Just How Low Are the Sales That Make a Comic Successful?

One of my favorite companies to deal with as press, Boom! Studios, sent out a press release touting the success of their new Stan Lee series Soldier Zero under the headline “Stan Lee’s Soldier Zero #1 Bestselling Boom! Studios Comic of All Time!”

OK, that’s nicely hyperbolic, which makes it eye-catching. What makes is different from the usual announcement of such things is that Boom! was willing to cite numbers.

BOOM! Studios is proud to announce that STAN LEE’S SOLDIER ZERO #1 has sold over 24,000 copies through all channels and broken all records for the five-year-old publisher, making STAN LEE’S SOLDIER ZERO #1 the bestselling BOOM! Studios comic of all time.

Let’s think about that number a minute. Certainly, this is a product targeted for the direct market, prominently promoting the name of the man who made the Marvel Universe, even though he doesn’t write the book. It’s superheroes with one of the biggest brand names of them all attached.

On the other hand, it’s a new character, with less-well-known creators (writer Paul Cornell and artist Javier Pina) working on it. If I recall correctly, Peter David used to have a formula for predicting comic success in the direct market. The more points out of ten you could get, the better. You got four points for publisher (DC or Marvel got all four), three for character (Batman, X-Men, etc. got three), two for artist (a name creator with a fan following), and one for writer. (Anyone know what “But I Digress” column that was?)

So using that predictor, this book gets only 1 or 2 points for publisher (since Boom! isn’t front-of-the-Previews-catalog Premier), none for character (new creation, no familiarity), none for artist (since I can’t name anything else he’s drawn), and one for writer (based on Lee’s name). That’s three points (being generous) out of 10. If you assume a truly best-selling, record-breaking book would sell about 100,000 in today’s market, then selling under 30K works out about right with the formula. Go Peter David!

On the other hand, depending on Boom!’s expectations, they could be thrilled. It’s excellent for an independent comic to sell 10,000 these days, and Boom!’s more than doubled that. Then again, since

SOLDIER ZERO #1 … ships with seven covers, including A & B covers in a 50/50 split by Trevor Hairsine and Dave Johnson respectively, a 1-in-25 incentive by Phil Noto, 1-in-50 Undressed Trevor Hairsine Variant, 1-in-75 Undressed Dave Johnson Variant, 1-in-150 Undressed Phil Noto Variant, and a special 1-in-300 Stan Lee signed variant cover with all new cover art by Kalman Andrasofszky.

That’ll jazz sales, for sure. Especially if retailers were required to buy a certain number of copies to qualify to buy the rarer variants. The book only came out October 20, so this is all based on a week of sales, but that’s about the shelf life of a superhero periodical these days. If you’re curious about the content, here’s a review.

I was just stunned to see such a relatively low number touted as such a resounding success, but it’s a very different market these days from the boom times. For comparison, I noticed that today’s issue of Captain America, #611, carried the federally required “U.S. Postal Service Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation”. According to this filing, the title Captain America sold an average of just under 68,000 over the past year, with the “actual number of copies of single issue published nearest to filing date” equaling 61,645. Just over 4,000 of those are mail subscriptions.

That’s a big-name, well-respected title with public awareness. And it does under 70K in a country of 300 million. This is the comic market propping up how many publishers aiming for serialization and how many retailers? Greater diversity means more books available to choose from, but fewer potential top sellers, since it’s less likely any given book will appeal to a mass number of people.

17 Responses to “Just How Low Are the Sales That Make a Comic Successful?”

  1. Anatole Wilson Says:

    I have to admit I would’ve thought Boom’s numbers were higher, given the popularity of properties like “Incredibles” and the Muppets, as well as the critical success of ” Irreedeemable.” guess I’m living in more of a fishbowl than I thought. :(

  2. Dwight Williams Says:

    Weird. And those two titles you mention are available at the news-stands, at least here in Ottawa. The main bookstore chain, Chapters/Indigo, as well as various other outlets, carries them.

  3. Johanna Says:

    There are all kinds of caveats that can come into place with such a statement. For instance, does “comic” include their collections, or just periodical issues? I would imagine that some of the kids’ material might sell better once collected (which is a sturdier format that schools and libraries like much more). There’s also the question of which time period we’re considering — does “best-selling” mean “upon release” or are they looking at cumulative sales as well?

  4. Chris G. Says:

    “Undressed variant”?

  5. Rob Says:

    I’m guessing they’re talking about “trade dress” (title, publisher logo, creator credits) and not what the character’s wearing.

  6. Johanna Says:

    That threw me for a loop too when I first saw it. I hope Rob is right. :)

  7. Chris G. Says:

    That WOULD make more sense.

  8. SKFK Says:

    “Undressed variant” is marginally better than what many other publishers call it: “Virgin variant”

  9. Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    […] Publishing | Johanna Draper Carlson dissects a publisher’s press release and wonders, “just how low are the sales that make a comic successful?” [Comics Worth Reading] […]

  10. Dean Trippe Says:

    I know the scale of what is a successful comic has changed considerably in the last twenty years (and of course, ridiculously so in the last 60), but these days 24,000 copies sold from a small publisher is astonishingly great. This article is a good reminder of the reduced sales comics are experiencing in the modern marketplace, but, I think, unfairly takes away from the success BOOM! is legitimately touting for their new title.

    I say congrats to BOOM! and the seriously talented creators involved. Obviously, there will be a drop in orders for the next issue, but a solid start like this is a good thing. There are dozens of books at Marvel and DC (and more if you include their long-established internal imprints) that don’t perform this well on a monthly basis, sometimes even with new #1s.

    The bar’s been lowered, but that’s an industry-wide issue, and doesn’t take away from BOOM!’s success in clearing it. We need more comics that manage it.

  11. Steve Broome Says:

    Seems like all this should give people more appreciation for what Mark Millar has done and why the whining about his “self-promotion” is idiotic.

  12. Mr. Fister Says:

    5,000 for an indie is a great success. Over 20,000 is ridiculous!

  13. Johanna Says:

    Dean, yes, I certainly applaud Boom!’s success with this title, and I hope that the post doesn’t suggest otherwise. I decided to write about this when discussing the PR with a friend who’s been in comics a long time, and we were comparing how scales change in context as the market changes. I thought that was something to emphasize — and I’m thrilled that, as they said, they were willing to release numbers, because so many people aren’t. AND this wasn’t announced as a sell-out — there are still copies available for those who want to check out the series.

    You make a good point, which is that drop-off is inevitable, so the higher you can start from, the better off you are.

  14. Joe Williams Says:

    Well, if it was selling that many at Vertigo it would probably not be canceled so it’s got to be pretty good sales for Boom.

    Is this much of a surprise, though? Doesn’t The Beat still publish the indy sales every month?

  15. Johanna Says:

    There are a number of estimates available online, emphasis on estimates. It’s rare to see a publisher mention actual sales.

  16. Torsten Adair Says:

    I get press releases from Image which frequently cite “sell out” sales.

    Of course, most DM titles are printed to order, so a sell-out is expected. Usually Image announces a second-printing, which means there is enough demand for the book. Boom! does this as well, but not as often. (Some comicologists might remember when Boom! added Haven as a distributor of second (and later, first) printings.

  17. Johanna Says:

    Yeah, a “sell out” means little without knowing whether they sold out of 2,000 copies or 10,000 (or more).




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