According to a report from Bleeding Cool, DC Comics is down about $2 million dollars from their 2015 projected revenue thanks to costs of the cross-country move combined with lower than expected sales from the Convergence super-mega-crossover event as well as a lack of sales bump for the DC YOU relaunch. Rich Johnston says that DC is looking at ways to offset the losses and that they're counting on a washed up Frank Miller to save the day with his Dark Knight 3: Blatant Nazi Subtitle, but that seems like a longshot to me.
Meanwhile, Marvel has been absolutely wrecking DC in sales, but is that because more actual readers are buying their comics, or because they play dangerous games with incentives and gimmick-based publishing? We know that the comics sales numbers we see each month do not reflect actual readers, but rather the number of copies retailers order. And as we already know, and which was reinforced today, those numbers are often inflated by incentive variant programs and stunt-publishing that artificially drives the number of copies ordered far above what readers actually buy, because if you can sell one rare variant on ebay for $100 to idiotic speculators, it offsets the cost of 30 unsold regular issues. Well, that's the hope, anyway.
But we've seen all this before, back in the nineties, when the entire comic book industry almost went under due to similar shenanigans. One retailer called Marvel's October All-New All-Different Marvel NOW relaunch "approaching the Heroes world debacle," and we've been preaching about the dangers of gimmick-based sales boosts for years now. What makes the current speculator bubble particularly egregious is that it isn't that publishers are unaware of history, and so doomed to repeat it. Everyone knows what happened the last time comics were more about variant covers, super-mega-crossover events, and constant #1 issue relaunches; they just don't care, because they want that short term profit anyway.
All comics have ever needed to do to grow readership is to tell engaging stories over the long term to get readers hooked on comics, but, instead, the big publishers focus on continually bilking the existing readership for more money with these gimmicks. It can't last forever. It never does. And while DC Comics is showing possible signs of a crash, Marvel is about to embark on a large-scale repeat of DC's 2011 reboot plan, which, as we are seeing right now, resulted in a short term boost and a long term loss. Constantly rebooting your line leads to diminishing returns.
A copy of an X-Men #1 becomes perceivably less valuable in direct proportion to the number of different X-Men #1s that exist. We've understood this for decades, because there are very few available copies of the original X-Men #1, but you can still pick up Jim Lee's 1990 version in the quarter bin at your shop today. And while shiny new #1s may result in short term boosts, drastic sales attrition is a given in the following issues. Marvel seems to believe that they've hit on a formula where they can just relaunch every year, but that can't possibly be sustainable. More likely, the lack of respect for history will simply give long time readers a good reason to stop obsessively collecting long-running titles.
All-New All-Different Marvel NOW may be a financial success, but how many more similar universe-shattering reboots can the industry withstand? We may be seeing the end of the bubble in the near future, and disaster for the comics industry.
Or I might be completely full of shit.
I'm sure you'll let me know in the comments or in vaguely worded subtweets.