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Why are Comic Sales Still Down, Despite Movie Tie-Ins and Event Books?

May should have been an great month for comic sales, but it ended up being one of the worst. What's to blame?

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As with any consumer product, there is and always will be pressure to boost sales. This is prevalent in any industry--but this seems to be an urgent demand in the comic book industry, especially lately. Whether there really has been a bigger focus on comics sales, or it just feels that way is hard to tell from the casual comic reader. But the impression from retailers and fans is that now, more than ever, we are seeing a big push to introduce the product to new audiences in order to garner more revenue.

The worry over comics sales feels constantly looming and this is due in part to so many recent changes that have taken place within the industry. Between the "digital comics revolution," and the acquisition of Marvel by Disney, the news of the revamp of the DC Universe this September and the increase in the number of comic book inspired films being released (five comic book films being released this summer alone), you would think these moves would bring in more comic sales. That's a logical assumption to make about the average moviegoer, right? If someone who watched the Green Lantern movie happened to enjoy it, then it makes sense that they'll be interested in picking up Green Lantern comic books. Surprisingly, no.

The market now, more than ever, feels completely over-saturated with comic book inspired films, television shows and video games. Comics are being injected into all aspects of media; and the result is an attempt to increase the fan base and get more people reading comic books. But is it working? Are the releases of all these comic book movies increasing comic book sales whatsoever, or is there no direct correlation?

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"Movies have never and will never increase comic book sales," says Eric Thornton, owner and operator of Chicago Comics for the last twenty years. "[Most of the] People who go to the movies have no interest in investing in the comics and becoming fans of the comic book characters. They won't become Green Lantern comic fans because they liked the Green Lantern movie...In fact, if a bad movie is released, like Catwoman for example, it can actually hurt sales."

A major comic writer cited a similar position on the subject, stating that sales may actually be driven down by comic book movies because when that 13 year old Thor fan has to choose between spending his $13 allowance on a Thor comic or a trip to the Thor movie with his friends, chances are, he'll go see that movie.

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Last week both the Comics Chronicle and ICv2 cited a drop in May comic book sales of 11.21% versus the previous May. Not only that, but May 2011's comic sales ranked as the second lowest comic sales this year, second only to January 2011's which was "the worst seen January to January sales in the last 15 years [the Diamond exclusive era]."

The thing is, this May should have been a big month for comics. It's the start of the summer movie releases, and the very first week of May saw the release of the highly anticipated Thor movie (May 6th) from Marvel Studios. The film's release coincidentally fell on the same weekend as one of the comic book industry's biggest days out of the year; Free Comic Book Day (May 7th). So why did May sales fall so short?

"I think there was just a drop in sales," Eric said, "I don't think it had anything to do with the movie releases...I just don't think there was enough product that fans wanted to read in May. With Marvel releasing so many books, it over-saturated the comics market. No one will want to read five Captain America mini's every single week."

And Eric is right, who would want to read 5 Captain America mini's every week? But it wasn't Captain America that didn't meet its projected sales mark in May, it was actually DC's Flashpoint #1 (86,981 units) which came second in sales for May after Fear Itself #2 from Marvel which estimated at 96,318, dropping an estimated 32,000 units between issues 1 and 2. Still, for the first issue of an event book, Marvel was at least able to get over the 100,000 unit hump, while DC couldn't manage to crack the top spot. So why didn't Flashpoint garner higher sales?

"I went into Flashpoint not know what it was about," Eric said, "and while my Flashpoint #1 orders were spot on, and I only had to reorder once, I still didn't know a lot about it."

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Eric isn't the only person to complain about not knowing enough about Flashpoint prior to the event. After speaking to Jonah Lantern, a sales associate at Los Angeles' Golden Apple Comics shop we discovered that the store still had at least 100 copies of Flashpoint #1 on their shelves. "The Flash ongoing was a little bit confusing," Jonah said, "[the] run before Flashpoint didn't do a good job setting up [the story]" Jonah said. However, both Jonah and Eric stated the Flashpoint tie-ins are doing far better than they anticipated. So what could the reasons be for the low Flashpoint sales? Could it be because DC Comics keeps much of their content so close to their chest? Not only that, but The Flash only had one series prior to the Flash driven event, and that might be harder to sell especially when you compare that to Green Lantern and the Brightest Day event which was backed by at least 40 Green Lantern books- including Sinestro Corps which exceeded expectations of DC Comics and retailers alike. Not to mention, The Flash series also struggled with delayed shipping.

Even though sales in May did drop considerably, DC still managed to snag three of the top 25 highest seller slots for three different Green Lantern titles that month. Green Lantern #66 in May sold almost as many units as Flashpoint #1, coming in third place at an estimated 75,371 units while Green Lantern #60 came in 6th place and Green Lantern Emerald Warriors #10 made into the 17th position.

With the release of all these comic book movies, it doesn't necessarily mean that comic sales will increase. However, the sales number of Green Lantern comics did go up, so perhaps the films help to introduce characters to people who already read comics but that may not read that comic? What do you think of the future of comic books? Do you feel that the decline in sales is indicative that movies really have no bearing on the success of comic book franchises, or do you still think these films could introduce comic characters to a new audience and increase the reader base?