While Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are some of the most well-known superheroes in existence, it doesn’t stop Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor from outselling them on the stands. And it’s not just in the comic book medium that Marvel excels, it’s also the entertainment industry.
The month of November 2012 saw Marvel leading the market shares in both overall units and overall dollars with 40.23% and 34.35%, respectively. DC trailed behind pretty significantly in overall units with 33.25% but was only 4% off in overall dollars. (Sales numbers obtained from http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2012/2012-11.html)
This is partly due to the fact that Marvel took a note from DC’s New 52 reboot and relaunched several of their own titles (but did not reboot all continuity for their universe). Of the top 10 selling comics in the month of November, eight of them belong to Marvel and almost all of those are #1 issues of their Marvel NOW! initiative.
However, these numbers can leave one scratching his/her head. Of the top 300 selling books in November, DC leads Marvel 81 to 68. Well, don’t think too hard on the subject because the answer is in Marvel’s pricing which is higher than DC. On some of their more popular titles, Marvel has raised the prices from $2.99 to $3.99 USD.
Let’s take a look at those November sales charts.
Here is the list of the top 10 comics sold in November of 2012 (all prices in U.S. Dollars):
- All-New X-Men #1 – $3.99
- Batman #14 – $3.99
- Captain America #1 – $3.99
- Deadpool #1 – $2.99
- Indestructible Hulk #1 – $3.99
- Iron Man #1 – $3.99
- Fantastic Four #1 – $2.99
- Uncanny Avengers #2 – $3.99
- Justice League #14 – $3.99
- All-New X-Men #2 – $3.99
Now, I know when you look at this chart, you’ll say, “hey, DC has two spots in the top ten and both of their books are priced at $3.99 also.”
Well, alright, let’s look into that!
Let’s start by looking at the page count for All-New X-Men #1. It has a page count of 24 and it’s priced at $3.99. Now, let’s look at Justice League #14 also priced at $3.99, but… Hey, what’s this? It has a page count of 37! It would seem that the higher price matches the higher page count. Huh. Well, what about Batman? It has a page count of 32. On the surface, it appears that my theory may hold true.
It looks like one of the reasons Marvel is outselling DC every month is because they’re essentially ripping off their fan base by charging more for less and it doesn’t look like they will be dropping their prices anytime soon. Just look at this statement made by John Turitzin, Marvel’s general counsel and EVP, when he was asked about lowering the cover price.
Well that looks nice and all, but looking at the sales charts of November, if they’re leading the market in comic book sales with their high prices of $4 per book, then I would say they are certainly maximizing their revenue and there is no point in dropping the prices now.
This raise in prices came in 2009 and Marvel has addressed this issue of high priced comics by lowering the price of several new series in 2011. However, this doesn’t change the already high prices of popular series like Iron Man and Captain America. To help justify the cost of their comics, Marvel has included free digital copies with all of their super hero comics that are priced at $3.99.
Even when the prices of their comics matched DC, Marvel was still outselling DC month after month. DC, instead of increasing the prices of their most popular books, took another route.
In 2011, DC put in motion their “Drawing the Line at $2.99″ campaign and it still seems to be around even today. Starting in January of 2011, the company lowered the prices on most of their regular monthly titles originally priced at $3.99. In order to achieve this they lowered their page count. This was a risky move that put their writers in a tough spot, considering they were losing several pages worth of story telling.
If this campaign did anything for readers, it showed that DC was genuinely looking out for their fans. For a company that was being overshadowed by Marvel, the choice to drop prices was a bold move.
One way to gain new readers is to market your heroes in mediums outside of comic books. This means video games, cartoons and movies. And Marvel knows this better than anyone.
Before The Avengers was released, an average fan of comics may not have been able to tell you what the backstory of Iron Man or Thor was, but now they are household names. DC tried this with a few of their lesser known properties like Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. Unfortunately, these films didn’t do too well in the box office.
One of the best things Marvel did was to establish Marvel Entertainment, a company entirely owned by Marvel (before the Disney buyout) and in charge of producing their own slate of movies. Prior to this, the film rights to the characters were licensed to other studios – Sony has Spider-Man and 20th Century Fox owns the film rights to the X-Men and others.
Many of the licensed movies based on Marvel heroes were not very well received by critics and fans, but that’s all over now. With the monumental success of The Avengers, Marvel can pretty much do what they want at this point. At the San Diego Comic-Con 2012, Marvel announced their Phase Two projects which will see the releases of The Avengers 2, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, all to be released within the next three years.
The hype all started with the final scene of Iron Man, when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury approached Tony Stark about wanting to put a team together. This scene lit the internet up with excitement and all Marvel Movies following that had audiences sticking past the credits to see the next tease to The Avengers. There seemed to be almost no resistance from fans; sure they were skeptical, but their excitement overshadowed any doubt. The result: articles titled like “Why The Avengers Will Be Good Even If It’s Bad“.
While Marvel is pushing forward with numerous movie projects, DC is going in the opposite direction. After the release of Man of Steel next summer, fans shouldn’t expect to see any new DC movies until 2015, which just so happens to be the rumored date of Justice League. After the announcement of Justice League, the internet lit up again but not in the same way that The Avengers did. It was met with articles like “Justice League Movie Doomed to Die? Hooray!“, “Three Reasons Why Justice League Movie Will Fail and How Warner Bros. Can Fix It” and “A Justice League Movie can’t be done Justice“.
But why? Why is it that no one seems to be giving the movie even the slightest bit of a chance? Is it because of Green Lantern? Yes, the movie bombed and set DC back in a big way. Maybe it’s because it is not affiliated with the successful Batman trilogy from Christopher Nolan, or maybe it is because DC is just so late to the game. There are many possibilities.
DC is in an unfortunate spot. Their Justice League movie could very well, in the eyes of Marvel fans, look like a copy and paste of The Avengers. And, while DC has more comics on the top 300 list of selling comics for a majority of the time, Marvel will always beat them out when it comes to the dollar share and that’s because of their prices.
For the company that essentially started the superhero craze with Superman, they have a lot of catching up to do. Marvel’s dominance in the film and comic book industry has put DC into overtime mode.
DC recently has been making, in my eyes, really good decisions with opening their characters up to a wider audience. When the New 52 relaunch was announced, fans were threatening to protest Comic-Con 2012. But, hey, we saw what the company did with it, and it surprised pretty much all of us. I won’t deny that I speculated dropping comics all together, but I gave the reboot a chance and I was not, and still am not, disappointed.
As of late, it would seem that Warner Bros. is taking DC properties a little more seriously. When all DC movies were put on hold, David Goyer, the writer for The Dark Knight was interviewed as to the why and he had this to say.
And there is no doubt that The Avengers has made Warner Bros. see how true that statement really is. The company is putting a lot of time and effort into their next endeavor, Man of Steel. They have the ever-popular Christopher Nolan producing it, David Goyer penning the script and Zack Snyder directing. Many fans, including this one, are hoping that this movie opens up to a shared DC universe. But, as I said before, they’re playing catch up.
Being a DC fan is hard. We’re met with resentment and our characters are tarnished in the process. I can’t recall how many times I’ve read “Batman is the only good character DC has” on message boards. And even when I bring up Aquaman, I’m attacked with laughter. Even despite the fact that in the month of February 2012, Aquaman outsold every book Marvel released that month. Not inclined to believe me? Check the sales numbers.
I root for the underdog, and in this industry, even though DC is one of the largest and most successful comic book companies in the business, they are indeed the underdog compared to Marvel.