Comic Book World - The "52" Event

Six months ago DC Comics did the unthinkable and rebooted their entire comic book line.  Gone was the countdown to Action Comics issue 1,000 and gone too was the countdown to Detective Comics issue 900 (although I will bet you that DC will reboot the numbering system some day just like Marvel has done in the last 20 years on some of its flagship books).  The purpose of the reboot was to clean the slate.  Start fresh and try to unburden the characters that have picked up so much baggage over years of different stories.  DC claimed that such daunting character histories were the cause for new readers not wanting to step into the mess and that these histories were the cause for stagnation with the characters.  As a long time reader of comics I would agree with their assumptions.  

While a few years back Marvel (maybe DC) decided to try and condense stories into 5 - 7 single books telling a more condensed tale.  In year's past oftentimes there was no discernable pause in any story and they simply ran on for ever with lots of dangling plotlines that may or may not be ever told depending on how long the author stuck around.  Claremont and the X-men was a perfect example of this.  I remember early on I stayed away from the X-men for this very reason.  It was a daunting task to take up an issue and then be blasted with 40 years of continuity.  Yikes but once you did take the launch it was fascinating to spend the time and catch up with these characters.  To me comic book are men's soap opera.  Instead of daily updates we get monthly updates.  Comic book characters are a rich history for those willing to take the first step.  Before I go any further I should state that I am a Marvel guy through and through.  DC characters just never did much for me.  Maybe they were too iconic, maybe with their age there was no stories left to tell, or maybe one too many authors had mired the character into how they exist today.  Either way DC decided it was time to clean house and start over.

With that I took DC's reboot as a fascination.  I did pick up some of the series just to see what  it was all about.  I stayed on for about three months but ultimately nothing really changed for me about any of these characters.  They still didn't make me care.  Because of the magnitude of the event I decided to analyze  what the "52" event meant to the comic book world.  I looked at the data generated each month with comic book sales (found on comic book resources website).  Not for sure how it works but it tracks the Top 300 books sold (or purchased?) each month.  I started this endeavour a few months before September 2011 and so was able to track back to May 2011.  This isn't a marketing pitch just my own desktop analysis.  Data below (Top 300 Comics tab) shows that for the four months leading up to "52" an average of about 5.8M books were sold by all publishers (Yes there are others besides DC and Marvel).  In September with the launch of "52" this number increased 25%.  About a 1.5M more books were sold.  Six months later (actually it only took 3 months), the freshness of "52" has wavered and basically we are back to status quo.  

So a bunch of people initially splurged (oohh issue #1 might be worth some money someday). But perhaps another reason comics have come back to pre "52" levels is that December, January, and February might just be down months in the comic book world?  Expenses and debt probably lead to less comic book buying...So I can't say that "52" has totally died but 6 months into this, comics sales have flatten out again.

Digging a little deeper what did "52" mean for the big two publishers?   Looking at the DC and Marvel tab you can see that DC typically sold about 2.0M copies each month with Marvel doing about 2.7M.  In September DC spiked to 3.4M copies and all these copies sold practically accounted for all of the increase in the Top 300 (so much for getting non comic people into the stores and buying something else that might catch their eye...).  Marvel really didn't see a downturn so that is good.  Marvel readers didn't short their list to pick up new DC titles either.  As you can see though "52" excitement clearly waned after three months.  Data above is not the complete picture as DC still sells non-52 comics such as the Vertigo line but in comparing I decided to just look at the 52 books that comprised the relaunch while the 4 month average clearly looked at all of their offerings.  Bottom line is that this is not a complete comparison but interesting all the same that readership really hasn't stayed with new stories and different takes on characters.  While Marvel on a month to month basis has seen a reduction in their copies sold but part of this can be explained with less books being offered during these months.  Overall while the bump in books sold helped DC it really didn't mean anything to Marvel from a readership point.  Really the only thing that can be said now is that Marvel no longer can claim the Top 10 books for sales as currently 10 of the relaunch DC books have gobbled up the high end of sales.

Which brings me to the final point.  In the last tab "Individual Book Effects" I was able to find 18 books that DC relaunched that could be compared to their prelaunch sales. Effectively these are DC's core books such as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Justice League.    Republishing these as number 1 and rebrandishing the line resulted an average increase in readership from per "52" sales to "52" sales by 160%.  Justice League went from an average readership of 44,500 in four months preceding September to 171,000 copies sold for "52".  This was pretty standard across the board for all of the core books.  Even Birds of Prey doubled there readership with the relaunch.  Obviously though DC was hoping that this event would completely revitalize the DC brand.  Looking into sales of books after 6 months one can start to see the fall out.  Some of the core books are still looking good as Justice League is still selling 135,000 copies but four books which had previous sales marks are actually less than before the "52" event.  And this is only 18 of the 52 books.  Thirty-four other books using marginally less interesting characters and basically we find that the reboot really hasn't done anything at all on the grand scale.  In couple of months DC is already booting 6 of the new "52" with 6 new reboots.  Sure the core 10-15 books have really done well but you have to think that these books got the best writers and artists thus really getting to the point of what I think the comic book world needs and that is good writing paired with good art.  Pretty simple formula but it seems the big two consistently throw out stuff that just waters down the entire medium. Sure comics are a pretty cheap form of entertainment but at $2.99 to 3.99 a pop something has to give and declining readership and worth just seems to me we need more than "Events" to save the medium.  This article also shows the sad future of what the medium is becoming.

So there you have it.  Interesting to see what the X-men vs Avengers does this Summer...

No comments: