The state of comics retailing — and what it says about the Big Two

201403240409 The state of comics retailing — and what it says about the Big Two
There’s a big survey of retailers about current comics sales trends, ably put together by Shannon O’Leary up at Publishers Weekly today, called Despite Early Sales Slump, Comics Retailers Remain Upbeat. If you are not a PW subscriber you won’t be able to read it for a few weeks — I’ll link to it again when it goes live. To say it is an interesting piece is an understatement, as it suggests a real change in DM sales patterns, due to all the factors of modernization and digital and what not. Here’s the nut graph:

Most of the retailers we spoke with also reported that they’re seeing customers shifting their dollars away from lower-tier Marvel and DC books to Image and other publishers. “A lot of Marvel and DC titles are really at the bottom end, but Boom!, Image, and IDW have more titles that are more competitive with the top tier Marvel and DC,” says Carr D’Angelo. “We’re still selling a lot of comics because the money pool is the same, but maybe [customers are] taking a look and thinking, I don’t really need this C Level title but gosh, Sex Criminals looks awesome and I’m going to buy that instead.” Many other stores did, indeed, report that IDW’s Locke and Key is still a consistent big seller and Boom!’s Adventure Time, graphic novel trade book collections of the hit animated kids’ series, remains high on their sales charts.

So yeah. A new generation of readers, raised with a more eclectic marketplace, including graphic novels, and filmed entertainment starring Hellboy and The Walking Dead, aren’t an automatic gimme for Marvel or DC, but they do support their local comics shops. Anyway much more of interest in the piece—I look forward to more debate when it goes out to non subscribers.

This is as good a place as any to link to two pieces that seem to me to sum up the state of Marvel and DC as much as anything. I ran the solicitations last week as much as a chance for myself to pay attention to what Marvel and DC are doing as anything else, and what I saw didn’t inspire a mountain of confidence. Marvel’s flogging every horse over the finish line with a dizzying array of #1s and adjective from all new, now, ultimate, uncanny, amazing, and anything else. I have no idea how the editors keep track of this, let alone readers. All Uncanny Avengers and Amazing X-Men did was dilute long standing brands. At the same time, this chaos has led to the chance to take some creative risks and try new approaches, most notably with the New Ms. Marvel, whose second issue numbers will be as closely watched as what kind of meat they’re serving on those plates in Terminus on The Walking Dead.

Speaking of Ms Marvel, however, here’s an interview with writer G. Willow Wilson at Vulture, a general interest pop culture blog.

Kamala’s an avid fan-fiction writer. Why did you put that into the story?
Being a Muslim in America, I’ve noticed that there’s a ton of crossover between the Muslim community and geekdom. Part of that is outsider culture: When you’re growing up as a minority and you feel somewhat alienated from the mainstream, you’re going to seek out other people who feel that way. That’s what geek culture is traditionally about.

And also, I wanted her to be fleshed out and have a real personality, rather than being a model minority. Plus, if you lived in a world where there were actual superheroes? Especially in a place like Jersey City, where you’d literally probably see Daredevil in the streets or Thor flying overhead or whatever. It made sense to me, in that situation, that Kamala would grow up looking up to these actual real-world superheroes and becoming a fan-fic writer.

A few weeks ago, I myself did a q&a with Wilson before an eager SRO audience at the Word bookstore in Jersey City. Granted that it was a home town appearance—Kamala Khan is also from Jersey City—but maybe that’s the point. In a world of diversity, Ms. Marvel connects on a personal level with teenagers who live in the real world—and Kamala’s life just across the river from the exciting world of superheroes is a nice extension of a real world emotion into superhero terms. Ms. Marvel may be the flavor of the month or a game changer…we’ll see.

Meanwhile, at DC…man I hate writing about DC because it is of so little interest to me. I wish there were more cool things for me to write about DC, but their mainstream books have settled into an era of homogenized, house-look, continuity-crisis driven mush.

J. Caleb Mozzocco had a piece at Robot 6 last week called Whither Pandora? (Other than in ‘Trinity of Sin: Pandora’) that seemed to sum up much of the problem. Pandora was the mysterious figure behind the entire New 52 continuity reboot, but her story seems to have drifted away over the last three years

This lady was obviously important, and her story would be central to the understanding the new status quo of the DC Universe, right?

Unfortunately, DC has yet to follow up on the mysterious, in-story reasoning for the biggest change to its fictional setting and superhero line since Crisis on Infinite Earths (if not longer), and nothing underscores and emphasizes the publisher’s rather perplexing decision to build up the character and her conflicts and then ignore them like a reading of Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1: The Curse, the new trade collection of the first five issues of the series, plus the aforementioned FCBD title.

Both Marvel and DC are scrambling to keep their audiences, using everything that worked in the past—Five Years Later is a reboot of One Year Later from 2006—but the evolving demographics of comics readers and the steady drumbeat of competition from other media makes figuring out how anything will work ever more difficult.

Comments

  1. “…man I hate writing about DC because it is of so little interest to me. I wish there were more cool things for me to write about DC, but their mainstream books have settled into an era of homogenized, house-look, continuity-crisis driven mush.”

    That’s pretty much how I feel as a fan. I’m a DC fan. I like Marvel characters. I’m not passionate for Dark Horse or Image characters. The cover price keeps me away from Boom!, Dynamite, and IDW books. The rising cover price at DC and Marvel and the lack of quality story-telling versus gimmicks is making me lose interest in new titles.

  2. My 11-year-old son told me last night that he and some buddies watched a movie with “the Justice League or whatever fighting Thanos, except he was called Darkseid.”

    The movie was “Justice League: War.”

    DC has totally lost their way.

  3. I wasn’t included in the survey above, but here are some interesting tidbits from our store:

    Total sales in January were down 13% from 2013.
    Total sales in February were down 7% from 2013.
    Sales (so far) in March are up 17% from 2013.

    Looking back at 2013 numbers though, reveals that we were up 31% in January against 2012. When you compare January 2014 to January 2012, it’s still a little over 14% in growth over the two year time period. February had similar numbers. For long-term comparisons, I’m looking at Jan-Feb 2013 as an aberration.

    Our top 10 most-subscribed-to comics (indicating sales over time, instead of just the best-sellers for a given month) are:
    1. East of West
    2. Batman
    3. Velvet
    4. Superior Spider-Man
    5. Sandman
    6. Forever Evil
    7. Walking Dead
    8. Justice League
    9. Serenity
    10. Hawkeye

    The highest-ranking Avengers or X-Men title in our store is All-New X-Men at #23. She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are heading into top 20 territory. Lower on the list, but still growing, are titles like Alex + Ada, Pretty Deadly, and Afterlife with Archie, which have all had resonance with readers who’ve given them a try.

    It’s obvious to me that the more “personal” the comics are, the more they seem to resonate with the audience.

  4. “I hate writing about DC because it is of so little interest to me. I wish there were more cool things for me to write about DC, but their mainstream books have settled into an era of homogenized, house-look, continuity-crisis driven mush.”

    Man, I wish someone at DC would read that apt summation of their New 52 line. I am passionate about DC’s characters and will weather this current decline in quality product (stand-outs include of course Snyder’s Batman & Jeff Parker’s Aquaman and it sucks that Superman Unlimited was just a new creative team on Action Comics) but as Heidi astutely pointed out, I’ve dropped 2/3 of my DC ongoing titles and have shifted my dollar over to Image & Archie for Afterlife.

  5. A good thing to keep in mind is that up months and down months in the first quarter simply don’t tell us much about how the year will eventually go: the volumes are lower and not as impactful. That doesn’t mean that first quarters haven’t set the stage for full years — the biggest indicator of next month’s sales are this month’s sales — but the volumes are such that they simply don’t correlate as strongly with end-of-year performances as later quarters do. (Put another way: the Broncos were .500 in the preseason last year. Our winter games, by contrast, DO count, just not quite as much or in the same way.)

  6. Doctor Comix says:

    DC 2014 is indistinguishable from Image 1994. Better coloring, better dialogue, but the same exact product. Same art styles, same pinup storytelling.

  7. yes, yes, and yes! i couldn’t agree more with what you say here.

    marvel (i think) is working on their adjectives run amock, which i wrote about here: http://cobyscomics.blogspot.com/2014/03/solo-x-comics.html

    @Jon_in_Austin i love that 11 year old’s perspective!

  8. JoeC_Mommy says:

    By January, I’d dropped what titles I regularly pulled from DC’s New 52. I trade-wait Batman and Wonder Woman (because that’s the best for me money-wise), and I pull Injustice: Year Two for myself and Scooby-Doo Team-Up and Scribblenauts Unmasked: A Crisis of Imagination for Joe. Really, it seems to me that nowadays, the sideshows, the all-ages and digital-first titles, are better than the big-time titles at DC.

  9. It seems there are two things that long-term readers dislike about the New 52: either they hate that their continuity (what they call “the real DCU”) was tossed out to make room for it, or they hate that the reboot has turned out to be a breath of stale air (that “homogenized, house-look, continuity-crisis driven mush).

  10. As far as January and February numbers…. anyone consider that it’s been a pretty brutal winter for much of the country, and that’s a factor into slumping sales?

  11. I’ve considered myself a DC guy for most of my life. I tried every new 52 book. Within 6 months I was reading 2 or 3 and those got dropped to zero a few months later. The mediocrity turned me off to the entire rebooted universe. Love the characters, hate the books. The bland House style is just not why I read comics.

    Marvel lost me with double and triple shipping And rebooting. I can’t keep track of what’s going on. My stack is now mostly creator owned. It’s where all the interesting stuff is happening right now.

  12. Henry Benton Jr says:

    Have to agree with DC, there’s only a few titles I’m currently reading despite loving the characters more so than the Marvel stable of characters. And as a huge Superman fan I looked back and couldn’t believe the last time I bought a Superman title (even longer back in one that I enjoyed).
    It’s about the same for me for Marvel books, I really just can’t keep track of them anymore with the double shipping and constantly feeling like it’s prepping for the big next event/creative change/#1.
    I really can’t be bothered with all of this when I can just find a high quality Image or whatnot publisher’s comic and not have able to just get the story I want to read.

  13. I agree, Heidi. Image, Vertigo, manga, yep, I’m there. I don’t see the point in supporting editorial-committee-designed books – that’s not comics to me.

    I do like Ms Marvel, too, and She-Hulk. But it seems too late for those books, somehow, the way Marvel have screwed over their readers with shipping and prices. They lost their way way longer than DC 52 have.

  14. Mikael says:

    I don’t see how the paragraphs on Marvel and DC give any insight on the retailing side of things that the article is basing itself on. Clearly both Marvel and DC – from just a retailing standpoint – are doing fine in terms of sales. Those Diamond numbers are still better than the pre-52/Marvel Now numbers. If you want to talk content, talk about the number of titles that were canceled because people wanting diversity and different genres don’t ever really support the titles that reflect that (Sword of Sorcery, Fearless Defenders, Vibe, Red She-Hulk, etc). Money, mouths and all that.

  15. Rich H says:

    @JoeC_Mommy – I really like the DC Digital books too (Batman 66, Vampire Diaries, their Superman), and Vertigo (Hinterkind rocks!) Really: continuity-free books are the best. New 52? I don’t buy those. They feel very closed off and dark.

  16. Robin L Wilson says:

    All anyone needs to do is read The Shadow or The Lone Ranger books that Dynamite has been publishing to know that a good creative team can bring 70 year old characters to interesting, current, viable monthly stories. DC has lost that ability completely. I love the DC characters, but find them all unrecognizable and poorly written since the New 52 debuted. ( with the exception of Wonder Woman which I find impressive). Marvel isn’t much better lately, but it seems to be getting there. Hawkeye has been terrific. Losing Brubaker was a big hit. “To every thing turn, turn, turn…” I await the return of visionaries to DC.

  17. It’s not just the newer generation of readers drifting away from the Big Two. I became a comics reader in the late-’50s. I read DC almost exclusively for 40 plus years, but since the reboot/New 52 and just prior, I’ve been so annoyed/disappointed/disgusted by what DC has been doing that I actively sought other things to read. I was lucky that Image and Dynamite and others offered options that appealed to me. I even found a few Marvel comics to my liking: Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, and now Ms. Marvel. Maybe DC, and Marvel, need to break way from every comic in their universe connecting with every other. Maybe we readers are tired of “events” that require us to buy every single issue of their comics to get the whole story. Maybe it all feels so same old same old, with nothing new ever really happening. In a way, for all its big events, DC has become boring.

  18. DC is just kind of boring outside of a few like WW, Batwoman, Animal Man (RIP), and Green Arrow. Marvel has plenty of creativity going, they just put so much stuff out that it’s hard to keep up.

    Indies are great, and they are growing, but most shops still barely carry them outside of the top few best-sellers like Walking Dead, Saga, and some licenses.

  19. Carr D'Angelo says:

    I sure wish I could read the article I am quoted in!

  20. Well, get a sub to Publisher’s Weekly, Carr — they’re free for people “in the industry”. Just have to fill out a card once a year….!

    -B

  21. tonyjazz says:

    DC has definitely lost its way. Too bad as they started with better prices, but failed in coherent storylines. ….

    And Marvel books are too expensive.

    I love many $3 Image books…

  22. I dropped every DC book soon after new 52. I was a big reader for well over 20 years. It’ll be really hard to get me back.

  23. I blame a lot of the mediocre quality of the big 2 comics on the art, and because the net is filled with would be writers, nobody talks about it. DC fills 90% of it’s titles with lame, generic art often from other countries. Marvel has a few good artists, but they can’t get more than 3 issues out of them before they’re moved onto another title –and then the weak artists are moved in. Comics are a visual medium, but there is so little solid attractive super hero art at the big 2 any more!

  24. I try not to look at the company, but the teams on all the books and content and go from there. I believe each company has their good books and their bad books. Always will. I give DC a ton of credit for their Vertigo line , Kids books and trying new things now and again within their line and not running to put out a #1 whenever a team changes. The books that connect with the readers are the ones that get the numbers, but I agree with the reality that when genre books are not supported by the retailers and fans, they go away and send a message to the bigger companies to take less risks. I think it’s a popular thing here to pick on the big two companies, but a more interesting subject would be to focus what is working from these companies and maybe see why they are working. An odd fact that I run into is my least selling title from DC numbers would be considered a run away hit by Image standards. I think the state of comic retailers is a numbers game in the long run. If my Painkiller Jane title had All Star Western numbers, I would make the book monthly in a heartbeat.

    Love reading this thread, btw…always glad to see peoples opinions.

  25. Dan Ahn says:

    “All Uncanny Avengers and Amazing X-Men did was dilute long standing brands. At the same time, this chaos has led to the chance to take some creative risks and try new approaches, most notably with the New Ms. Marvel, whose second issue numbers will be as closely watched”

    Uncanny Avengers is supposed to be a mix of X-Men and Avengers. It definitely counts as “trying a new approach” within the context of superheroes. Despite a mediocre first issue, it’s arguably become Marvel’s best -written book and Rick Remender is being allowed to tell his own story that hasn’t tied in to other Marvel books or events.

    And Amazing X-Men — it’s not a new property or title. They had an “Amazing X-Men” in the ’90s.

    I get what you’re trying to say about Marvel penchant for just throwing adjectives together or whatever, but you almost couldn’t’ve picked a worst comparison. It’d be like saying “Yeah, superhero titles are so generic. SuperMAN, Wonder WoMAN, SandMAN.” It makes no sense.

    I support the new Ms. Marvel and think it’s a good idea. But the setup isn’t particularly original. It’s another “young teen hero” book. There’s been a million of them, and despite the overtures to the “big crossover appeal” with the “Muslim community”, it’s basically guaranteed to NOT actually find a huge contingent of new fans. No matter what their color or gender, today’s kids are not looking to comic books to reassure them about their sense of identity.

  26. Joe Kalicki says:

    As a DC fan for over 20 years, I love the New 52. I think the books are generally of a very high quality, and the universe is an exciting place to read about.

    Also, the Five Years Later event is absolutely nothing like One Year Later. Where do you get that idea?

  27. >>>No matter what their color or gender, today’s kids are not looking to comic books to reassure them about their sense of identity.

    Possibly the most nonsensical comment ever made here given the countless personal histories given about how a comic book hero inspired or encouraged kids of all kinds. Granted they are not a top medium but to think that young readers don’t identify with characters in all mediums is erroneous.

    Joe Kalicki: Thanks for standing up for your preferred comics.

  28. Carr D'Angelo says:

    Brian Hibbs: I had no idea abotu the free sub since I get offers for expensive subs all the time. Aren’t most of the people reading PW in the industry?

  29. Carr, Brian — NOT so fast boys.

    You get a free sub to our newsletters but pretty sure you have to pay no matter what your industry status.

  30. longtimebuyer says:

    I am with Joe K , i went from about 5 DC comics , to buying all of the new52 titles each month. I enjoy the shared universe aspect. PS Jimmy , really like ASW and HQ , anxious to give your SSW a read. Thanks to you and Amanda and everyone else for the great reads

  31. JoeC_Mommy says:

    I’ll throw in that baby brother, a twenty-something college-educated soldier, is all about DC, whether it’s digital-first or New 52. He pulls several titles from the New 52, mostly the ones that feature Superman. Maybe what it boils down to is different strokes for different folks. (Insert snide remark about how different, as in weird, baby brother is.)

    Really, when all is said and done, DC’s New 52 still has a month-in, month-out bestseller in Batman. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

  32. Torsten Adair says:

    People migrating from DC/Marvel to other, more interesting independent titles?

    This is not new.

    I did this back in the early 1990s, killing my inner Marvel Zombie.
    My comics shop racked comics by week, the newest titles on the top rows, oldest on the bottom. I was reading a lot of titles, but couldn’t afford all of them each week, so I put off buying the less interesting titles each week.

    Soon I discovered that the next issue had come out, that I had not purchased the previous issue, and didn’t miss the storyline. So I dropped the title. I think the last regular Marvel title I bought was McFarlane’s Spider-Man.

    And for about ten years, I avoided most comics shops and most comic books, buying graphic novels and related books via Barnes & Noble. I was still active in fandom and the industry, I just didn’t spend much money at the LCS.

Trackbacks

  1. […] 10,000 Elyria students receive free comic books § One more comment from Long Island retailer Escape Pod Comics, on yesterday’s post on comics sales and the Big Two. […]

  2. […] Comics – The following revolves around the results of a comic retailer survey about and the current state of the comic industry. One thing I do appreciate: How Marvel and DC are losing sales to independent/underrated publishers like Image, BOOM!, Dark Horse and IDW. This is outstanding news, since a diverse industry leads to more creativity. Sadly, I have one very big problem with all this: Mainstream comics need more titles featuring lesser known, but still extremely intriguing, characters like Jonah Hex, Booster Gold or Ms. Marvel. These books continue to fall by the wayside, leaving fans with a market over-saturated (and diluted) by “A-list” characters. I’m sick of looking at 57 X-Men books, 34 Avengers titles, 84 Batman comics and 7 “Super Team” books every month. [Comics Beat] […]

  3. […] from retailers, readers, and former Comics Buyer’s Guide managing editor John Jackson Miller. (The Beat) [While we think it’s a bit too early in the year to be talking about what the past two months’ […]

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