The Marvel comics sales slump

There’s this piece of propaganda from quite a few years ago that’s the lynchpin of the comicsgators campaign. They insist that people bought the first issue to see if they like it, didn’t, and the sales started to slump really dramatically. They present some figures and up to a certain point it seems to look like they’re right.

Except, if you look at the full picture (I’ll explain later why the full picture stops at issue 8) you can see that the drop in sales wears off and it stabilizes at around 70000 copies (without counting the reprints).

The same thing happens for other series. For every series. It happened for Magneto, a white male established character. Lower starting (and overall) sales means a less dramatic slope, but a slope nonetheless.

It happened with Darth Vader, a STAR WARS series universally appreciated. Even some of the comicsgators love it.

So what’s happening? What’s with the slope? There’s two things at play here. The collectors secondary market, and the way the comics are ordered.

Notice that bump with Harley Quinn #7? I think that’s because it had this variant cover.

This variant in particular is the loot-crate of the comics industry. This is a 1:25 variant. A retailer can order one for every 25 other normal copies. This is why it’s referred as a retailer incentive variant. Because it's so rare the buyer (sometimes the retailer themselves) can sell it on ebay for almost 200 dollars. The other variant this issue came with sells for $10-$20 at most, from what I can find, which is still something.

Other than variants, sought out collectors issues are:

  • first issues in a series
  • first appearances of certain characters
  • dramatic reveals or deaths

The other reason that there’s a slump in sales is that comics are ordered by retailers two months in advance. A retailer calibrates their order in the first few months, after which things stabilize. People add the series to their pull list, the retailer gets a feel for how many shelf copies are sold and what’s the decline rate. But it’s better to have a surplus of those first few issues because you don’t want to miss out on potential customers.

Now to tie two knots: you might notice as well that Thor #8 had a bit of a bump. That’s because the series 1) ended there and 2) revealed who’s under the helmet, who’s the character Mjolnir thought was more worthy than Thor. Then, after a bit of a break it started again, with a new #1, but with the same creative team and continuing the plot. Marvel does that to restart interest in a series, get that rush of really well sold first two issues.

And Lo and behold, they started coming with the exact same criticism:

Here’s the thing. Thor (2014) was already a renumbered series. Jason Aaron’s Thor started in 2012 and even though it changed artist and nominally the main character (actually it didn’t Odinson was still very much around) it continued some of the plotlines.

The kicker is that Thor: The God of Thunder, the series comicsgators actually bat for (in part because it had manly-man death-viking violence and in part because it could be really, really good. So good that it probably had one the best Thor issues ever), sold worse than both Jane-Thor runs.

And the series that kinda started this trend of telling people diversity is hurting Marvel because people hated it, actually sold the best.

This originally appeared as a twitter thread.

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Alin Rautoiu

Alin Rautoiu

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