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Marvel Comics Newsstand Sales and Subscription Numbers back through 1999

Continuing the conversation from my Funnies Business column in Publisher’s Weekly Comics Week, newsstand sales and subscriptions are two categories that, while mainstays of “normal” magazine publishing, have gone by the wayside as comics have entered the direct market.  Looking at the circulation audits from the BPA, we can track newsstand and subscription sales, for 2 months each year, back to 1999.

Single Issue Subscriptions
May ’07 Amazing Spider-Man – 8,001 Marvel Adventures Spider-Man –  27,935
Nov. ’06 Marvel Adventures Flip Magazine  – 13,587 Marvel Adventures Spider-Man –  25,092
May ’06 Amazing Spider-Man – 14,898 Marvel Adventures Spider-Man –  21.213
Nov. ’05 Marvel Adventures Flip Magazine  – 26,727 Ultimate Spider-Man – 16,113
May ’05 Amazing Fantasy – 12,901 Ultimate Spider-Man – 20,960
Nov. ’04 X-Men -19,229 The Pulse – 12,867
May ’04 Amazing Spider-Man -11,837 Ultimate Spider-Man – 17,150
Nov. ’03 New X-Men – 29,022 New X-Men – 8,940
May ’03 Wolverine – 18,696 Ultimate Spider-Man – 20,582
Nov. ’02 Uncanny X-Men – 19,482 Ultimate Spider-Man – 12,044
May ’02 Amazing Spider-Man – 18,311 Amazing Spider-Man – 8,421
Nov ’01 Amazing Spider-Man – 21,305 Uncanny X-Men – 8,806
May ’01 Uncanny X-Men – 22,904 Uncanny X-Men – 11,159
Nov. ’00 Uncanny X-Men – 21,797 Uncanny X-Men – 11,755
May ’00 Uncanny X-Men – 26,865 Uncanny X-Men – 6,931
Nov. ’99 Uncanny X-Men – 26,453 Amazing Spider-Man – 8,149
May ’99 Uncanny X-Men – 31,215 Uncanny X-Men – 7,610

Now, looking at 2 months out of a year isn’t the ideal way to get the complete picture, but we can sure see a trend.  Back in 1999, there was still more action on the newsstand and relatively little attention paid to subscriptions.  Starting in 2003, you start to see a drastic rise in subscriptions (I’m guessing the Nov. ’03 number is a glitch of some sort – either that or a ton of renewals didn’t get processed on time).  Subscriptions are something a publisher has a certain amount of control over, depending how much they want to emphasize them in the comics or on their website.  That seems to be a corporate effort, near as I can tell.

With the newsstand, you have less control over where you’re carried and if you buy comics, you know it’s harder and harder to find anyplace that sells them outside of the direct market.  You just don’t see them in grocery stores any more.  That “Flip Magazine” that turns up as Marvel’s best seller in ’05 and ’06 was something specifically created for the newsstand market.   I would occasionally see it in grocery stores and in Barnes & Noble where they carried just a handful of comics, if any.  I’d have to say that format worked out.

If you step back further, what you’re really seeing is the success of 2 franchises in the consumer market (my stance is the direct market is mostly a collector’s market): X-Men and Spider-Man.  It makes sense, since these are both movie franchises and arguably the well-known characters at Marvel from a branding perspective. 

Remember when Bill Jemas was talking about the need to start things clean from a continuity perspective to help facilitate (read: not alienate) new readers?  How many times do “Marvel Adventures” and “Ultimate” show up on that chart?  50% of the slots from Nov. ’02 to date.  And they rule the roost with subscriptions.  Clean(er) continuity and intended younger audience is something that’s evolved as leading product for what’s left of the consumer market.

Now, again, this is interpretation for data samples, not the whole but the formula of mass-media exposure and low-to-no continuity worked pretty well for Dell and their TV adaptation business in the 1950s.  While Stephen King is still a big seller in the direct market, Star Wars hasn’t nearly been the seller it was when it was distributed on the newsstands.

More interesting, perhaps, if you look at the audit numbers for May ’99 and Nov. ’07, you see an almost symmetrical reversal between newsstand and subscriptions.  In May ’99, 31,215 was tops in newsstand sales and 7,610 was tops in subscriptions.  In Nov. ’07, 8,001 was tops in newsstand sales and 27,935 was tops in subscriptions.  Perhaps the consumer market is just readjusting to where they can get the product or perhaps Marvel is adjusting the emphasis to fit available channels.

Either way, it paints and interesting picture of a market that continues to shift away from traditional magazine distribution.  I leave you with thought.  In Europe, Harlequin sells their paperback romance novels on a subscription basis and here, you can buy a subscription to their eBooks.  (Alas, their Rogue Angel and Mack Bolan properties, done for comics by IDW, are not available for eBook subscription.  Maybe they don’t think subscriptions are a guy thing?)

Hmmm…  eBooks.  Makes you wonder what kind of numbers Marvel has for their digital comics subscriptions.  Alas, that information we don’t have, but that’s another consumer-driven initiative we’re seeing out of them.

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