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Would less books = more sales?

Read the comments on the Paul O'Brien' Marvel Sales analysis articles and you'll see calls for Marvel to reduce the glut and trim back their line, on the grounds that it would help sales. I'm trying to work out if that counterintuitive idea makes sense.

First, let's get out of the way the fact that i would love this idea. It isn't really feasible to buy every Marvel Universe book right now. It's not necessarily a money issue, but i honestly don't think i'd have time to read them all. Or space to store them. But the biggest issue is the "good stuff to crap" ratio. Right now, there are so many books coming out that a large number are bound to not be to my liking. So there's a lot i don't get. At the same time, i feel like i am missing out by not reading the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, etc. If there were only, say, two dozen books coming out a month, i personally would love it, and i'd probably be getting them all just so i could keep up on what all the MU characters were doing, even if i didn't love a quarter of the books.

By contrast, the last time i compiled a list of what i was getting (it was a while ago; it became too much trouble to maintain), it was about 40 books (not counting one shots but counting mini-series on the grounds that they've been replaced by new mini-series). In the July Sales chart, i count 67 Marvel Universe books, plus 21 non-continuity books (Ultimates, Max, Marvel Adventures, licensed and other random stuff).

So clearly i would like them to drop down to 24 books. It would save me money! But to force some commitment on my part, let's increase it. Just to pick a higher number at random, let's use 52. And hold it there. No one-shots, no minis, etc.

So, being a nerd, i plotted out the sales numbers in Excel.

Those top 3 points are special events - The start of the Spider-Island crossover (and i think the bigger factor in sales was a retailer incentive that included custom covers with a picture of the retailers' store), the Captain America relaunch, and Fear Itself. Jumping down from there, about 30,000 sales lower, you have a Daredevil relaunch, an X-Men event, and the top selling "normal" Marvel books, which are the Bendis Avengers titles.

So, let's make some assumptions. Let's assume that the #1 selling book on this chart, at 135,568, is artificially inflated due to retailers wanting a book with their picture on it. Let's assume the #2 selling book, at 96,926, represents all of the current comic book fans that have interest in Marvel books but don't buy even the regular top sellers. So there's some 30,000 readers out there that like Marvel books in theory but aren't buying most books.

The assumption is that we could get some or all of those people to start buying every book if we cut the line.

Right now, if you add up the sales on all Marvel books, you get 2,356,385. So, at 52 books, the break even-point is to sell each book at 45,350 or so. Which means all 52 books would have to sell as well (on average) as what's currently at position #27 on the sales chart. Marvel's current 52nd book (different than the book at position #52 on the chart, since that also includes non-Marvel books, so this is position #105 on the chart) sells at 20,390.

The assumption is that sales come from that 30,000 gap between position #2 and #6 on the chart. And it's possibly supplemented by people moving to read some of the new 52 who are now buying lower selling Marvel books that would get cancelled. I don't see this move bringing in many new-to-comics readers. It might bring in some lapsed comics readers, but not a significant number. This is really about maximizing the sales to the current Marvel fanbase.

Of course, the break-even point doesn't reflect the savings for the 36 books we're no longer producing. But on the other side, it's worth noting that a lot of the lower selling books, like the Marvel Adventures line and the licensed books, actually sell better outside of the direct market or in trade format. And there are many other moving parts as well (Creator pay, cover price, etc.).

But just pretending that my numbers work... 52 books. Let's assume $3.50 a book. That's about $200 a month. Since most comics readers nowadays are 30+ something working people, it's not entirely impossible, but it's not likely. Reduce the number of books further (let's say to 24), and now each book needs to sell at the Captain America relaunch numbers - 100,000. That is pretty much every available Marvel fan buying every book.

So based on my half-assed analysis, i'd say at best you are looking at a very risky gambit. Definitely not a no-brainer.

What am i missing?

For fun, here's the Marvel Checklist from the good old days when it would have been feasible to buy every book. Unless you were, like me, 9 years old, in which case you could only afford the books that i checked off.

By fnord12 | August 31, 2011, 4:30 PM | Comics