One year after DC Entertainment rebooted its core line of comics, it's difficult to pin down the overall sales effect.
But looking at a few of the core titles that started over with a new #1 does give a picture of what's happening one year later on just those key titles. And comparing those titles over a few months both now and before the reboot reveals some of the story behind what DC has experienced.
Law of Averages
First, a word about our method:
To avoid comparing months that may have had "qualifiers" (particularly in the strange atmosphere that preceded the New 52), Newsarama averaged the sales of DC's core titles over four issues. We looked at the four issues leading up to the last pre-reboot month of August 2011, then compared them to the sales of the four most recent issues through July 2012.
By looking at averages, we avoided having to explain that August 2011 has two issues of Detective Comics, or that the 100th issue of Teen Titans might not compare well to the current line.
Instead, we took a picture of the ongoing sales by averaging their performance over time. All monthly sales numbers are estimates calculated by Comichron.com, based upon data released monthly by Diamond Comics Distributors.
We also stuck with truly comparable titles. While it's tempting to compare Earth 2 with Justice Society of America, the truth is they aren't the same. We only compared titles that have the same title and the same basic premise. Yes, we know there were big changes to the characters featured in Birds of Prey and Teen Titans, but we wanted to ask: Did those New 52 changes help the sales of those titles or hurt them?
So which titles came out the biggest winners?By looking at just the unit sales increase for 2012 over 2011 (using average monthly sales over four issues):
1) Justice League: Up 187 percent.
2) Batman: Up 150 percent.
3) Detective Comics: Up 121 percent.
4) Batgirl: Up 110 percent.
All of those titles at least doubled their average monthly sales between 2011 and 2012. Two other titles have doubled their 2011 average monthly unit numbers:
- Action (up 102 percent)
- Teen Titans (up 99 percent).
So what about the rest of DC's titles?
When examining just the comparable titles from pre- and post-New 52, all but three titles are doing better. A few notable increases among DC's icons:
- Superman: 63 percent increase.
- Supergirl: 62 percent increase.- Wonder Woman: 59 percent increase.
- Superboy: 43 percent increase.
A few comics didn't even experience a creative change with the relaunch, but still got a bump from it, even a year after their #1 issues: Batman and Robin (up 21 percent) and Green Lantern (up 11 percent).
Others would have been expected to go down in sales, but didn't. The Flash lost superstar creator Geoff Johns and is competing with issues that led up to the Flashpoint event last year, but the title is currently beating its previous four-issue average, experiencing a 7 percent increase.
Obviously, many of the non-core titles that have been added to DC line-up are struggling. Ten have been canceled, and more will surely be dropped. Sure, there were a few new hits added to the line-up, but other additions haven't performed so well. Again, it's tough to quantify whether the entire line is doing that much better after the relaunch than it did before.
However, there are titles that are selling less after the New 52. But there are only three of them:- Green Lantern Corps:
Average over four issues 2011: 58,275.
Average of four issues 2012: 44,193.
Percent difference: -24 percent.
- Green Arrow:
Average over four issues 2011: 27,186.
Average of four issues 2012: 25,518.
Percent difference: -6 percent.
- Legion of Super-Heroes:
Average over four issues 2011: 22,217.
Average of four issues 2012: 19,887.
Percent difference: -10 percent.
It should perhaps be noted that Green Lantern Corps was in the midst of a line-wide event in 2011, and was delivering in months when there was no main Green Lantern title.
Nonetheless, if we only compare those titles that had the same title and basic premise before and after the reboot, these are the biggest losers.
It's Not Just Batman, It's Him
As seen in the numbers above, the "Trinity" of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman benefitted quite a bit from the reboot, despite the loss of the high numbers on their covers.
But one of the biggest changes has come in the Batman title, which was handed over to a relatively untested creative team when DC relaunched last year.
Rob Liefeld may have tried to convince his Twitter followers that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's influence on sales of Batman and other Bat-books is minimal, but the numbers show otherwise.
Before the DC relaunch, Batman was sometimes among DC's better selling titles, but it was rarely the best selling.
Since Snyder and artist Greg Capullo took over last year, Batman has usually been the top-selling title in DC's line-up in both units and dollars.
4-Issue Average 2011: 52,836 units
4-Issue Average 2012: 132,075 units
Average Monthly Unit Increase: 150%
As already noted, Batman is second only to Justice League in the sales comparison between pre-New 52 sales and today's numbers. And this comes despite the fact that Snyder and Capullo were relatively unknown newcomers to DC. The Batman title also didn't really reboot much of the character's history, unlike the huge changes in Justice League and other comics.
But perhaps the most telling influence that Snyder has had on the Batman office is May's "Night of the Owls" event. The story behind that event was completely predicated by Snyder's "Court of Owls" storyline. Every comic that participated in the "Night of the Owls" saw a sales increase thanks to its tie-in — some experiencing double-digit increases.
The strength of the Batman line also prompted DC to raise the price on two of its comics, which (as detailed below) made the line even better performers for the publisher. That included the Snyder/Capullo Batman, which has doubled its sales dollars compared to what it used to make before the new creative team came on board.
On Twitter, Liefeld took credit for the sales bumps experienced when he took over several DC titles, but he wasn't willing to give Snyder and Capullo the same credit.
Not 'Holding the Line' No More
Before the New 52 relaunch, DC was experimenting with a marketing scheme they called "Holding the Line at $2.99." Almost all of the company's titles were priced at $2.99, while some competitors had been raising their prices to $3.99 per issue.
With the New 52, DC still maintains much of its line at $2.99. But the relaunch also prompted a price increase on a few key titles. Current titles Justice League, Action Comics and All-Star Western were all launched with a $3.99 price tag, giving readers back-up stories to justify the cost.But DC also raised prices on Batman and Detective Comics, taking advantage of the newfound strength in the Batman line to get more dollar performance out of the two titles.
Four of the $3.99 ongoing titles can be directly compared to pre-New 52 counterparts, and the increase in price has brought a significant dollar increase for each.
For most of the New 52 titles that were around before the relaunch, the unit sales percent increase is almost equal to the percent increase in dollars generated.
But for these four titles that increased to $3.99? Yowza.
When averaging the sales dollars of the four issues leading up to August 2011 to the four issues leading up to July 2012, the gross sales increase breaks down as:
Unit increase of 150% (52,836 average over four issues in 2011 vs. 132,074 in 2012)
Dollar increase of 234% ($157,979/month in 2011 vs. $526,977 in 2012)
Unit increase of 187% (44,576/month average in 2011 vs. 127,846 in 2012)
Dollar increase of 283% ($133,281/month in 2011 vs. $510,106 in 2012)
Unit increase of 102% (41,408/month average in 2011 vs. 83,440 in 2012)
Dollar increase of 169% ($123,809/month in 2011 vs. $332,925 in 2012)
Unit increase of 121% (39,162/month average in 2011 vs. 86,711 in 2012)
Dollar increase of 172% ($127,029/month in 2011 vs. $345,976 in 2012)
While All-Star Western is not exactly like its pre-New 52 predecessor Jonah Hex, a similar sales increase can be seen when comparing the average monthly total of what each title generated for DC over four issues:
All-Star Western (compared with Jonah Hex)
Unit increase of 148% (10,351/month average in 2011 vs. 25,714 in 2012)
Dollar increase of 232% ($30,948/month in 2011 vs. $102,597 in 2012)
Yes, we realize DC doesn't see those total sales, since the comic book stores get about half those sales for overhead costs, and the distributor also gets a cut. But a look at gross sales for the newly $3.99 titles explains why DC is keeping those comics at that higher price.
Other sales strategies
A few other things that became apparent as we examined the lines "one year later" versus pre-New 52:
On Time: An examination of the months leading up to the New 52 reveals that DC was publishing its ongoing titles on a less stringent schedule. Some of the schedule bumps can be blamed on the shuffling done for Flashpoint, but there's no denying that the trains weren't always on time before the relaunch.
Post-reboot — with the exception of very few titles — DC has been publishing its comics on a strict monthly timeline. While fans may be disappointed by the fill-ins that are required to keep the train running, the sales performance of the overall line is more steady and predictably higher when all the books are shipped each month.
It also lowers the requirement to add one-shots in order to "make the month," something that leads us to...
Meager Minis: Despite the fact that DC just published several Annuals in August 2012, the comparison of its sales schedule during the four months before the New 52 to its current line-up reveals that there are fewer mini-series and one-shots based in the DCnU. Although DC introduced a few minis in fall 2011 as part of the New 52, the company appears to be backing away from them in more recent months.
That might be because the company launched several new mini-series as part of its Before Watchmen series. (In fact, DC just announced yet another two-issue series for Before Watchmen that will start this fall.)
But the decrease in DCnU minis might also be the result of the company getting better short-term numbers from its ongoing series, even if some of them only last six, eight or 12 months after reader drop-off. For example, the October launch of the mini-series Huntress, estimated at 36,099 units for its first issue, didn't perform as well as the May launch of the ongoing series Worlds Finest, estimated at 62,578 units. Similarly, the launch of the novelist-written mini-series Penguin Pain and Prejudice (est. 26,380 for #1) sold less than the later launch of the novelist-written Dial H (40,777). While October numbers were probably affected by the September relaunch being only one issue old, these sales results might also be affecting the company's choice between mini-series and ongoings.
It's difficult to know the true bottom line of the New 52 relaunch. You can estimate DC’s overall Direct Market sales in any given month, but that includes all DC products, including graphic novels and trade paperbacks. And don't even get us started on the secrecy of digital sales numbers, which were surely affected by the switch to same-day-as-print a year ago.
We also see a slide in month-to-month sales of key titles, which will eventually need another boost to keep them at levels above last year's record lows.
But by peeking at the core DC titles, a picture emerges of a jump in sales on the core line-up of iconic characters and familiar titles. One year later, the majority of those "comparable" comics are selling better — some of them much better.
While it's tempting to warn of certain doom if DC doesn't continue to bolster the creativity on their key titles, the "one year later" stories on Newsarama aren't about predicting the future. They're about looking back at the effect of the New 52. And for most of DC's core line of comics, the effect was definitely positive.
- One Year of DC's the NEW 52: The 10 Best Things
- One Year of DC's the NEW 52: The 10 Worst Things
- One Year In: 10 NEW 52 Questions We Want Answered
- One Year In: The WINNERS of The New 52