Are Big Events The Cure For The Comic Industry's Sales Woes?
- Published on Sunday, 23 January 2011 00:00
- Written by Rokk
- Hits: 9906
Sales numbers are not something that I often discuss here at The Revolution. I like to judge the quality (or lack thereof) of a story based on the story itself and not whether it is "popular" or posts large sales numbers. However, sales numbers are vitally important in terms of the health and growth of the comic industry that we all love so much. So, I always keep track of the monthly sales charts in order to track the general health of the comic industry as well as to learn which titles are popular or not. I have to be be able to prepare myself when one of my favorite titles is in danger of getting cancelled. And this is often for me since most of my favorite titles are ones that do not post high sales numbers.
It is no secret that the comic industry has been declining over the years. It became even more obvious as the December, 2010 sales charts posted some depressing numbers. However, many people believe that the low sales numbers are simply a result of no big events going on this winter. That a big event will be the panacea for what ails the comic industry. I disagree. I do not think that big events are the cure-all for the comic industry's declining sales numbers. In fact, a look at the sales numbers over the years show that readers are becoming increasingly unimpressed with big events.
The Top 10 comics in December 2010 sold an average of 72,738 copies per title. Batman: Dark Knight took the number one spot with 89,985 copies sold. The Top 10 comics in December 2007 sold an average of 103,938 copies per title. Ultimates 3 #1 took the number one spot with 131,322 copies sold. That makes for a sales decrease of 31,200 copies per title for the Top 10 comics in a three year span.
These sales charts make for a good comparison because back in December of 2007, the comic industry was also experiencing a down period as there were no big events at that moment and none slated to start for several months. December 2007 was a period of quiet just like December 2010. Now, of course there is an obvious cause and effect that big events have on sales charts. During big events there is always a spike in sales. However, that does not mean that a big event equals an improvement in health for the comic industry.
The fact is that three years ago, during a span between big events, the comic industry was stronger than it is currently in a period between big events. Big events do not cure the comics industry. They merely lead to sales spikes. And history shows that those sales spikes are decreasing with each big event. The main reason is that readers are beginning to tire of the endless cycle of big events and tie-ins and, therefore, each big event continues to yield diminishing returns in terms of sales numbers.
Big events started with earnest and with regularity with House of M. Therefore, we will begin with that big event and move forward.
House of M averaged 156,195 copies per issue.
Infinite Crisis averaged 203,246 copies per issue.
Civil War averaged 267,928 copies per issue.
Final Crisis averaged 119, 081 copies per issue.
Secret Invasion averaged 177,628 copies per issue.
Blackest Night averaged 140,500 copies per issue.
Siege averaged 122,775 copies per issue.
There are several things that we can learn from these numbers. First, when going head-to-head, Geoff Johns owns Brian Bendis. Infinite Crisis sold 47,051 more copies per issue than House of M. Blackest Night sold 17,725 more copies per issue than Siege. If I am Bendis, next time Marvel asks me to do a big event I would make sure I was not going up against a DC event penned by Johns.
Second, Bendis crushed Morrison in their head-to-head battle as Secret Invasion sold 58,547 more copies per issue than Final Crisis. Final Crisis holds the dubious distinction of being the poorest sales performers of all the big events between Marvel and DC. Final Crisis just barely edged out the equally unimpressive performance of Siege in order to grab this last spot position. It pains me to say this, too. Out of all the big events from Marvel and DC, Final Crisis is by far and away my favorite.
Third, people can hate on Mark Millar all they want. The fact is that Millar is the king of big events. The numbers simply do not lie. Millar's Civil War absolutely crushed every other big event from Marvel and from DC in terms of sales numbers. In fact, Millar's Civil War outsold DC's best selling big event of Infinite Crisis. Civil War sold 64,692 more copies per issue than Infinite Crisis. So, if I am Marvel I would strongly consider hiring Mark Millar to write my next big event before I went to either Bendis or Fraction.
Now, let's look at the sales trend of DC's big events. They went from averaging 203,246 copies an issue to 119,081 copies an issue. A decrease of 84,165 copies per issue. Blackest Night offered a sales rebound in comparison to Final Crisis as it sold 21,419 more copies per issue. However, Blackest Night still saw a sales decrease of 62,746 copies per issue compared to Infinite Crisis. That is a huge sales drop.
Marvel's big events show the same downward trend in sales numbers. Marvel did enjoy an obvious sales increase as Civil War sold 111,733 more copies per issue than House of M. However, it has been downhill since Civil War. Secret Invasion delivered a sales decrease by selling 90,300 fewer copies per issue than Civil War. That is a massive drop. Siege continued the downward trend in sales as it averaged 54,853 fewer copies per issue than Secret Invasion and an astounding 145,153 fewer copies an issue than Civil War.
Matt Fraction has been tabbed to head up Marvel's newest big event in Fear Itself. Fear Itself sounds appropriately vapid enough to be a Marvel big event. The announcement that Fraction will be handling this big event instead of Bendis hardly makes me any more bullish on the odds of Fear Itself reversing the downward sales trend in Marvel's big events.
Fraction has never been a sales number powerhouse. Uncanny X-Men #500 posted a huge sales number of 160,800 copies due to the fact of that issue being the 500th issue of the flagship title. Fraction's second issue on Uncanny X-Men (issue #501) dropped like a rock down to 85,353 copies sold. Over the course of thirty issues, Uncanny X-Men has seen a steady decline in sales numbers. The latest issue of Uncanny X-Men (issue #531) sold 55,770 copies.
A similiar trend has followed over on Fraction's Invincible Iron Man. Fraction's first issue on the title, Invincible Iron Man #1, sold 105,833 copies. The sales numbers for Invincible Iron Man #2 plummeted down to 68,995 copies. Despite the hype from the Iron Man movies and the prominant role that Iron Man plays in the 616 Universe, Fraction's Invincible Iron Man has seen a continual decline in sales numbers. The latest issue of Fraction's Invincible Iron Man (issue #33) sold 41,890 copies.
Thor actually took a drop in sales as Fraction came aboard the title. That's never a good sign. Thor #614 sold 53,505 copies. Fraction's first issue, Thor #615, saw a drop in sales with 52,896 copies sold. The downward sales numbers has continued on Thor as Fraction's latest issue of Thor, issue #618, sold 45,142 copies. Over in the world of the Icon titles, Fraction's Casanova has been the lowest selling Icon title ever as it has averaged just 8,447 copies per issue.
Numbers don't lie. Fraction simply is not a writer who is going to post big sales numbers just because his name appears on the cover of a comic book. Like I said before, if I was Marvel I would probably have tried to lure Mark Millar to write my next big event in order to try and stem the tide. Unlike Fraction, there is no doubt that Millar can sell a comic book based on his name alone. Millar's impressive sales numbers of his Icon titles compared to those of Bendis, Brubaker and Fraction's Icon titles are proof of that alone.
So, the accouncement of Fraction writing Fear Itself is hardly similiar to the annoucement of Bendis writing Secret Invasion. Before Secret Invasion, Bendis' was posting some strong sales numbers with his New Avengers title. Of course, it is quite possible that Fraction can deliver a strong seller in Fear Itself. Anything is possible. However, looking at the general downward trend in sales number for big events from Marvel and the fact that Fraction himself has never equated into big sales numbers leads me to be skeptical about the sales success of Fear Itself.
I do not agree with the belief that big events are all that it takes to "cure" the comic industry of its sales woes. What the comic industry needs to do to properly fix its sales problems includes day and date releases of digital comics, a .99 cent price tag for digital comics, lower cover prices for print comics, fewer titles by Marvel and DC, less decompression, fewer cheap gimmicks and tie-ins, a reduced dependence on yearly big events, an increase in writers who genuinely love the super hero genre and last, and most important, better stories.
Marvel and DC simply sticking their heads in the sand and throwing another big event at the problem is simply not a long term solution to the increasing sales problems of the comic book industry.