What can we learn from the (early) success of THE UNWRITTEN?

(Disclaimer: I am aware that the numbers discussed in this article are relative only to the iFanboy community, and are in no way directly related to the comic book reading audience at large.)

I was struck when looking at the comics list this week to see how many people stayed on The Unwritten with the second issue. The first issue was pulled 429 times, and the second issue 411. That’s a great retention rate for a series that usually isn’t in the general interest for comic book readers.  These kind of pull numbers are not normal for Vertigo books, even the really popular and/or critically acclaimed Vertigo books.  Let’s take a look at how popular some of the Vertigo books are among the iFanbase, presented here in descending order of popularity as of their most recent issue.

(Click on the link to see their pull history)

Scalped – 195
Fables – 192
Jack of Fables – 177 (currently seeing a huge bump because of the crossover)
– 125
– 121
Unknown Soldier
– 83
– 65
Madame Xanadu
– 60

The Unwritten
isn’t just the most popular Vertigo book, it’s the most popular book by a wide margin.  It was pulled more than twice as much as the Scalped, the previous most popular Vertigo book with the iFanbase.

And it’s not popular because of Mike Carey, his X-Men book is even getting clobbered by The Unwritten.

X-Men: Legacy – 217

Why did so many people pull The Unwritten in the first place?  Quite simply, it was because the first issue was offered for $1.00.  Hell, that’s why I bought it.  Normally, I’d be waiting for the trade paperback on something like this. The enticement of a super cheap first issue was enough to convince many people who would normally pass right by a book like The Unwritten to stop and pick it up.  Luckily for Vertigo the book was really good and the quality level of that first issue was enough to bring most people back for the second, even at full price. Will they stay? Only time will tell; we’ll know more next month.

At this point you might be saying to yourself “What does any of this matter? I read most of those Vertigo books in trade.” I would tend to agree with you, I have this crazy notion that when you offer your product to your customers in two different formats and they overwhelming choose one of them over the other you should figure out how to make your business work in that more popular format.  But that’s just me, I don’t run Vertigo or DC Comics.  They would prefer that you buy their books in issues.  They even went so far as to get down on their knees at a Vertigo panel at the New York Comic-Con and beg people to buy the issues.

So has Vertigo finally found a way to hook people into theur issues?  If you are someone who doesn’t read Scalped or Northlanders, would you check out a jumping on point issue that was priced at $1.00?  Or was this a magically confluence of low price and an excellent comic book that can’t be duplicated?


  1. If I havent read Scalped before hand, and it was a dollar….yes I would give it a shot. But considering I’ve already tried it and wasnt a fan of it then I wouldnt even come close to it.

    ALL, not just Veritgo, companies should be doing this. Whenever a #1 issue comes out it should be a dollar so people can try it out. Imagine if Batman and Robin came out with that price tag. Probably would be on a second or third printing by now. Why stop there? Make the 50th, 100th, 200th, etc; also $1. It will make the fans happy and more importantly it’ll get new people reading the comics.

  2. The $1.00 entry fee is what sold me. In fact, I was not interested in the book enough to read it for nearly a full month untill I saw that #2 was coming out this week. Then I went back and read it and loved the concept, so I’m on board for at least the initial arc. I can’t say I won’t switch to trades following that, but I certainly will be buying issues for at least the forseeable future.

  3. First – I bought this because of it being the beginning of new series with a premise that I thought I would enjoy. The price point was nice but completely secondary. I wanted to hop on a Vertigo series that I thought I would like and be able to experience in issues like other people have with Y or Scalped or whatever.

    Second – These series are not Action or Detective or some other long time ongoing series. For the most part they are finite stories that Vertigo has trained its readers to process in the trade format with a definite beginning and end. For me it was the right premise with the right point in the story; the beginning.

  4. I bought it for a dollar, but I decided right away that I wouldn’t for $2.99 just because I’d rather not pick up yet another series in singles. I’m definitely going to at least look at the first trade when it comes out and I’m hoping they discount it some from the usual price too. That’s how I justified starting buying Scalped and while I’m a trade behind on that, it’s something that I pick up when I can budget for it.

  5. Man that $1 issue was genius! Its just like the thing Image and Vertigo do with $10 trade paperbacks.

    First ones free kids!
























  6. ahh woops my fault =(

  7. That Scalped gets more pulls than Fables evidence in itself that IFanboy users are not representative of the general comicbook readership (Fables sells at least 4 times as many copies).  The dollar ploy of course doesn’t always work–Vertigo’s Air did this a couple of issues ago and enjoyed no sales bump at all with successive issue.  

  8. I picked up the first issue, as for a buck, it’s worth seeing if I’m interested in the series or not.  From there, I’ll pick up the trades, as that’s how I generally read the series.  I do think though that the $1 price point definitely gets more people reading it.  Not only that, but I bet more stores order in copies, as it’s less of a risk to them.  I think it’s a good plan and should definitely be used for #1’s as well as maybe jumping on points if a series isn’t selling as well (although by that point either A. people may be wary to pick it up or B. stores won’t order as many as they would a #1 even if it is a buck because they don’t think enough people will be pulled in).

  9. Yeah, I bought the first issue of air. Guess what? Didn’t even finish it. 

    I ate UInritten up like a bag delicious skittles and wanted more. While I read a preview of the firt issue in the back of a Madam Xanadu issue and enjoyed it, I would not have bought it on the preview alone at 2.99 because the preview really didn’t get into the really cool parts. But for a buck, it was easy enough to just slip in and read the full issue.

    And it was awesome. Therefor I will buy it in issues. The one dollar number one thing won’t sell more of the following issues unless the book is solid, but it will allow for a lot more people to actually read it and make a decision for themselves about the book.

  10. The $1 #1 may have been a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that worked on me. The thing that made all the difference, though, is that it was a fucking good issue. And issue two didn’t disappoint.

  11. Heck, that’s how I got it. I heard y’all talk about it on the show and the premise sounded meh, but bought it ‘cuz it was a dollar and figured why not. And lo, it was amazing and I bought number 2

  12. I think the Air gimmick didn’t work because it wasn’t the start to the series,  it was a jumping on point. Most people who read Vertigo books think each series will have a begining and ending. They don’t want to start the series in the middle. 

    That said I really do like their one dollar first issue policy. I tend to give most Vertigo series a go but there are still some I remain hestiant on. This new gimmick will actually make me pick up any first issue. I also think this might make creators put their A-game into that first issue.

  13. Honestly for me, it was the fact that Vertigo hasn’t had a huge Y, Preacher-esque hit in a while now. Between the cover, the name, and the author, this sounded like it could be it to me, more than Air or Madame Xanadu did when they came out.  1 dollar first issue didn’t hurt at all, but I probably would’ve bought it if it was 3.

  14. @MeanOldPig You may be right about the Air gimmick but I wasn’t grabbed by Air like I was with this books first issue.

  15. I was so about to buy Unwritten #2 yesterday morning, but then I suddenly said to myself, "I’ll just wait for the trade like most Vertigo stuff" and I went off and bought that shitty copy of Action Comics instead.  I soo should have got Unwritten instead.  I was digging Nightbird and Flamewing a little at first, but it has become obvious that you have to be a long time Superman reader to know what is going on.

    I might go back on Saturday morning though and grab Unwritten #2 and Preacher volume seven.

  16. I would hop onto issues for many vertigo books, but it is such a chore to buy a book for months without reading it, all the while waiting for the trade.

  17. Vertigo kind of uses the same strategy in trades as well. The first trade is 10 dollars no matter the size. The first Northlanders trade is 10 bucks for 8 issues. Best deal in comics, in my opinion.

  18. @robby. Really? I only started reading the Superman line around the start of New Krypton and I’m digging the hell out of Action. It’s easily in my top 5 right now. What’s not gelling for you?

  19. Aside from the content, a Vertigo comic at 2.99 just doesn’t seem worth it–crappy paper, chock full of ads, and, typically, dull colors.  Put it next to a Dark Horse or Image product and there’s no comparison production-value-wise.  And the truth is that they’ve been holding the line at 3 bucks for a long time.  When, probably soon, DC raises the price it may spell the end of Vertigo. 

  20. I would be interested in what kind of pulls air got for its first issue or two.

  21. @myself  Under two hundred.  Wow.

  22. this has been so good!!

  23. I, too, tried this book because it was $1.00. Moreover, the $1.00 price point worked better on me than getting part of it for free did: I’d seen a few preview pages in another book, but they were out of context and had the exact opposite of their desired effect. When #1 came out, though, my shopkeeper gave me a little good old-fashioned peer pressure and swore it was good, and in the end I said, "Ah, hell. It’s a dollar." Thank God I went for it.

    Am I wrong, or when Marvel began rolling out their $3.99 price point, didn’t they start with their upcoming #1 issues? I wonder how that strategy has worked out in contrast to this.

  24. @Jimski – It’s true that unless the previews are STELLAR it’s not gonna sell the book. After reading the preview for Unwritten I was actually turned off ’cause like you said, it was out of context.

    The one dollar price point sold me and the quality brought me back for me. I know not many people can make a gamble like this but if you have enough faith in your product give someone an easy way to jump in and if it’s good (hopefully) people will stick around.

    The only thing that’s tough is that there are some series, like Scalped of Fables, that take more than one issue for some people to get fully pulled in. I read the entire first trade of Scalped and I still drugg my feet on continueing(only reason i did was because of the earnest recommendations for Josh and Conor). It wasn’t until i got through the second volume that I fell in love with the series. Fables took 4 vol’s

  25. Greek Street will be the next $1.00 first issue.  I wonder if we’ll see the same results?

  26. I remember when comics were a dime…

  27. I’ll definitely be picking up Greek Street. Unlike The Unwritten though, I already planned to. Still, the $1 price tag only seals the deal.

  28. I don’t know why anyone has not mentioned this yet, but I think part of the reason it’s doing so well here at ifanboy, is the week the first  issue came out, Josh wrote a short piece saying to pick this up along with 2 other books. And yes, I know the other 2 are not doing as well here, but that’s for 2 reasons: 1. Like mentioned before, the $1 price tag. I would never have tried it without both Josh’s pushing and that price. 2. It’s just a really high quality comic. Great art, great story, and although I think the other two books were fine, they didn’t strike me in the way this did.

     I’d be interested in seeing how well the book did outside the ifanboy community.

  29. A solution to this situation is simply mathematical:

    1st issue Cover Price is $1.00, the others are 2.99

    A trade (on instock trades) would normally be something like 10 – 12 dollars. A trade normally holds 6 issues.

    2.99 x 6 => 17.94 (tax not included/varies via state)
    in this situation 2.99 x 5 + 1.00 => 15.95: A possible Unwritten Trade.

    Instock Trades Probable Price of 10-12 > 15.95 LCS price.

    In this economy I can’t afford to listen to begging when I’m scrounging my dollars already.

  30. Except that the reason Marvel and DC keep re-numbering books is because #1’s sell a lot.  So giving up that much profit on the publisher and retail end is a big hit.  It’s not that simple.

  31. It’s probably worth noting that Josh had an article out right before the #1 issue hit, which raised awareness on this site that the book was only a dollar. I wonder if people would have even noticed the book on the racks without Josh’s piece drawing attention to it?

    Me, I’m a fan of Carey and Gross, so I had pre-ordered this regardless. What I DID do, however, was to pick up an extra copy to pass to someone else. 

    Overall, I think the $1 pricepoint is a great idea if you have a good first issue that leaves people wanting more. Unwritten achieved this goal among the iFanbase. And smart retailers probably bought extra and pushed it to customers. Be curious to see where sales figures go from here.



  32. @Jimski  I don’t know about across the board, but I can think of at least one Marvel book (the EXILES relaunch), that sold the first issue for $3.99 — then went down to $2.99 for subsequent issues.  That seems pretty short sighted as i can easily imagine somebody looking at issue 1, saying "I don’t want a $3.99 book" and not realize that the price was going down again.  I really can’t fathom the thinking that went into that one.

  33. @ohcaroline. Was the first issue an oversized?

  34. Yeah, Marvel bumping the first issue up a buck for no reason other than milking the audience for their cash (queue Conor coming in to discuss basic economics) has been noticeable. They may or may not be doing that with USM (but I think that’s a permanent $4 book).

  35. @OddBodkins – Knowing that Greek Street is gonna be $1 already has me sold and I don’t even know what the hell it is or who’s working on it

  36. I was going to follow Unwritten regardless because of Carey, the $1.00 cover price only sweetened the deal. I also would be buying Greek Street #1 if it was $2.99 because it sounds interesting, but I’m definitely on board for any and all $1.00 first issues Vertigo has to offer.

  37. @ohcaroline:  FLASH REBIRTH did a similar thing by making the first issue 3.99 and making all other issues just 2.99.  Of course, it had a big name author, a big name artist, and a big name character with a lot of buzz.  DC had to know that this book was going to sell.  For an unknown comic with a unique premise, it was a great idea to just go with the dollar price point.  I doubt we’ll be seeing new mainstream books going for that low of a price, but one can hope.

    By the way, does anyone know when REBIRTH became a 6-issue mini?  Last I heard it was just a 5-issue deal.  I’m not complaining, just surprised.

  38. @JeffR

    Actually Flash Rebirth had 8 extra pages of story (from the normal 22 to 30). It wasn’t overpriced. It even had most ads cut to the back (for the Power Girl preview).

  39. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    Ah.  The Power Girl preview in the back made me think that was the reason for the slightly heftier feel to the issue.  I must have not realized the story itself was slightly longer.  That 3.99 does make more sense now.

  40. So long as the comic didn’t star Jenna Jameson or some other crap like that, I’d buy pretty much any comic for a dollar. I’m glad to see Unwritten do so well, but I wish more people would buy things like Scalped.

  41. @Anson #17: I got back into the Superman line at New Krypton too.  It just seems like Action and Superman aren’t doing it for me and I should just read Supergirl and World Of New Krypton.  Maybe I just wan’t in the mood to read Action on Wednesday after I got done Red Robin because it wasn’t that bad after I gave it a second chance.  I sure as hell don’t care enough to pay $5 for the annual next week though.  Screw that.

    Yeah, about Unwritten, I’ve been buying House Of Mystery monthly forever so I’m not really surprising myself about reading this in floppies.  I end up re-reading floppies more then trades so it’s not always that bad.  I do buy a lot of Vertigo stuff in trade form though: I’m about to start volume seven of Preacher anyday now.  I finished all the Y books mad long ago, wish I never had to sell them!!! SHIT