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Recently, I looked at the trend in Marvel Comics to reboot series in order to publish more #1 issues because those issues have sold very well, especially for Marvel. The “All-New Marvel Now!” initiative is a direct result of restarting series to publish new #1 issues. It’s interesting to look at recent sales numbers and see that this strategy does seem, for now at least, to be working for Marvel.
Using data from The Comics Chronicles, I found that in February, three of the top twenty selling issues were #1’s from Marvel (Punisher, Fantastic Four, and Wolverine). In March, four of the top 20 were Marvel number #1’s (Daredevil, Silver Surfer, Moon Knight, and Magneto), with Wolverine and the X-Men coming in #21 for the month. For April, four of the top 20 were Marvel #1’s (Deadpool vs. Carnage, Inhuman, Hulk, and Amazing Spider-Man). The re-launch of the Amazing Spider-Man was exceptionally successful, selling over 530,000 copies. It was the highest-selling comic of the millennium. As a comparison, the top-selling issues in most months sell under 120,000 copies. However, there was another interesting development in the sales figures for April, involving DC Comics.
DC Comics had seven of the top eleven best-selling comics for April. This was buoyed by their own new series, Batman Eternal. The first four issues of the weekly Batman Eternal series all cracked the top 10 best-selling comics of April, along the regular Batman series (Batman #30 was the best-selling DC comic book and the third-highest of the month). If you combine this with the fact that DC had the top four best-selling issues for March (Batman, Superman Unchained, Forever Evil, and Sandman Overture), it may look like DC is doing very well with the New 52 and giving Marvel a run for its – literal – money.
The other side of the ledger is not as rosy for DC, however. With the cancelling of six titles for August 2014, DC will pass 52 total cancellations since it rebooted the whole comic book line nearly three years ago. Comics Alliance wrote about the hows and whys of the cancellations. It’s pretty staggering that in just three years, DC has cancelled as many comics as they had when they debuted the “New 52.” That this works out to more than 17 cancellations per year seems to indicate trouble for the company. So where exactly is the reality: is DC Comics doing very well or are they a mess? Has the New 52 been a financial success or failure?
As with most complicated questions, the answers are neither “absolutely” or “absolutely not” but somewhere in between. For instance, this article from the Weekly Crisis discussed the evolution of sales from just before the New 52 to two years later. The short version is that prior to the reboot, DC generally had around 11 titles that sold over 40,000 issues in a month. During the month of the New 52 launch, they had 29 issues that sold more than 40,000 issues (with six issues selling over 100,000 copies). A year later, in September 2012, they had 27 issues that sold over 40,000 copies. Things began to slow over the course of the second year of the New 52 and DC had 16 issues that sold over 40,000 in August 2013, when the Weekly Crisis article was written.
Okay, so this was clearly a smart business move on DC’s part despite the frequent criticism that gets levied at their storytelling and creative decisions. Right? Not so fast, Barry Allen. Looking at this year’s sales figures shows an even more dramatic reduction in sales for DC compared to two years after the reboot. Using the Weekly Crisis’ 40K threshold as a baseline, April 2014 looks okay, with 15 issues selling over that mark. However, keep in mind that four of those issues are the new Batman Eternal weekly series. In March, despite having the top four spots, DC only had 11 total series over 40K. They also had 11 series over that mark in February 2014 and 12 series over 40K in January 2014. If that 11 series number sounds familiar, remember that this is the number of series that DC was selling over 40K before the reboot.
There are some other unfavorable trends for DC in 2014. Bleeding Cool discussed the sales figures for March 2014. This was the month where DC notably had the top four selling issues. However, we’ve just seen that their other comics didn’t do so hot, as only 7 other series sold over 40,000 copies. Somewhat understandably, DC’s market share took a hit. The dollar share (basically, the percentage of total comic book dollars) fell from 28.73% in February 2014 to 25.94% in March with the unit share (the percentage of issues sold) fell from 31.12% to 29.02% in those months. Meanwhile, Marvel’s share in March 2014 rose to 34.31% in dollar share and 38.17% in unit share.
So overall, one could reasonably argue that DC has done well over the past three years due to the New 52 reboot. They sold a lot of issues and made a lot of money in the first year especially. Even when people were not into the series, they were talking about them. However, some of the dissatisfaction with the DC series has taken a longer-term hit on DC’s sales this year, with many months having sales figures similar to the pre-New 52 numbers. Although Marvel still has sales issues of its own (as I discussed in the article at the top), they are putting some distance between themselves and DC so far in 2014. For these reasons, I don’t think one can state that the reboot was an unequivocal success. DC has to be genuinely concerned about its future sales now that the novelty of the New 52 has worn off.