I’m Thacher E. Cleveland, one of the Super-Fly Comics podcast hosts and until the end of November I was one of the two owners of Super-Fly Comics & Games. After a lot of soul-searching I decided it was time to hang up my Comic Guy license and move on to new adventures. Not only do I have a new job in a new city but I’ll be buying comics again for first time in almost 7 years instead of just reading whatever I want, whenever I want. With the comic industry at a turning point with price wars, “event fatigue” and digital distribution, I’ve picked a hell of a time to get…Back in the Game.
Last week I was cautiously optimistic about the fate of the industry and this week I’ve found some of that faith rewarded. Diamond Comic Distributors announced their top selling items and their breakdown by publisher last week and DC walked away with a substantial bump in both comic units sold and and the retail dollar value of those units. So much of a bump in fact that just over half (50.97%) of the comics Diamond customers bought were DC comics.
It’s no secret I’ve been a big booster of DC’s New 52 initiative, so I’m happy about this news. Not just because it’s good for DC, mind you, but because it’s good for the industry as a whole. There are plenty of comic retailers and comic creators who have shared anecdotal evidence on Twitter that DC’s sales initiative has brought in new faces and those faces are buying more than just DC comics. Overall sales are up from not just last month but from October 2010 as well; up 6.90% in units, 6.78% in dollars from September; up 32.12% in units and 24.37% dollars from last October. Most importantly, we have reached the point where unit sales for 2011 have surpassed unit sales for 2010 (by 1.86%) and we’re less than a quarter of a percent away from beating it in dollar share (0.23%). There’s been a lot of worry about the future of comics and comic shops, so the idea that we’re actually going to beat a previous years sales and units is very welcome.
Before we all start breaking out the champagne and celebrating, let’s remember we’re not out of the woods yet. As impressive as it is that DC’s second month of the New 52 was stronger than the first, we should remember that no one was fully prepared for how big that first month was going to be. Books sold out at the Diamond level incredibly fast and second, third and even fourth printings we rushed into the market as past as DC could get them out the door. Many of these unit sales in October were those multiple prints, not just in the first issues but in some of the second issues as well. I’m sure there were plenty of post-Final Order Cut-Off (FOC) ncreases made by shops across the country.
Just make sure we all understand each other, these numbers only reflect orders that Diamond ships to direct market comic shops, not what those shops are actually selling. There could be some shops who saw how big the New 52 was getting and quadrupled orders on everything . . . only to have 150 copies of Hawk & Dove sitting on the shelf with no takers. That would be unfortunate.While doing FOC I accidentally pasted an order code into a quantity line, almost ordering just over a million copies of G. Willow Wilson’s Air from Vertigo. I was tempted for a moment to let it stand, just to see if anyone from Diamond would notice and call us, or if they and DC would shrug their shoulders and have Air become the best selling single issue of the decade over a typo. I decided against it, probably because I didn’t want to look like a fool and more likely that I didn’t want to pay $1.5 million to prove a point. I’m weird like that.
So while this is good for DC, we’re still playing the long game on this. Many of these books are returnable so we’ll have to wait and see if anyone has them to return and is actually ballsy enough to return them. I kind of doubt it, but with no industry wide way to track sales to actual customers the Diamond sales to retail shops is as good of an indicator of comic sales as we’re going to get, warts and all. We’ll have to see what will happen once the multiple printing madness settles down to really see if this whole thing is a great big fad. I’m legitimately surprised it’s done this well in the second month, so I hope that if there is a drop-off it’s more like the gradual decline all ongoing comic series have once they’ve settled on a creative team or direction. I know there are some DC books that I was more sold on with issue #2 and some that I was less sold on, but there are also a bunch of creative team changes coming down the pipe as well (a bit more that make me comfortable, frankly). We’ll have to see what those changes do to these numbers. Are there people on the fence about some books (Static Shock, Green Arrow, Superman) but are willing to wait and see how the new creative teams look before dropping them?
Given that Marvel lost more ground to DC in October (including only have three books in the top 20), should they be worried? Probably not, but then again as was pointed by Executive VP-Sales, Marketing and Business Development John Rood in an interview with Comic Book Resources, beating Marvel in these monthly number games was never their #1 priority. “If we wanted to win the month, we wouldn’t have so many titles at $2.99 in terms of winning that dollar share. If we wanted to win the month, we wouldn’t put out as few titles as we do, which would help us win the month from the point of view of unit share. We don’t do either of those, but we’re delighted that this thing is catching on and holding on,” he said. That’s a great sentiment and a good point (although really, I’m sure winning the month despite not doing those things was a goal of theirs), because as I’ve often said Marvel has been the best player of “the game” when it came to the direct market comic business. There’s a reason they’re ramping up the number of Avengers, X-Men and even Spider-Man books they’re putting out now and it’s because a splash can be made in sales by having another book featuring those characters rather than a title featuring less popular characters. Even if the high profile creative team the book is launched with is only going to stay on it for a story arc or two and it’ll be passed to a less popular team and less popular team until it’s phased out in favor of a new #1 with a new adjective, the initial mission of “have a sales success story with that #1” has been accomplished and that goal will be picked up by another editorial office.
The best thing that DC winning more months could bring is if Marvel moves away from that model and decides to keep around books like Alpha Flight and Herc, the tangential odd-ball titles that have a cult following, and even give similar characters a shot (like Cloak & Dagger, Dr. Strange, Darkhawk, the New Warriors, etc). The things that comic fans consistently complain about will only be resolved and addressed once they aren’t profitable anymore. I don’t wish Marvel ill at all, I just want them to branch out and take chances like DC has (and I want DC to keep taking those chances; there’s no reason any New 52 title should be canceled right now, especially given how well they’re doing against Marvel with fewer titles and lower price points). They need to do more than just play it safe and doing the same thing they’ve been doing for almost a decade now (like setting us up for another event, which is what a lot of the upcoming Point One looks to be).
I also hope that comic shops that have seen more new faces and increased sales not only speak up about the fact that things are working (so we can start having more of a positive message out there) but also take some of that money they’re making off of DC and do what they did: be bold. Diversify. What about those Strawberry Shortcake books from last week? What about stocking more Hellboy or Sixth Gun if Justice League Dark is doing so well for you? If Scott Snyder’s Batman is doing well for you, how about Severed? Got people excited for the new Winter Soldier book? Then how about ordering some copies of Fatale from this month’s Previews?
The tide is turning, and everyone can benefit from it. This past month’s sales numbers aren’t about DC’s win or Marvel’s loss, they’re about an industry in recovery. To mash together a couple of slogans, that’s a relaunch I can believe in that’s good for comics and good for everyone.
Filed Under: Back in the Game