Moving the Sales Needle

I don't do much in the way of reviews at this blog since its set up as more of a nuts and bolts comic retailing site, but I reviewed X-Men: The Last Stand earlier for two reasons. The first was to get my own conflicted thoughts about the movie down on paper (so to speak). The second reason leads directly into this post: how do film adaptations benefit comic sales?

As with anything in this industry, there is almost no way to quantify an answer to those questions beyond extrapolating from anecdotal evidence. Even so, there are a few conclusions that can be drawn from the general response we've seen to comic book movies. I've heard many people point out that comic companies need to find a way to translate the huge numbers of people who go to see comic movies into comic readers. What most often gets pointed to, though, is that comic movies barely move the needle on monthly comic sales. The scapegoat is generally the idea that what viewers see on the screen is not what they get when they pick up the comic. Which I completely agree with, except that I'm not talking about the fact that Spider-man is married and pushing middle age instead of fresh out of high school. There is little in any single issue of a monthly comic that is interesting enough to appeal to someone who saw and enjoyed Spider-man 2. Movies clearly help sell prose books, regardless of how faithful the adaptation turns out to be, because they provide an alternative version of the same experience. Monthly comics rarely do any such thing. Instead, they provide a small piece of a story which, unless it happens to be part one, is generally more trouble to get into than its worth. Movies will probably never sell more monthly comics because of the format.

What movies can do is help sell graphic novels and trade paperbacks. V for Vendetta is the best recent example of this, but last year showed how much the Sin City movie helped spur sales of those books. While both are relatively faithful adaptations, what they really are is full stories that anyone interested in the movie can pick up and read without preamble. They are particularly effective, though, because they are direct adaptations of material. Generally, adapting a comic series like X-Men doesn't lead directly into selling specific graphic novels. Which is why you end up with something like X-Men: The Last Stand wherein we get the beginnings of a smart adaptation of the Cure storyline mixed with a poor adaptation of the Dark Phoenix saga. Except that, because it draws so heavily on two specific storylines, a smart retailer can point someone who enjoyed the movie directly to those two trades and the reader will find something familiar. The Dark Phoenix Saga jumped roughly 5,000 spots on Amazon in the last few days and there's always entry level books like Ultimate X-Men to utilize.

The problem then becomes having enough inventory available to meet potential demand -- there are an incredibly small number of titles that we stock in enough depth to be certain that we've never lost a sale from lack of availability. Thankfully, DC uses a consignment program to promote films adapted from their books which allowed us to sell V for Vendetta like crazy when the movie first hit (it's by far our best selling graphic novel since we opened). Yet, Marvel has no such program, putting the onus on stores to stock and sell their product in conjunction with the film, rather than taking on less than minimal risk themselves as DC did (and is doing for Superman Returns). I get the feeling that, based on the reaction to the previous two films, no one at Marvel has much faith that the movie will move the needle in terms of comic sales. Too bad they're looking at the wrong gauge.

NEXT: How to exploit movies for fun and profit (plus our old friend returnability drops by)


Blogger jingyang said...

Interesting that you mention V for Vendetta. The comicbook store I frequent here in Taipei in Taiwan, Banana Comics, also did very well out of selling copies of the V for Vendetta TPB to local readers who otherwise would not have paid much attention to it. Especially interesting since there is no Chinese translation, so the locals were buying English language copies.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Sam Hobart said...

That is particularly interesting and I think V for Vendetta and Sin City are the current benchmark for how to capitalize on film adaptations, namely by selling the work that forms the basis of the story first and then trying to sell ancillary connected works. The Sin City books that showed up in the movie sold better than the rest, but they all got a sales boost.

3:45 PM  
Blogger jingyang said...

It occurs to me that I should mention that for a lot of buyers of English language comics here, the art is very important. I think for both Sin City and V for Vendetta it helps that the art is very strong and distinctive.
As a side note, it appears that Alex Ross' art is very popular here too.

10:38 AM  

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