Variant Covers Are Propping Up the Comic Market

I’m tired of seeing so many variant covers when I peruse the weekly comic list. So I decided to see if I was overreacting in thinking that too many comic publishers are depending on alternate covers to drive sales.

This week (tomorrow), there are 167 comic books coming out. I took the list and removed digests, trades, books, magazines, and toys, leaving only comic issues, to get that number. By the way, there are 267 items total, so pity your comic store staff having to sort through all that.

Variant Cover Percentage of New Comic Issues

Then I removed all variant and second printing covers, leaving a total of 95 line items. That means that 43% of the new comics for sale tomorrow are duplicates of something already released. Nearly half the market is variant covers.

The only publishers of comics that didn’t use variants were Alternative, Bongo, Kenzer & Company, Oni Press, and Titan. Bravo for them!

This week, all of the comics from these publishers have variants:

  • Archie
  • Aspen
  • Avatar* (with the charming addition of Torture, Gore, and Terror Incentive covers)
  • Big Dog Ink*
  • Boom!* (well, one title has a Cover A but no others listed — maybe they’re late?)
  • IDW*
  • Microcosm
  • Valiant*
  • Zenescope

The ones with asterisks offered at least one variant with the note “AR”, which means “we’re not even setting a cover price so the retailer can charge as much as he thinks he can get”. In other words, a generated speculator object. All variants from DC and Marvel (which don’t create variants for every title) are unpriced in this way. Dynamite also offers a limited number of AR variants.

Additionally, IDW has “retailer incentive” covers, which is perhaps the most honest labeling, since they’re creating them just to give the retailers an incentive to boost sales.

I was surprised to see how comparatively few variant covers Marvel offered. Their strategy instead is to release issues more often, so that some titles have more than 12 issues a year. I prefer that tactic, since I’d rather get new stories over another pretty picture.

10 Responses to “Variant Covers Are Propping Up the Comic Market”

  1. Ralf Haring Says:

    I think Marvel might not release variants for absolutely every issue, but they can be extremely overenthusiastic (to put it mildly) when launching a series. For instance here is the recent Brian Wood X-Men series with 11 variants: . A look at all their #1s released this year shows this is pretty common practice for them: .

  2. James Moar Says:

    Variant covers can include nice images and clever ideas, but overall I tend to feel that they’re editions in which 1 out of 20-odd pages of content is different….

  3. Eric Says:

    I dislike variant covers because on a couple of occasions I accidentally bought a second copy of a book I already had due to the different cover. Granted, this could be avoided if I paid closer attention to what I bought in the first place.

  4. Nearly 50% of the comic book market consists of variant covers — The Beat Says:

    […] publisher is pumping out. Industry observer Johanna Draper Carlson does some math and concludes “Variant Covers Are Propping Up the Comic Market”. A look at this weeks shipping schedule revealed that nearly half of the periodicals shipping were […]

  5. Michael Rawdon Says:

    Isn’t it something of a leap from the data presented here to say that variant covers are “propping up” the comic market? Wouldn’t we want to know at least the unit share and dollar share of comics with variant covers vs. non-variants to draw that conclusion?

    The monthly sales reports suggest to me that variant covers (at least, the 1-for-many retailer incentives) do have a measurable impact on sales, but in my opinion the impact is far short of propping up the market.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Good point, Ralf. KC reminded me of the same thing — and my missing that is an artifact of just deciding to do this off the cuff this week.

    Michael, yes, you’re correct. And since so many variants are unpriced, I don’t think I can approximate that data. I’ve got another post coming shortly that looks at that question from another direction.

  7. Scott M Says:


    Michael’s point about quantity of variants sold vs. quantity of non-variants sold is valid. Just because variants are offered, doesn’t mean they’re always bought. (I agree with Joe Fields from the beat thread: we never ordered avatar variants)

    Also, I’m willing to bet a large % of Dynamite’s many many variants are only rdered by a handful of stores, also.

  8. Quand les éditeurs de comics américains tirent un peu trop sur la couverture » Le Rapide du Web Says:

    […] Draper Carlson de Comics Worth Reading a recensé et distingué parmi les sorties comics de la semaine du 21 août 2013 aux Etats Unis […]

  9. She-Hulk Title Launching in February With Premise Similar to Novel » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] to the grim and gritty.” That’s the kind of superhero comic I want to read! Typical of today’s market, the first issue will have at least two covers, as shown […]

  10. Variant Cover Numbers Over the Past Five Years » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] up on my post about how many new releases are variant covers, it occurred to me that I should look at the past few years to see if this measurement was typical. […]




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