The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Diversity and the Comic Market Part 2

I kicked off what will be at least a three-part series looking at the state of comics and a shift to more diverse characters, stories, and creators. The first part looked at 2016 as a whole for the comic market.

On a macro level more units were shipped with a lower average cover price resulting in an overall loss in dollars. Since we just have estimated numbers from diamond we don’t know sell through at the store level. These numbers also include some sales through services like Loot Crate which doesn’t benefit stores. It’s flawed, but the best we have.

I felt before moving on to individual series to really look at trends it was good to take one step down and explore shipped units and sales by month from 2015 to 2017.

When we look at the trends since January 2015 we see the overall volume has increased slightly, but generally has remained steady with some increases which we’ll discuss.

On average 7,361,111 comics have shipped for the top 300 while 8,147,778 for all comics shipped by Diamond.

What the above clearly shows is the sharp increase and hard crash in the comic cycle primarily due to major launches or events.

  • April 2015 – Star Wars from Marvel and Convergence by DC Comics launch
  • July 2015 – Secret Wars launches from Marvel
  • November 2015 to December 2015 – Secret Wars wraps launching new first issues for Marvel, Dark Knight III launches from DC Comics
  • June 2016 to November 2016 – Civil War II plus new first issue series for Marvel, DC Comics launches Rebirth

While I don’t want to call the above launches “stunts” we can see events and series launches boost sales creating an artificial bubble of sorts that eventually crashes. April 2015’s high was followed by a loss of about 33% for a September 2015 low. December 2015’s high also sees about 33% loss for a March 2016 low. With 2016’s “stunts” taking place over a longer period we should be about in the low from that event’s high just in time for upcoming events in April.

There is the issue of overships for Marvel which in December could have been in the 100s of thousands of issues. Even when taken into account, the amount shipped is equal to year’s past. So, volume is higher (we can quibble on overships), so again lets look at the cover price during the same time period.

In June 2016 we begin to see a drop of weighted average cover price of comics with lows through much of the rest of the year. These lows for cover price are the lowest since before 2015 and that dime an issue adds up. In Marvel’s interview with ICv2 they said October 2016 is when they heard/saw issues beginning. That’d be after four months of weighted cover prices dropping. So while comics were being sold, more needed to be sold and when it comes to shops with a physical space, that changes a lot of math as to dollars earned per square feet of retail space.

There’s clearly volatility looking at the monthly numbers driven by the ebbs and flows of events and relaunches and add in a decreased average cover price being sold. All of that together creates an uncertain time, but can we chalk up that volitility to any one publisher?

Below I took the reported top 300 units shipped and top 300 percentage of the market as reported by Comichron for each month.

We see Marvel on a decline since June 2016 with some of their lowest months in February and March 2017. When Marvel says they see sales diminishing, this could be what they’re discussing and again look at the massive drop for them from June 2016 to September 2016. That’s a decrease of about 1.8 million units.

Compare that to DC Comics increase which begins to spike in June 2016 before things stop from falling in December 2016. Though DC is doing better in the latter part of 2016 than at any point since this data from January 2015 it’s still not enough to make up for the Marvel freefall. Remember DC’s cover prices have been $2.99 compared to Marvel’s $3.99 so again units being sold for an average cover price that has decreased impacts perceptions.

And we’re not seeing other publishers picking up the market. Most remain pretty steady with spikes here and there due to one comic with a solid release (an example being the recent The Walking Dead 25 cent promotion for Image).

But what about dollars? Below is a rough estimated of what the above equals in dollars.

From the highs of June 2016 from Marvel and DC each publisher has dropped about $8 million and $4 million by the time March 2017 has rolled around. We see a decrease in units resulting in a decrease in dollars.

So, while the big picture for 2016 looks mixed, we can see from the above that the latter half of 2016 has seen the bubble pop resulting in a sharp slide to where we are in 2017.

But what isn’t working? For that we need to look at each individual series. We’ll explore that in part 3!