The Retailer’s View: On Rocket Raccoon Orders Topping 300,000

by Brandon Schatz

When Marvel first announced the Rocket Raccoon book, I was fairly excited. Pairing the character with Skottie Young just as interest would crest for the movie seemed like a no-brainer, one that I could use to sell a few copies to interested parties. I was expecting healthy sales, but nothing that would eclipse the character’s parent title – especially given how stylized Young’s art is. What I hadn’t counted on was for Marvel to play their hand almost perfectly, netting a fairly unprecedented 300,000 copy order before the book’s final cut-off. How in the world did they swing such a huge number – especially with a relatively small amount of incentives? Let’s break things down.

art by Skottie Young

art by Skottie Young

It starts at the core: with creator Skottie Young. Over the years, Young has built himself as a brand quite handily. Choosing projects that played to his strengths, and running with the swell of goodwill garnered by his spot-on series of hilarious “baby” covers, the man went from some punk kid drawing the Human Torch Tsunami book, to an overwhelming creative force through sheer force of will and talent. Witnessing this, Marvel offered him Rocket – a book that not only fit his art style, but his story telling sensibilities – and while almost any comic can sell given the right bit of zeitgeist and marketing, there’s no comic that blows up this big without the core being so strong from the get go. Take a look at the numbers for any of the big two’s recent events. Marvel and DC (and pretty much any company) would have killed to have numbers like this for one of their events – books that they push so hard and stack so high with talent that they can’t help but move tens of thousands of copies without breaking a sweat. Rocket seemed to accomplish a lot more, using relatively less.

The numbers on this series are indicative of Marvel’s creative direction as of late. While you won’t find a shortage of people decrying their tactics or stories, there’s little you can do in the face of numerical data – and while the industry isn’t pulling in the numbers it did in it’s heyday, any upswing that’s occurring within Marvel is down to some genius marketing on their part. If we’re talking Rocket and the Guardians of the Galaxy specifically, it begins with the relaunch of Guardians a year ago on the back of the movie development, and the creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven. Combining a bit of meticulously planned timing with that specific creative team (and the regular round of marketing and variant thresholds), the series launched to an estimated tune of 211,312 copies for issue one – or, if you want to nitpick, 80,344 copies for the prologue issue #0.1. To put that in a kind of context, the previous ongoing Guardians book from 2008 debuted to a paltry 36,282 copies. Why? Well, there clearly wasn’t anything wrong with the creative team – after all, they formed the basis of what would become the current phenomena – it was a matter of marketing and timing. Quesada, for all the good he did for the company, never quite understood the cosmic side of the Marvel universe (a fact that he’s admitted in several interviews over the years) and as a direct or indirect result, when good books were coming out in this realm, the marketing never gelled. The same goes for any comic shop – if your proprietor doesn’t understand the appeal of a certain title, there’s a good chance that book won’t get a big push within the walls of that store as focus tends to remain elsewhere. As a business entity, it always pays to ignore taste (to an extent) and push through the blocks set up in your mind in order to gain the largest audience for the property in question. This is a lesson Marvel has clearly learned.

Everything about the release of Rocket Raccoon makes sense. A great creator matched with a great concept, dropped not a month before he stars in a big movie. An announcement made months in advance of regular solicitations to build up pressure alongside the movie, allowing retailers to hear whispers from their customers long before orders are even available to place, culminating in a fever pitch when orders are due. And then, there’s the fact that Marvel let the numbers slip the week before retailers had to set their Final Order Cut-Off numbers, allowing lazier retailers to shake their head and wonder if they’ve ordered enough themselves. Everything about this launch was perfectly timed, and should result in solid sales – at least for Marvel. As for possible sell through, that remains to be seen. Some of this hypothetical 300,000+ print run involves incentive covers running off of qualifiers that have goosed the numbers – but considering the fact that Marvel put heavier incentives on the first issue of Guardians and still came up with a smaller number speak volumes for what they’ve put together here.

art by Paco Medina

art by Paco Medina

Now before I call it a day, there remains another facet of this marketing tale left unexplored: that of the Legendary Star Lord book from Sam Humphries and Paco Medina. In all of the hubbub for this, I you’d be hard pressed to find people talking about this book, which I think is a shame. For all the good Marvel did in marketing Rocket, they really dropped the ball on Star Lord – which is to say, the numbers are probably very healthy, but could they be as healthy as they could have been? This should have been announced the week after the Rocket Raccoon announcement. The company should have been out there pounding the pavement with preview art and concepts. I’m a big fan of the works of both Humphries and Medina, and think they are a great match for this character – one that might not be as zeitgeist grabbing as the dude responsible for years of amazing variant covers and the gorgeous art that graced the Marvel Oz books, but still, there should have been more happening. As a result of some personal hustle, I have pre-order numbers that are quite comparable to that of my Rocket Raccoon numbers. That’s down to marketing – and while I understand there will never be a time where companies like Marvel or DC will treat all properties equally, it always pains me to see a marketing opportunity lost. I want books in the hands of people who are going to enjoy them, and I can’t always do that by myself. The comic book industry needs everyone to pull their own weight the keep it running, and while a 300,000+ run of Rocket Raccoon is nice to see, it would have been great to see even a 200,000+ run of Legendary Star Lord announced as well.

That said, it isn’t over until it’s over, and who knows? Maybe in a few months time, retailers will be swimming in Rocket Raccoon #1’s while scrambling to get second prints of Legendary Star Lord. The market is a strange and wonderful place, and in the end, despite, it’s always the readers who have the final say. Hopefully, we get two very healthy ongoings out of this, as I feel both books will deserve a healthy readership. Time will tell.

[Brandon Schatz has been working behind the comic book counter for eight years. He's spent the past four as the manager of Wizard's Comics and Collectibles in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics he likes over at Comics! The Blog and stares at passive keyboards and empty word documents, making secret wishes and bargains that will surely come back to haunt him. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat]

Comments

  1. The thing that strikes me odd with this 300,000 number is that Guardians was only around 50,000 per the last sales chart. It seems odd that stores would be ordering a spin-off at 6 times the volume of the main book that the movie is based on. The same or maybe even double, sure, if you think that book is going to be a breakout hit. But a 600% increase seems really high to me. We haven’t seen that kind of bump from any movie yet.

  2. brian the brain says:

    @Colin McMahon

    I think Marvel, retailer, toys makers and such are all hoping for rocket to become a sensation, is an anthropomorphic animal, it can works in a lot a ways, for any ages. It’s cute but though, while the others, are interesting characters but also your usual heroes.

  3. Curious, I checked on Rocket Raccoon #1 from 1985: its sales were between 150,000 and 200,000 copies, probably closer to the low end if I had to guess. Capital City Distribution sold 13,700 copies to comics shops and at the time it was running around 8% of Marvel’s sales overall. I would tend to think that both #1s and limited series were more likely to get attention in the Direct Market, so maybe its share was a little more on this title.

  4. @Colin The number comes from the reasons listed above. In deeper detail, it’s on par with the Guardians estimated 200,000 premiere, mixed with a more potent sense of customer excitement.

    I should also note that a property will always always ALWAYS get more attention before a movie than after – or at least that’s always been the case in the past. Seems backwards, yes, but the market does as it does, sometimes.

  5. Oh, I definitely see Marvel pushing it and wanting it to be a sensation. I just don’t see stores expecting to sell triple Batman numbers on it. And at $4 a book, that’s a pretty big risk to take on a non-returnable book. I don’t see any extra discounts offered on that one, so stores aren’t able to save by ordering big. There weren’t any crazy ratio variants (1:100, 1:300) that stores could order to try to defray the cost of ordering big numbers. We are notoriously conservative in our orders. That’s why this just jumped out to me as a strangely huge number. For full disclosure, I ordered half of my Guardians number to start and bumped it up at FOC to qualify for the variants. But even if every store ordered enough to qualify for the variants, it would only bring orders to around 69,000 copies (125% of Guardians #12). That’s where I don’t get the jump to 300K.

  6. Sure Brandon, but Guardians had a deep discount where retailers could get extra discount making it actually cheap to order high (150 copies was actually cheaper than 100 and going to 200 was only an extra $50) and 1:100 and 1:150 variants. Its was also new Bendis and building on some movie hype. And numbers quickly dropped down. There aren’t any of those buffers here to allow retailers to order crazy numbers. I absolutely hope it does great. I just don’t see it moving that many copies.

  7. @Colin Oddly, I think this number is a healthier reflection of demand because of the reasons you list – this number came about without much in the way of variant bait or coercion. Or at least, without as MUCH variant bait or coercion. I’d argue that this would be a more accurate representation of the audience now than the 200,000+ figure was then. I could see this sticking above 100,000 for quite some time, if the contents are dynamite.

  8. I think some retailers are going to be eating this book.

    They’ll all be wishing they spent their money on The Wicked and the Divine instead.

  9. Wicked and the Divine is my most pre-ordered comic this year for the shop – and I’ve turned in orders that definitely reflect this. Very excited for everyone to read it!

  10. Aha. Now things make a little more sense.

    “CBR News has confirmed that of the 300,000 reported initial orders for Marvel’s upcoming “Rocket Raccoon” #1, roughly 100,000 were from one retailer: Loot Crate, a subscription service offering a box of assorted genre and video game-related merchandise, delivered monthly to customers’ homes.”

    I had a feeling something like this was affecting the numbers.

  11. Mikael says:

    People never learn. These numbers are always inflated. And we’ll be seeing Rocket Raccoon #1s in the dollar bins at conventions months after the release. Happens all the time. Happened to Civil War #1. Happened to the first part of Batman Hush. Happened to Amazing Spider-Man #1 and it’s barely months old.

  12. @Colin – That’s some interesting news. In the end, I don’t see this being a bad thing. The 100,000 copies go out into the wild, some of those people are going to trickle into shops. It might be bad for stores that over extended their orders, but that was always going to be the case – and shops that do that are gonna have their own problems with that kind of ordering.

  13. And I guess the point stands, regardless: Marvel is great at marketing and sold a lot of books.

  14. Reports from Bleeding Cool are saying that numbers from Loot Crate are closer to 150k than to 100k. So almost half the orders from one retailer?

    Probably they won’t order a second issue since their delivery wouldn’t be really random if they shipped two issues of the same comics in the row. So how sales will look of second or third issue? Normally we see something like 60% drop after first issue’s covers and discounts, but I guess we are going to be closer to 80% drop?

    All the musings about Marvel’s marketing, Young’s brand and natural interest in the character kinda goes out of the window with these news.

  15. Why does it go out the window??? The issue hasn’t even shipped yet, issue #2 hasn’t been ordered yet, etc.

  16. porfam says:

    it goes out the window as a premise as to why this book sold 300,000 copies—which was the entire point of the article.

    lesson—no one really knows what they are talking about…

  17. I still fail to see how any of this is a bad thing, nor how it changes the fact that Marvel is really good at their marketing. Over 300,000 copies will still see print, and they will be payed and accounted for. The majority of those books are going to make their way into interested party’s hands, and the product will push out of the insular market, which is the goal. All I’m seeing are positives, and what remains a VERY strong number after those 100-150 are accounted for.

  18. Glenn Simpson says:

    It’s not a bad thing, it’s just nearly as big a deal as everyone thought it was. All of the reasons in the article might now explain why they sold 150,000 copies, not 300,000. The other 150,000 were because some dude at Loot Crate heard about it and decided to include it in one package. I’m not entirely convinced that something else similar isn’t going to account for another 50-60,000.

  19. Glenn Simpson says:

    “not nearly as big..”

  20. Michael P says:

    Even without Loot Crate, that’s still more than I think anyone expected a Rocket Raccoon comic to do.

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