Diamond's sales charts hit earlier this week, prompting a sequel to last month's controversy wherein everyone wondered whether DC's Button crossover running through Batman and The Flash actually beat Secret Empire #1 in total unit sales once the lenticular and non-lenticular versions of the DC comics were added together, just as they did last month. And once again, that proved to be the case, with both Batman and The Flash selling more copies than Secret Empire #1. But how many copies are we actually talking here?
Comichron, the folks who analyze Diamond's monthly sales index and applies complex mathematical formulas to produce unit sales estimates and are surely a total blast at parties, have a figure: 157,517 units. It seems surprisingly, or unsurprisingly depending on your level of cynicism, low when compared to recent past Marvel super-mega-crossover events. For comparison's sake, Comichron estimates that in June of 2016, Civil War II #1 (which was, by the way, the legitimate number one selling book that month), sold 381,737 copies. The year prior, Secret Wars #1 sold an estimated 527,678, according to Comichron. If these numbers are accurate, it shows that Secret Empire #1 sold just 41.2% of the number of copies Civil War II #1 did, less than half. When compared to Secret Wars #1, Secret Empire #1 sold just 29.8% of its half a million total.
But are these numbers reliable? Bleeding Cool Rumormonger-in-Chief Rich Johnston notoriously doesn't think so, proclaiming once during a Famboy Rampage with Marvel Executive Tom Brevoort that the sales estimates are "always wrong."
all based on estimates, only North American direct market sales and always wrong.
— Rich Johnston (@richjohnston) December 11, 2016
Brevoort has also called the numbers "not remotely accurate:"
That information isn't remotely accurate.
— Tom Brevoort (@TomBrevoort) December 11, 2016
But at that time, Comichron founder John Jackson Miller provided Bleeding Cool with a statement defending the numbers, and also explaining what they do and do not represent:
I fully understand what Tom is referring to, as I have spoken to this point many times: the figures are certainly not a complete representation of all copies circulating in all markets. We don't claim that they are. Rather, they estimate a specific thing: the number of copies Diamond shipped to its North American accounts in the calendar month.
Those estimates do appear to be accurate, in that they conform with other information at our disposal; after after 2003 when the switch from preorder to Final Order reporting happened, the independent estimates by Comichron, CBR, and ICV2 converged. In a sense, we're checking one another's work, every single month.
We also have a further aid in that we know from information Diamond has made publicly available the total number of copies shipped to North American accounts each month. Diamond provides monthly, year-to-year, and year-to-date percentage change figures every month for comics unit sales, and has also reported its overall sales on occasion (such as 98 million such copies in 2015 and 10.28 million copies in August 2016). Those two figures comport with one another precisely in the matrix of percentage-changes, as do other announced numbers; the monthly overall units figure Comichron reports is just a matter of algebra. This overall figure provides a further independent backstop, because adding all the Top 300 sales together tends to arrive at about 91% of the overall total, suggesting the rest are outside the Top 300.
ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz… Wha? Oh, sorry, we fell asleep there. But you get the point. The numbers are based on information provided by Diamond, of copies sold to retailers in the North American direct market, and they don't represent the entire picture of comic book sales. Beyond that, you'll have to form your own opinions, because like all healthy companies who are doing well in sales, Marvel keeps its actual totals closely guarded.
Except when they don't, which is when the numbers make them look good. Take Civil War 2 #1, which Comichron doubter Rich Johnston reported in August of 2016 "sold 425,000 to comic shops:"
Star Wars #1 may have sold a million copies for Marvel Comics a year-and-a-half ago.
But that included a close-to-half-a-million copies of a Loot Crate variant copy.
The final numbers of the $4.99 Civil War II #1 were announced by Marvel during the Retailer Lunch at San Diego Comic-Con at 425,000, while they distributed half a million copies of Civil War II #0 for free for Free Comic Book Day.
Despite all that, they have still solicited a second print. Maybe they are trying to get closer to that cool half a million…
425,000 is higher than Comichron's estimate by about 11.3%, though Marvel's number may have included sales from other sources than the Diamond North American direct market sales Comichron purports to estimate, and Marvel is sure to use whatever numbers are available to make their sales look as good as possible.
Back in 2015, Johnston also reported on Secret Wars' sales, commending Marvel for beating Loot Crate by selling over half a million copies of Secret Wars #1:
Loot Crate reportedly put half a million sales onto Boom's Bravest Warriors: The Adventures Of Holo John #1 last month and has seen Boom's market share in the industry double on the back of that one comic book. Though it is still not clear how many copies actually made their way into the hands of Loot Crate subscribers…
But it wasn't enough to beat Secret Wars #1 from Marvel Comics which, reportedly, has sold over half a million too.
This is the first time a Loot Crate-included comic book has not topped the month's charts. Previously, Amazing Spider-Man, Walking Dead, Star Wars and Orphan Black all topped the chart in the month they were published.
Once again, the numbers are in the ballpark of the Comichron estimates. So when it comes to Secret Empire #1 and Comichron's 158k figure, are they likely to be wildly off base, or are they in the ballpark as well. Are the numbers "not remotely accurate," as Tom Brevoort says, or are they actually pretty close, as they were in the case of Secret Wars #1 and Civil War II #1? Perhaps Marvel will shed some light on that with a proud announcement about Secret Empire's real sales numbers later this Summer. Then again, maybe they will not.