Since 2013, Marvel Comics has dominated the comic book market. Now, at last, it looks as though things are changing; preliminary sales figures are emerging for July 2016, and they show DC coming out on top!
What's Going On?
Before I go through the figures, it's time to understand the comic book market. In the US, retailers pre-order comics from Diamond distributors. It's a tough market, with retailers predicting sales performance; if they order too many, they're left with stock on the shelves. Every month, Diamond publish the pre-order sales figures. They're the nearest we ever get to actual sales performance for any comics.
In reality, the picture is a lot more complicated than just Diamond pre-orders. These pre-orders don't factor in the international market - and some comics are known to perform better internationally. Worse still, they also ignore digital sales. With digital sales on sites like ComiXology becoming more and more popular, that's a real problem.
Still, however little the Diamond figures may relate to the reality, they're of real importance - if only from a symbolic point of view. Figures for July 2016 are emerging, and they show a real success for DC.
No less than eight of the top-selling comics for July 2016 were part of DC's hugely-successful "Rebirth" range, with only two of Marvel's comics getting into the top ten - both part of the current "Civil War II" event. In a month when Marvel published 130 comics and DC published just 94 titles, DC was in the lead both in dollar share (35.36% to 34.20%) and in unit share (40.96% to 35.69%).
That's all the more impressive when you consider that, as part of the "Rebirth" event, DC reduced the cover price on most of their books to $2.99. This is the first time DC's been in the lead since September 2013!
What Are the Reasons for DC's Triumph?
The first key to this is the "Rebirth" event, which is transforming DC's line. Launched with Geoff Johns's superb DC Universe - Rebirth #1, this event has effectively relaunched almost all of DC's books. Where 1986's Watchmen persuaded DC's leaders that darkness was good, "Rebirth" is a quest to bring back joy and excitement. It's telling that the teaser poster is an image featuring countless key DC superheroes, all with smiles on their faces. Making the subtext text, the villains responsible for stealing the life and love from the DC universe? They're the characters from Watchmen. You can check out a full discussion of that here.
"Rebirth" is proving to be tremendously successful. Even where creative teams have stayed the same, the very idea seems to have revitalized them. The classic example is Green Arrow, where the creative team are taking the book in a completely different direction, enjoying the restored relationship between Green Arrow and Black Canary.
What's more, DC has made a smart move by reducing the cover price to $2.99. This cheaper price always increases the number of sales, but risks making the comics less competitive in terms of the market's dollar share. The price cut makes DC's triumph in dollar share - as well as unit share - all the more impressive.
So Which Books Were in the Top 10?
Here are the top 10 books for July 2016:
- Justice League #1 (DC)
- Justice League - Rebirth #1 (DC)
- Batman #2 (DC)
- Civil War II #3 (Marvel)
- Batman #3 (DC)
- Nightwing - Rebirth #1 (DC)
- Civil War II #4 (Marvel)
- New Super-Man #1 (DC)
- Nightwing #1 (DC)
- Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #1 (DC)
As you can see, the two Marvel books in the top 10 were both part of the current event miniseries, Civil War II. Civil War II #3 was supported by a phenomenal amount of marketing, featuring the death of Bruce Banner. DC's sales successes include a good number of first issues (which always have higher sales). The continuing sales success of Batman - always a top-seller - is pleasing.
Most interesting of all is the launch of DC's New Super-Man, which reinvents Superman as a Chinese superhero. The book is also likely to have performed well in international markets, making it a real triumph for DC. It's also pleasing to see the "Rebirth" issues associated with Nightwing and Green Lantern in the top 10, proving those superhero franchises still endure.
Can DC Keep the Lead?
When DC first announced the $2.99 cover price, most insiders suspected that it couldn't last long. A common theory I heard was that Warner Bros. was subsidizing a temporary loss-leader approach, with DC planning to up prices again after a few issues. The idea was to give every series a temporary edge, with a chance for readers to get caught up in the story before the price went up.
The fact that DC triumphed in dollar share as well as unit share changes all that. Bulk production is always cheaper, and it's entirely possible that the increased sales have balanced the price cut out.
- Assessing the Success of the "All-New All-Different Marvel"
- How Will DC's "Rebirth" Event Transform the DCEU?
- Marvel's "Civil War II" - A Step in a Strange Direction
Whether they do keep the $2.99 price or not, DC will be hoping that the "Rebirth" success will continue. The "Rebirth" books have been tremendous so far, and in my view DC's general quality is currently higher than all but the best Marvel books. Last year's "Secret Wars" event ran spectacularly late, with the final issue published four months after it was originally scheduled. It was followed by the "All-New All-Different Marvel" relaunch, an event that was staggered between October 2015 and February 2016, and began before the event had even finished. Marvel's latest event is tellingly called "Civil War II," and the next annual relaunch - "Marvel NOW!" - bears the same name as the 2013 relaunch. It's all led to a palpable sense of 'going through the motions,' and it doesn't seem to have generated the usual levels of fan enthusiasm.
July 2016 has been a tremendous month for DC Comics, and proves that the company is headed in the right direction. It's been years since DC has taken the lead in sales performance, and this feels like a well-deserved success. It's also perfectly timed, with DC's main competition, Marvel, in a fairly weak place. If "Rebirth" continues to perform at such a high quality, I see no reason why DC can't keep the lead for the foreseeable future.
Are you excited about DC's "Rebirth" books? Let me know in the comments!