Have you ever been to a Comic Convention? Have you travelled around to lots of different comic stores? Have you ever worked in a comic store?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then chances are you have looked around and noticed just how many comics there are unsold.
Sure, there are two ways of looking at back issue stocks; some stores have a definitive "Back Issue selection" such as Mile High, Silver Acre, Comic Connections...(I think I got away with that plug); whereas some stores have a much less respectable "Comics that haven't sold" bin such as London FP. Some stores just leave the comics cluttering up the shelf such as one Oxfordshire based store that still had Kamikaze #4 on the "New Comics" shelf 1 year after publication.
Either way, it adds up to a hell of a lot of unread comics sitting around doing nothing.
Lets look at the numbers for Marvels Top Selling Book: New Avengers; and one of DCs worst-selling-but-not-yet-cancelled-its-just-a-matter-of-time books: Trigger; for the last year. I used these books as example because they are about as diametrically opposed as you can get for two books published by the big boys.
1. NEW AVENGERS / AVENGERS
Feb 04 Avengers #78 - 58,798
Feb 04 Avengers #79 - 55,014
Mar 04 Avengers #80 - 55,533
Apr 04 Avengers #81 - 54,987
May 04 Avengers #82 - 55,711
May 04 Avengers #83 - 55,280
Jun 04 Avengers #84 - 57,083
Jul 04 Avengers #500 - 140,033
Aug 04 n/a
Sep 04 Avengers #501 - 91,054
Sep 04 Avengers #502 - 93,105
Oct 04 n/a
Nov 04 Avengers #503 - 105,761
Nov 04 Avengers Finale - 101,431
Dec 05 New Avengers #1 - 280,286
Jan 05 New Avengers #2 - 155,742
Feb 05 New Avengers #3 - 148,973
Remember, these numbers are the numbers sold to retailers and have absolutely no baring on the number of issues actually sold to the consumer. The most important thing to remember with the month-to-month comparison is that retailers have to order 2-3 months in advance, meaning that we had ordered Avengers #502 before we had received #500, all we had to go on was the creators name, faith in the company and an awful lot of hype.
So, one thing we can tell straight away is that Bendis sells comics, but even the retailer doesn't know quite how well. The initial orders for Avengers #500 are great, and the book was well received as we can tell by the orders for issue #503, but the retailers were less than willing to risk high orders for 2-3 months without seeing any product or fan reaction, and rightly so.
So what does this mean for sales then? Are there 35,000 fans walking around with #500 desperately seeking issues 501-503 only to find not enough issues have been printed to meet demand? Are there 91,054 fans with complete sets of Avengers Disassembled and lots of overprinted issues of #500, #502 and 503 sitting around in comic shops? Or did the death of Hawkeye really alienate so many Marvel fans that no-one actually bought #503? The vocal minority would make you think yes, but that obviously isn't the case.
Marvel sold nearly twice as many issues of New Avengers #1 as they did issue #3.
How? The book is good. Had more or less the same variant incentive scheme. Solid storytelling, interesting, great artwork and it has a core group of A-list characters much like Morrisons JLA. How can it vent 140,000 issues in a two month period? I fail to see that 140,000 people all stood up and said "lets boycott this book, but we'll check out issue 1 first". Its not the destructive speculator era of the nineties anymore (thank god) so we can rule out speculative purchases for the majority of sales.
Obviously I have no way of proving this as there is absolutely no way of obtaining a record of how many comics actually reach the consumer, but it looks like something is going wrong somewhere between ordering and sell-through. And it leads to a lot of comics sitting around doing nothing.
Lets move on to Trigger, way down the sales chart at number 161.
161) TRIGGER (vertigo)
12/ 2004: Trigger #1 -- 14,019
01/ 2005: Trigger #2 -- 9,650
02/ 2005: Trigger #3 -- 8,891
The other interesting thing about this book is that its usually sent out in the DC Advance Preview Program, its a weekly mail-out for retailers wishing to sample comics the week before release so they can adjust sales accordingly. Amusingly, you can only adjust sales upwards as by the time the package ships its well past the reduce order date, which doesn't exist for UK retailers unless the book is three months late. But that's another story. But that can account for another 1,000 or so sales which may or may not be included in the figures above. Also, take into account the fact that DC overprints its books by about 30% as opposed to Marvels 10%.
The sales for this book could quite realistically be every Direct Market comic shop trying out 1 or 2 copies of each issue, because of the Vertigo banner- because you never know which Vertigo book might be the next Sandman or Preacher. This doesn't necessarily mean they are selling the book onto the consumer.
How many issues of Trigger are actually being read? 6,000? 5,000?
When you bear in mind how many collectors stop buying and sell their collection back to a store with the onset of marriage, or childbirth, or college, or puberty, it makes me ask the question: How many comics actually printed actually make it into a collection? Seventy Percent? Fifty Percent?
Think about it.