Jan 23, 2018

Renew Your Vows: A Sales Analysis

With the recent announcement that Dan Slott is ending his lengthy run as the writer on Amazing Spider-Man, a vocal contingent of fans has once again returned to the comment sections.  For many years, a subset of Spider-Man fans have continuously and passionately denounced Marvel’s decision to erase the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.  They’ve sworn for years now that Spider-Man is an objectively better character, and comic, when he was married.  Marvel finally gave them what they wanted in November of 2016, when they launched Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, featuring a married Peter and Mary Jane, and their super-powered daughter.  Prompted by the resurfacing of what is now a decade long debate, I decided to look up the sales on Renew Your Vows to see how it’s doing, and how it compares to the other comics in the Spider-Man franchise.  Here’s what I found.

Renew Your Vows: A Sales Analysis of Married and Single Spider-Man
Ben Smith


First, some caveats.  I did not include any of the limited series or Spider-event titles.  No Spider-Men II, Edge of Venomverse, Generations, or Clone Conspiracy.  I am not including Spider-Man/Deadpool, because it would be impossible to determine how much Deadpool’s popularity helps sales on that comic.  Silk and Spider-Man 2099 were so far down on the sales charts that I didn’t even notice them until around the 5th month, so I’ll be ignoring them altogether.  Furthermore, most industry professionals are adamant that the Diamond sales charts are completely inaccurate, but seeing as how they’re the only tool the public is given, I can only go by what I have available. (Duy here. Diamond numbers indicate preorders only and not actual sell-through.) 

Additionally, comic sales are down across the board, so total unit sales is not a good measurement to go by when comparing current comics to comics from yesteryear.  The best indication of where a book stands in its time period among it's peers, is its rank on the overall sales chart.  That will be my primary focus.  Also, I’m going to avoid assigning asterisks to sales bumps on any of the titles, because any discussion about sales should not discredit the means by which a publisher achieves those sales, whether it be renumbering, incentive variants, new creative teams, or event tie-ins.  It would be impossible to measure the impact of each different sales tool without doing a lot more research, and I've already done far more than I ever do. (Someone help me put the last five years of sales in an Excel file and attribute the appropriate variables, then someone get me the latest version of Stata, and I'll do the regression. No kidding. Matt and I have done it before. -Duy)

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, my personal bias.  First and foremost, I am a Spider-Man fan.  I honestly do not care if he is married or not.  I happen to agree with the reasoning Marvel had for making him single again, but ultimately, his marital status does not affect if I can enjoy a quality Spider-Man comic or not.

One last thing, I am way behind on my Spider-Man reading.  I read a few issues of Amazing after Immonen took over as the artist, and I read the first issue of Renew Your Vows.  (Both titles lost me at around the same time, but to be fair, so did most modern comics in my switch to trades. -Duy) Quality will not, and cannot, be something I can discuss with any first-hand knowledge.  This will strictly be sales, which is the only real way to objectively measure how well a book is received by fans anyway. 

MARRIED VS SINGLE

Renew Your Vows finished in the following spots on the Diamond sales chart from Nov ’16 to Dec ’17: #6, #50, #55, #71, #56, #75, #102, #78, #90, #94, #62, #111, #16, #102.  After a strong debut, the book had a fairly precipitous decline in overall sales and it’s ranking on the sales chart.  Except for a few instances where it jumped up the list, it’s been a pretty steady decline.


Amazing Spider-Man during that same time period finished at: #23, #22, #9, #13, #1, #15, #27, #15, #14, #18, #17, #3, #31, #10.  Renew Your Vows outsold Amazing in only two or the fourteen months of its existence.  (Admittedly, not a large sample size.)  When it launched in Nov ’16 (because first issues sell more traditionally) and in Nov ’17 when it debuted a new creative team, an 8-year time jump forward in the story, and a ton of incentive variant covers.  Those aren’t asterisks, merely explanations for the larger sales, which stand out as anomalies compared to the other 12 months.

Possible ASM sales boosters: Alex Ross covers. -Duy

Amazing Spider-Man sold 934,000 comics in that 14 month span.  (That’s not including the second issue anytime Amazing released two issues in a month, because that’s not a fair comparison.  Including those double-shipping months, the overall number rises to 1,089,000).  Renew Your Vows sold 515,000 copies over the same time period.  That’s a pretty resounding sales difference between single and married Spider-Man.

Maybe Renew Your Vows isn’t delivering an appealing creative team?  Considering Slott is uniformly reviled (if you believe the internet) than any other writer option should be a net positive.  If marital status is truly all those fans care about, then quality or execution should not be a factor at all. 

But, you may be saying to me, it’s not fair to compare a brand-new title to a comic that has been published continuously for over 50 years.  Okay, then…

RENEW YOUR VOWS VS SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN AND VENOM

Venom launched the same exact month as Renew Your Vows, and finished at the following spots on the overall sales charts every month since: #8, #67, #24, #47, #71, #14, #2, #32, #55, #71, #98, #12, #85, #40.  Venom outsold Renew Your Vows in 9 of the 14 months since they both debuted.  Venom sold 731,000 total comics.   (Ugh. -Duy) Admittedly, Venom was helped by a legacy re-numbering, and being the focal point of a few minor events, but again, Marvel obviously felt it was doing well enough to earn that increased focus.


Spectacular Spider-Man launched in June ’17 and sold the most copies of any Spider-Man family comic for this entire time period I’m discussing, at 224,000 issues.  It’s rank on the sales charts: #1, #17, #35, #44, #69, #41, #54.  Much less of a drop-off than either Renew Your Vows or Venom (and for clarification, features an even more “classic” depiction of a single Spider-Man).  It sold 462,000 comics over 7 months, nearly matching Renew Your Vows in half the time.


So, now you might be saying to me, but those books are in-continuity, and continuity is what matters…

ALTERNATE UNIVERSE VS ALTERNATE UNIVERSE

First of all, the pro-marriage crowd has been saying for a decade that if Marvel made a married Spider-Man title, the legions of fans upset with the erasure of the marriage would come out in legion and it would easily surpass the sales of any single Spider-Man.  But, for the sake of argument, I know that comics that take place in an alternate universe from the “main” Marvel continuity, are not as valued or seen as “important” as comics that do by a lot of fans.  Let’s see how Spider-Gwen fares.



Spider-Gwen finished at the following spots on the sales chart since Nov’16: #101, #100, #74, #81, #65, #86, #105, #82, #104, #113, #54, #13, #101, #83.  Gwen only outsold Renew Your Vows in 4 of the 14 months, but they were relatively near each other in most months.  Gwen sold 427,000 copies, which is pretty good for a book that doesn’t feature a Peter Parker at all.  But yes, Renew Your Vows is the top alternate universe Spider-Man book.

TANGENTS

I don’t really know how Miles Morales’ Spider-Man comic fits in this discussion, but since I have the numbers, his book finished at the following spots on the sales chart: #68, #58, #33, #61, #67, #62, #77, #81, #60, #72, #66, #93, #23, #69.  Overall it sold 491,000 comics.  It pretty consistently sells 30-33,000 comics.  If Renew Your Vows continues to sell in the 20-23,000 range, Miles will surpass it before long. (Hey, someone should do Miles' relative chart placement before he was in the main Marvel Universe and afterwards. I'm legitimately curious if being brought into continuity had an effect. Someone who isn't me. -Duy)




Extreme tangent, since Ben Reilly is another darling of the internet message boards.  Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider finished at the following spots on the sales chart since its launch in Apr ’17: #27, #83, #89, #102, #112, #107, #125, #57, #119.  It sold 260,000 copies in 9 months.  A tangent within this tangent, I was surprised to see that Clone Conspiracy, a hyped event mini-series, sold less than its equivalent Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins.  It sold 257,000 copies from Nov ’16 to Mar ’17, while Amazing sold 373,000.  That blows my mind.  I don’t think that has ever happened before. (I'm willing to bet this is the "Slott has to leave the book" data point, if Marvel is run just like any other business and they use data to decide who has which job. Eh, but who knows how comic companies are run. -Duy)


C'mon, who doesn't want to see the return of the Hornet? -Duy


I know this wasn’t exactly the ideal version of Ben Reilly that fans have been asking for, but that’s still a really poor performance, especially since Peter David is a writer that fans are constantly suggesting as a better option than Slott on Amazing.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, starring a single Peter Parker, are definitively higher sellers than the married Renew Your Vows book.  Venom, a Spider-Man villain/anti-hero, sold 30 percent more comics during the exact same time period as a comic that features Peter Parker, regardless of his relationship status.  Renew Your Vows sold the most comics as an alternate universe Spider-Man book, but if the steady decline it’s been showing continues, Spider-Gwen will retake that title before long.  It does however outsell Miles, Silk, Ben Reilly, and Spider-Man 2099.  Again, I think Miles will surpass it before long since it maintains a much more steady sales history.

(If you go by average sales, which has its own caveats in and of itself, Amazing averages 66,714 books; Spec is close behind at 66,000. It's then followed by Venom, because there is no justice in the world, at 52,000. Renew is fourth at 37,000, with Miles' book close behind at 35,000. Gwen is at 30,500, and Scarlet is at 29,000. The real takeaway is that sales suck. I'm willing to bet that Venom is high in the direct market because most of the fans who made Venom popular still get their books from the direct market, that 90s collectible crowd. Similarly, I would make the assumption that Gwen and Miles perform more highly on digital and in trades than the direct sales would indicate., as Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel does. While I'm at it, here's an illuminating TED talk by G. Willow Wilson. None of anything I just said relates to Peter Parker, but I'm fairly certain Ben Reilly sells low because he's Ben Reilly, and no matter how many of us say they'd support a Ben Reilly book, only a handful of us actually mean it. And for the record, I am not one of them. -Duy)

Numbers are facts. Indisputable.  It’s time the pro-marriage fans put their money where their mouths are, if they want to keep talking big about which Spider-Man is objectively the best.

In the meantime, here's an Amazon link to Renew Your Vows if you want to support it or give it a try:

2 comments:

Chima Ihebuzor said...

I don't think you can expect a self-contained spinoff to outsell the flagship title. Also, there might be other factors like marketing or maybe RVY simply has dipped in quality.

David Blyth said...

Numbers don't mean quality. Slott's ASM run is still garbage, where as I get much more fun out of RYV.

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