Sunday, July 5, 2009

Action is His Reward - Spider-Man Subscriptions Over the Years

Last month I wrote a piece where I number crunched the sales of the Spider-Man titles through the years. I used all of the available data that we had from the direct market, which means all the comics sold through specialty shops, but I sadly did not have information regarding the subscription numbers. These numbers were rumored to be higher during the Brand New Day era of the Spider-Man titles and could have theoretically skewed my final conclusion that the Spider-Man titles were losing readers in the past year, despite the higher total sales.

Thankfully, two articles have popped up on the net, one at Publisher Weekly and another at Indignant Online regarding Marvel's subscription numbers. The most interesting part, however, is this second piece from Indignant Online, where they take a closer look at the subscription numbers over the years. Hit the jump to see my thoughts on this brand new data.


As with the previous article, this one is mainly concerned with the sales of the regular "616" Spider-Man ongoing titles. The original article provides information regarding other titles as well, notably Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel Adventures Spider-Man. On a special side note, the latter sells an incredible amount of issues through the subscription market, easily beating the popular Amazing Spider-Man on a 2-to-1 scale, and selling almost three times as much as it does on the direct market level.

Additionally, on the sales chart, there seems to be no information regarding Marvel Knight Spider-Man. I am not completely sure, but it is possible that Marvel decided to not put this title in the subscription market because it was (as the name indicates) part of the a Marvel Knights imprint, aimed at more adult readers. This theory is supported by the fact that there is sales data for it once the title switched to Sensational Spider-Man and was dropped from the imprint.

Subscription Sales

(Click the graph for a larger version, or click here for the complete sales chart)


This new information regarding subscriptions is almost a microcosm of the previous information that we had. Towards the beginning, between 2002 and 2004, sales remained roughly the same and fluctuated very little for Amazing Spider-Man.

Something to note is that while in the direct market, the number one issue for a series is usually the highest seller with following months showing sharp drop offs. However, it seems to work differently in the subscription market. The subscription numbers for both Peter Parker: Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man increased over time while it was doing just the opposite in the direct market.

There is a noticeable dip near the middle in the total sales, around 2004 and 2005, because of the aforementioned fact that Marvel Knights Spider-Man does not register in the subscription market. To make matters worse, Amazing Spider-Man did not ship out the month of November in 2004.

Sales started picking up for Amazing Spider-Man in 2006 and 2007, which we know is the time when Spidey was involved in Civil War and Back in Black. The events, however, did not seem to be helping the other two Spider-Man titles, as they were both doing extremely low numbers.

And, finally, we reach 2008, with now only one title shipping three times a month. The numbers included in the above graph and chart are the total of subscribers, so to get the total number of sales, you would have to multiply it by three. Roughly 35 thousand copies in May and 27 thousand in November.


I am really glad that we have gotten a hold of the subscription data as it was a missing piece of the puzzle I was trying to put together. Sadly, the big picture remains the same.

The number of individual subscriptions actually went down once Amazing Spider-Man went into a thrice-monthly schedule and the other two titles were cancelled. The total sales, however, increased sharply, as more readers are buying the title more often. In those terms, the decision on Marvel's part was a resounding success.

But I am concerned at the apparent downward spiral that the number of individual readers for the Spider-Man titles is taking. The chart shows that, while there are some fluctuations throughout the years, once Amazing Spider-Man went into a thrice monthly, it took a clear down fall. When you consider the tough economic times and the rising prices of comics, an almost-weekly comic is a big commitment for readers and it seems more people are dropping it as time passes.

I still hold on to the belief that a diminished reader base buying more copies is not good for the long term health of any title or for the industry in general. But it looks as though Spidey's involvement in Dark Reign and the upcoming 600th anniversary issue may boost sales, just like how Civil War and The Other boosted sales in the past. I guess time will tell just how sustainable the Spider-Man titles are in their current format.

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Anonymous said...

Marvel Adventures is the top subscription for Marvel? And by that much? thats crazy.

Steven R. Stahl said...

Subscribers to MARVEL ADVENTURES might be parents buying the comics for their kids, who aren't interested in the regular titles and who don't want to make trips to comics shops just to buy them.


Chris said...

Maybe one of the reasons that the sales have gone down is that the Marvel subscription service has become unreliable in the last year or so. I have had a subscription to Uncanny X-men since Sept. of 06. Back then I would get the titles on or before the release date. Within the last year I have gotten the title in a range from 1 week late to 3 weeks late. I have also heard from someone who has a subscription to Amazing and he has started getting them late around the time I did. He also told me that he has recieved some issues before previous issues. I've gotten used to it, but maybe people are getting fed up with lateness and ending subscriptions.

Matt Ampersand said...

Anonymous, Steve's theory is probably the correct one. I imagine that's all parents buying it for their kids, instead of taking them to comic book shops.

Chris, that's interesting to hear, I didn't know about the problems with delayed subscriptions. I can imagine shipping out something three times a day is a logistical nightmare.

Klep said...

@Chris: That seems likely to be part of it, but given that non-subscription readership of ASM has also been steadily dropping, it's probably not the most significant reason.

mrpeepants said...

Spectacular Spider-man is my new fav take on spidey. Greating writing and animation.

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