Don’t worry internet, I’m not going to tell you to grow the f— up.
Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on an increasing trend in today’s comic market: double shipping of monthly books. Embraced by Marvel after they saw success moving Amazing Spider-Man to bi-weekly, the practice of shipping multiple issues of a monthly series in a single month has become their go-to cash grab in recent months. Last month Marvel double shipped more than 20 of their monthly titles. Filtering out fringe series – like Powers – that represents somewhere in the vicinity of two thirds of their line. That’s staggering.
The debate around this topic has always interested me, though I must admit, I haven’t seen much in the way of debate. I’ve seen few, if any, advocates for the double shipping approach, and those voices have been far outweighed by the outraged consumers who point to this practice as one of the more damaging activities in today’s comic market. For many, double shipping monthly issues seems to be a sure fire way to overwhelm the market and drive customers from their local shops.
So, let’s take a look at the numbers.
For research purposes, I’ve chosen two series that Marvel has been using the double shipping approach on for slightly more than a year now, Avengers Academy and Thunderbolts. Beyond the length of time they’ve been double shipping, I’m also interested in these titles because they are continually in the lower tier of Marvel’s sales numbers, and I’d like to see what impact the double shipping has made there.
For Avengers Academy, I focused on the entire 30 issue run, beginning in June 2010. Marvel first chose to double ship this title in March 2011, and in total it has double shipped seven times. Let’s take a look at the sales performance:
As you can see above, after a steady decline for issues 1 through 9, the series leveled off between 20,000 to 25,000 units sold, according to the fine folks at Comichron.com. I’ve marked on the graph where you can see a slight volume spike for the Fear Itself crossover, beginning with issue 15, as well as a rather impressive jump for the Avengers vs X-Men crossover issues.
Side note: out of curiosity, I compared the drop experienced between issue 1 and issue 9 with the New 52 relaunch of Justice League. The gray line I’ve added to the chart below represents the reader retention for Justice League over it’s first nine issues (adjusted for volume):
Assuming DC’s flagship title is a decent baseline for the expectations of reader retention over a title’s first year, Avengers Academy faired pretty well. Obviously, the number of copies sold is far below the performance of Justice League, but of the audience that was initially interested in the two books, the same percentage have stuck with them through their ninth issues.
Anyways, back to the point at hand. Take another look at the trend in the sales of Avengers Academy since the title began double shipping with issue 10. Excluding the spike for the Fear Itself crossover, they’ve remained fairly steady. In fact, in comparing the sales for issue 28 with issue 10, Avengers Academy has retained approximately 94% of its readership. Despite the move to double shipping, it appears readers have stuck with this title.
Delving deeper, let’s next take a look at the benefit Marvel received by double shipping. Over the course of the 15 months since the double shipping began, Marvel has sold around 527,000 copies of Avengers Academy. If you break out the number of sales for the second book released in any of those months, it represents just over 171,000 copies. That means, without double shipping this title, Marvel could have expected to sell somewhere around 355,000 copies. For a title selling in the range of Avengers Academy, this is almost certainly the difference between continuing to be published and cancellation.
Now, granted, the money for these additional copies of Avengers Academy is coming from somewhere, and unless most readers are cutting back on food or electricity, it’s almost certainly coming at the expense of another title they were buying. But, for Marvel, the gamble is that the title you’re now leaving behind in favor of additional issues of Avengers Academy is a non-Marvel book.
Considering the rather high retention rate for Avengers Academy, and the additional volume sold using the double shipping approach, I’m going to consider this title a check in the win column for Marvel. Let’s see if that holds true for the Thunderbolts.
For Thunderbolts, I went back to issue 144, which came out the month prior to the first issue of Avengers Academy, and kicked off the Heroic Age of the Thunderbolts by placing Luke Cage in charge of the program. Like Avengers Academy, the title was also double shipped seven times over the last fifteen months, and also saw a slight spike in volumes whenever it was included in a major crossover.
However, when looking at the same statistics for Thunderbolts, the numbers tell a different story. As of the most recent issue, 173, the title has retained only 74% of its readers since Marvel began double shipping it with issue 154. That’s a fairly steep drop, especially when compared to the 94% retention rate of Avengers Academy. While correlation does not imply causation, it does raise questions around whether the practice of double shipping drove readers away from the title. With the impending change to Dark Avengers with issue 175, it will be interesting to see if readers re-engage with the title or if Thunderbolts has reached the end of its run.
And so, PoP!ulation, it seems that the impact of double shipping will vary on a case by case basis. What are your thoughts on the matter? Have you dropped a series over the decision to double ship? Have you dropped a DIFFERENT series to continue to buy one that is regularly double shipping? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!