A look at Batman’s sales

I am hijacking your column this week, Stein, sorry about that, but it's for the greater good (the greater good!). Before we get started, though, here's a couple of disclaimers: we are only going to take a look at the numbers of the Batman main series to see the effect of the different DC strategies and try to figure out what (if anything) works. I have used Comichron‘s numbers, so it's not 100% accurate, but gives us enough information to figure out trends and variations. They are also the only numbers we have and an invaluable tool to look at comics as an industry. Everyone on the same page, then? Let's go!!!

Batman Vol.1: From Hush to Death and Beyond

To be able to understand the numbers of today, we need to go back to the OG Batman series … I went all the way back to #608 (first chapter of Hush) and found that it sold 139,240. It's a good number, especially compared to sales of #607 (46,527). It's also an accurate portrait of the state of the industry back in 2002, an industry fighting to get over a really bad crisis, getting two of the biggest comic stars on the biggest title and hoping it would work, and it did. By the time Hush was over, it picked up a few readers (#618 sold 154,471 copies and #619 with its gatefold variants and 2nd print an amazing 310,291).

DC even had a good plan after Hush, take another creative team (Azzarello and Risso, whose 100 Bullets was very successful … for a Vertigo title) and let them loose on Batman. Sales of #620 went down to 111,308 (totally understandable), but by the end of their arc (#625) they had gone all the way down to 83,371.

Judd Winnick's run didn't do much better, although there were a couple of spikes when he had Jason Todd return (#638 selling 82,573), but still below 100K. So DC decided to unleash Grant Morrison on the character and teamed him up with hot artist Andy Kubert, for one of the most interesting Batman or DCU runs ever. Did their bet pay off? The issue before Morrison and Kubert took over (#654) sold 78,675 and the series jumped all the way to 123,871 copies, so we could say that it did. Not only that, but most of the run hovered over (or just below) the 100K mark, making it a success.

By the time Morrison left the title, it kind of seems that DC already knew they were going to relaunch the whole DCU because they didn't seem really bothered by the decline in sales. The half of Neil Gaiman's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader tribute story, which appeared in #686, sold an exceptional 128,756 copies, the special anniversary #700 issue managed to break 100K with 104,755 copies but ,by the last issue of the series (#713), it was back on sales of 51,760. Did anyone say reboot?

Batman Vol.2: The New 52

For this volume, data is a lot easier to look at. Same creative team for most of the run telling one long story gives us something that we could probably apply to every series out there. Let's take a quick look at the chart based on sales numbers for the series:

Sales started really strong with 228,925 copies (all printings confounded), then the series has the usual up and downs, with most peaks corresponding to a new story arc or some kind of event (#40, I'm looking at you). For all those people who care, the lowest selling issue was #48, which barely managed to break 100K.

There's a reality of the industry that's really noticeable in this chart here: all series lose readers. It's very rare that a series gains readers and the life-cycle of a series is to keep losing readers as it goes on. Publishers use gimmicks, kill characters or bring them back because they need those spikes, hoping some readers will stay around for a few more issues. It's a complicated business, readers lose interest quickly or decide to take their money to that other series that's doing the gimmicky thing or to a new series. There's a lot more offer than demand when it comes to comics because they are reasonably cheap to put out compared to other media.

In this series, though, the only thing they needed was the Joker (and store variants on #50, but that's another story). They used it sparingly and whenever they did, people wanted to know what was going on. This is Batman and the Joker we are talking about, though, how can other series even survive this decline?

All in all, Batman was the great winner of the New 52, taking back the top position of the sales chart while being well received by readers. In fact, you just know DC will do whatever it takes to have Capullo back as soon as he finishes Reborn.

Batman Vol.3: Twice a month equals twice the money, right? RIGHT?

Before we take a look at the chart for this series, let's keep in mind that there were at least 20 store variants for #1, so that's at least 60,000 copies that shouldn't really count (though it's probably closer to or over 100K, if you look at the numbers of the Rebirth one-shot).

DC took a bit of a risk with the creative team, the writer in particular. Tom King has quickly become a fan-favorite writer thanks to his work on Vision, Omega Men and The Sheriff of Babylon among others. Pairing him up with David Finch might have seemed like a sure-hit beforehand, but it seems that the people are not behind the series. Sales seems to be experiencing a steady decline, with #15 about to fall below 100K with 102,802. Finch has been absent since #5 and was back with #16 (numbers will come out next month), so that could have some impact in sales too, who knows?

How much of a factor in sales is the fact that they are publishing it twice a month? How many people are burnt-out by a new Flash or Suicide Squad every two weeks? I think I like it, but if you are busy for a few weeks you will wake up to a pile of Batman issues that you haven't read. I mean, do we really need 2 Aquaman (to take an easy target) issues a month?

Let's say the downward trend continues … Will they bring back the Joker? Will they change the creative team? Are DC happy because they are selling twice 100K? Which begs the question … In a world where both Marvel and DC are part of larger entertainment companies and movies with their characters make way more money than the comics ever would, is there really an interest in making good comics and selling lots of them or is the interest solely in taking a bigger part of the pie than Marvel? And this, I suspect is true for both DC and Marvel, it looks like they have stopped caring about the reading experience (notice I didn't even say readers) and they care more about securing IP and coming first on sales.

I am personally enjoying this series a lot more than the previous volume. It has the Psycho-Pirate, Hugo Strange and Bronze Tiger in it. It takes risks with narrative devices. So yes, those last two sentences are also probably why it hasn't found a loyal audience but if you haven't taken a look, go ahead and read some of it, it's pretty awesome.


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    I’m confused so first ur saying how they have stopped caring about making a good reader experience, then tell us how much you love it. Sounds like you may be a retailer stuck with stuff on the shelves. For example your saying dc hurry up and change something fast and at the same time saying to the customer damn this is a great series. Idk no offense just how it came across.

    • Iñigo

      I was actually not asking DC to change anything, just pointing out that we might be reaching that moment (<100K) where things need to be "shaken up" a bit, but I am sure that the Flash / Watchmen crossover will give them a nice spike in sales to go on.

      My complaint about the reader experience was more in the lines of constant reboots and series that read like minis (that's more Marvel's fault than DC's, though), but I didn't even mention it 😀 Might have screwed up the article towards the end due to the deadline, but I think it still contains some useful information.

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      Yeah inigo. How many copies do you have. We all know your a retailer….

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    Here is what i’m hoping for from the Big2: They need to realize, if they haven’t already, that movies generate them far more money that the comics ever could but in between movies the comics are what keep these characters alive and their fan bases strong. Quality books at a lower cost would generate even more readership and even more fans of a character. People where happily shelling out 2.99 twice a month for the quality Rebirth titles but now they’re raising the price which is going to price some people back out of their books.

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    Is it possible they are rushing out floppy issues twice a month so they can publish tpb’s more often?
    Weekly readers may be a bit tired but waiting a whole year to publish the next trade may lose some of that demographic of readers. That may be the new strategy. As you said, the media is cheap to produce so they may not care as much about weekly sales anymore. I don’t know the sales numbers, so it’s just a guess.
    They did just publish one of the first trade paperback variants for Batman…
    That tells me they are paying more attention to that market.

  • misfit138

    I like this run so much better than the New 52 run, minus the Night of the Monster Men arc. King has had many surprises for us. I was leery about Gotham and Gotham Girl, and he kills Gotham in issue #5, and Gotham Girl goes insane. Pretty cool. I am very very burnt out on 2 times Detective and Batman monthly. DC please listen to the readers and go to monthly.

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    When D.C. dropped their price, but started putting out more books I think a lot of people felt like it was a sneaky way to initiate a price change rather than a better way to serve the reader, art investor, and speculator. The price drop may have annoyed people a little in the beginning, but not enough to immediately affect sales, however further down the line people may have been hit a little too hard in the pocket book. This could also be the affect of people trying to keep up with more titles, although New 52 had more titles than rebirth more people seem to be reading a wider selection of titles. You take your 50% per month price increase, you add in more monthly titles, and you end up with fewer readers for your issues further down in the run. With the production of the next “Batman” movie getting delayed their will likely be a further decrease due to the drop off of speculators collecting the whole series. It looks like a tough trend to buck and I agree that D.C. might want to reconsider some of it’s marketing strategies. It’s true consumers hate paying more, but I think a lot of consumers would rather have paid a little more rather than feeling tricked into paying a lot more and suddenly having a daunting reading task. I disagreed with the twice a month $2.99 gig from the beginning, but I also understand the need to change things up. I just hope that after this tremendous leap in the wrong direction their is more substantive reasoning behind the next pricing change.

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    A lot of good points that I hope readers take to heart and start speaking with their wallets and branching out of the Big 2 bubble. I woke up with you the other day to a stack of 11 issues of Batman that I just couldn’t keep up with. I agree with the interesting character choices King’s chosen, and what he did with Gotham and Gotham Girl was pretty interesting, but 17 issues in I find myself missing Snyder, and I despised everything he did post Detective.

    I think twice a month is too much, and that the goal for the big 2 in comics is to be king of the mountain rather than king of the best story. Nothing New 52 and on can hold a candle to the stories you mentioned at the beginning. Hush and Red Hood are 2 of the most dynamic, and well thought out Batman stories I’ve ever read. Even Azz and Risso’s stuff was pretty great.

    I think we’ve reached a point were nothing really groundbreaking is coming from the Big 2 in comics because they treat them as cheap advertisement for the movies. That’s sad, and shows a lack of respect for the history of those characters and the readers.

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    Twice a month is too much? Give me a break… how much time do people waste on social media every day, but reading 2 comics in 30 days is “too much”
    I love twice a month books… I enjoy having a stack everytime I get my pull list… nothing better than piling thru a bunch of books!

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    Nice article and research btw…

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    Great article, Inigo. Really admire the data collection and display! I love seeing these larger patterns emerge on paper because it’s so hard to simply imagine them.

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