April 27, 2015

Judging the New 52: March 2015

March 2015 marked, for all intents and purposes, the end of DC's New 52 initiative. The line-wide reboot commenced all the way back in September 2011 with the launch of 52 all-new monthly titles, and has continued over the past three-and-a-half years. In April and May DC is going through a massive cross-over storyline titled Convergence, and when regular service resumes in June there will be a whole new raft of new titles launched and the New 52 masthead is being abandoned (although the fictional universe is thankfully not being rebooted again).

Of the 52 monthly titles launched in September 2011, 11 of them have survived to continue in June. An additional 14 books that were launched subsequent to 2011 are continuing as well. In the meantime there are a total of 67 monthly books that started between September 2011 and late 2014 that didn't survive to the end of the initiative. As far as comic book publishing goes, that's not a bad hit rate: 92 books all told, with about 27 per cent making it through to the post-New 52 line-up.

That doesn't really tell the whole picture, though. Average sales per issue for a New 52 book in March 2015 were 28,251. In March 2014 it was 30,234 - that's a one-year drop of almost seven per cent. Jump back to March 2013 and the average was 34,577 - that's a two-year drop of just over 18 per cent. It's easy to glance at DC's biggest hitters like Batman and Harley Quinn and assume the company is doing okay, when in truth its sales are slowly falling on a month-by-month basis.

It's unclear if the upcoming new titles are going to help all that much. With Convergence DC has stalled momentum on its entire set of 25 continuing titles. How many readers currently on the fence with a given title, given three months between issue #40 and issue #41, are going to simply take the opportunity to drop the book altogether? And let's be honest: how many of DC's new books launching in June are really going to do Harley Quinn numbers? Prez? Doomed? Section 8?

DC Comics does need a boost in order to compete against Marvel Comics, its largest (and, currently, significantly more successful) industry competitor. I'm not sure that their current strategy - a two month crossover followed by a bunch of new books - is going to achieve it.

Then again there's the issue of digital sales. Put simply, no one really knows how many digital copies of their titles the American comics publishers are selling. It could be that the drop in print sales are being mirrored by a corresponding increase on the digital front. One assumes they're having some kind of buoying effect: monthly titles that used to get cancelled at the 15,000 copy mark now seem to stagger along down to the 10,000 reader mark.

At any rate, how did DC's most recent books fare in March?

  • Arkham Manor dropped another 5 per cent for its 6th and final issue. It taps out at 18,538 units, although in this case the cancellation appears to be a creative rather than commercial decision.
  • Gotham Academy dropped another 2 per cent to 20,361 units. This book is continuing in June with the addition of Damian Wayne as the school's latest student - that should hopefully give it a reasonable sales boost to keep it going beyond its first year.
  • Gotham After Midnight dropped by about 6 per cent to 17,604 units. While this book is back in June, I honestly don't see it surviving beyond December.
  • Deathtroke is showing remarkably legs at the moment. Issue #6 sold 31,666 copies - that's down just 3 1/2 per cent from issue #5.
  • Lobo dropped another 7 per cent to just 13,715 units for issue #6. I'm genuinely surprised this book got a reprieve to continue from June. Either it's selling a hell of a lot digitally, or DC editorial believe that it's got a chance of attracting a new audience over the next few months. I honestly doubt that's going to happen.
  • Trinity of Sin's 6th and final issue didn't even hit 10,000 copies, and taps out at just 9,190.
  • If you think that was bad, check out the 6th and final issue of Klarion. I had high hopes for this book when it was announced, but a bizarrely incomprehensible storyline and characters pretty much killed it stone-dead at the first issue. Issue 6 sold just 5,091 copies. That's the lowest-selling 6th issue in the entire New 52.
Other sales activity that grabbed my attention included:

  • All three weekly series wrapped up last month. Batman Eternal remained the highest-selling by far with almost 44,000 copies sold of issue #52. Futures End wrapped up with almost 30,000, Worlds End with just 23,000. That last one's a bit of a worry, since it was Worlds End more than the other two that is feeding into future DC events and titles like Convergence, Earth 2: Society and Darkseid War.
  • New Suicide Squad seems stable at about 30,000 readers. With the movie coming out next year this should make DC pretty happy. Some other books showing good stability include Action Comics, Supergirl, Aquaman and Catwoman.
  • Sales on the Green Lantern books are still dropping: New Guardians down to 20,000 units, and Red Lanterns to just below that. Both books ended in March - as did Green Lantern Corps - and it will be interesting to see if the June launch of Green Lantern: The Lost Army boosts reader numbers at all.

Next month I'll have a look at the first half of Convergence to see how it went. My expectation is that it's not going to go that well. The main miniseries will likely do decent numbers, but there's a hell of a lot of chaff in those two-part miniseries they're publishing. Time will tell.

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