren’t promoted through variant-cover or discount incentives changed from 125% of retailers’ May 2011 orders to 100% of November 2011 orders.

With this in mind, let’s wait for the February figures to see if the trend holds when incentives are equal from one month to the next.

DC Month-to-Month Sales: December 2011

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Sales of the “New 52″ books show no sign of stabilization, four issues into DC’s big relaunch. The average “New 52″ title dropped by 17.4% in December, versus 19.6% in November and 5.2% in October.

The only “New 52″ titles with single-digit drops in December are Aquaman (6.0%), Teen Titans (9.6%) and Batman: The Dark Knight (9.7%). The three “New 52″ titles with the biggest fourth-issue drops are Static Shock (28.2%), Mister Terrific (29.0%) and Men of War (30.0%). Overall, there are 18 “New 52″ titles with drops in excess of 20% in December, down from 22 in November. The lack of re-orders on the chart also suggests that the sheen is off the “New 52.” Whereas 51 of the debut issues made the chart again in October, only two of the second issues charted again in November. In December, none of the third issues made the chart again.

The average drop-off in first-month sales since issue #1 for the “New 52″ books is 36.4%, as of December. The three titles with the smallest overall drop-off are Animal Man (7.4%), Detective Comics (13.5%) and Nightwing (17.6%). The three titles with the largest overall drop-off are Blackhawks (58.0%), Mister Terrific (56.7%) and Men of War (55.6%). Only 7 of the “New 52″ titles display an overall drop-off of less than 20%, while 9 of them have already lost more than 50% of their debut first-month sales.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: November 2011

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by Mark-Oliver Frisch —
Three months into the wholesale makeover of DC’s line of superhero comic books, the direct-market numbers suggest three main things: One, the “New 52″ relaunch was extremely successful at mobilizing comics specialty retailers; two, this success doesn’t seem to be affecting, for good or ill, any other comics beyond the initial 52 titles; and three, the number of new comics readers the “New 52″ has brought into comics stores seems negligible, overall.

Retailers continued to adjust their orders for the “New 52″ titles in November, and this time, the downward correction was more noticeable. On average, sales of new DC comic books dropped by nearly 10,000 units or 19.2% in November, versus 10.4% in October. The average drop on the third issues of the 52 new superhero titles was 18.8%, versus 5.2% for the second issues. Animal Man (-8.0%) and Detective Comics (-9.7%) were the “New 52″ books with the smallest drops in November, while Blackhawks (-29.5%), Mister Terrific (-29.7%), Blue Beetle (-29.9%) and Captain Atom (-30.0%) were at the tail end of the spectrum.

In contrast to October, when all but one of the “New 52″ debut issues made the chart again with significant re-orders, only two of the #3 issues — namely Batman and Aquaman — charted again in November. On balance, the drop-off on those titles is still better than average. The fact that the larger drop came in November and the lack of more #2 re-orders both suggest that customer interest in the “New 52″ peaked early, however.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: October 2011

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October was a first litmus test for the good “New 52″ relaunch numbers, as it was the first month that allowed retailers to react to customer feedback on DC’s “New 52″ initiative in a meaningful way.

As a result, Marvel won a little less of the market share than usual got really spanked by DC in October, which took the Top 6 spots, along with a whopping 17 out of the Top 20 (and 32 out of the Top 50, and 60 out of the Top 100), as well as 50.97 percent of the unit market share and 42.47 percent of the dollar share.

DC’s average periodical numbers were down a bit from September and are now in the exact same area as right after the line-wide “One Year Later” event in May 2006, which had been DC’s high-water mark before the current relaunch. Back then, the average new DC comic book (not counting the now-defunct WildStorm) sold an estimated 50,519 units, the average new DC Universe comic book 59,505. In October 2011, now, it’s 51,280 and 59,146, respectively. These numbers don’t suggest we need to build a new ball park quite yet, but DC certainly did a great job of filling up the old one in a way that hasn’t happened since, well, 2006.

While a slight drop-off from September was to be expected, it turns out to be very slight indeed, because 16 of the “New 52″ titles didn’t drop at all, but rather increased in sales. They’re led by Animal Man, which, on the back of good reviews, saw an impressive second-issue increase of 16 percent. And even most of the rest of the bunch displays much slighter drops than we’re used to, for that matter. Only 16 of the percentage drops are in the double digits, and only four of those — Action Comics, Men of War, Superman and Blackhawks — are in the area you’d usually suspect. As a result, the average second-issue drop for the “New 52″ is a tiny 5.2 percent — a dream figure by any standard.

(Also, it’s worth noting that many of the books with the bigger second-issue drops came out in the last week of October. Technically, this means that they were disadvantaged, because all subsequent re-orders slipped into November. On the other hand, the first issues of those titles shipped in the last week of September, too, of course, so it should have evened out. In any case, we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on with the November chart.)

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: September 2011

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September was business as usual for DC Comics’ periodical sales, as… oh, wait.

The “New 52″ project, a relaunch of its complete superhero line via 52 #1 issues, made September 2011 a record-breaking month for DC Comics — and a joyously eventful one for the people watching their sales. It’s not often that publishers attempt something on this scale, unfortunately, so it’s nice not to come up with 52 different ways of expressing that sales have mostly been going down, for a change. It’s a little bit like that myth about Eskimos and the words they have for snow.

Anyway: The average DC comic book sold an estimated 57,224 units in September, the average DC Universe comic book a whopping 67,411 units. That’s more than double what it was in August for both, as well as more than in any previous month since sole distributor Diamond started releasing information on actual sales to specialty retailers in March 2003. The month that comes closest is May 2006, when DC’s line-wide “One Year Later” initiative kicked off, with 44,554 (DC total) and 59,505 (DC Universe) units, respectively.

And, while we’re breaking records: May 2006 was also the only previous time when the total dollar value of DC’s periodical comic books exceeded 10 million, with an estimated $10,157,965. In September 2011, the amount was $10.9 million for DC total and $10.5 million for the DC Universe line, which never broke the 10-million mark on its own before. (Average cover prices were about the same, by the way: $3.05 for DC total and $3.04 for DC Universe in 2006, and vice versa in 2011.)

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: August 2011

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As you may have heard, DC had this relaunch thing going on in September, ending several months of deck-clearing and water-treading in the company’s superhero line. The kick-off came in the last week of August, with the release of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League #1, which — to nobody’s surprise — leads the August charts by quite a margin. To gauge what this means in the broader context of the comic-book direct market, though, we’ll have to go back a few years.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: June 2011

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by Marc-Oliver Frisch

The countdown to DC’s big relaunch continued in June with a whole lot of Flashpoint tie-in books — few of which seem to have stood out in any way to retailers, if the sales figures are any indication. Given that the upcoming relaunch titles are drawing on the same pool of creators, characters and concepts, that’s not ideal for DC. If it’s asking too much of readers and retailers to pick and choose among 16 titles of a certain mold, putting out 52 of them at once seems ill-advised.

Over at the publisher’s Vertigo imprint, meanwhile, almost half the current ongoing series are about to end within the next year. There’s still plenty of time for Vertigo to announce replacements, certainly. But in combination with the recent WildStorm shutdown and the re-absorption of a number of key Vertigo properties into the DC Universe line, there seems to be a lot less patience than there used to be at DC for material that’s not expected to immediately do well in the direct market.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: May 2011

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Despite the debut of this year’s big blockbuster series Flashpoint, average DC comic-book sales were down in May. In part, that’s because Flashpoint itself came in 13,000 units below the magical 100K mark and ended up charting second after Marvel’s Fear Itself #2, which has to be quite a disappointment for DC. On the other hand, most of the rest of DC’s line didn’t join in the crossover until June, so the overall numbers may still pick up.

The other notable thing about DC’s May output is that there wasn’t a lot of it. The number of new comic books released by DC in May was 59, which, along with January 2004, holds the record for the fewest number of books released by the company since Diamond started publishing data on actual sales. Looking at the solicitations, it’s not hard to find the reason: None of the five Green Lantern film tie-in books scheduled for May came out (one of them still hasn’t been published as I’m writing this), while the launch dates of Static Shock and Batwoman were pushed back to September.

And, while we’re at it, the David Finch vehicle Batman: The Dark Knight remained in limbo in May. DC’s Web site currently lists issue #3 for July 13 and issue #5 for August, with no information on #4. So not even DC seems entirely sure what’s going on with the book.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: March 2011

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Led by the top-selling Batman: The Dark Knight and Batman, Inc., which were back on the racks after a two-month absence, and a double-shipping Green Lantern, DC Comics’ periodical sales continued a slow recovery in February.

Notably, the February numbers also show modest increases across the rest of DC’s line-up. Maybe the company’s decision to cancel around 25% of its current ongoing titles and stick to a $ 2.99 price point is encouraging retailers, after all.

DC Month-to-Month Sales: February 2011

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by Marc-Oliver Frisch

Unit and dollar sales of DC Comics’ periodical business remained at the lower end of the spectrum in February, despite a slight recovery from January’s all-time low in average unit sales. However, the direct market as a whole has seen better days, and so DC still managed to snatch the three top spots of the chart and six out of the Top 10 in February, regardless of the company’s lackluster sales.

For the publisher’s mainstream DC Universe line, the absence of major titles Batman Incorporated and Batman: The Dark Knight continued to be a problem, while the hangover from the discontinued WildStorm imprint kept dragging down the average. Average comic-book sales of DC’s Vertigo imprint were still hovering above the 10k mark, meanwhile.

See below for the details, and please consider the small print at the end of the column. Thanks to Milton Griepp and ICv2.com for the permission to use their figures. An overview of ICv2.com‘s estimates can be found here.

DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: January 2011

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DC kicks off the year with a new sales record: Average numbers of the DC Universe line dropped by 21% in January, to 24,321 — the lowest number in the history of these charts, by about 4,000 units.

Traditionally a weak month in the comic-book market, January 2011 was even more of a downer than usual for DC. With only five titles selling above the 50k mark, average comic-book sales of the company at large fell to 21,922, the lowest figure since March 2009, while average Vertigo sales clung to the 10,000-unit mark, as they’ve done for the last three years.

The poor January performance of the DC Universe line comes thanks to three different kinds of erosion. First up, DC failed to get Green Lantern, Batman Incorporated and The Flash out of the door, three of its major titles, while a fourth one, Batman: The Dark Knight, was still late from December.

Second, DC is looking at a whole range of failing titles: Out of the 43 ongoing monthly DC Universe series currently on sale, eight have been marked for cancellation and won’t be around come June 2011. That’s almost 20% of the imprint’s regular output. And there are eight more — Doc Savage, The Spirit, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Jonah Hex, Booster Gold, Power Girl, Zatanna and Gotham City Sirens — that look less than healthy and sell fewer copies than some of the ones that have already been axed.

At the tail end of the spectrum, finally, six former WildStorm titles were absorbed into the DC Universe line in January, where they end up being the six lowest-selling books and dragging down the average. (If WildStorm were still around, this would be another new low for them: The six books, one of which missed the charts altogether, have average sales of less than 4,000 units.)

So, for better or ill, 2011 is set to be a year of transition for DC, with some heavy lifting in the company’s periodical line.

See below for the details, and please consider the small print at the end of the column. Thanks to Milton Griepp and ICv2.com for the permission to use their figures. An overview of ICv2.com‘s estimates can be found here.