One of the most common arguments that I stumble across on the internet is that of fans of Spider-Man discussing the effects that One More Day and Brand New Day have had on the sales of everyone's favorite web crawler. Some claim that the change stimulated the sales of a sagging title by pulling readers off the ancillary titles and "forcing" them to read Amazing while others claim that it hurt the overall number of units sold with people dropping it in light of the thrice monthly schedule.
Usually, the discussions end up being about just who supports what era of Spider-Man and it is never properly resolved. Because of that, I wanted to put together the definitive analysis and overview of Spider-Man sales based on the reliable information that we have from the folks of ICv2. Hit the jump to see a year-by-year breakdown of the sales, and the final verdict about the effects OMD/BND.
What does that mean? It means that it does not include sales number from places that do not get their material from Diamond (such as book stores), international retailers, and issues sold through subscriptions. This last one is particularly important, as when Amazing Spider-Man switched to a thrice monthly schedule, Marvel offered a subscription service that was a lot cheaper than buying it at a retailer. Numbers don't lie, but sometimes they don't tell the whole truth, so it is possible that Amazing Spider-Man has been doing big numbers in sales in the subscription market, but I don't have a way to get a hold of those numbers.
For the sake of simplicity, I have only included mainstream Spider-Man titles and only ongoing titles. This means that the chart and graphs do not contain information for titles like Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Girl (which take place outside of the main Marvel universe), nor does it contain sales numbers for mini-series and one-shots (such as House of M - Spider-Man, Breakout!, and a great many other series).
Additionally, the numbers do not include second or subsequent reprints. These hardly added a lot of units sold to the original total (usually around the 5 to 10 thousand units), with the exception of the Obama issue in 2009, which moved an incredible amount of units in its subsequent reprints.
Analysis for 2001
April, however, marked the first issue of writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist John Romita Jr. taking over the title of Amazing Spider-Man and led to a noticeable increase of sales for that title (JMS stayed on board writing Amazing Spider-Man until 2007).
Additionally, Tangled Web of Spider-Man debuted that month (originally a mini-series by Garth Ennis, called Tangled Web: The Thousand that would later get expanded into an ongoing series) to further help a sharp increase of the total sales that month.
As the year went on, sales slowly increased for Amazing Spider-Man, while sales decreased for Tangled Web, and Peter Parker remained around the 50,000 mark throughout the year. The total sales of 2001 remained steady after the initial jump in April. It should also be noted that the October issue of Amazing Spider-Man was the 9/11 commemorative issue. I would have expected to see a jump in sales, but the sales remained pretty much the same as the month before and after.
Analysis for 2002
April, once again, proved to be the critical month for the Spider-Man sales. Peter Parker shipped out twice that month, and Amazing Spider-Man was re-solicited at a later date to accommodate for a larger order. Why did Marvel change the shipping orders for that month so much? Because in the early days of May 2002 was when the first Spider-Man film was released. Aside from the increase of the month before the film was released, both Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker got a temporary boost in sales for a couple of months, only to go back to around the same levels they previously were in before April. Tangled Web continued to go down in sales, with neither the movie nor the April stunt appearing to help sales.
Analysis for 2003
June only saw one Spider-Man title shipping out, Peter Parker: Spider-Man, ironically on it's last issue. July, however, marked an incredible increase in sales, thanks to the one-two punch of both Amazing Spider-Man and the newly debuted Spectacular Spider-Man (with Paul Jenkins in the writing duties and Humberto Ramos providing the art) shipping out twice that month. The first storyline also involved the return of the fan favorite character, Venom.
The double-shipping and the brand new #1 issue of Spectacular ended up earning almost 400,000 units sold for the Spider-Man line. An impressive feat that would not be matched for years, but that pales in comparison to the early 90's sales when Todd MacFarlane launched his Spider-Man title in the middle of the speculator bubble (which according to Wikipedia sold somewhere around 2.5 million units, but I have not been able to find a source for that number).
August also saw Amazing Spider-Man shipping out twice that month, only to be followed by a special anniversary in October (#500), and Spectacular shipping out twice in November. These special shipping events more than helped the overall sales of this year, despite there being only two ongoing titles for the latter half of the year.
Analysis for 2004
The beginning of 2004 heralded the addition of a new title to the Spider-Man family, Spider-Man Unlimited, which was an anthology-type title that would ship on a bimonthly schedule (similar to X-Men Unlimited). The early months of 2004 showed a slight decrease for the other two titles.
March saw an increase of sales thanks to Spectacular, which shipping twice that month. April continued that trend with the launch of Marvel Knights Spider-Man under the helm of writer Mark Millar and artist Terry Dodson. June brought about another high peak in terms of sales, thanks to both Spectacular and Amazing shipping out twice that month. Just like in 2002, this was done to coincide with the release of the Spider-Man 2 film, which came out in the last days of June.
Despite a very strong first issue in terms of sales for Marvel Knights, the title lost a lot of readers by the end of the year, while Spectacular and Unlimited continued to slowly lose readers as the year went on. Amazing, on the other hand, showed some fluctuations, increasing and decreasing throughout the later part of 2004. It is probable that this fluctuations are because of the controversial storyline that ran towards the end of 2004, called Sins Past, which was very critically panned (although there doesn't seem to be a strong loss of readers). This, coupled with the bimonthly nature of the Unlimited title end up giving the overall chart for that year a very bipolar feel, but with an apparent downwards trend.
2004 was also the first year that Spider-Man had four ongoing titles at the same time, mirroring the popularity of Spider-Man in the big screen.
Analysis for 2005
Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was left with only three ongoing titles once again, and one of them was the low-selling bimonthly Unlimited. But that wouldn't stay so for long...
October breathed in new life for the Spider-Man titles, thanks to the Spidey crossover called The Other, written by JMS, Peter David and Reginald Hudlin across the three ongoing titles: Amazing, Marvel Knights, and the newly debuted Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Peter David became the writer of the new title.
The sales for the last months of 2005 were reinvigorated thanks to the brand new #1 and the crossover, which surpassed the 200,000 mark for the total number of Spidey books sold for three months straight. Something that stuck out to me was that apparently not everyone followed all parts of the crossover, with different parts selling close to 20,000 more units than others.
Analysis for 2006
Additionally, the Marvel Knights title changed its name to Spectacular Spider-Man, although it continued to use the same numbering, therefore, it did not get a boost in sales for a brand new #1 (For the sake of simplicity, the graph/chart continues to call it Marvel Knights). Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Angel Medina were the initial creative team behind this new direction.
The month of May saw the cancellation of the Unlimited title, but it was also the beginning of Marvel's company wide popular crossover Civil War, which Spider-Man was heavily involved in. His participation in the summer crossover seemingly brought in more readers to the titles (especially after the public reveal of his secret identity, which was picked up by the mainstream press), but the flagship title (Amazing) went into a bimonthly schedule, completely hurting the total sales numbers of this year.
I am not quite sure if the bimonthly schedule was the fault of JMS, or because of the heavy delays that Civil War itself suffered. It is possible that the release of Amazing was pushed back in order to accommodate the reveals happening in the main event.
Analysis for 2007
The year of 2007 started out great for the Spider-Man titles, still involved in the Civil War that would end on February of 2007, and the numbers show it. February also saw the debut of yet another anthology-type title, Spider-Man Family, that shipped bimonthly.
Additionally, in March, the Spider-Man titles went into a quasi-crossover (more like a status quo) called Back In Black that had Spider-Man deal with the aftermath of the events of Civil War, most notably the fact that Aunt May was shot and moribund in a hospital. As the title indicates, Spider-Man started using his black suit. This was done to coincide with the release of the Spider-Man 3 film, involving Venom and the symbiote suit, in May of that year. Unlike previous years, however, there was no double shipping this time around and there were a couple of missing/late shipments, like Amazing not coming out in April and Sensational in May.
September marked the beginning of the highly controversial storyline, One More Day, which took place across the three main Spider-Man titles. This storyline involved Peter and Mary Jane being offered a deal from Mephisto, which would save Aunt May if they gave up their marriage. Aside from fans speaking out against the move, there was also controversy amongst the two creators of this storyline, long-time Amazing Spider-Man writer JMS and artist Joe Quesada (also Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics), as they got involved in a public argument about the direction the story was going in.
Only one of the Spider-Man titles would come out each month, hurting the total sales numbers, plus losing readers by the thousands between parts of the storyline. More readers came back for the final part, in December, but there's a disparity of 20,000 readers between the last two issues of Amazing for this year.
It should be noted that during this time, the Family title continued to ship in it's planned schedule, although it lost a substantial amount of readers.
Analysis for 2008
2008 was a brand new year for the Spider-Man titles, as it kick started the new status quo established at the end of One More Day, called Brand New Day. There were sweeping changes, not only in content (the biggest change was that Peter Parker was no longer married to MJ, and Aunt May was alive and well) but also in the way the titles were published. Sensational and Friendly Neighborhood were canceled and Amazing became a thrice-monthly title under the helm of a variety of writers and artists.
People came out in droves to check out the new Spider-Man, with the January monthly sales being above the 300,00 units sold. This bigger and reinvigorated readership would not last long, and the numbers show a very sharp downwards trend in sales, with readers abandoning ship at the rate of (roughly) 10,000 a month for half a year.
August marked the beginning of the storyline called New Ways to Die, with writer Dan Slott and popular Spidey artist John Romita Jr. as the creative team. This story seemed to reinvigorate the sales slightly, but once again, it would not hold for long (it ended in October). August also saw the renumbering of the Family title, now called Amazing Spider-Man Family, which doubled it's sales, although it also would not last for long.
The September sales got a small bump thanks to the appearance of TV pundit Stephen Colbert in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, something that I have already talked about in my article about Comics and the Mass-Media. By December, however, the total monthly sales were barely breaking the 200,000 barrier. A notable difference with the aforementioned sales of January.
Analysis for 2009
Obviously, we don't have the complete data for the 2009 year. The most obvious thing you will notice when looking at the graph is the huge spike in sales in January. This is because of the (in)famous Obama issue. One of the issues in January featured a back up story and a variant cover feature Barack Obama, the popular and recently elected president of the U.S. This drove thousands of people that wouldn't normally purchase an issue of Amazing Spider-Man to comic stores, some because of Obamania and some because of the supposed value this issue would have in the future. The issue would go to sell out and receive (I think) 5 different repressings.
The Obama issue is almost a statistical anomaly, as it only drew collectors and opportunists to the title and no long time readers. The stunt did not seem to help the ongoing sales very much, as the issues directly before and after sold roughly the same amount. March saw only two shipments of Amazing, for reasons unknown to me. The numbers in the chart are monthly figures, but each issue of the Amazing title is selling around 60~65 thousand units, although that seems to be increasing slowly in April.
Overall Analysis and Verdict
As far as recorded data goes, the Spider-Man titles can be divided in roughly three stages. The first stage goes from 2001, once JMS took over from Mackie (only the first issue in the 2001 chart), until early 2004. During this period, sales were generally on the increase, but, outside of special events, the monthly sales between the Spider-Man titles would never break 200,000 units sold plateau.
The second stage, from 2004 until 2007, was marked by constant involvement in crossovers and more high-profile storylines, such as Sins Past, The Other, Civil War, and Back in Black, culminating in One More Day. During this time, the popularity of Spider-Man was at an all-time high, helped by two blockbuster movies. During this time, if all the issues shipped out that month, the Spider-Man titles would easily break the 200,000 sold units.
The last stage is that of Brand New Day, starting in 2008 until the present. During this time, the Spider-Man titles, now almost exclusively Amazing Spider-Man, would also easily break the 200,000 month in and out. Although the numbers started plateauing around that mark with the coming of the new year, we have to see how the numbers will react in the upcoming year before making a final judgement on it.
If we are talking about total units sold, BND proved to be an obvious improvement over the early "JMS era", although roughly the same as the second part of the JMS era, which was helped by the constant involvement of Spider-Man in special events, most notably Civil War.
However, it is important to note that the readership of the BND era is a lot smaller than any of the previous eras. The total linewide sales are higher, but it is a smaller readership buying the issues more often. Whether Spider-Man lost the readers because of the controversial aspect of the new era or because the thrice-monthly cost scared readers away is entirely open to interpretation.
My assesment, however, is that a bigger and more diverse readership is healthier for the long term survival of any series as opposed to a smaller, more dedicated one. That is entirely my opinion, but feel free to let me know if you disagree with me in the comments section.