Number Crunching: Why Spider-Man Needed a Brand New Day

Posted by on Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 at 10:08:51 AM

By now I assume most of our readers have heard about the upcoming changes on Amazing Spider-Man: “Brand New Day” will be replaced with “Big Time“, in a clear power-shift from Sting to Peter Gabriel on Steve Wacker’s iPod.

“Big Time” sees Dan Slott take over as sole Amazing writer, and the book’s frequency will drop from thrice-monthly to twice-monthly. Some have seen this as a repudiation of the whole “Brand New Day” paradigm, whether that means “a thrice monthly book doesn’t work” or “the creative teams have disappointed” or, most colorfully, “JOE QUESADA IS A BIG DUMMY AND PETER WOULD NEVER MAKE A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL AND I AM VERY ANGRY ABOUT EITHER THE DISSOLUTION OF THE MARRIAGE OR POSSIBLY ALSO SPIDER-GIRL BUT MAINLY I JUST HATE MARVEL”.

I can’t speak to the last group, but personally I think BND has resulted in some very enjoyable characters, and several of the main BND players (Slott, Marcos Martin, Zeb Wells) are sticking around, so I can’t imagine this change was spurred by a perceived failure of the creative teams. Many people have pointed to the sales numbers on Amazing this year as proof of that, as sales are down considerably from the lofty heights of a few years ago. Brand New Day, they have argued, has seen Amazing drop from selling over 100,000 copies a month to under 60,000.

While that isolated data point is true, it doesn’t give you the whole picture. Sales have dropped considerably from the point they were at immediately before BND, but there are many factors:

  1. Monthly sales have declined in general in the past few years. Maybe it’s the economy, maybe trades/digital comics/piracy have eaten into monthly sales, maybe the mania around Civil War and Infinite Crisis was unsustainable.
  2. By putting out three issues a month, Amazing Spider-Man is selling a reduced number three times a month rather than monthly, or perhaps even less than monthly, as Amazing was plagued by delays during its hottest run of the decade.
  3. Sales of BND should be compared not just to past performances of Amazing Spider-Man, but the secondary Spider-Books it effectively replaces.

If you look at the past decade, the first two years of Brand New Day have resulted in higher overall sales than any other publishing configuration attempted:

Year Tot. Sales Books Avg./Issue ASM Avg. Non-ASM
2000 1,231,314 24 51,305 52,882 49,728
2001 1,562,044 24 65,085 87,246 52,523
2002 1,781,781 23 77,469 103,916 57,125
2003 2,235,647 27 82,802 100,263 66,588
2004 2,586,896 36 71,858 85,403 54,202
2005 2,088,287 32 65,259 75,580 58,483
2006 2,334,145 33 70,732 115,117 54,087
2007 2,124,660 26 81,718 124,820 58,899
2008 2,854,179 36 79,283 79,283 N/A
2009 2,756,577 35 78,759 78,759 N/A
2010* 1,111,595 19 58,505 58,505 N/A

There are a few things that skew these numbers, primarily:

  • Amazing Spider-Man #583, which, fueled by Obamamania, sold over half a million copies. Granted, other “big” skew numbers, but rarely to that degree, and unlike new #1s, anniversary issues, and comic-spawned Events, Marvel cannot generate another mainstream tie-in of that level.
  • “One More Day”, which ran across all three then-running Spider-Man books in 2007, and essentially replaced the final issues of Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man with de facto Amazing Spider-Man issues, pushing the numbers for non-ASM books artificially high for 2007.

So a revised chart would look like this:

Year Tot. Sales Books Avg./Issue ASM Avg. Non-ASM
2000 1,231,314 24 51,305 52,882 49,728
2001 1,562,044 24 65,085 87,246 52,523
2002 1,781,781 23 77,469 103,916 57,125
2003 2,235,647 27 82,802 100,263 66,588
2004 2,586,896 36 71,858 85,403 54,202
2005 2,088,287 32 65,259 75,580 58,483
2006 2,334,145 33 70,732 115,117 54,087
2007 2,124,660 26 81,718 121,267 52,715
2008 2,854,179 36 79,283 79,283 N/A
2009 2,756,577 35 65,633 65,633 N/A
2010* 1,111,595 19 58,505 58,505 N/A

Looking at the eight years leading up to BND, it’s very clear why the Thrice Monthly ASM model was adopted:


Secondary Spider-Man titles never sell well at all compared to the main title. This isn’t even taking into account anthology style books — Webspinners, Spider-Man Unlimited, Tangled Web, Spider-Man Family, the current Web of Spider-Man title — that traditionally sell so poorly that including them in the data seemed unfair. Even Tangled Web, the highest-profile iteration of this sort of book, with stories by high-profile creators like Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Paul Pope, Greg Rucka, Eduardo Risso, and others couldn’t maintain sales above 30,000, and all of the other books dipped under 20,000 before being unceremoniously canceled.

This is hardly unique to Spider-Man: look at Marvel and DC’s Classified and Confidential books, Marvel Comics Presents, Astonishing Tales, and so on: the superhero market doesn’t care for anthology books. Some properties seem capable of maintaining strong sales across multiple titles — the X-Men franchise for instance, or the recent Bendis era of Avengers and Johns-run Green Lantern franchise. Though the Superman and Batman books aren’t really supporting multiple top-selling books at the moment, they’ve certainly both had two (or more) top-selling titles at once in the recent past. But Spider-Man has seemed incapable of pulling that feat off in the past decade. Let’s look back, shall we?

Spider-Man in 2000: 24 issues | 1,231,314 total copies sold | Average Issue: 51,305 | Average ASM: 52,882 |Average Non-ASM: 49,728

The Spider-Books were at their closest to parity this decade back in 2000, but only because the entire franchise was at such a low point. Shortly after the Clone Saga, all three Spider-Books crossed over in “The Final Chapter”, which resulted in the cancellation of all three books:

  • Amazing Spider-Man, which had run for 441 issues and thirty-five years
  • Spectacular Spider-Man, which had run for 263 issues and twenty-two years
  • Peter Parker: Spider-Man, which had run for 98 issues and eight years

Of course, all this meant was two new number ones! Amazing Spider-Man relaunched under Howard Mackie and John Byrne, and Peter Parker: Spider-Man under Mackie and John Romita Jr. Why Spectacular missed out on the relaunch in favor of Peter Parker isn’t clear; obviously it had a longer pedigree, but perhaps Marvel had memories of Peter Parker’s 1990 launch (as plain ol’ Spider-Man) where Todd McFarlane sold some insane number of polybagged issues to speculators.

The Mackie/Byrne/JRJr run continued into 2000, though with Byrne getting replaced with Erik Larsen and eventually Romita taking over art duties for both books. At a little under 53,000 copies per issue, this is presumably the lowest Amazing Spider-Man‘s sales have been in its history: I only have access to numbers going back to 1996, but even the depths of the Clone Saga never dipped that low.

The Mackie era of Peter Parker lasted through the first half of 2000, with an Erik Larsen one-shot leading into a run by Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham. None of the personnel changes affected sales appreciably, as the book gently descended from around 54,000 sales in January down to 46,000 in December. With Jenkins’s run, Peter Parker focused mostly on one-shot stories exploring Spider-Man’s relationships with his supporting cast and villains, which sounds dangerously close to an anthology, but perhaps the consistent creative team kept this from sinking into oblivion.

Spider-Man in 2001: 24 issues | 1,562,044 total copies sold | Average Issue: 65,085 | Average ASM: 77,647 | Average Non-ASM: 52,523

Has it really been almost a decade since Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada took over? One of “Nu-Marvel”‘s definitive early successes was handing Amazing Spider-Man over to J. Michael Straczynski, who began with June’s Amazing Spider-Man#30, keeping Romita around as artist. Though initial orders for JMS’s first issue were only around 77,000 copies, by year’s end sales were nearing 100,000 copies a month, and sales for their first nine issues averaged around 88,000 copies per issue, a huge improvement over Mackie’s run, which by March had dipped below 50,000 copies an issue.

Over in Peter Parker: Spider-Man, the Jenkins/Buckingham run continued, albeit with a few art fill-ins. Peter Parker kept to done-in-ones, including the well-remembered #35, “Heroes Don’t Cry”, that followed a young boy who idolized Spider-Man. Whether it was due to the positive buzz the run was receiving, a general upswing in the comics market, or carryover from the succes of Amazing, sales on Peter Parker rose in 2001, starting around 46,000 and peaking mid-year with sales near 60,000, before settling back to the low fifties by year’s end.

Spider-Man in 2002: 23 issues | 1,781,781 total copies sold | Average Issue: 77,469 | Average ASM: 103,916 | Average Non-ASM: 57,125

Amazing only shipped ten issues in 2002, though each issue averaged over 100,000 copies and JMS/JRJr picked up an Eisner for Best Serailized Story, so I’m sure no one worried too much about a couple of delays. Not much to say but that this was a winning combination for all parties, and is a run Marvel unsurprisingly continues to keep in print to this day.

In contrast, I had completely forgotten what was going on in Peter Parker in 2002, as Jenkins’s much-longer-than-I-realized run continued, with a Zeb Wells/Jim Mahfood two-parter (#42-43) that I would love to revisit in the context of Wells’s more recent work on Spider-Man. After that came “Death in the Family”, a well-promoted Green Goblin storyline that gave Peter Parker its best sales of the decade, topping out at 66,000 for its conclusion. After the oversized #50 in November, Wells returned for another run that maintained a decent chunk of the “Death in the Family” audience.

Spider-Man in 2003: 27 issues | 2,235,647 total copies sold | Average Issue: 82,802 | Average ASM: 100,263 | Average Non-ASM: 66,588

Year Three of the JMS era of Amazing saw the book make up for last year’s delays by releasing thirteen issues, which again averaged above 100,000 copies per issue, though that number is only buoyed that high by two milestone issues: thanks to Marvel’s renumbering policy, Amazing Spider-Man #50 and Amazing Spider-Man #500 both came out in 2003, selling 114,000 and 149,000 copies, respectively. Without those two issues, average sales are closer to 95,000 per issue, which still makes for a remarkably popular and enduring run on a book.

Peter Parker: Spider-Man came to a close in 2003, with six more Wells issues featuring a variety of artistic collaborators including Sam Kieth. Sales had dropped below 50,000 by this point, which was likely a factor leading to Peter Parker getting replaced by Spectacular Spider-Man in July. Spectacular saw Jenkins return to Spider-Man, this time with Humberto Ramos as his collaborator. Whether due to the new #1 or the Venom-centric storyline “The Hunger”, Spectacular sold fairly well, starting out at 118,000 copies but dropping down to just above 60,000 by the end of the year. The relaunch helped sales, but not drastically.

Spider-Man in 2004: 36 issues | 2,586,896 total copies sold | Average Issue: 71,858 | Average ASM: 85,403 | Average Non-ASM: 54,202

Whether it was standard attrition, an artistic changeover from Romita to Mike Deodato, or the divisive “Sins Past” storyline, Amazing performed below previous years in 2004, with thirteen issues averaging around 85,000 copies a month, which is still a very solid performance for any book over forty issues into a run without any major events or other sales-boosters.

Spectacular Spider-Man continued its Jenkins run in 2004, but gone were the shorter vignettes, replaced by a string of trade-ready longer stories featuring iconic Spidey villains like Venom, Doctor Octopus and the Lizard. The latter was drawn by Daimon Scott, who I never realized had worked at Marvel. After that came a one-shot by Jenkins and future BND MVP Paolo Rivera before Spectacular became an Avengers: Disassembled crossover for six months. Then 2004 ended with two done-in-ones featuring a Poker game and Mindworm, both of which I enjoyed at the time but associated with Jenkins’s earlier run on the book. None of these things affected Spectacular’s sales much, as it hovered between 47-55,000 copies per issue all year long.

2004 also saw the launch of a third mainline Spider-Man book for the first time in about five years, Marvel Knights Spider-Man by Mark Millar and Terry Dodson. Sales started strong — the first issue topped 130,000, but by December’s MK Spider-Man #9 sales had dropped to around 64,000; significantly higher than Spectacular, the other secondary title, but also well below Amazing’s level. Like Spectacular before it, secondary Spider-Man titles — no matter the promotion, characters, or creators involved — never seem to be able to achieve sales on the order of the core book.

Spider-Man in 2005: 32 issues | 2,088,287 total copies sold | Average Issue: 65,259 | Average ASM: 75,580 | Average Non-ASM: 58,483

JMS continued his Amazing run in 2005, with sales continuing to drift slowly downward, averaging around 75,000 copies sold a month for the first nine months. “The Other” boosted sales back up closer to 80,000, marking the start of two trends: Amazing Spider-Man being in permanent event mode for the final two years or so of the JMS era, and Amazing garnering higher sales than secondary Spider-Books during crossovers, even in a situation like “The Other” that continued directly from one book to the other.

Spectacular, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to buoy itself up to the level of the flagship book, began the year with “Sins Remembered”, a follow-up to “Sin Past” written by JMS-protege Samm Barnes. Featuring some vintage Greg Land covers from before we knew to recognize Greg Land faces, it did nothing to boost sales of the book, which continued to drop further below 50,000. By its final Jenkins/Buckingham reunion issue (#27, April 2005, recycled for those Heroic Age Pedestal covers) sales had dropped to 45,000 copies, the lowest a mainline Spider-Man book had been this decade.

In its stead, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man launched in October as part of “The Other”. Like any #1, sales were brisk, around 85,000, and only dropped to 72,000 by the third issue. MK Spider-Man wrapped up its Millar/Dodson run with sales around 60,000, a number that dipped to 47,000 within six issues of Reggie Hudlin and Billy Tan taking over. Sales were buoyed by “The Other” for the final three months of 2005 back into the high 60,000s, but again, this is around 75% of the sales of Amazing even though they were all part of the same serialized story.

Spider-Man in 2006: 33 issues | 2,334,145 total copies sold | Average Issue: 70,732 | Average ASM: 115,117 | Average Non-ASM: 54,087

For all of his recent complaints about Civil War and crossovers and Marvel’s “impeded creative freedom”, JMS benefitted greatly from being in permanent crossover mode in 2006. Amazing only managed to get nine issues published this year, but all nine of them were part of The Other, Road to Civil War or Civil War proper, and as such sold an average of 115,000 copies apiece. Granted, this was a heady time, where somehow books like Ms. Marvel, Heroes for Hire, and Thunderbolts would sell over 70,000 copies if they had “Civil War” on the cover, but Amazing still put up incredibly strong numbers.

If only the same could be said for the other Spider-books. Following the end of “The Other” in January MK Spider-Man #22, the book changed its name to Sensational Spider-Man, bringing on Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Angel Medina as the new creative team. After an initial “Feral” arc, the book began to tie into the Civil War-era changes in Spider-Man’s status quo. Despite Sensational’s featuring of the Iron Spider armor and the media-grabbing “Spider-Man Unmasked” storyline, sales hovered in the 50,000s, dropping to 48,000 by December 2006. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man suffered a similar fate, coming out of “The Other” with around 60,000 readers but dropping even further, to around 42,000 copies sold in December. Despite the huge amount of attention and sales the Civil War event brought to Spider-Man, the success did help these secondary titles.

Spider-Man in 2007: 26 issues | 2,094,660 total copies sold | Average Issue: 80,564 | Average ASM: 121,267 | Average Non-ASM: 52,715

February saw the kick-off of “Back in Black”, an event that seemed to exist solely to vamp long enough for JMS and Quesada to finish “One More Day”. For whatever reason, “Back in Black” gave Friendly Neighborhood and Sensational a boost that none of the other Civil War banners could not, with both books jumping to nearly 70,000 copies in February. But the boost didn’t last long, and both were down to their pre-“Black” sales by the storyline’s end.

Over in Amazing, sales continued to be incredibly strong through its final Civil War issues into Back in Black. Sales climbed even higher for “One More Day”, the four issue story that took over all three titles for the last four months of 2007, averaging about 120,000 copies apiece. Though again, parts 1 and 4 of OMD were part of Amazing and outsold the two non-Amazing chapters by tens of thousand copies, suggesting that the word “Amazing” guarantees a higher level of sales than any other adjective available.

Okay, that’s a lot of numbers. More number crunching is forthcoming looking specifically at Brand New Day, but for now, the takeaway is that the shift to a more-than-monthly Amazing Spider-Man title was more than justified: it was almost required. Sure, there are dozens of characters and creative teams that would kill to sell 40-50,000 copies a month, and that’s a very comfortable level for any book published today, but most characters aren’t Spider-Man. It had to be frustrating to be working on an iconic property that was celebrating unprecedented success at the box office, and even had one spectacularly successful monthly (or nine-times-a-year in 2006-7) book on the shelves, and to see every other attempt to capitalize on this sink so low. All arguments about marriage and Faustian bargains aside, three Amazing Spider-Man comics a month was a no-brainer on paper. How it turned out in reality, we’ll look at soon.

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