Are Marvel’s Floodgates Open?

JLA Avengers Art
 
A few weeks ago, in writing about whether the $2.99 price point was making a difference for DC comics, there was a lot of discussion in the comments section about whether Marvel’s persistent market share leadership was driven by “flooding the market.”  This is not an uncommon claim, particularly by fans who feel some personal investment in defending the market shares of other publishers against the dominant and daunting share that Marvel maintains in a given month.
 
As a refresher, here are the recent market share numbers, from Diamond, for single issue sales in the direct market:
 
Market Share (Single Issue Units, per Month)
 
Company
Mar-11
Feb-11
Jan-11
Dec-10
Nov-10
Oct-10
AVG
Marvel
45.3%
45.1%
42.4%
38.9%
39.8%
35.7%
41.2%
DC
31.5%
31.5%
31.8%
37.0%
37.1%
31.7%
33.4%
Image
5.1%
4.8%
6.5%
3.4%
4.3%
4.5%
4.8%
IDW
4.1%
4.1%
4.6%
3.4%
3.4%
5.1%
4.1%
Dark Horse
2.9%
3.5%
3.7%
4.5%
3.8%
5.9%
4.1%
Dyn. Forces
2.8%
3.1%
2.5%
2.3%
3.5%
2.4%
2.8%
Boom!
1.7%
1.6%
1.8%
1.8%
1.8%
2.3%
1.8%
 
Now let's look at the number of titles Marvel and DC put out each month.  Keep in mind, this is the number of titles that ranked in the Diamond Top 300, so it's entirely possible there are a few straggler titles for either publisher that aren't caught in the data (although I doubt it).
 
# of Titles Ranked in Diamond 300 (Last 12 Months)
 
Month
DC
Marvel
May-10
90
108
Jun-10
95
112
Jul-10
81
104
Aug-10
81
104
Sep-10
84
106
Oct-10
102
93
Nov-10
91
97
Dec-10
93
103
Jan-11
76
82
Feb-11
78
99
Mar-11
85
114
Apr-11
73
104
Total
1,029
1,226
 
It's next to impossible to argue that Marvel isn't putting out more content than DC. Over the last year, Marvel has had 1,226 entries in the Diamond 300 (which has a total of 3,600 possible spots over the full year), while DC has placed 1,029.  That's a 19% difference, which coincides quite tightly with the overall difference in market share between the two companies. So yes, you can say with confidence that Marvel wins the market share war because they put out more stuff each month. 
 
But for my money, debating whether or not Marvel is flooding the market really doesn't tell the whole story. Let's say, for argument's sake, they are intentionally putting out as many titles as possible in a land grab. That would invite other questions, which I think are far more interesting.
 
1) Why are they flooding the market?
2) Why isn't DC matching them title for title?
3) Is this an optimal strategy over the long run?
 
Why is Marvel putting out so much product each month?
 
The simple answer is: Because they can.  Not to be flippant, but Marvel is nothing if not a disciplined financial organization. Although their quarterly financials are now hidden away under the cover of Disney's massive empire, Marvel's financials as a publicly traded company prior to the acquisition were impressive by any measure. In fact, Marvel's publishing margins were just about the best I've seen (across all publishing types including newspapers, magazines and book publishers).  The thing that Marvel, as a responsible entity, focuses on is profit maximization. Both for the short and long run. To that end, Marvel has to think about something called marginal rate of return. I wrote about marginal rate of return last year, but as a refresher:
 
Basic economics dictate that it’s more profitable for a publisher to have one title that sells 150K copies than three titles that sell 50K each. And having three titles sell 50K each is better than having 10 titles sell 15K each. Yes, in each case the publisher is selling 150K copies. But the costs of attaining those sales are much different. Each book has a writer, a penciler, an inker, a colorist, a letterer, an editing team, and must be marketed. But there are fixed costs associated with publishing, too. Marvel’s offices in New York need to be staffed regardless of whether they sell one book or 200. Those offices have utility bills and mortgage payments to be made no matter how many books are printed. The truth is, there are litanies of costs that occur regardless of how many books hit the shelves each month. 
 
Which is where the concept of marginal rate of return (MRR) comes into playMarginal rate of return is simply a measure of the expected net profit of a project, divided by the investment required to undertake the project. A basic rule of thumb is, if the MRR is greater than 1.0, then it’s worth doing. There are a ton of variables that go into that equation, but you can be sure that books that fall below an MRR of 1.0 don’t last long. So a profit-maximizing publisher will produce as many books as he can until he reaches an unsustainable MRR. 
 
I don't know what the internal metrics are for Marvel to justify the publication of an incremental book, but you can be sure that THEY DO, and that they're not in the habit of breaking their own internal profit targets. So as long as they feel like their 90th or 95th or 105th best selling title of the month will make them enough money to justify the effort, they'll "flood the market" to Marvel zombies' hearts content. 
 
Why isn't DC matching them title for title?
 
The simple answer is: Because they can't.  In all seriousness, I'm mystified by how many people assume that DC doesn't put out as many books as Marvel does for creative reasons, or because they're trying to be fairer to the smaller publishers. Nonsense. DC is as razor sharp and profit driven as Marvel, that's why this is effectively a duopoly. DC would put out the same, if not more titles than Marvel if it could justify it on a marginal rate of return.

To illustrate my point, I pulled together all the single issues sales over the last year for both Marvel and DC. I then ranked them into groups:
 
  • Top 10 — This is the 10 best selling books in a given month for each publisher. In other words, their marquee titles
  • 11-20 — The 11th through 20th best selling books of the month
  • …and so on
 
By looking at these brackets, we can get a better sense of how Marvel and DC fare on an apples to apples basis. It removes the long tail and the fact that Marvel puts out more books. I think once we get into the data you'll better understand the relevance:
 
Tier
DC
Marvel
%Dif
Top 10
68,236
67,486
1.1%
 
Analysis:  Over the last year, DC's top 10 books each month averaged sales of 68,236 units.  Marvel's top 10 books averaged 67,486 units. In other words, when it comes to the top of the sales charts, DC has not only held its own, but has outsold Marvel by the slimmest of margins. Credit the Batman and Green Lantern franchises for that.
 
Tier
DC
Marvel
%Dif
11th-20th
38,515
46,845
(17.8%)
 
Analysis:  Ouch. After basically running neck and neck, DC sees its next 10 books in a given month fall way off, and — on average — the next tier sells 18% less per title than Marvel's 2nd tier of books.  But suffice to say these sales are still well within the range of viability for both publishers.
 
Tier
DC
Marvel
%Dif
21st-30th
28,564
36,887
(22.6%)
31st-40th
21,700
29,005
(25.2%)
41st-50th
15,039
23,467
(35.9%)
 
Analysis:  The gap keeps widening, and now looks problematic.  By the time we get to each publisher's 50th best selling book, Marvel typically outsells DC by more than a third. More importantly to our analysis, DC's sales of 15,000 are much closer to the historical marginal rate of return cutoff where you see books get cancelled/relaunched. 
 
Tier
DC
Marvel
%Dif
51st-60th
10,100
18,562
(45.6%)
61st-70th
7,306
14,880
(50.9%)
71st-80th
6,053
11,796
(48.7%)
81st-90th
4,892
9,056
(46.0%)
 
Analysis:  As we get farther down the long tail, we see the gap widen to approximately 2x, where Marvel sells nearly twice as many units than DC once we get past their top 50.  But again, don't just focus on the Marvel vs. DC comparison, but the average units.  Marvel is still averaging nearly 15,000 copies on its 61st-70th books each month.  DC is down to 7,300 copies by that point, which is very hard to justify as a profitable title (unless the sales of the collected editions are robust, as is the case with certain Vertigo books).  I'm fairly certain Marvel isn't printing profits with sales of 9,000-12,000 units for a given issue, but I'm confident it's a lot more viable than DC being able to justify printing a book that sells 4,900-6,000 copies.
 
In conclusion, DC and Marvel's top titles are neck and neck competitive. But DC's long tail just isn't as robust as Marvel's, and that makes it impossible for DC to put out as many titles each month.  Understand something though, DC is being responsible.  The last thing they want to do is get caught up in some ficticious battle for monthly market share at the expense of their profit margins.  If DC listened to the headlines, and really cared about its market share, they would potentially risk their entire publishing business model by churning out content that erodes margins just to "win" the headlines. Smart move DC. On the flip side, realize that DC would love to generate broader interest in its titles, and would sell more if they could justify it.
 
Is this an optimal strategy for Marvel over the long run?
That's an entirely subjective question.  Ultimately Marvel and DC need to infuse our beloved hobby with droves of new readers. And regardless of anedcotal evidence to the contrary, that's not happening in the direct market. If you think I'm being too Draconian, just take a gander at Brian Hibbs' latest column where he addresses the current state of direct market retailing, and Marvel and DC's propensity to churn out more product than the market can sustain:
 
The problem with the "bookstore model" is that dead inventory chokes all of the profit away. "Three turns and you're profitable" doesn't work if you're absorbing a whole lot of material that never turns the first time. These days Marvel and DC combined are publishing something like twenty new TPs/HCs each and every week. The market can't absorb all of that material from just two of the myriad of publishers, and I believe that we need to drastically scale down the amount of collections we produce if we want what we produce to sell well.
 
I don't know how other retailers feel about this, but I'm feeling squeezed by both too much, as well as inferior, product, and it has caused sales to drop to a point of sludgy profitability. And while a correction in the general economic climate might improve that single-handedly, it's a pretty awful business plan to have to depend on outside forces to turn things around.
 
Hibbs' column is worth a read in its entirety, but needless to say, I agree with him on this issue. As much as I love having so many choices each month, I'm conscious of the fact that we've hit a saturation point particularly on the collected edition side. Whether that saturation point has contirbuted to the ever declining single issue sales is a debate for another time, but it's food for thought.
 

Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Amen to cutting down on collected editions.

  2. I had read that flooding the market was the actual strategy that Marvel used in the 70s to overtake DC as #1 publisher. Dominate the shelves and racks and Marvel is the only thing people buy. Do you know much about that?

  3. I would prefer less books of better quality than tons of books that are crap. Marvel tends to put out a lot of junk. I use to be a major fan boy before the 90s. Now, I barely will read anything they put out.

  4. I think comparing the sales ties was interesting but doesn’t account for the actual titles.  I’m curious how the numbers would stack up if you combined affiliate books (i.e. all X-books, all Superman Family titles, Spidey books, Bat-books, etc). I don’t know what the data looks like but I get the feeling all the lower tier Marvel books are all Avengers/Spidey/X-affiliated.

  5. Great article, Jason.

    Based on your analysis it seems as if the time-honored battle of the big two just isn’t so. As fans we may like to pit them as rivals (and perhaps historically speaking this was the case) but it seems like the battle is done… at least in the field of comics.

    I wonder what our fandom would be like if stopped comparing these two. 

    Are there any industries where the sense of rival companies has gone away? Sneakers maybe?

  6. @wallythegreenmonster Believe it or not there was a time where Marvel’s books were distributed by the parent company of DC and they were only allowed to have 8 titles. If I remember correctly it was Infantino at who DC who initiated a surge of titles in an attempt to beat Marvel….but the DC Explosion became the DC Implosion.

  7. You and Brian Hibbs bring up a glut of collected editions as a potential cause of the problem. It’d be interesting to hear more about what role collected editions play in the market today. Is it that new material now has to compete with older material in a format that costs less per page? Or simply that the collections are cannibalizing sales from the monthly issues?

    What would a reduction of collected edition releases look like? Fewer back catalogue editions? Or a longer window before current series are collected?

    For what it’s worth (not much), I really like knowing that I can snag a trade of a current run 4-6 months after that run is published in issues. For me, It comes back to the idea that given my age and living situation, I don’t want to be filling long boxes anymore.

    I’ve been buying monthlies again since January after several years of only buying trades (and some illegal downloading of which I am appropriately ashamed to admit), and as much as I love the characters and stories and art, I feel like I’m buying monthly comics because that’s where the industry needs my money to survive long enough to transition to digital (my iPad is hungry for .99 cent digital comics).

  8. i’m going to read Hibb’s article at lunch. But yeah i do agree that there is an over-saturation right now. There are SOO many things that i’d love to try, but there isn’t enough time in the day to read everything let alone space to store it. More quality, less titles perhaps. 

  9. @ThomasKaters  –whoa thats crazy. i never heard that before. Was that the 60s? I was speaking specifically to a Marvel strategy i had heard about to flood the market with #1s, mini’s new series that weren’t intended to last long. The idea was that even then, newsstands would give space to that stuff more than longer running titles. If everything on the stands is Marvel, people will buy only that kinda approach. 

  10. I find the disparities outside the top 20 books very interesting.

    I have to wonder if part of the disparity outside the top 10 or 20 books is a difference in creative talent?  I think they both have INCREDIBLY talented people working for them, but Marvel’s talent pool may simply be deeper than DC’s.

    AND/OR Marvel may have a deeper pool of popular characters.  Both companies have a number of massively popular charcters, but they may have different numbers of marginally popular characters.  At the top, I’d argue that Spidy, Batman, and Superman are all neck-and-neck, but who does DC have at the X-men level?  The Teen Titans??  That’s not even close.

    Very interesting article, Mr. Wood.  Thank you. 

  11. First geeky math analysis overtook the sports world. Now the sabermetrification of comic books?! Thanks a lot internet! Always finding a way to use math to suck the fun out of everything I love. 😛

    I kid, I kid. Very interesting article, Jason. Nice job.

  12. It’s a simple case of quality over quantity. DC seems like it’s going to flip that with all these Flashpoint tie-ins though.

  13. @Stuclach The Teen Titans were at the X-Men Level in the 80s, but haven’t been in nearly 2 decades.

  14. @AquaPimp82 – DC’s overall quality (besides Bat books) took a nose dive a while back. And it had nothing to do with quantity.

  15. Great article as always Wood.

    Your article got me thinking, we always seem to focus on Marvel flooding the market and DC choosing not to.  Considering how devout Marvel readers are what do you think would happen if Marvel cut their titles by 20%?  I am curious if their sales would actually go up.  Just thinking out loud.  😉

    the Tiki 

  16. @thefreakytiki  Thanks Tim. I’m not sure, but I see what you’re getting at. I suspect given the types of books that populate the long tail, they would mainly be just lost sales. I mean when you’re selling a few thousand copies of a Marvel Atlas, or an Index of old issues that helps you know the chronology, or a reprint of something that came out just a few years ago, it strikes me more as the completists gobbling up the stuff already.

  17. @PraxJarvin  That’s my impression, as well.

  18. @Wood  I see what you mean.

    In my speculation, one would expect Marvel would keep their prices @$3.99 and downsize their titles.  This would cut out many costs of excess titles and shifting customer consumption would create more profit on a per title basis.

    My guess is after the “flooding” ends this will be their next play.

    the Tiki 

  19. Something else just occurred to me…

     With DC lowering their prices, did that move inadvertently give the consumer free cash to buy more Marvel?

    the Tiki 

  20. Marvel > DC literally!

  21. @thefreakytiki I think, in a way, it might have. Although to be fair Marvel’s sales aren’t going up either. I think more likely it helped DC fanatics save a few shekels for some other form of disposal entertainment. 🙂

  22. So Marvel beats DC, it’s official.  Good to see actual evidence of that.  They just have a more appealing brand of characters and stories, and the numbers prove it.

  23. @KickAss  I certainly don’t conclude that from the data. What this really tells me though is that it seems Marvel’s buyers are a bit more willing to be completists. It also says the retailers are more confident in carrying the extraneous Marvel titles versus the DC books. Remember Diamond data only really shows what retailers are ordering for their shelves, it’s not sell through. So we have no idea how many unsold copies of any given book are hanging around.

  24. I would like to know more about why Marvel has been shipping a lot of titles twice-monthly as of late. I’m sure it is a smart business decision, having a top selling book come out twice will improve market share and they know we are going to buy them. Also, this gets the collected edition out more often. I pledge no allegiance, but it seems that DC is a much classier company.

  25. I love these columns. (I’m also a religious Tilting at Windmills reader) Keep ’em coming, Jason!

  26. Thank you Jason. Very nice. I’m curious now about how TBs/HCs factor into Marvel and DC’s profitability margins. Essentially, if I understand your argument correctly, Marvel and DC are both rational actors making rational decisions on the basis of their internal profitability models … and that makes sense to me. If it is indeed the case that TBs/HCs are choking the single issue market, then (assuming they’ve already factored TBs/HCs into their profitability models) either Marvel and DC really aren’t rational actors OR the current production rate of TBs/HCs fits within their profitability model OR they’re not infallible, there’s something neither of them is taking into account, and the production rates of TBs/HCs will slow down when their metrics tell them it is no longer profitable. Can you speak to the MRR of TBs/HCs?

  27. @cahubble09 It’s a great question, and I think for as long as the collected edition was growing, there was no internal concern but now we will start to see some rationalization. I also think they are very good about not overprinting collections when they can help it.

  28. Very interesting article Jason. Really enjoyed the examination of single issues but I feel the argument lost track when you talked about collected editions. Surely collected editions are a gateway to new readers? They’re much more likely to pick up a copy of Green Lantern Secret Origin in a bookshop than an issue of the ongoing in a comic shop. Even regular readers pick up a lot of tpbs. The market can support issues, collections and digital at this stage. Taking out a way to read comics is only going to have a negative effect. There’s also no examination of how Marvel and DC approach their collected editions in such different ways.

  29. @davidtobin100  To be clear, my article focuses on single issues, it’s Hibbs that talks about the trades. That said, the point Hibbs is making — and he would know better than we given he’s one of the most successful and tenured retailers in comics — is that Marvel and DC are churning out so many collected editions that its financially impossible for stores to stock them all, even a single copy of them. Stores die if they don’t have heavy turnover in inventory to keep cash flow healthy, and Hibbs’ point is that Marvel and DC have produced so much collected content, that the market is filled to the brim with inventory that isn’t in demand.

  30. @JASON
       let’s not get it twisted, MArvel puts out a ton of well CRAP. they use the same characters in all of their books, how many books can Wolverine be in befor it’s all crap, 3 at most. same thing goes for the Avengers line, u have 9 x-men books. and guess 75% of them suck, deadpool has what 3 or 4 books. and all he is is a liefeld rip off charcater anyways. but yet all they do every month is relaunch another book, ok we get it most buyers are idiots. true fans stopped buying a long time ago, but what does marvel care about true fans, they don’t. all they do is sit and say what movie is coming out soon? so this is what we will do flood the market with all this crap that sucks and people will buy it for the 3 months prior to the movie and 2 months afterward. then we will start to do the same for the next movie.
        marvel sucks crap, plain and simple. hell most comics on the shelf suck. but mostly marvel, do i read marvel yes i do. but Marvel of yester year. since 2002 marvel has gone to hell in a hand basket. so yes marvel can put out more than DC every month, but DC has much better reading material than marvel. 

  31. Jason – an unrelated question for you occurred to me while I was looking at the a bunch of comics splayed out on the floor, today: why don’t the prices for comic book scale?  I’ve taken two economics courses, so this might be a dumb question, but it seems like (for example) Uncanny X-Men could get away with being $3.99 or $4.50 and still sell as many copies, but a book like Captain Britain can’t support that price, so it gets cancelled.

    Is there a reason that the companies don’t peg price to sales?  Deadpool sells X# of issues, whether it is 2.99 or 3.99, so it makes sense to sell it at the higher value.  Avengers is the best selling title, so it should be the most expensive, and have fewer ads that cost more to place (like the super-bowl).  On the other hand, a book like Young Allies could be priced at 1.99, on cheaper paper, with more ads that are less expensive (like reruns of Friends).  It’s not as popular, so it gets sold at the price that the market will bear.  This seems like a way that a company like DC could put out more titles of the quality of Xombie or Hawkman or The Atom, and still make money on them.  Selling every comic at roughly the same price seems to doom some of the higher quality, but less popular books.

    Is there a reason they don’t do that?

    • No one is probably checking this thread but I think the problem with your theory is that it doesn’t take costs into consideration. Can they produce a comic at $1.99? Doe sit make enough of a difference to the sale numbers to make it worth while. i assume it does not

  32. (That should be “I’ve only taken two economics courses,” which is to say that I know about as much about economics as I do about astornomy, and I wouldn’t dream of telling NASA how to do their job, either.  I’m just curious.)

  33. Many of Marvel’s lower-tier books are still great reads, with good art, and quite well done. They also collect a LOT of stuff, because people said they wanted to wait for stuff in trades, and because people also miss out on good stuff when it comes out in issues, and then demand that it be collected.

    I will agree that they do publish a metric ton of books, and I have found myself running out of storage space, and also suffering from what I call filing fatigue: missing out on various issues of mini-series and monthlies because my either my retailer forgets to hold a copy for me or because Diamond shorts them on their order, and they just don’t get the book or they don’t get enough copies to go around.

    As a result, I’m cutting down: no more Ultimates, no more event books, no more minis, no more monthlies that might get canceled a few issues down the road. I’m pretty much staying with solid titles with a proven track record. I’m hoping anything that I miss out on because of this will be collected, and the public library will buy a copy.

    I’ve been swimming along with the flood tide, but it’s threatening to drown my enthusiasm. 

  34. @wallythegreenmonster  Yep that’s the reason why Marvel had so many anthologies back in the ’60s, like Tales to Astonish and Journey into Mystery.

  35. @briansalinas – compelling analysis there. thanks for lowering the tone.

  36. @Jason: From my experience with retailers, and depending on the size of the retailer, collected editions vary in their importance. There’s only one comic shop in my city and they operate on a monthly delivery from Diamond. At least 75% of their order is for collected editions and without sales of certain titles like Fables and Walking Dead in trades they wouldn’t be in business. Demand must exist for the amount of trades the big two put out each week otherwise they wouldn’t be supplying them to the market. I think an awful lot of readers have started dropping single issues for trades as well. My pull list each week is split 50-50 between trades and issues. I know quite a few others who’ve gone the same direction over the last few years.

    I think one area where the bug two’s collected editions have gotten a bit out of control is the issuing of seemingly everything in hc

  37. @Wood  Thank you! I often wonder about the profitability models of the smaller publishers. Any chance you might put together a piece about Image, IDW, Boom!, Dynamite, and Dark Horse? I read laments about the sales numbers slipping of books which sell in the tens of thousands and wonder how the industry stays afloat when the print runs of so many books number in the low thousands. Just curious.

  38. this is slightiy off topic and in reference to Brian Hibbs’ piece. People talk about Marvel flooding the market with tps that comic book shops can’t offload and which strangle their cash flow. This may be a stupid question, but why do they just not buy all the trades? that would send the message back to marvel or whoever.

  39. Another side of the trade discussion is online shopping. I rarely if ever will buy a trade from a comic shop. Cover price is too expensive compared to amazon where I can effectively get twice as much for my money.

    @Quinn They already are printing comics on the cheapest papers available in commercial printing. Comics are printed on the same papers that direct mail and sunday coupons are printed on. Don’t confuse a coated surface for quality. I think you’d have to scale back on story pages to save real money. 17 page stories with cheaper creators who can do multiple jobs with 10 pages of ads….although ad sales are based on circulation, so the ad buy on a third tier title can’t be much.

  40. @Bluestreak Hibbs is doing just that, forgoing many trades and HCs completely. But many retailers aren’t that smart.

  41. @Wood Well if retailers aren’t that smart, then there is really no helping them is there? 

  42. @bluestreak That’s kind of the conundrum I’m dealing with. My retailer is a super-cool guy who provides excellent customer service in a friendly, accessible atmosphere. In short, he’s one of the good ones. But I’m having a mildly serious first-world-problem when I’d rather wait a few months for a trade to get a better price per page and a product I can display on a shelf rather than pay more for the issues that get packed away in a box. But every book I drop from my LCS pull list and add to my Amazon wishlist is having a definite effect on his business, and probably some kind of effect on the industry as a whole.

    I realize that the industry cannot simply abandon the direct market, but I increasingly feel like I’m only buying comics ata comic store every Wednesday out of loyalty and guilt.

    This might be an off-topic question, but I’m wondering what responsibility (if any) readers have when it comes to this “business of comics” stuff — we all like the “insider” nature of comics to one extent or another, but at what point is this a retailer/publisher problem to solve and we just have to vote with our dollars?

  43. @KenOchalek  –your only responsibility is to have fun and buy what you want in whatever way works best for you. You can’t carry the burden of other people’s businesses on your back or feel that you are responsible for an entire industry. Thats insane. Does your retailer share his profits with you? Only then would you have any responsibility for his business. 

    Customer loyalty is one thing. Buying products you don’t want anymore just because you feel too guilty to drop them is not healthy.

  44. @wallythegreenmonster You’re absolutely right. Heightened language in my previous post aside, I really don’t spend much time considering any sort of “Comic Buyer’s Burden”. That would be insane!

    My dilemma isn’t so much “what do I owe my retailer?” but more “In what way does my money help the comic book industry the most?” I enjoy the experience of reading comics in all forms — issues, trades, and digital.

    While I’d prefer some to spend my money on some hybrid of digital and trades, the impression that I get from articles like this is that — for now — my money does the most good for comics when it goes to monthly issues.

    But again, that’s a publisher/retailer problem if the health of their business is tied to a format and delivery system that is losing appeal to some portion of readers (I don’t think my habits are entirely unique).

    And thanks @Wood for the awesome article — I love comics because they’re fun, but it’s cool to consider and discuss this stuff as well from time to time.

  45. @wallythegreenmonster: I enjoy reading your posts. We often agree, and usually by the time I read a thread, you’ve already said what I would’ve added anyway. Cheers.

  46. @KenOchalek  – It’s the industries job to give the customers what they want — that means retailers, publishers, etc. Don’t worry about the industry dying. It will change to mee the customer’s habits — just do what you want to do.

    As for me, one of the only reason I buy monthlies is to keep up with the conversation. This is especially true for new books. And I often end up switching to trades at some point.

  47. I like supporting local businesses. I want a comic shop in my area.

    But I’m not going to haphazardly throw money around.

  48. Good article, though it would have been good to hear more of the law of diminishing returns. @ Quinn: I think scaling the prices of low selling titles (so an underperforming title would sell for $1.99) is a great idea. It would encourage more readers to take a chance on it, which should grow the readership. I don’t like scaling the best selling prices up, because readers tend to get drawn to the comic book stores to buy the Avengers, and while they are there, they may take a chance on a few other titles. If you raise the price on the Avengers, you make it less likely they will come to the store for it, and therefore less likely they will buy the other titles they would otherwise have been taking a chance on. Good point though. I think it all comes down to growing the base, by getting more people to try comics, and therefore buy comics. However, the price point is too high for most people to enter the buyers market, so the companies are just stretching a shrinking base. Both companies are engaging in a temporarily successful, but long -term doomed sales plan.

  49. @player1  –hey thanks! =)

    @KenOchalek  –i hear you…its tough. I really don’t ever think about what’s “best for the industry” when i make purchasing decisions. I just buy and let that stuff play out naturally. Good business owners will figure out a way to survive or they’ll just do something else. I can’t force my local shops to diversify or invest in a web presence, even though i know it would do good things for their business. Thats on them. Enjoying comics is on me. =)

    I think the guys did an article or talked about that Comic Buyer Guilt a while back. You’re not the first person i’ve heard talk about things that way. 

  50. I’m one of those putzes that uses DCBS. Apologies to my LCS, but I’d much prefer to purchase books at 90s prices than not. Sometimes, though, I do walk into my local LCS. Part of it is guilt … but it is self-serving guilt. As much as I like the low prices at DCBS I also want the local retailer to survive. Or maybe I’m just bored. Or maybe I’ve heard about something on a podcast. Or maybe the ambience draws me in. I don’t think my monthly $10 is what keeps my LCS in business but I’m sure it helps.

    The local shops in my neighborhood that seem to be doing well offer diversified products and services … single issues, trades, hard covers, graphic novels, t-shirts, figurines, key chains … AND gaming nights, community events … one LCS in Denver has been trying to start a monthly graphic novel discussion group. AND they also offer pull lists. AND they have a website for online ordering. My bet is that shops like these that are innovative and adaptive will survive regardless what happens with the direct market. I also know that some shops have become quite adept at reducing excess inventory with targeted 50% off sales … especially on FCBD.

    Oh … I’d HATE to be in the business of figuring out what and how much to order every month. I would crumble under the pressure. 

  51. Great piece but I think dc fans always need a excuse if your happy with your universe why do you care if your in second plase I have always been a marvel fan and when blackest night was the rage I could care less let the big 2 worry about sales and just enjoy your comics its better to be number 2 than idw right

  52. Fascinating article!  I love the research & analysis that went into it.  Keep up the good work!

  53. Back from Phoenix & finally readinjg your column, Jason!

    GREAT job this week!

    Marvel does it because they can.
    DC doesn’t because they can’t.

    End of story, really.

  54. Well, it looks like maybe DC’s decided they can work around the problem by diving into untested waters. Same day digital on 52 new series! Cajones!

  55. Has anyone ever seen a poll regarding readership of the top two?  More pointedly, has either DC or Marvel experienced a measurable and permanent exodus of readership to the other company’s titles?  It has always seemed to me, based on my perusal of message boards, that a reader is loyal to either Marvel or DC regardless of what the company puts out.  

  56. Great market breakdown in this article. I love titles from both publishers and definitely wanna see quality over quantity but I know they have to do both in order to dent the marginal gap but I’d like to see this article revised in September when the DC 52 #1’s and same day digital hits, just for curiosity.