Every month, Diamond Comic Distributors releases a report on the previous month’s sales figures. This only reflects orders from the US direct retail market, and so they do not include international sales, and no figures are available for the growing digital market.
The February 2017 Comic Book Sales
In a normal month, one would expect to see #Marvel and #DC selling over 100,000 copies with sales bands then filling out a handful at 90,000-99,999. The Comics Beat did the initial analysis for February 2017, and the results are shocking.
The Comic Beat has a strong reputation for accurate number-crunching, and they had never seen Marvel’s numbers shifting so far down.
In February, over 45% of Marvel titles sold less than 20,000 copies in the US market. Traditionally, if the book is selling less than 20,000 copies, then it in danger of cancellation.
Not even one part of the range was safe from the sales slump. Popular ‘Legacy Hero’ books like Ms. Marvel had only 19,870 copies sold as compared to 30,916 last year at the same time. Amazing Spider-Man is down to 61,000. Jason Aaron’s Star Wars saw sales drop to below 75,000.
What’s going on?
Serious Competition from DC
Marvel made it clear where they consider the blame to lie: with the distinguished competition. DC’s “Rebirth” relaunch has been incredibly popular. Marvel assigns the blame to the reduced cover price of $2.99 that has accompanied “Rebirth.” They say that it is not financially viable.
February was the 25th anniversary of Image Comics, and they slashed prices to 25 cents. This warped the market in February, giving them a unit share of 18.13% but a dollar share of only 9.58%.
While their competitors cut prices, Marvel has stuck between $3.99 and $4.99. This means that each comic brings more money to Marvel than to their rivals. But the success of DC and Image suggests there is a trade-off between prices and sales.
This is a convenient solution, in that it essentially makes Marvel to be the victim of noncompetitive pricing and there is little the publisher can do about it. According to Bleeding Cool, retailers at ComicsPRO were unanimous at giving Marvel an eye-roll for the argument.
Dissatisfaction with Marvel’s Direction
Marvel has dined out on using controversy to boost sales — whether by turning Steve Rogers into a Hydra, giving Jane Foster the power of Thor or pitting the X-Men and Inhumans against each another.
Fans want something more basic from their comics. People do not want more politics; in the aftermath of the election in US history, they want comics to be how they escape from politics.
Take sales of Nick Spencer’s heavily politicized Captain America: Steve Rogers. While it’s normal for every issue to sell less than the one before, the trend here looks pretty disturbing:
Although Marvel is committed to “Secret Empire” in the short-term, there are rumors that the company is planning to change focus; they will be moving to a streamlined, ‘back-to-basics’ approach. That is accompanied by “ResurrXion” of the #XMen and #Inhumans franchises. The ‘Legacy Heroes’ will be balanced out. There have even been strong hints that Wolverine is about to be resurrected.
The sales figures suggest that change in direction can’t happen quickly enough.
Marvel’s decisions have seemed inexplicable to retailers. Why are fans getting secondary series based on characters like Black Panther and not concentrating on the main books? Why has Deadpool inspired spin-offs?
Some of the series have performed very poorly and Marvel did not even bother to announce the cancellation.
As one retailer fumed to Bleeding Cool:
“Marvel if you truly think my store’s money was tied up by DC then you are wrong. I have too many first issues of Foolkiller, Mockingbird 1, Nighthawk’s series, Solo 1, Mighty Captain Marvel 1, and more on hand. Mockingbird, Nighthawk, Solo, and more are in the dollar bin still untouched.”
Here’s the disturbing thing; because retailers purchase those books from Diamond distributor, those unsold copies are included in the sales figures. But they’re just sitting on shelves.
A Switch to Digital
Retailers may not like this, but there is another factor; a switch to digital. There is no way for us to know how well a book performs on the digital market. Be it in ComiXology or Marvel Store.
Every time one buys a physical Marvel comic, they also get a code that gave you a free digital copy and so many fans bought the physical copy. Marvel stepped away from this approach in January.
They choose a few ‘bonus comics’ to be available each week.In January, one of the key titles were Civil War II #0. The issue was launched in last year’s Summer event.
The decision suggests that Marvel feels the digital platform is secure and may consider sacrificing physical sales for digital ones. If digital sales were different to physical sales across the range, Marvel would not be canceling books and changing their approach.
February 2017 should have served as a shock to Marvel and a warning to them that something is not right. Sure, it was an exceptional month for retailers at a lower price point, like DC & Image. But the overall trend for Marvel is a disturbing one, and Fans are glad to hear rumors of a change in direction.