Monday, July 08, 2013

Hoedown Breakdown: Do Movies Positively Influence Comic Sales?

Not in any major way, no.

Alright, I suppose I can say a little more than that.  I limited the scope of the analysis to Batman Begins and the movies after it, and I also limited it to what were supposed to be "tentpole" releases for Marvel and DC, so no Punisher War Zone or Ghost Rider.  I may do an analysis on the also-rans if there's interest, however.  I did not include Man of Steel or Iron Man 3 because sales data isn't available on comichron.com yet for all of the months surrounding those two movies.

Sorry, no
That also brings up another limitation of the analysis: Comichron only has numbers for sales through Diamond Distribution, which means that it might not track all sales to non-comic stores, like 7-11s or the like.  However, given that the vast majority of sales are through comic shops, this is a small limitation.  The larger problem is that there is no digital sales information in this data, and digital is getting larger and larger every year; a version of this spreadsheet made five years in the future would be suspect, at best.  A version from ten years in the future would be almost worthless.  I also chose not to track trade paperbacks (TPB), even though there's a strong case to be made for them, because new comics buyers that randomly grab a TPB from Barnes & Noble or even their local comic shop are subject to the whims of the person giving them advice, whether that's a friend, the comic store owner, or some random customer at the shop. The pattern is therefore likely to be much more random in TPB purchases.

Okay, this would have probably
worked, too
For simplicity's sake, I chose a single comic to correspond to each franchise.  I tried to pick the comic with the strongest brand recognition for the character; for example, Batman instead of Detective Comics.  The main reason for choosing only one comic, of course, is to make the model relatively simple and easy to follow.  However, I was not always able to do this, as when Iron Man (the comic book) ended its run and Invincible Iron Man started up the next month, around the time of the first Iron Man movie's release.  I also chose the highest selling issue of a comic in a given month, as it's common for two or even three issues of a given comic to be ordered in a month.  There were some months when no new issues were released for certain books at all, and these have been noted, rather than screw up the numbers by showing only re-order numbers.

What it comes down to is this:  if you take all the numbers as a whole, there is not any real trend.  Sometimes there's a slight bump in a title's circulation for no obvious (to me) reason other than the release of a movie, as happened with Batman Begins, when circulation went from ~60K three months before to ~67K the month of release, before finally stabilizing at around 65K.  Other times, as when The Dark Knight was released, circulation actually dips a bit.  Fairly often, when there is an increase, there's a better explanation for it, as happened around the release of the Captain America movie.  There was a huge jump, but that's more attributable to the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America and the re-numbering of the Captain America comic to #1 in the month of the movie's release.  Similarly, Avengers does have a bump the month of release, but that is also the number 25 issue and the beginning of the Avengers vs. X-Men tie-ins, drawing in X-Men readers that might not otherwise read the book.

Perhaps the best indicator for the lack of positive influence by movies on comic book sales is the Thor movie.  A month before its release, the Thor comic ended and The Mighty Thor began with a new #1.  Between the two books, there was a jump from ~42K readers to 82K on The Mighty Thor #1.  However, by three months after the release of the Thor movie, circulation was back down to ~45K.  While there is some minor variation between the numbers on all of the books I looked at, the most telling thing is this: for three of the last four movies on the list, a major event was scheduled around the time of the release of the movie.  This indicates, to me, that the publishers know not to expect the movies alone to increase sales, and that they've learned that they have to time comic events with the release of the movies in order to see any kind of real effect at all, and that they therefore expect most of the movement to be from current comics readers, not new readers brought in by movies.

If it means a new Dr. Strange ongoing by 2016, I can live with that

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