Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

February 8, 2012

Analysts Weigh In On January 2012 DM Numbers

The comics business news and analysis site has offered up their usual array of lists, estimates and analysis regarding the performance of comic books and graphic novels in the Direct Market of comic and hobby shops, this time for January 2012.

image* Overview
* Analysis
* Top 300 Comic Books
* Top 300 Graphic Novels

My favorite numbers cruncher John Jackson Miller at The Comics Chronicles has posted his analysis of the month here.

So things get curiouser and curiouser. Two things seemed to leap out at everyone in discussing these numbers as they were initially released: DC monopolized the entire top 10 in comic books with fifth issues of their New 52 initiative, and Marvel only had a couple of books above the 60K sales mark. In overall terms, DC led unit sales while Marvel won dollar sales. Over in graphic novels, a Batman collection from the pre-New 52 initiative showed there was a bit of life in trades from that period (some fans have worried that this period would glossed over in terms of trade availability). Compared to last January scary-ass, apocalyptic sales numbers, the month looked pretty darn healthy both on a month-to-month an January-to-January basis.

I think what I take from these articles is that people are still waiting for a major Marvel response to the New 52 that's likely not going to happen, at least not any time soon in the way people conceive of such a response. I suspect what we're seeing with Marvel is a whole bunch of factors working in relationship to one another: the fact that they're years into their current conception of how they approach their general storylines, the fact that they don't have the institutional and structural ways to support their books that DC does, the general perception of price point and value, and their difficulties in establishing second-line books in a dependable way. If this were TV, Marvel would have a lot of decent-performing shows in their eighth to tenth seasons but not a lot of time-slot winner past those reliable brands. I think it's more of a challenge given specific things about Marvel more than an insurmountable challenge facing Marvel right now, so the next year could be quite compelling. They don't have a lot of margin for error in terms of execution, I don't think, and could be immensely helped by coming out with comics that exceed fan expectation in terms of how they nail their story points -- that hasn't been a recent strength, at least not in a way where a plot development has become a positive talking point in the way that drives sales. I know people will disagree with that.

There's a related way to worry about the market more generally in that we don't know how much Marvel's scramble in terms of finding sales and dollars and DC's more general all-in approach to its New 52 stunt are masking egregious weaknesses in the broader marketplace. In other words, how much are these comics selling because they're solid performers delighting their readers and just happen to have early-issue numbers, and how many readers do they have that are just sort-of committed for a while to get to a certain issue a few months away? That seems fraught with a lot of dangers, not all of them immediately apparent. For instance, it makes sense for Marvel to reduce their line, and they have, but does having multiples of big-brand comics increase the overall reading pool or just squeeze more money out of a devoted fandom at the expense of other comics? DC's latest Watchmen-related publishing initiative, at least right now, sounds more like something a certain kind of existing comics fan will want to buy and less like something that will add anything to the overall comics-buying populace. All of the ways to do that may not come with PR blasts and coverage in mainstream media.
posted 1:30 pm PST | Permalink

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