Numbercrunching Those Amazing Spider-Man Statistics

So, one of the bigger stories this weekend has been the little spat between Joe Michael Straczynski and Steve Wacker on Facebook,that seems to have spilled over into a few places. Where JMS seemed to claim that his Spider-Man comics sold better than current Spider-Man comics, Steve Wacker went to bat for his team, using a bat made out of web fluid, that kind of tools that Spider-Man used to make.

The initial Facebook thread has been deleted, but another has been started, in which JMS and Steve Wacker engage in a little further back and forth, but JMS’ unwillingness to continue has stymied that rather.

The chart that JMS reprinted was created by K-Box, a rather … lets say “aggressive” comic book fan, with a penchant for spewing around the place. And, as Steve Wacker pointed out, it is flawed. But not completely. Here’s why.

The chart shows the lowest selling copy of Amazing Spider-Man for each month for the past few years. When JMS was writing Amazing Spider-Man, it was just once a month. Afterwards it went to three, then to two issues a month. As a result, that naturally deflates each month’s statistic slightly, by only choosing the lowest selling issue to compare to JMS’ run – and missing out the copy of Amazing Spider-Man featuring President Obama that sold half a million. Indeed, the methodology of this chart seemed designed specifically to miss that issue out. The chart above from Talk Comix, gives a better indication.

But he ICV2 estimates are also based on flawed data from Diamond that misses out reorder activity from subsequent months as well as all UK orders, making up around 10-20%. It doesn’t include newsstand, it doesn’t include bookstore, it doesn’t include digital. However, this is a consistent flaw and so trends solely in the direct market can be measured, if not actual sales numbers.

The chart also chooses to miss off previous issues written by JMS which didn’t sell quite as well as his final issues, as they weren’t heavily hyped Civil War crossover issues – at a time when Civil War made Black Panther sell six figures. They did however sell considerably more than current issues.

Steve Wacker looks at a softening of the comics market. By which he means there are less comic stores, and less people buying comics. However he ignores the massive impact that Brand New Day and the dissolution of the Peter Parker/Mary Jane marriage had on the Spider-Man readership. It shed large amounts of readers overall, even with a heavily subsidised subscription promotion. From around 100,000 a month for one issue, the book dropped to three issues a month at around 60-70,000 each,  replacing lower selling Spider-Man series that sold 30-40,000 a month. Overall, Spider-Man comic book sales went up, but the readership of any Spider-Man title dropped by a third overnight. They were selling more comics to fewer people. And post-promotional hype, those sales atrophied. In one swoop, Marvel reduced the Spider-Man readership – and probably comic book readership overall as well. A number of people stopped buying comics altogether.

The wisdom at the time was that comic fans may argue the toss online, but it is not representative of the whole buying population, and most of them don’t mean it when they say they’ll stop buying a comic, anyway. Brand New Day may have partially put the lie to that and while Spider-Man sales are still relatively strong in the current market, they are doing less well, even relatively, than they did when JMS was writing the book – and more importantly, when Peter Parker was still married to Mary Jane Watson. Even though, arguably, the book now, written by Dan Slott, is at a creative peak for the title.

It’s for reasons like this that DC Comics have become so sensitive to fan reaction to the new 52, with changes being implemented often because of a bad review on a message board, often to the chagrin of the creators.

But do you know what no one on that Facebook thread seems to have mentioned? Amazing Spider-Man sales, right now… are going up.

We’re gonna need a bigger chart.

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