Talking Shop: Spider-Man, Post 'Brand New Day'

Op/Ed: Brand New Day, 7 Months Later, II

As part of our ongoing series looking at the status of Amazing Spider-Man, we turn today to the retailers.

In January, Amazing Spider-Man started shipping three times a month and switched to a new story direction called "Brand New Day." Before the big change happened, we talked to retailers as part of our Talking Shop features to find out what the "One More Day" reset of Spider-Man had done to comic shops. While most shops were getting a lot of complaints about the just-finished One More Day, they were hopeful that Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day would bring higher overall sales than the three existing Spider-Man books.

Now that the "Brand New Day" era of the book has ended and more than half a year has passed, we checked back with store owners yesterday. According to retailers, the expected sales benefit from the Spider-Man change came through, but some indicated that the numbers are slipping.

"While sales of the Amazing Spider-Man title are down from its all-time Civil War high in our shop, the three issues of Amazing combined still outsell the combination of Amazing, Spectacular and Sensational that we had during the last couple years," said Carr D'Angelo, owner of Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "Each issue of Amazing Spidey sells for us in the Green Lantern-Daredevil-Action Comics range. But at three times a month, it means it outsells Batman and New Avengers."

"Originally, I ordered it like I would the normal Amazing title," said Jason Pierce, owner of Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Ind. "But the buzz around Brand New Day has just not been there, and I have decreased my orders to below what the normal Amazing was selling. Still, with it coming out three times a month, it does better than Spectacular and Friendly would have."

A few retailers said they have seen new readers try out the comic because of the change, but most said the customers who dropped the title negated the gain from new subscriptions.

"The change in Amazing Spider-Man -- the post One More Day fall-out -- broke both ways. There were some long-time readers that gave up the title and some new readers that jumped on. Initially, I'd say it was push," said Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, Calif. "When I compare sales on Amazing, Friendly and Sensational before Civil War to the sales now on three monthly issues of Amazing, it's about a break-even. Amazing was selling much better as a monthly back then, but Sensational and Friendly were selling below what Amazing sells at now."

Retailers said they've had a tough time ordering the title because of sales fluctuations caused by variant covers and changing creative teams. However, several shop owners said the current "New Ways to Die" storyline has seen a noticeable spike in sales.

"From a retailer perspective, this title is now one of the most difficult (and even risky) titles to order because of quickly changing creative teams, three times a month shipping that makes it harder to properly adjust orders on the FOC [Final Order Cut-Off], and the general controversy that led to the Brand New Day status quo," Field of Flying Colors Comics said.

"We look at each story arc and creative team to decide if we need to increase or decrease our orders," said Bob Moreau, manager of Westfield Comics in Madison, Wisc.

Bret Parks, owner of Ssalesfish Comics in Winston Salem, N.C., said the additional Spider-Man spin-off comics being released right now make ordering even more difficult -- and have the potential to upset customers who are already paying for three comics a month.

"One-shots, an Annual, Secret Invasion three-part mini, another Annual promising to reveal the secret of Jackpot -- a lot of people saw this in Previews and felt cheated -- and now the low cost collections of Brand New Day story arcs, [meaning] I have to reformulate my trade paperback orders," Parks said. "Three times a month should mean just that -- three times a month."

Although retailers recognize the two extra issues of Amazing per month are outselling the two now-canceled Spider-Man titles, some question how long that will last. "The numbers are getting closer to what we were selling of all three titles before the change," said J.C. Glindmyer of Earthworld Comics in Albany, N.Y.

"Many of our customers aren't satisfied with the title now and have been steadily dropping off after hoping that it would get better," said Mike Wellman, co-owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Calif. "New readers are picking up the current storyline right now, but it's my guess that they'll drop again because the next couple months don't look too exciting."

"I've steadily lost readers and haven't gained a one," said Charlie Harris of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz.

"If sales continue to fall off -- monthly numbers below what the three titles sold -- what will Marvel do?" asked Ralph DiBernardo, owner of Jetpack Comics in Rochester, N.H.

Matt Price, owner of Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, Okla., said his sales have been "fairly steady," with a readership that seems to be sticking with the new direction. "I think the creative teams are strong, and in our store at least, shipping the core title more often has been more successful than having additional spin-off titles," he said.

Other retailers had additional positive feedback, including two retailers who like that Amazing Spider-Man is easier to recommend to young readers.

"We used Brand New Day as an outreach to younger customers who wanted to read Spider-Man but didn't like the 'kiddy book' vibe of Marvel Adventures," D'Angelo said. "Part of the fun of comics is the serial storytelling, the realization that the story you hold in your hand is part of a magnificent mythology, and the desire to connect all the continuity dots. We picked up more than a few kids as Spidey readers with BND, some actually buying subscriptions so they don't miss an issue. They like that they're reading the 'real' Spider-Man."

Shawn Demumbrum, manager of SpazDog Comics in Phoenix, also pointed out that the former Spider-Man titles didn't always ship on time, so while the sales figures for each issue may have been more impressive in the past, they probably didn't sell as many copies per year because of delays.

"Steve Wacker has done an amazing job keeping these books on schedule," Demumbrum said. "With all the delays that other Marvel books seem to have these days, Amazing Spider-man is like clockwork. As a retailer, scheduling is key. Late books frustrate readers and eventually even the best written and drawn books get passed over."

As for the actual content of the comic, retailers said their customers are having mixed reactions -- some good, some bad -- and it's tough to get new readers on board.

"I like that Marvel's move made noise in the comic realm. Noise makes people take notice," said DiBernardo of Jetpack Comics. "Unfortunately, negative noise cannot always be spun positive. I've truly lost customers over this. When you change something so dear to someone, it can become an excuse to abandon their hobby. In fairness, many of the people reading Spider-Man say that they are some of the best stories in years. While they might not like how they got there, the stories are entertaining."

"It seems that Amazing is very middle of the road," Pierce of Alter Ego Comics said. "I don't have a lot of customers say they hate it. On the other hand, I don't have a lot that talk about how great it is. That is a shame. This is Spider-Man, arguably Marvel's greatest flagship character. For it to just be mediocre is a crime. Look at titles such as Green Lantern or Captain America. They are not connected to any other part of their universes; they are single comics (without event tie-ins) that hit every month; and they are astounding. Spider-Man could and should be that way. It should be a must-read comic for Marvel."

"It's funny. I keep hearing complaints about the book. 'The story isn't going anywhere. I might drop it after this story,'" said Craig Lopacinski of Neptune Comics in Waukesha, Wisc. "Then they never drop it, and keep complaining about the book not going anywhere. I just hope they don't all agree on dropping it at the same time."

"My customers seem torn," Demumbrum said. "They have run the gambit from new customers picking up Amazing Spider-Man, to die hard 'web-heads' dropping it and adding it back on months later, to subscribers dropping it and not looking back. With the constantly changing creative teams, Amazing Spider-Man is like the weather: If you don't like it now, wait a month and it will change."

But D'Angelo of Earth-2 said he's hopeful the latest spike in readership means Marvel is figuring out ways to attract readers to the title and make the title exciting for current readers. "After six or seven months of 'all new villains,' it's good to see a return to exploring the wealth of cool concepts in the Spider-Man universe," he said. "After One More Day, the book no longer had that comforting familiar feel, which is fine, but people are jazzed to see Norman Osborn back. Mark Waid wrote a story that actually made me care about Eddie Brock. If the next stage of Amazing is to re-boot more of the legendary Spidey characters and villains, it will bring back more of the readers who took a wait-and-see attitude."

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