With its focus on exploring existing characters in new ways and solid storytelling, DC Comics’ “Rebirth” has featured one of the publisher’s strongest lineups in recent memory. However, “Rebirth” also introduced an impediment that’s starting to wear on some readers: twice-monthly shipping. While there are a number of positives in regard to twice-monthly shipping, the sales statistics seem to show that it’s not holding readers any better than the “New 52” before it.
Why do twice-monthly shipping?
In theory, twice-monthly shipping (which is sometimes called double-shipping) is great. The strategy involves shipping two issues of a particular comic every month as opposed to the industry standard of one. Twice-monthly shipping addresses the problem of a month gap between issues leaving readers unable to remember exactly what happened in previous books while also giving them more of the characters that they love.
What does the data say?
Obviously, comparing the “New 52” and “Rebirth” isn’t simple, and there are problems that enter into creating a data set for comics sales. Factors such as superhero movies, creative teams, and even the beginning and end of arcs and their quality affect a book’s sales.
The following numbers come from the monthly sales reported on Comichron for Batman, Justice League, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and I’ve started with the second issue of each run to avoid the problems that are introduced by speculators and new readers who don’t continue to purchase after the first issue.
The first graph shows the sales of books relative to their current issue number. For the “New 52,” Batman decreased by 27.2%, Justice League by 39%, Superman by 50.1%, and Wonder Woman by 57.6%. Compare that to “Rebirth,” which saw Batman decrease by 42%, Justice League by 57.6%, Superman by 50% and Wonder Woman by 57.4%.
While the “New 52” comics tended to hold onto their readers better than their “Rebirth” counterparts, the numbers are still fairly close, especially for Superman and Wonder Woman. The difference between Batman and Justice League and their “New 52” counterparts is more extreme, but the closeness of Superman and Wonder Woman indicates that the difference is probably not due just to issue number.
The second graph, which shows the sales relative to the amount of time that has elapsed since the second issue, is a little bit more grim regarding “Rebirth” sales. One of the most important factors to consider here is that “Rebirth” has had roughly double the number of issues as compared to its “New 52” counterpart in the same timespan. For the “New 52,” Batman decreased by 14%, Justice League by 34.8%, Superman by 44.7%, and Wonder Woman by 44.7%.
The second graph shows a much larger division in sales. Whereas they were comparable in regard to the issue number, the “New 52” was able to hold on to its sales numbers for a longer amount of time than “Rebirth.” The difference in the data seems to suggest that the number of books that have already come out affect sales more than the length the series has been going.
Why isn’t it keeping readers?
Twice-monthly shipping appears equally as ineffective at keeping readers as a monthly release schedule. It’s difficult to speculate as to why, but there are two factors that seem especially pertinent: cost and jumping-on points.
Comics are an expensive hobby. Even with the issues under examination drawing the line at $2.99, it’s more accurate to say that keeping up with any one of those runs costs $5.88 a month, a dollar more expensive than many other comics on the shelves. While readers do get double the amount of content for a bit less, it does mean that more money is leaving their pocket every month.
Financially, crossovers also create a bit of a problem when twice-monthly shipping is involved. DC has certainly been less perfidious in using one series or event to obligate readers to pick up another comic to follow their favorite characters, but even small crossovers end up making for an expensive month.
For example, “The Button” crossover, which is important to the overall cause of “Rebirth,” pressures readers to pick up both Batman and Flash. While some are certainly already picking both up, those who don’t normally read one or both titles may feel the need to pick the other one up to get the full story.Cost is always important in understanding how the market approaches comics as high costs may motivate readers on tighter budgets to sacrifice a series that they might otherwise be enjoying. Additionally, if readers don’t like a series, cost only encourages them to drop the book.
The time it takes to get into a series is also a potential factor. As one arc is linked to another, comics have a tendency to encourage and reward those who have read every issue of a run. The problem is that mentality makes it harder to actually pick a book up while it’s ongoing. Twice-monthly shipping only compounds this problem, forcing readers to catch up on more in a shorter time span. The sheer number of issues being released discourages prospective readers from even trying to catch up with bi-monthly singles.
While trade paperbacks are typically one of the best ways to help a reader catch up on a current arc’s context, they’re not really coming out at a pace that offsets the faster release of single issues. At the time of writing this, the most recent Batman trade was the “I Am Suicide” arc, which contains issues #9 through #15. Single issues are fastly approaching #30, meaning that readers picking up Batman in TPB are about half the series behind, so they’re not much help when it comes to reducing the amount of time it takes to catch up with the series in single issues.
What does this mean for comics?
Although there are certainly benefits to twice-monthly shipping, the data shows that it’s no more effective than monthly shipping at retaining readers. The main issues with this may be related to cost and the difficulty that books released quickly pose to keeping up. How this will affect the success of “Rebirth” isn’t currently knowable, but the statistics seem to show that the lineup is a candle burning, perhaps, too brightly.