Friday, March 06, 2009

"The WildStorm Slump" and the Video Game Factor

According to the January sales charts, WildStorm sales have plummeted almost 30 percent in just one month -- from an average of 10K for each title to around 6,800.

Analysis from Marc-Oliver Frisch

"The reason for the dramatic decline of WildStorm periodical sales is simple: The imprint currently stands on three pillars, none of which seems able to support its own weight. The traditional WildStorm Universe superhero properties, based on characters created by WildStorm founder Jim Lee, have been waning for years commercially; none of the more recent creator-owned properties have been remotely able to recapture the early success of Astro City or Ex Machina (the one notable exception being The Boys, which was promptly taken elsewhere by its creators due to creative differences with the management); and the vast majority of WildStorm’s licensed titles adapting videogame, television or film properties fail miserably."

But Frisch's analysis, as it applies to WildStorm's video game properties, isn't exactly true. The first issue of Gears of War sold around 450,000 copies. And these video game comics sell like hot cakes via video game shops.

For years I've heard the complaint that video games stole the attention of young people, making them forsake comic books. Doesn't it make sense, then:
  • To put the comics where the games are
  • To make comics out of the games
  • To license out the comics to the games
  • Wash, rinse, repeat
In addition, I know quite a few comic shops that either sell video games or are video game/comic hybrids. Take Bulletproof Comics in Brooklyn, for example. Half video games, half comics (and a fair bit of toys). Come in for the video games, you have a whole wall of new comics staring at you, tantalizing you to take a chance. Might there be a bit of crossover comic book sales from gamers?

Of course, when the vogue eventually becomes downloading the games directly from the vendor, there will be a problem. The video game stores may turn more towards selling game-related merch like t-shirts, toys, and maybe even special edition comic books.

At any rate, I think WildStorm should be considered DC's "go to" studio for all adaptations -- video game, TV, and perhaps even licensed material for kids. Split the rest of the titles (the viable ones, at any rate) up between the DCU and Vertigo. This is not the time to overextend imprints, but to consolidate, and to identify specifically what each one does best.


  1. Halo sold EXTREMELY well, considering that it was:
    original material of
    a new property in a
    hardcover edition.

    Wildstorm produced the "Pushing Daisies" promotional comic (handed out before the series premiere at San Diego), and I'm sure you could find 10,000 fans of the show. (How many DVDs were sold? How many people have read the comics on the ABC website?) They might not venture into a comics shop, but I'm sure they would buy downloads from itunes (like the Watchmen motion comic) or subscribe to get the paper edition.

    Add some recipes, scripts, interviews, link to the website on ABC or migrate all that content to its own site. In other words, the comic becomes the fan club newsletter.

    Repeat for every other popular series by Warner Entertainment. Or for every network show. Lost? Desperate Housewives? Gilligan's Island? (How could there have never been a Gilligan's Island comicbook?!)

    Of course, every year you collect the issues into an annual and sell that via bookstores.

  2. digital downloads(virtual console, playstation network etc) will not make dissappear videogame stores yet, maybe in 5-10 years with next console generation arrives

    despise of how succesfull megaman 9 ,world of goo, among others, big gigabits sized videogames like metal gear solid 4, halo 3, the latest final fantasy serial it would take all night to download.

    Probably big sized hits will be in stores but most of fun games (similar to flashgames), leaving super nes, n64 quality games will be the everyday meal for gamers,

  3. Anonymous7:26 PM

    Like comics, people still like to have their videogames in a tangible form. While the big VG companies will likely embrace digital downloads to combat used game sales and piracy, comics are served in the opposite way, by having editions that eventually run out, driving demand for reprints and collections.

    I talked to my local comic-shop guy last night, and he told me his comics sales were split evenly 45/45 percent periodicals and trades with the remaining 10% being "everything else", mainly toys. He sells no games. And while I'm a huge gamer as well as comics reader, I don't really know of anyone else who is. The tie-in comics I see in the game stores usually get given away for free a few months later, having sold nothing. That's just from observation. I have no data to back that up.

    I, for one, do read some game tie-in stuff, but it's kind f a guilty pleasure, and I've never bought it at a game store.

  4. "But Frisch's analysis, as it applies to WildStorm's video game properties, isn't exactly true. The first issue of Gears of War sold around 450,000 copies."

    Says Rich Johnston, at any rate. But even when he said it, his numbers didn't match up. He claimed GEARS OF WAR #1 sold 10 percent of its numbers through the direct market; but 10 percent of 450,000 is not 20,000, which is what the number in the direct market ended up as.

    So it's all very murky.

    "And these video game comics sell like hot cakes via video game shops."

    Says who? What's the basis for the claim? And are we talking about periodicals or paperbacks here?

    I'm not saying it's not true, but this is the first thing I hear of it, and I've been wondering about those books (not just the videogame adaptations, but also the film and TV ones) for months.

    If you've got more hard information on them, I'd love to hear it.

  5. Well, Wildstorm VP Hank Kanalz seems as happy as a clam in this interview:

    The 450,000 copies aside -- observing the rapid expansion of Wildstorm's video game publishing schedule, and that of other companies, there is no doubt in my mind that at least some of these books are selling well, and not "failing miserably." Or, if they are "failing," they are doing so in the direct market, but succeeding in other places.

    The monthly direct market top 100 lists are very informative, and I enjoy reading them. But with the surge of customers buying collected editions at the bookstores, kids books being purchased by alternate methods including subscription, and the penetration of comic books into video game stores -- I don't feel I am really getting the whole picture anymore.

    For example, Incredible Hercules finished January at the #54 position. But according to the NY Times, the hardcover collected edition of the latest arc made it to #8 on the hardcover sales list. How, then, do I fully gauge the success of this title? If I do so simply by the Top 100 list, I might conclude that the title "seems to be bleeding readers with no end in sight." But are these some of these readers simply waiting for the collected edition? Is it failing or succeeding?

    I used to make snap judgments based on just the top 100, but now it's like I have to consider a bunch of other factors. And that is probably the way it should be. When I was working in editorial, we lived or died by these Diamond numbers -- but that's not enough to gauge a title's viability anymore. We need a rounder picture before proclaiming a book a "failure."

  6. I'm calling it now, a company that starts with video games to attempt to "hook" an audience in order to really sell them comics.

    Gee, I wonder if that would work? :)

  7. Valerie,

    No offense, but that sounds like a lot of shaky presumptions with no hard data to back them up.

    The NYT's chart covers sales PER WEEK, for instance. Given that the week covered in their first chart (ending Feb 28) was the week that HERCULES hardcover you mention was first published, it's not surprising that it made the top 10 -- how many hardcovers are out every week? To get on that NYT chart, as many as 1,000 units may be enough. So the comparison you make is meaningless; it's apples and oranges, and there's absolutely no contradiction whatsoever here to the direct-market figures.

    People are awfully quick to dismiss the Diamond numbers, and I wish they'd do their homework first.

    That said, thanks for the link to the interview, I hadn't been aware of that yet.

    On the rumored 450,000 units, Kanalz says:

    "I can neither confirm nor deny that we moved that, or more, but I can say that the book has been successful for us. It will be interesting to see how the first hardcover collection of the first six issues will do, as that will be available in places the comic book was not."

    This makes me suspect that the number is bogus, at least as far as "sales" are concerned. If the hardcover "will be available in places the comic book was not," that strongly implies that the comic book was NOT available in those places, right? In which case there's plainly no way it sold 450,000 units.

    What I suspect is that DC simply made a special deal with a videogame company or chain store to give away free copies of the book.

  8. Marc-Hank Kanalz made the same claim about the sales of Gears of War at the New York Comic Con, as have other Wildstorm creators and executives. You can email all of those guys about it as well. They're pretty open about that stuff.

  9. Having drawn one of Wildstorm's video game tie-ins, I have to say they seem like a solid move. Can't speak to specific sales figures, but I get more responses through my website from game people who read the comic than from comic book people who read any of the mainstream superhero stuff I've worked on.

    Maybe the usual gang of comic book people just really hate my work...

    But the game fans are out there, they like reading stories set in the universe of their favorite games, and there are plenty of stories out there left to tell.

    Wildstorm has hit on a market niche that brings people to comics, instead of just relying on the ever-dwindling audience that already reads comics.

    And I have to agree on the comments about collected editions. Individual issues may suffer in the direct market, but the collections more than make up for it by getting in the bookstores and into the hands of people who have never set foot in a comic book shop in their life.

    And while the possibilities of electronic platforms are interesting to consider, new delivery systems are a ways off in terms of viability (as far as the publishing industry is concerned). But the next few years may change that. As usual, somebody needs to establish that you can make money doing it, and then the rest will follow

  10. All I'm saying is that it's not enough to base the "success" of a comic book on just one chart anymore. There *has* to be, at least on the part of the publisher, a more rounded approach before calling a comic book a failure.

    And from what I hear on the inside, the Wildstorm videogame comics are selling really well. I'm not a cheerleader for Wildstorm, not a cheerleader for video game comic books, I'm just saying the outlook is rosy on these books & there are plans to expand. So either they are selling really well -- or if they are "given away" to the video game companies or comic shops, at least the deal with those companies are lucrative, or the books are re-introducing young video game fans to comics.

  11. Valerie,

    "All I'm saying is that it's not enough to base the "success" of a comic book on just one chart anymore."

    As a general rule of thumb, it is - for the vast majority of periodicals, as well as for most paperbacks and hardcovers that aren't manga.

    There are exceptions, such as the Johnny DC books, but they're few and far between.

    "I'm not a cheerleader for Wildstorm, not a cheerleader for video game comic books, I'm just saying the outlook is rosy on these books & there are plans to expand."

    To say that "the outlook is rosy" seems like a very bold statement to me, given the information that's out there, and what I'm told.

    Without some reasonably reliable and specific information on where exactly these books are meant to be flying off the shelves (and I mean that in the sense of "selling," not of being given away for free), I wouldn't make that kind of claim.

  12. "As a general rule of thumb, it is - for the vast majority of periodicals, as well as for most paperbacks and hardcovers that aren't manga."

    To not take into account Amazon and bookstore sales of a title, in this day and age, is to not get the full picture. You cannot rely on just one chart.

    "To say that "the outlook is rosy" seems like a very bold statement to me, given the information that's out there, and what I'm told."

    And yet you have declared the overall failure of the Wildstorm line based on one chart, and have repeatedly denied any other evidence or word from others to the contrary.

    If the videogame store factor might be significant, then that area has to be researched definitively before the Wildstorm videogame comics are claimed failures. And not only does it have to be researched in regards to sales, but marketing research needs to be done to determine if these comics encourage videogame players to buy more comic books -- if there is a positive crossover. There are more factors to consider than just numbers on one chart before declaring a book a "failure."

  13. Valerie,

    First up, the direct market is what I'm reporting on, and in that market, there's no question that WildStorm's line is failing right now.

    And believe it or not: For most comics released in the direct market, success or failure is still determined by direct-market sales.

    As for the evidence you mention, I guess our definition of evidence differs. I don't regard unfounded speculation by people who don't know as evidence. I don't regard vague insinuations by people who do know but have every reason to discredit the available information as evidence.

    I'd agree with you in so far as there's the possibility that the videogame adaptations, at least, MAY be selling at significant quantities in game shops. That's why I bring it up in the column. What I'm emphatically NOT aware of right now, though, is actual EVIDENCE that they do.

  14. Anonymous3:55 AM

    When I look at blunderingly weird comic trends, I tend to skip over the video game tie-ins and go straight to the mindnumbing movie prequel comics.