Marvel’s ‘Amazing Spider-Man #1’ Hits Over 500,000 Orders: The Business of Blockbuster Comics

Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Marvel Comics has reportedly received over half a million initial orders for The Amazing Spider-Man #1, according to Comic Book Resources. The eagerly anticipated relaunch of the flagship series features the return of Peter Parker, who swapped bodies with Doctor Octopus and "died" in The Amazing Spider-Man #700 back in December 2012.

That half-million figure could make The Amazing Spider-Man #1 the most highly ordered comic book of the past decade -- a title previously held by The Amazing Spider-Man #583, the Presidential Inauguration Issue that featured President Obama. Although #583 sold 530,500 units, that final figure includes both initial orders and reorders, while #1 already has over half a million initial orders. By comparison, the best-selling comic in February was Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) /DC Comics' Batman #28, which sold 114,089 copies.

Source: Marvel

But did Marvel just 'pull an Activision'?
Some people, however, believe that demand for The Amazing Spider-Man #1 might not be as feverish as the media claims. Rich Johnston at The Bleeding Edge points out that Marvel has a habit of "doubling certain retailer orders for free," which don't show up as revenue but result in higher unit counts.

Therefore, Marvel's move could be similar to Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) report of $1 billion in Call of Duty: Ghosts sales within the first 24 hours of the game's release last November. That claim resulted in widespread reports that failed to mention that the $1 billion was actually sold to retailers and not to customers. Activision didn't correct those media reports, since it served as great publicity against rival publisher Take-Two (NASDAQ: TTWO  ) , which previously announced that sales of GTA V (to both retailers and customers) had hit $1 billion within the first three days of its release.

This means we won't really know if The Amazing Spider-Man #1 actually outsold #583, or if this is just a lot of hype to mix the numbers "500,000" and "#1" into the same headline.

President Obama and Spider-Man. Source: Marvel

The Amazing Spider-Man #583 notably sold so many copies due to the media coverage of President Obama's appearance in the comic book, which made the issue a collector's item among non-comic book fans. On the other hand, the body swapping saga between #700 and #1 was big news with comic book fans, but didn't receive as much mainstream attention. After all, Marvel had actually killed Peter Parker twice in 2011 and 2012 -- once in the Ultimate (Earth-1610) universe and once again in the mainstream (Earth-616) one -- so the media wasn't eager to report "Marvel deaths in parallel universes" as news.

It's like Peter Parker taking photos of Spider-Man
Like Activision, Marvel probably loves the deluge of news about The Amazing Spider-Man #1. It's great publicity for the comic as well as the release of Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 next month.

In a similar move, Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF  ) and News Corp (NASDAQ: NWS  ) publisher HarperCollins have released Veronica Roth's young adult novel Divergent in more parts of the world to increase awareness for the film, which has grossed $107 million worldwide.

However, the comic book industry is moving in the opposite direction as the growing market for young adult novels like Divergent, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. In terms of overall revenue, the comic book industry appears to be growing, but total unit sales aren't keeping up.

 

2004

2006

2008

2010

2012

Size of N. American market

$420-480 million

$575-640 million

$680-710 million

$660-690 million

$700-730 million

Total units sold

74.14 million copies

81.85 million copies

81.34 million copies

69.20 million copies

80.55 million copies

Source: Comichron.com

The problem is that revenue from comic book sales have soared 67% to 74% between 2004 and 2012, but total units sold have only climbed 9%. That trend continued between 2012 and 2013 as well. Diamond, the largest comic book distributor in North America, reported that units sold of its top 300 comics from each month climbed 4.9% year-over-year to 84.51 million copies in 2013, but revenue from those sales rose 8.3% to $308.71 million -- indicating that higher cover prices were still offsetting softer sales volume.

Need new readers? Let's reboot everything!
To try to gain new readers, Marvel and DC have repeatedly rebooted their core franchises with new #1 issues to give new readers a hopping-on point to the series.

Unfortunately, Marvel went a bit overboard with the "All New #1" idea and rebooted its major franchises. Even The Uncanny X-Men, which had continuous run since 1963, was rebooted with an "All New #1" issue in 2011. After Peter Parker "died" in The Amazing Spider-Man #700, Marvel launched The Superior Spider-Man #1 in January 2013 with "Doc Ock Spidey" in the lead role.

To tap into the popularity of the films, Marvel unleashed an "All-New Marvel NOW!" universewide effort last December to reboot all of its key characters with #1 issues.

"All for one... and numbers ones for all!". Source: Marvel.

If all of that gives you a headache, you're not alone. Image Comics' Robert Kirkman, the creator and writer of The Walking Dead, took a jab at his former employer in January, calling Marvel a "poorly run company" that was partially destroying the comic book industry".

Too much hype equals limited value
I grew up during the speculative comic book bubble of the late 1990s, when comic books were intentionally printed with limited runs and variant covers to inflate their value. My friends and I held on to #1 issues thinking that they might one day be family heirlooms to pass down to the next generation.

Although that bubble burst in 1997, it was fun to think of comic books as investments. Today, that aspect of comic book collection no longer exists. If there are a half million copies of a single comic in circulation, chances are that it won't be worth a penny in 10 years.

In closing, it's great that The Amazing Spider-Man #1 possibly sold more than 500,000 copies to reach more readers -- but I don't expect this new series to reach #700 again before it gets rebooted once more.

So modern comic books aren't great investments anymore...
Stocks are a lot like comic books -- too much hype, and they become worthless. Meanwhile, there are hidden gems in the stock market, just like in the comic book market. Imagine finding (and holding on to) the stock market equivalent of Amazing Fantasy #15 or Detective Comics #27. 

The Motley Fool's chief investment officer recently selected his top stock for 2014, and it could surge in value just as much as those two comics. Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this hidden gem.


Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (3)

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  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2014, at 5:27 PM, MikaelLivesHere wrote:

    As you mentioned in the speculator days, the reason this issue has reached that number is because Marvel has various variants attached to it. And, some of those variants can only be purchased by retailers if they order 25 copies, 50 copies, 75 copies, 100 copies, etc etc. Also keep in mind, this magical 500,000 number is not how many issues were sold to readers - that number represents the number of orders retailers placed from Marvel. For example, a grocery store may order twenty cartoons of milk, but may only sell 10 before they have to throw the other ten away. The same thing happens in comics. Retailers ordered upwards to 500,000 copies of this issue - but that doesn't translate to 500,000 readers. Since a percentage of that 500,000 was ordered by retailers to obtain pricey variant covers, the 100 copies they had to purchase to get that single variant will never reach a reader's hands.

    Speculator market all over again and Marvel is playing up the publicity. But it really is a false number and nothing to congratulate them on.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 12:17 AM, jupiter837 wrote:

    It's a shame Comics are considered a collectors item. They should be viewed as strictly entertainment like DVD's or paperback books. The speculative market of the early 90's ruined the industry. Crappy books sold millions of copies that for the most part went unread and just bagged up by "collectors" who saw them as investment. The people that did read them decided comic's wasn't for them anymore and moved onto something else. Because of the price increase they, like myself, never came back. Comics are probably the greatest way to tell stories. Done right they are a prefect blend of visual and written narratives. Stories like the "Dark Knight Returns" "Kingdom Come" "The Watchmen" are just a few examples of great works that can't be translated correctly in other form of media. But all people see are the numbers on the covers and how much they might be worth by next week. Shame, shame, shame.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 11:23 AM, chrismireya wrote:

    Oddly enough, I stopped caring about Spider-Man comics when it became a shrill for Obama in 2008. After the initial hysteria settled down, Obama didn't work out too well for Spider-Man or America for that matter.

    That said: I wish that publishers would keep the continuity of the issue numbers. The industry is getting too convoluted with "reboots."

    More importantly: Comics need to be less expensive if they are going to become highly sought. The core of the industry is still guys with pocket money. Nowadays, the industry focuses on controversy, pushing envelopes and a product that is so highly polished that it costs three times what it is worth (if it were published using older methods).

    In other words, the industry needs to shift down a bit -- even if it means returning to the old printing methods.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 12:14 PM, CapMan33 wrote:

    It looks like the artwork isn't that great in Amazing Spiderman #1. It's kind of amateurish looking. Not like the older comics with their realistic detail and elaborate action scenes. It looks as though Marvel is trying to appeal to kindergartners.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 7:55 PM, Ebonvoice wrote:

    Very rarely has "Spider-Man" had "fan-favorite" artists on extended runs of any of it's titles (the most notable of whom are Todd MacFarlane and Frank Miller). In fact, though Spidey's uniform was first designed by Jack Kirby, the comic art fell to Steve Ditko, whose artistic style befitted the more bookish, nerdish, geekish Peter Parker. Later, the style moved from Ditko to John Romita, Sr., and later to Gil Kane, while the "big name" artists of those respective eras (Steranko, Kirby, Neal Adams, et al) worked on other projects. Humberto Ramos has been drawing Spidey for years-- he's a good fit.

    Comic book speculation, while not dead, has very low vital signs. Remember, characters such as Wolverine and the Punisher weren't met with a lot of hype or fanfare, but comics with their initial appearances are worth a small mint (to the point that I regret letting these comics go as a kid, along with my Giant-Size X-Men #1). It will take some comics savvy, a long-ton of patience and maybe twice as much luck, but it is possible-- though I wouldn't recommend it for a casual comics reader.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 10:15 PM, RY33 wrote:

    Let's check on orders for Amazing Spider-man #2. Hmmmmm...I'm guessing they drop down to about 80K. Let's check back for issue #6. Probably drop back down to around 40K where it will stay for two or three years and then guess what? Amazing Spider-man #1 yet again when they relaunch the title again.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 10:19 PM, RY33 wrote:

    Can I ask why Spider-man's eyes are cockeyed? Is that the effect of having his brain switched with Dr. Octopus or is that just some lazy editor that didn't do an art correction? And why is he swinging around without his mask on? I mean that kind of defeats the point of wearing a mask doesn't it? And what schmuck artist drew that cover with Spider-man's knee running off the bottom of the page. There's this thing in doing an illustration called "layout and design". Marvel should look into it.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 1:39 PM, LegendaryPrime13 wrote:

    @RY33

    its because these days its not about quality its about quantity. but i noticed his cockeyes also...actually it was the first thing i noticed.

    when are they going to do the peter parker finally gets his doctrates storyline??? as smart as he is youd figure they woulda made him an actual Dr. already!!! i mean i think he even said it himself in a comic or cartoon about all these villians are Dr.'s,and whered they find time to get their doctrates while committing crimes and stuff. id actually pay to buy thosse comics, atleast itd be something different and relatable

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