What's the New 52 Cancellation Threshold? Here's What the Numbers Say:

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By Todd Allen

CATOM Cv0 195x300 What's the New 52 Cancellation Threshold?  Here's What the Numbers Say:There have been some questions about what sales circumstances call for a book’s cancellation.  Now, there are factors beyond simple sales — are they paying premium rates for the creative budget, is a title selling especially well in collected editions (well… some of these titles are axed before you can get a good sense of that), are they selling exceptionally well in digital (indications from DC’s interviews on the topic are that most comics are roughly proportional to their print sales, so this likely isn’t a particularly large consideration), do they have big picture plans for the title, how fast are the sales dropping?

That said, with the advent of the “New 52,” DC has been cancelling titles in groups and replacing them with “Second Wave,” “Third Wave,” and if that trend continues we’ll have a “Fourth Wave” in January.

For the first round of cancellations (announced in January), I’ve pulled the December estimates (i.e. the most current sales estimates prior to the cancellation announcements) and the April estimates (the last issues).  For the second round (announced in June), I’ve pulled the May estimates (last estimates before announcements) and the August estimates — that’s the next to last issue for everything but Justice League International, but it’s the most current estimates we have.  Finally, I have the August estimate for the just-announced cancellation of G.I. Combat.

Cancellations Announced January 2012 and sales estimates from December 2011 /April 2012

  • Men of War                        14,977              9,722
  • Blackhawks                         15,129              9,149
  • Static Shock                        15,763              10,102
  • Mr. Terrific                          16,167              9,776
  • O.M.A.C.                             16,534              11,328
  • Hawk and Dove                18,014              12,132

 

Cancellations Announced June 2012 and sales estimates from May 2012 / August 2012 (September not available yet)

  • Captain Atom                                    12,264              10,445
  • Voodoo                                                13,762              11,328
  • Resurrection Man                            18,018              13,741
  • Justice League International      32,558            28,261

 

Cancellation Announced September 2012 (so far) and sales estimate from August 2012

  • G.I. Combat        11,797
Justice League International looks like a special case where it likely wasn’t cancelled for over-all sales, so much as it was under-performing vs. the main Justice League title by nearly 100K copies/month.  If you throw that out, you see a clear range of roughly 18K – 12K sales for the issue released just prior to the cancellation announcement.  You see a range of a little under 14K – 9K with the final issues, or as close to a final issue range as current data allows for.  The decision to stop a title will probably have been finalized somewhere between those to issues having been ordered.
For the most part, DC is culling off the bottom or near the bottom of the sales chart.  There are a few other factors at play, but the possibility of cancellation would appear to start around the 18K line and the tolerance for low sales would seem to end somewhere around 12K-14K.
I’m not rooting for anything to get cancelled, but there appear to be parameters to most of the cancellations.  This would also be the first time DC only cancelled a single title, if that is really the case.  Then again, the lowest pre-announcement estimate to-date, so their hand may have been forced.

Comments

  1. jonboy says:

    I think that it is unfortunate when you have comic websites that seem to actively root for series to be cancelled or companies to fail.

  2. I fail to see anywhere in this article where the author is rooting for a series to be cancelled, or for a company to fail. Could you show me where they said that? Just looks like an observational piece to me.

  3. Goober says:

    First paragraph, second line: “I pray they die. DIE I SAY! DIE! DIE!”

  4. JohnRobietheCat says:

    Thanks for explaining that Todd. No one knows what they the big guys are thinking or how they judge things so past patterns of cancellation & actions are a sound basis for analysis. I think all those books started in the euphoria of new 52 then settled into actual real world readership. None of those titles cancelled have first tier iconic characters so their readership sounded reasonable to me, cancellation seems extreme option after a few months. Maybe the ads in the books cover the prints costs etc so perhaps that thats not even a factor,,,

    Its one year later for the New 52 and they have to stand as readable books now. And Marvel has caught on with its own marketing schemes. Green Lantern, Superman, Justice League, Batman- most of whats at the top is like 70 yr brand hard for obscurer stars of books to match or Independents regardless of their quality so its always interesting to see one break through now and then. Hopefully that’ll happen more often. The law of the superhero jungle I suppose…

  5. John Jackson Miller’s numbers are misleading, since they don’t account for the token returnability compensation that applies to many of these numbers.

  6. Kater says:

    And then there’s always the aspect of self-fulfilling prophecies: enough speculation about a certain book being cancelled might actually lead to just that because readers are leaving the declared dead and shops stop ordering them.

    As Paul Cornell said on Twitter yesterday, putting a book on a might-be-cancelled-soon list, weather based on fact or mere speculation, might lead to exactly that happening. So why not just wait for the announcements? They’re coming early enough.

  7. I’ve never understood that thinking. I’ve never dropped a book because it was getting/might get cancelled. On the other hand, I HAVE stuck with books I was going to drop because I thought I might as well stick with them till the end.

  8. Boner says:

    Ressurection Man should not have been cancelled; it was a good book and a cool character. They made some errors in execution, though.

  9. Pedro Bouça says:

    I have even started buying books cancelled early, in case they don’t get TPBs…

  10. gary armstrong says:

    few thoughts:

    this doesn’t include digital sales or trades…not sure if that impacts cutoff decisions or is simply a wash…

    also: yesterday on twitter Rob Liefeld played coy and posted the following:
    Legion Lost, Blue Beetle, Grifter, Frankenstein.
    Will survive until Feb. 2013
    According to the memo I received in mid-August.

    if this is playing out the way he suggests, DC knows earlier than the cancellation date that the numbers aren’t there; they must have a midpoint threshold

  11. @Niels van Eekelen: Agreed. If you like a book then why anyone drop it on speculation it’s going to be cancelled? If you like a book you’ll read every issue.

    So many great titles published that never reached a large enough audience. ‘mazing Man anyone?

  12. Johnny Memeonic says:

    DC’s going to unfortunately go through a DC Implosion 2 because they released too many titles with this relaunch, at too expensive a price, and often featuring niche (in an already niche industry) characters.

    I still think the DC relaunch would have maintained its early sales numbers if they had followed the model of Valiant (both early 90’s and the current VEI using that same plan).

  13. Todd Allen says:

    @gary Like I said in the intro, DC has given several interviews where they’ve maintained that the sales levels of digital mimics the print sales levels fairly closely, at least in terms of the sales rank, so there don’t appear to be any titles selling significantly better on digital, so that should be a wash. Some of these cancellations are coming before the tpbs have a chance to hit the shelves, and since tpbs tend to be ordered to sell out and then reordered, you don’t know what they’re _really_ selling until at least a few months after the first volume is released. It doesn’t look like tpbs could be a primary factor here, either. They’re pulling the trigger early on some of these.

    I used to shop at place where the manager said you needed 3 tpbs on the shelf before a large number of people would really start investing in a series. He was talking about Vertigo, but that was a few years ago and it’s possible the same principle applies.

  14. Johnny Mnemonic,

    In April 2011–the last month before the ramp-up to FLASHPOINT–DC solicited 57 main-imprint titles including miniseries and one-shots. For April 2012, they solicited 52 ongoings plus six main imprint minis (including NIGHT FORCE, which is effectively a Vertigo title) for a total of … 58 titles. That’s *really* not a significant increase in volume.

    I think it feels like a lot because the “52” branding demands that we view their whole line as a single object, whereas before it was easy to not notice that there were a dozen different bat-family titles or a half-dozen Green Lantern spinoffs and tie-ins.

  15. People — no one is “rooting” for cancellation. But these are the facts and the numbers. I can assure you THEY ARE BEING LOOKED AT AND JUDGED. No one wants to cancel a book, but according to the P&L there *is* a line beyond which books are not profitable.

    As for being “saved by the trade” that is far less of a thing these days than it ever was …and some folks tell me that it was never really an actual monetary thing.

    I’m more interested in the idea that digital sales might save a title.. However when I asked John Rood about this, he said that there weren’t any “digital breakouts” — but that was months ago and things may have changed.

    Also, despite what some pros who I admire very much were saying last night, I have never seen a single shred of evidence that retailers base their orders on what the Beat writes.

  16. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Kevin J. Maroney, you are missing my point. I already knew DC had too many titles before the relaunch too. What I’m saying is that they should have trimmed their entire super-hero line down to just a few core titles with an entirely fresh continuity.

  17. @Todd:

    “I used to shop at place where the manager said you needed 3 tpbs on the shelf before a large number of people would really start investing in a series. He was talking about Vertigo, but that was a few years ago and it’s possible the same principle applies.”

    That’s still true.. maybe even truer now than ever before, and it absolutely applies to “borderline” superhero material.

    @Heidi:

    “I’m more interested in the idea that digital sales might save a title.. However when I asked John Rood about this, he said that there weren’t any “digital breakouts” — but that was months ago and things may have changed. ”

    I have a hard time picturing a disproportionate number of customers rushing to digitally purchase weak material — the other thing that the poor-selling titles have in common is that they are (generally) Not All That Good. It might happen for a “cult” book, I suppose, but I don’t think that describes any of the discussed titles.

    -B

  18. And I, as a retailer, think Johnny is right — fewer books in the line would have given the weaker titles a better chance at finding an audience for at least a few titles, and for keeping the numbers higher on the smaller line.

    -B

  19. Torsten Adair says:

    Generally speaking, in bookstores, books get three months to sell. That allows for buzz, reviews, word of mouth, and enough sales data to analyze future promotion.

    Multiple volumes help. Both from a merchandising strategy, as well as a visual. The initial New 52 titles get two titles, although I think a few which were cancelled at eight issues got a big one-volume collection (which costs more and isn’t as attractive).

    Currently, DC has a three-fold strategy this month:
    Release zero issues.
    Release Volume One trades in paperback.
    Release Volume Two trades in hardcover.

    Like the initial launch a year ago, DC is encouraging readers with easy points of entry.

    Next year? Maybe some omnibus editions (24-26 issues). The year after, Showcase volumes.

  20. bernard chang says:

    “… I have never seen a single shred of evidence that retailers base their orders on what the Beat writes.” – the Beat

    this is shockingly disingenuous. you completely dissolve yourself from any responsibility and potential harm in your “reporting” because you see no “evidence”? in the same breath, are you denying any ability to positively influence opinion on the comic book fandom/industry? are you saying your site has zero influence on a retailer’s or fan’s interest in anything? you publish posts on “nice art” to promote (mostly up and coming) artists and projects. why do you do that? to hope those projects gain wider recognition and sales? and by the same sword, why is it unfair to label these particular posts as dumpster diving and slanderous? are you saying you can only do “good” and not “bad”?

    first off, what is this “evidence” of yours based on? a passing conversations at a convention bar with one, two, three stores? a dozen? stores in the metro nyc area compared to stores in the heartland? larger volume retailers versus smaller shops? by comparison, i can therefore also claim the opposite. the word “evidence” requires research and authentic evaluation, perhaps in the form of an actual written survey, not conversations.

    additionally, do you even factor in the notion that fans, who read this site, will in turn prematurely drop a book because of false rumors of its potential demise? so when fans stop ordering/pulling a book, it results in stores ordering fewer issues?

    and then there’s the issue about the integrity of the “speculative” analysis of these types of articles themselves. who’s the person behind these analysis? has todd allen even worked a day in the comic book industry? marketing? sales? has he even worked in a comic book store? his lone source of validation of expertise is the quotation of sales “estimates” — estimates which i can tell you are not completely accurate, but rather ballpark type numbers — and a conversation he had with a comic book store manager years ago…

    “…I used to shop at place where the manager said you needed 3 tpbs on the shelf… but that was a few years ago and it’s possible the same principle applies.”

    absolutely zero effort at all was made to contact any persons actually involved in the creation/marketing/production of the books he was putting on the chopping blocks prior to posting the article because you’re already assuming no one would respond. well, the facts are, that immediately after your article went up, there were quite a few public responses from creators countering your claims on twitter. in addition, and i quote again, you and i have known each other for over 20 years. friendship aside, would it not be within your journalistic integrity to attempt to ask a question before posting a negative article? or are you now of the mindset to shoot first and figure things out later?

    “with great power comes great responsibility.” the beat is probably regarded by most as the top comics industry news blog site. probably the only one with actual journalistic experience. yet, to deny any culpability or responsibility on what you publish is deplorable.

  21. TonyJazz says:

    I saw the comment about the DC prices being high, and I don’t know what he is talking about.

    In fact, Marvel’s NOW relaunch seems to be avoiding most price increases—-yet the majority of their line is currently $3.99 (none of which will I buy).

    I buy twice as many DCs than Marvels, mostly due to price. Qualitatively, I don’t see any difference, so I see no need to buy any $4 books at all….

    I’m also getting twice as many Image comics as Marvel—pretty much for the same reason. Image puts out a lot of great $2.99 books–they seem to have replaced Vertigo in the adult comic market…

    Since Marvel seems unlikely to increase their number of $3 titles, I am unlikely to ever become a customer who buys them primarily ever again….

  22. Bernard, you know I respect you and your work immensely so I take what you have to say very seriously.

    >>>first off, what is this “evidence” of yours based on? a passing conversations at a convention bar with one, two, three stores? a dozen? stores in the metro nyc area compared to stores in the heartland? larger volume retailers versus smaller shops? by comparison, i can therefore also claim the opposite. the word “evidence” requires research and authentic evaluation, perhaps in the form of an actual written survey, not conversations.

    This was not a rigorous FBI investigation, but at the Diamond retailer show about four or five years ago, I specifically set out to ask retailers I met what they thought of the idea that the sales charts were dooming weak books, and all rebuffed it. I probably talked to a half a dozen retailers that year, and I do ask retailers about it when we are chatting.

    Now, it is possible that they were telling me what I wanted to hear, and your own indication that you have heard the opposite suggests that this could be the case…or that there are varying degrees of influence.

    I admit my previous statement was “inelegantly stated,” i.e. dead wrong, and should have read “I have never seen a single shred of evidence that retailers base their orders on THE SALES CHARTS THAT ARE RUN ON THE BEAT.” Of course I hope to POSITIVELY influence people with my promotional efforts, previews and so on.

    As I say, I have always taken these charges that the sales charts (and now Todd’s analysis of the same) doom books that are on the bubble to early death VERY SERIOUSLY and I have asked retailers repeatedly if they look at them in that light. I have determined to my satisfaction that this is not the case, but it is of such vital import that I agree it should be revisited more often.

    It’s a fact of life that once books get in a certain sales region, they are on a bubble so to speak. And Bernard, you know as well as I do, that publishers look at these figures with a critical eye and go over the P&Ls on a monthly basis. And based on the stories I’ve been hearing, the contents are being looked at incredibly critically as well, with constant changes to already approved material when sales seem to be softening. So yeah, it’s not a very settled time.

    Todd’s analysis was a completely legitimate metric through which to examine sales and cancellation patterns. I stand by that. But could it have been handled in a better way? Perhaps. There is always room for improvement, and I devote what little spare time I have to that.

    Moving forward, if you know of ANY RETAILER who does base LOWERING his or her orders on the sale analysis at the Beat, please let me hear from them. Or any retailers who want to sound off about anything here. I’m all ears.

    heidi dot macdonald @gmail.com.

  23. Any store, anywhere, that bases orders on anything other than WHAT SELLS IN THEIR STORE, is a lousy store and one that won’t be around for long.

    Now, what can happen is that a book is trending down in your individual store, and is decreasing below the point of profitability where seeing a “it is cancelled” can potentially cause you to stop wasting time artificially shoring a book up, but that’s a little different, and is only on a tiny number of fringe cases — typically, in those kind of cases, you’re talking about an ordering difference of 1-2 copies.

    -B

  24. John Warren says:

    Seems like I’ve seen an editor (a Marvel editor, but still an editor) say that not all books have to sell the same number of copies to be profitable, since not all creative teams are compensated equally.

    So, I’m not sure there’s any point in trying to figure out what the threshold is, as if there is a single number that applies across the board.

    And I have to agree with some of the other posters. I’d rather see an article saying “hey, here’s a good series you might not be aware of,” than, “here are some books we think are on their last legs!”

  25. Todd Allen says:

    It’s the media fault that (insert either comics industry or political comment here)!

  26. gary armstrong says:

    @Brian: from personal experience, i will give a title a try digitally after a few months because its basically 30% off (1.99) ..i bought james robinsons ‘savage’ run and read in one sitting…seems to me that anthology titles like the war comics should take this approach…the legion comics i’m buying in three month batches to save money, and its easier to follow the narrative

  27. Snikt Snakt says:

    All this arguing and teeth-gnashing on poor selling books is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic…

  28. Megazone says:

    Jonboy,

    I don’t want the entire company to “die.” But as a huge fan of Stephanie Brown, Ted Kord, and the Ronnie Raymond-Prof. Stein version of Firestorm, I want the company to suffer and suffer until Didio, Johns, and Lee are fired and a traditionalist is brought in and orders everything returned to the pre-Flashpoint status quo.

  29. Jesse says:

    Bernard Chang is confused by facts, they aren’t opinions. Wouldn’t it be great if Todd Allen had to per-clear his numbers through DC before writing an article? What a joke, it’s a free country and free enterprise if you want something to sell try producing a product people want.

  30. Richard H says:

    Todd – why don’t you do an article where you ask DC about the New 52 “cancellation threshold” (as you call it), instead of speculating about one? You know… as in producing an actual article, grounded in real facts and viewpoints from all parties. When I read stuff like this – which is just fear-mongering – it makes me really think there’s no such thing as comics journalism.

    There’s so much doom-hunting in the comics “media” – like they want every new initiative to fail, just because it doesn’t agree with them. Shouldn’t the “media” be doing everything it can to celebrate and uphold comics? The market’s dwindling as it is, without bloggers helping it along.

  31. Al™ says:

    I am not influenced by stories about cancellations.

    I buy comics based on whether I like the story and art, and if they are good value for the money. I might be sad that a title gets cancelled, (same with my favourite tv show…) but I wouldn’t stop reading a comic because someone else thinks it might get cancelled.

    I like Beat’s coverage of the DC 52. And I appreciate its courage in posting stories that have an investigative bent.

  32. Jesse says:

    I have no idea why there is such a loud call for puff pieces. If you want to read a bunch of industry hype “celebrating” everything DC and Marvel why don’t you read newsarama? I promise your opinions will not be challenged. Also it was not but a few weeks ago this website ran an article on How the Nu52 Saved Comics. There is plenty of fair reprorting and editorializing here. I want to say “so shut up” but I am being polite.

  33. Todd Allen says:

    @Jesse Let the trolls be. I’ve been saying since the turn of the century that if comics got the same kind of journalistic attention that TV or movies did, a lot of people would drop dead of a heart attack on the spot. Not because of mainstream coverage, but because they would be subject to non-puff questions.

    There’s not a helluva lot of difference between talking about TV ratings and magazine sales. Good and bad have very similar outcomes. Thinner skins involved when you talk about comics, though.

  34. Synsidar says:

    I suppose that one major difference between the superhero comics biz and other media is that the other media use advertising and other promotional tools to market their products. When I worked at a public library in 1999-2003, I placed orders for rental books through Brodart’s McNaughton division. Their monthly catalog had various books marked as “blockbusters” for a combination of reasons: high-profile authors, TV and print advertising, author tours, good reviews. We automatically ordered blockbusters, and they were always checked out–the fiction books, anyway.

    In the absence of advertising, discount offers, or other broad-based efforts to market superhero comics, it’s possible that writing about negative sales trends can affect comics sales, but that shouldn’t be the case. If a publisher is satisfied with niche products being niche products, and never expects sales to rise above a ceiling, and forgoes advertising because that would just waste money, then he’s not really in business to make money. He’s taking advantage of a fetish while it exists.

    SRS

  35. Snikt Snakt says:

    Just goes to show you, enjoy and appreciate a title while its around, b/c these days there’s a good chance it will be cancelled/relaunched/rebooted PDQ! :-(

  36. stealthwise says:

    Part of the issue between what Bernard and The Beat state is that retailers are the initial customers, and as Brian Hibbs states, shouldn’t be influenced too much by what sites like the Beat state, but the end consumer/reader, which in the long-run influences what the sales are going to be, are heavily influenced by what they read. Fortunately, I would guess that it’s a small number, given that most of them don’t seem to be reading these sites, although the percentage of those readers appears to be growing.

  37. zenruku says:

    All I can say is red lanterns rock and I dont want to see them on here being cancelled

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  1. […] clear that DC is regularly pruning the bottom of their line and when a book dips into the 18K-12K range, that’s where DC seems to be pulling the trigger (with the exception of Justice League International, which appears to have been removed to […]

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