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.