Superheroes smash digital sales records
By Adam Carter, CBC News
Posted: Mar 16, 2013 9:25 AM ET
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2013 9:22 AM ET
Seems some superheroes are faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than the music industry.
According to both industry sources and retailers on the ground, comic shops are managing what has so far eluded most music chains and film studios — flourishing in the golden age of piracy. While other industries have struggled to find a model that curbs illegal downloading and keeps stores open, the comic industry is reportedly bucking that trend with strong sales in both the print and digital media.
'Just buy them for the love of the comics, the story, and the art. Not the money.'—Sam Rush, Big B Comics
Industry heavyweights DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment won't release specific financial data related to digital downloads — but Hank Kanalz, senior vice president of digital at DC told CBC Hamilton that the company is “extremely happy” with the growth of its digital business. “We saw triple digit growth for digital in 2012,” he said.
Marvel has been seeing positive sales figures, too.
“An interesting thing happened last year,” said David Gabriel, the senior vice-president of sales, print and digital media at Marvel.
“Not only did we see a huge increase in digital comics sales, we saw a significant lift in print comic sales — neither format is hurting the other. We've heard a lot of retailers tell us that digital comics sales are bringing new and lapsed fans into their stores, which is great to hear.”
Events and blockbusters driving traffic
According to Paul Barrington, the manager of Hamilton's Conspiracy Comics, sales in his shops have been on the rise since 2009. He attributes that jump to two things: “event comics” and blockbuster movie releases that feature comic book properties.Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has helped drive new readers into comic shops, retailers say. (Courtesy Associated Press/Warner Bros.)
“It's bringing a lot of people we usually wouldn't have seen into the store,” he said.
It's easy to see why — Marvel's The Avengers netted a staggering domestic gross of $623,357,910 in 2012, good enough to make it the third highest grossing film of all time.
Not to be outdone, the third installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise The Dark Knight Rises had a domestic gross of $448,139,099. It is, however, worth noting that Tim Burton's Batman film from 1989 actually sold more tickets than the caped crusader's most recent outing — but at the time, a movie ticket cost just under $4. AMC's The Walking Dead television series has done a lot to bring new fans into comic shops as well, Barrington said.
“Event comics,” meanwhile, are large-scale crossovers that typically affect multiple titles, like DC's recent “Death of the Family” arc. Those stories also typically drive people into comic shops, Barrington said.
“They want that 'thing' where Robin dies,” he said. (The most current iteration of Robin, Bruce Wayne's son Damian, died in Batman and Robin number eight.)
This isn't to say retailers don't watch digital comic's success with a watchful eye; they certainly do.
“I'm not going to lie — it's obviously a worry,” Barrington said. A cursory glance at any torrent site yields thousands of illegal comic downloads, but legitimate comic apps for tablets and phones are seeing a boom, too.
Oops, we broke the internet
Case in point — on Sunday, Marvel and the ComiXology digital comics service revealed they were offering 700 free digital comics from the publisher for a limited time.Marvel's "The Avengers" netted a staggering domestic gross of $623,357,910 in 2012, good enough to make it the third highest grossing film of all time. (Courtesy Disney/Associated Press)
But neither company was prepared for a massive onslaught of interest from the public, and the ComiXology website and many of its apps suffered outages because so many people tried to download the free books. Retailers do worry about that kind of mass response causing a dip in their sales, Barrington said, “but so far, we're not seeing it.”
When DC first announced same-day digital releases with the launch of the company's “New 52” line, retailers did express some concern, Kanalz said.
“Since that launch both print and digital sales have risen so retailers are more comfortable with digital,” Kanalz said. “We've also seen that digital brings new and lapsed readers to comics, so it's additive to the overall industry. We are really interested in widening our readership, as that's good for everybody.”
That widening readership can be seen over at Hamilton's Big B comics too, according to sales associate Sam Rush.
“The comics industry is really strong right now,” he said, adding that the tangible aspect that a book offers helps drive fans into stores. “People still like collecting something. I know people who have storage lockers full of comics. Comic collectors are totally hoarders.”
'Do it for love, not the money'
But Rush does have one worry about this comic industry surge — that it could go the way of the mid '90s comic book boom. In the '90s, fans flocked to comic shops after the success of the first two Batman films and the success of major events like the Death of Superman, which received widespread media attention.
Publishers responded with “ultra-collectible” versions of their books, many with trading card inserts and embossed, gatefold covers. People bought them at an astounding rate — X-Men #1 from 1991 sold over 8 million copies, and holds the Guinness World Record as the bestselling comic book of all time.
But many people bought multiple copies of these books purely for their collectability, hoping to turn a profit as they appreciated in volume. Instead, the industry couldn't sustain itself, and it sputtered before collapsing.
Now that things are on the upswing, collectible variants have started popping up once more, “and I'm worried we're heading into a '90s position where the industry could bust again,” Rush said.
But the difference between then and now, he said, is quality. Barrington agrees, and said initiatives like DC's New 52 revamp, Marvel's Now! Initiative and Image Comics' 20th anniversary have put out better quality comics than the industry has seen in years.
And so the best advice from a retailer to the consumer:
“Just buy them for the love of the comics, the story, and the art,” Rush said.
“Not for the money.”
- Horror tale Haunting Melissa targets app audiences by Jessica Wong May. 16, 2013 4:40 PM If you're seeking the weather, the news or a pic of what your buddy had for lunch, there are apps for that. What about an original, Hollywood-calibre ghost story from a producer of The Ring and Mulholland Drive? Now, there's an app for that, too. Haunting Melissa ventures into the burgeoning realm of digital storytelling as a traditional ghost story with a modern twist -- namely a tale that unfolds through an iOS app.
Top News Headlines
- Search continues for 2 missing New Brunswick fishermen
- A search effort has resumed for two missing fishermen off the coast of New Brunswick, after a distress call was issued from their boat early Saturday. more »
- Jeep driver apologizes after stunt kills Edmonton woman
- A man claiming to be the driver of a Jeep that struck and killed a spectator at a charity event in Edmonton says he is sorry for what happened. more »
- Senior Pakistani politician shot dead
- Gunmen in Pakistan have killed a senior member of Imran Khan's Movement for Justice (PTI) party outside her home in Karachi. more »
- Virginia parade crash driver likely had medical problem
- Authorities believe the driver who plowed into dozens of hikers marching in a Virginia mountain town parade suffered from a medical condition and did not cause the crash intentionally, an emergency official said Sunday. more »
Latest Arts & Entertainment News Headlines
- John Lennon guitar snags $408,000 at auction
- A custom-made electric guitar played by the late John Lennon and George Harrison of the Beatles sold at a New York auction on Saturday for $408,000 US, said officials with the company behind the event more »
- Book seller Sarah McNally: Hipster writes her own business rule book
- Canadian Sarah McNally is taking her own unique approach to the book-selling game in New York City, and its success is evident in her Manhattan McNally-Jackson Bookstore, writes David Gutnick. more »
- Mohawk Girls series tells stories of once 'voiceless' women
- The director behind a TV series being shot in Kahnawake says she wants to show Canadians what it means to be a Mohawk woman. more »
- Thieves steal $1M worth of jewels during Cannes film festival
- Thieves ripped a safe from the wall of a hotel room near the Cannes Film Festival and made off with around $1 million worth of jewelry in a brazen late-night burglary. more »
- Pete Townshend on The Who's "Tommy" May. 17, 2013 4:15 PM
- Juvenile inmates benefiting from Russian literature May. 17, 2013 3:32 PM A juvenile correctional facility in Virginia has seen the behavioural benefits of encouraging their inmates to read the works of classic Russian writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
- Harper chief of staff resigns amid Senate expense scandal
- Spectator killed at Edmonton Jeep event
- Car drives into crowd at Virginia parade
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford cancels weekly radio show
- Email is proof Senate greenlit expenses, Brazeau says
- Senior Pakistani politician shot dead
- Winning ticket sold in Florida for $590M Powerball jackpot
- Astronaut Chris Hadfield adjusts to 'earthling' life
- Rescue attempt over for New Brunswick fishermen