A post from my ancient Marvel blog concerning sales figures from the year 1990
Once again dipping into the files, here are some more Direct Sales marketplace sales figures from many years ago. Remember, these were just the number of copies sold into the non-returnable direct market of comic book specialty shops. With most of these books, there were additional sales through the returnable Newsstand distribution network as well, so these aren’t complete figures. Still, they give us a nice snapshot of an exciting period of change for Marvel and the industry.
As you can see at the left, this was the month that the first issue of Todd McFarlane’s adjectiveless SPIDER-MAN title shipped. And as you can see, it was an overwhelming hit, selling close to two million copies in the direct market alone (and that’s only for these two editions of the book–there were also two newsstand editions, and a specialty version or two that were later done as a gift to retailers.) The next-nearest selling book, X-MEN, didn’t do a fraction of that.
I can remember at the time that nobody was surprised that Todd’s SPIDER-MAN was a hit–it was a new ongoing Spidey book produced by the most popular artist to illustrate the web-slinger in a long time. But the actual extent of its success raised the bar and changed the industry. Because, having done this once, the powers-that-be above editorial expected a repeat performance the following year. Hedging his bets, EIC Tom DeFalco working with X-MEN editor Bob Harras decided to launch a new X-MEN #1 and transition NEW MUTANTS into X-FORCE that following year, hoping that between the two titles, they’d be able to deliver the same sales spike as SPIDER-MAN #1. And then, of course, X-FORCE #1 moved 4 million copies, and X-MEN #1 moved 8 million–and suddenly, there was an even bigger hurtle to deal with the year after that.
It’s also interesting to see the range of material Marvel was producing at this point. Far from simply focusing on the super hero titles of the Marvel U, there was an aggressive licensed property program, a line of books aimed at younger kids, the creator-owned Epic line, and a number of other projects that defied easy categorization. Not all of it was wonderful, but there was definitely some diversity going on.
This was also a summer month, which at that time meant that many of Marvel’s most popular titles had started to ship twice-a-month for the duration. A glance at these sales numbers will tell you instantly why that happened–an additional issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN brought in more revenue than any number of other books, even mainstays in the Marvel line. This strategy allowed the Marvel of the era to dominate the sales charts, leaving the competition, for the most part, in the dust.
I also can’t quite figure out what would have been the number one selling title for Marvel the month previous. According to these rankings, X-MEN was the #3 book in May. Even if this was skewed because of the double-shipping, that still means that X-MEN would have been the #2 title. So what was #1 in May of 1990?