I should start this article by saying that the Amazing Spider-Man is my favourite comic book. It has been so since my childhood and shall ever be. I have owned (and read) every issue at one point or another so I feel pretty confident in my ability to discuss the title and its current state.
For those of you don’t know, ASM has been a thrice monthly title since January of 2008. It has always been the most popular and best-selling title in the Spider-Man line, and as such the most important storylines also occurred within the book. Less important storylines were found in Spectacular Spider-Man (or Peter Parker: Spider-Man) and total crap was found Web of Spider-Man (I want to say better things about the title, but let’s be honest here).
Tired of starting and canceling books due to poor readership, Marvel (i.e Joe Quesada) comes up with the idea of getting rid of all other Spidey titles and printing ASM 3 times per month. This is the comic book equivalent of saying “a lot of people tune in for the Super-Bowl, so every television show should just be the Super-Bowl”. Fine in theory, but the execution leaves something to be desired.
Currently, ASM has no consistency in terms of quality. This is mostly due to the ever-changing creative teams that produce the book. No fewer than 6 writers and 7 artists have worked on the book over the last 2 years. Sure that is the equivalent of 6 years worth of stories, but there are numerous examples of writers (and sometimes artists) being on a book that long by themselves without needing some sort of tag-team approach.
Sometimes the stories are great, sometimes fine, and sometimes border-line unreadable. This problem would be fixed if a single creative team worked on the book. In addition, stories are mostly three or six issue arcs (one or two months). As I have mentioned in past articles, this kind of drawn out form of storytelling works great for selling tradepaperbacks, but doesn’t work as well for creating great, readable stories.
So, my intrepid readers, you ask “why would Marvel do this”? The same reason they do everything: money. This approach was done to make more money. So I took a look at the sales figures for ASM and it proved enlightening.
Diamond Comics Distributors publishes sales figures on every title. There are two statistics: position in sales and number of issues sold. I started with looking at the sales from January 2008 (start of the 3 times monthly idea) to now. Position wise there isn’t much change. Mostly the title started off in the top ten and then slid continuously down. It still normally gets anywhere in the top twenty and might get in the top ten. The chart below illustrates the position for each issue (remember a smaller bar is better).
Note the curve is basically constant for the last two years. It goes up and down but mostly stays in the 10 to 20 range. The very short bar is the number one position issue with President Obama. Publishing the title three times per month didn’t suddenly result in ASM being in the top ten every month. But what about overall sales? Even more illuminating.
The title started off strong with about 120,000 issues sold. The ridiculous spike is (again) the Obama issue (350,000) but mostly the title sells around 60,000-80,000 copies per issue (mostly on the 60,000 end). Other spikes include the first appearance of Anti-Venom or issue #600. It is also interesting to note that the first issue out any given month seems to sell better than the subsequent issues.
These sales figures are somewhat deceptive. The 18 months before January 2008 the title was selling 95,000 -140,000 copies per issue. However these months had the Other, Civil War, Back in Black, and One More Day storylines so a comparison isn’t completely fair, but we can’t discount them either. The 12 months previous to these sold consistently 80,000 copies per issue with very little fluctuation.
So before January 2008 sales averaged around 100,000 copies per issue. Now it is around 70,000 per issue, but remember with the extra publishing Marvel is actually selling an average of 210,000 issues per month. The problem is they can’t be making very much money on this endeavor. Marvel might see some savings in printing costs and the like by publishing more issues, but creative costs would not go down in bulk. Every month the salary costs associated with the creative team would now be tripled. They have effectively raised their most expensive costs associated with producing a comic book.
How much Marvel makes per issue is a pretty tight secret. My research (which I must admit was contained to Wikipedia and Google) didn’t find any concrete numbers so we will make them up for the purpose of discussion.
Let say a comic book costs $3 per issue. Maybe before 2008 Marvel makes $1 per issue or on average $100,000 per month. Now let’s say that they only make $0.50 per issue due to increased costs. Now they would be making $105,000 per month. That isn’t a lot of extra money for a lot of extra work.
I can’t see this experiment making enough money for it to continue. There have been some internet rumours (from less reputable sites than Comic Book Daily) that the book will go bi-monthly with Dan Slott as the main writer. This would increase the quality of the product, but a bi-monthly title is still a strain on an artist. Eventually the title will return to a normal monthly publication.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a great title, but too much of a good thing is disastrous. I only can hope now that Quesada has been giving a promotion the new Editor-In-Chief will fix his mistakes. ASM is Marvel’s flagship title and there is no excuse for it not being a solid, quality title consistently in the top ten.
Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He does whatever a spider can. If you have need of his services you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also view his elegant words of prose at www.thenerdalert.blogspot.com.