Innsmouth Gold: Providence Sales Data

Providence #3 Px,px detail, art by Jacen Burrows
Providence #3, art by Jacen Burrows

Comic books are both an art form and a business. While we normally focus on the literary and artistic merit of Providence, we would be remiss to ignore the commercial side of things. To start things off, we’re going to look at some historical data on Moore and Burrows’ earlier Lovecraft comics.

Monthly sales figures are taken from orders placed with distributors, via Comichron.com. Reported figures only cover the top 300 weekly estimate sales and top trade paperbacks/graphic novels in the North American comic retail market, and don’t cover direct sales via Avatar Press’ online store or other channels, like digital comics via Comixology, so the real sales numbers are higher…but this gives at least an idea of how sales are going.

A Word on Variants

Variant covers increase sales; this is generally true for collectors and also true for retailers when retailer incentive variant covers are issued (i.e. if the publisher offers a 1:25 retailer incentive cover, for ever 25 regular issues the retailer orders they get one with an incentive cover), and can be seen at least partially reflected in the sales data. The artificial scarcity imposed by variant and incentive covers often leads to a higher asking price. This can be seen especially in the Weird Pulp covers for Providence, which are limited runs with a $9.99 asking price. That is $5 more than the regular asking price! Avatar Press tends to publish a lot of variant covers, presumably to push sales, and aside from individual variants for convention sales has a published them in themed “sets” for Neonomicon and Providence.

The Digital and Trade Revolution

Previous to the trade paperback revolution (caused in part by the success of works like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen), if you missed a comic when it came out you’d either have to hunt for a backissue in a comic book store or find a private seller that had it and was willing to part with it, or hope for a reprint; the success of trade paperbacks made it possible to collect entire runs of back issues and key story-lines and make them readily available. The comic community is still evolving with both the trade and digital revolutions; comics are being converted to trade ever more quickly (notice how the trade for the first arc of Providence is out before the series has even finished!), and with variant luxury editions—because collectors will pay for it. Avatar has been pursuing a relatively aggressive strategy in trades since the surprise success of Alan Moore’s The Courtyard TPB, and continues to push the envelope with special variant editions of Neonomicon and Providence.

The variant covers trend is reminiscent of the fad for chrome and hologram covers during the 1990s comic bubble, but it remains to be seen if this is a sustainable pandering to collectors, or if the books refuse to hold their value on the secondary market. So far, based on asking prices on Amazon.com, it looks like the artificial scarcity and collector clamor for leather covers is working.

Digital comics basically make back-issues available on-demand and perennially to a huge market, with zero physical publishing costs. Avatar Press began moving some of its back-titles to digital comics on Comixology in 2014, and followed with contemporary release of new titles as print comics hit stores, much like the rest of the industry. Sales figures for digital comics aren’t available, but demand can casually be gauged by comparing the contents of Avatar Press’ back catalog with the digital catalog on Comixology and Avatar’s online store; while Avatar have been making more of their older titles available, but there are some omissions, including Yuggoth Creatures and Yuggoth Cultures. Digitization (and any rights issues that might need to be sorted out) take time, so probably Avatar prioritized popular series first. Given the lack of hard sales data, though, we have kept speculation and comment on digital sales to a minimum.

The Courtyard

The black and white comics version of Alan Moore’s The Courtyard premiered in January 2003 with a cover price of $3.50. The median price point for comics at this period was $2.50; a $1 premium for an independent comic is pretty typical. Issue #1 was issued with two variant covers—a retailer incentive cover ($2.50) and a wraparound variant ($3.95)—and picked up sales reorders in February. It was Avatar’s highest-selling title in Jan/Feb 2003, topping out at 166 and 167 respectively; good but not jaw-dropping. Issue #2 retailed in March 2003, topping out at a respectable 191.

Sales

Rank

Title Sales Percent Change
166 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard #1 (Jan 2003)

9,652

167 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard #1 (Feb 2003)

10,382

(+7.56%)
191 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard #2 (Mar 2003)

7,483

(-27.9%)
210 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard #1 wrprnd (Jan 2003)

3,403

222 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard #1 wrprnd (Feb 2003)

3,751

(+10.2%)
234 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard #2 wrprnd (Mar 2003)

2,779

(-25.9%)
272 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard #1 S/N Incentive (Jan 2003)

1,320

For new titles, a 25% drop in the second month is typical; the reorders on Courtyard #1 in February are more unusual. Of course, the real surprise hit for The Courtyard came when it was bundled together as a trade in January 2004. Priced at $6.95, the trade paperback was the cheapest book in the in the top 100, although that was probably as much because of its page count as anything else, and hit a respectable #12. The Courtyard Companion ($9.95) also made the list at #48. Neither book makes the charts again until July 2010, when the color printing hit #168 on the top-selling graphic novels. Without monthly data it’s hard to intuit exactly how sales of the trades were going, but the charts don’t measure anything below ~300 sales, and year-round sales for 2010 give the color edition of The Courtyard selling 1,900 copies, so it seems likely that it probably was a steady seller, probably averaging around 260 sales a month in 2010.

Sales

Rank

Title Sales
12 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard TPB (Feb 2004)

2,816

48 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard Companion (Feb 2004)

1,370

48 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard TPB Color Ptg (Jan 2009)

1,619

167 Alan Moore’s The Courtyard TPB Color Ptg (Jul 2010)

608

Avatar Press also offered the Deluxe Hardcover Set ($42.00) limited to 1000 copies, but sales didn’t make the chart – presumably most are sold direct from Avatar. The collected color version of The Courtyard was released as a digital comic on Comixology on 6 January 2016 for $4.99.

Neonomicon

The sequel to The Courtyard was presaged by the Neonomicon Hornbook in January 2010. The slim volume (which contains excerpts from the script and Neonomicon #1) had an attractive low price point ($1.99). Hornbook was also issued with a number of limited edition variant covers: Artifact ($2.99) limited to 500; Motor City ($2.99), limited to 1,500; WonderCon ($2.99), limited to 1,500; C2E2 ($2.99) limited to 2,000; and the Leather edition with red foil stamp or silver foil stamp signed by Jacen Burrows, with a certificate of authenticity ($9.99), limited to 1,500 each. As should be obvious, these were principally produced for conventions and aimed at the collector’s market, sold at the cons and through Avatar’s online store, and so these numbers are not reflected in the sales charts.

Neonomicon #1 followed six months later in July, at a $3.99 cover price—the median price point that month was $2.99, but many issues in the upper half of the sales chart were occupied a $3.99 price point, so Neonomicon does not stand out much in that regard. Alternate covers for each issue were released in three limited “series”: Auxiliary, Book of the Dead, and Wraparound. These were limited to 1,500 each per issue (some sources say 2,000, but the actual books say 1,500). Regular, Auxiliary, and Wraparound issues were made available to retailers, who were allowed to mix-and-match which covers they wanted. For every 3 issues they ordered retailers were also allowed to purchase one Book of the Dead variant, and a Neonomicon #1 Remarqued variant was included with ever order of 50 issues of #1 as a retailer incentive, featuring an original sketch by Jacen Burrows. These issues are presumably included in the regular sales numbers for the charts.

In addition, Avatar Press produced a number of convention variant covers for Neonomicon #1: Chicago (limited to 1,500), San Diego Comic Con (1,500), New York Comic Con (1,000), Project Comic Con (1,000), and a New York Comic Con variant for Neonomicon #2 (850). These sales aren’t included in the chart figures, and given the declining production numbers presumably Avatar was attempting to match production with real demand.

Sales

Rank

Title Sales Percent Change
197 Alan Moore Neonomicon Hornbook (Jan 2010)

7,117

147 Alan Moore Neonomicon #1 (Jul 2010)

12,432

152 Alan Moore Neonomicon #2 (Oct 2010)

11,340

(-8.8%)
170 Alan Moore Neonomicon #3 (Dec 2010)

11,147

(-1.8%)
177 Alan Moore Neonomicon #4 (Mar 2011)

11,179

(+0.3%)

Whether it was due to all the variants and retailer incentives or simply good press for Alan Moore’s return to comics after a hiatus, sales of Neonomicon were remarkably steady. The first issue debuted at a respectable mid-list and with higher initial numbers than The Courtyard, the second-issue drop was less than 10% – better than the majority of new series manage and much better than The Courtyard. The third issue was basically rock solid (1-2% sales variation being “standard attrition” for a series that has found its level), and there was even a slight uptick on the final issue. The bottom line is that the vast majority of readers stayed with Neonomicon throughout the entire run.

Neonomicon was brought out in collected edition fairly quickly, and collected the two issues of The Courtyard as well. The trade paperback ($19.99), breaking the top 10, and hardback ($27.99) were released simultaneously in October 2011. Because of Amazon’s sales data, there is a larger data set for the collected editions, and can trace month-to-month sales for as long as Neonomicon charted:

Sales

Rank

Title Sales
9 Alan Moore Neonomicon TPB (Oct 2011)

2,972

193 Alan Moore Neonomicon TPB (Nov 2011)

596

164 Alan Moore Neonomicon TPB (Dec 2011)

536

296 Alan Moore Neonomicon TPB (Jan 2012)

289

261 Alan Moore Neonomicon TPB (Apr 2012)

366

134 Alan Moore Neonomicon HC (Oct 2011)

687

Yearly sales totals for the Neonomicon trade in 2011 were 4,100 (which jives with the monthly sales); yearly sales in 2012 were 2,700, which suggests monthly sales averaging around 200 units a month; 2013 sales totaled 1,700; failed to chart in 2014, which means they moved lower than the lowest chart title (1,790). In 2015 sales totaled 2,319, the sales uptick probably due to the release of Providence. For context, the bestselling Avatar trade in 2011 was Crossed 3D Vol. 1 (6,400 units), and the bestselling trade in 2015 was Crossed Vol. 1 (2,457); so while Neonomicon may not be Avatar’s biggest seller, it has been a fairly steady seller—and without the ongoing costs for producing a monthly comic.

Neonomicon was released as a digital comic in October 2013, with a $1.99 price point per issue on Comixology; or $3.99 as a digital download on Avatar’s online site.

Providence

Providence #1 hit the shelves with a $3.99 introductory cover price in May 2015. That was the median price in a market dominated by $4.99 titles. The price increased to $4.99 with subsequent issues. The successful sales and marketing strategy that worked on Neonomicon are repeated in Providence, as evidenced by the expanded number of themed variant covers: Dreamscape wraparound, Pantheon, Portrait, Women of HPL being the main ones, sharing the same cover price; “Ancient Tome” covers are also offered as a retailer incentive. There is also evidence that Avatar has left behind things that were unpopular or didn’t work (at least so far): instead of individual convention exclusives, Avatar has been publishing a limited run (1000 of each issue) Weird Pulp cover series with a $9.99 cover price (issue #7 effectively had five Weird Pulp variants, one for each of Pitman’s paintings and a “bloody canvas” cover). This appears to avoid the strangeness of Neonomicon having 10 different covers for issue #1! All covers sold through retailers appear to have been combined in the sales figures.

Sales

Rank

Title Sales Percent Change
130 Providence #1 (May 2015)

17,395

161 Providence #2 (Jul 2015)

14,654

(-15.8%)
148 Providence #3 (Aug 2015)

14,375

(-2.0%)
144 Providence #4 (Sep 2015)

14,607

(+1.6%)
157 Providence #5 (Sep 2015)

13,449

(-8.0%)
153 Providence #6 (Nov 2015)

13,297

(-1.2%)
159 Providence #7 (Feb 2016)

12,678

(-4.7%)
165 Providence #8 (Apr 2016)

12,547

(-1.1%)
175 Providence #9 (Jun 2016)

12,263

(-2.3%)
175 Providence #10 (Aug 2016)

11,735

(-4.3%)
177 Providence #11 (Dec 2016)

11,145

(-5.0%)

Providence had a strong start, the first issue debuting 5,000 units higher than Neonomicon #1, but given the much longer length of the series (12 issues, compared to The Courtyard‘s two and Neonomicon‘s four), different dynamics are to be expected to come into play as the series progresses, such as scheduling weirdness (note that both issue #4 and #5 were sold in September, since that was a five Wednesday month), and delays in getting the issues out after #6 may contribute to the size of some of the drops.

There is a respectable second issue drop, steady sales for the next few issues (including a modest bump with issue #4, apparently Dunwich has its adherents), and then a rather sizable drop for issue #5, with steady decline for the remaining issues. Given current rates, Providence might end its run selling above 11,000 units, which would be excellent for a twelve-issue series from a small press.

Avatar Press is collecting Providence in three volumes, each containing four issues. They’ve been aggressive in getting these out, so the first, the Act 1 Hardcover ($19.99), was released simultaneous with Providence #8 in April 2016. There was also an exclusive variant of the hardcover released for the Cinema Purgatorio Kickstarter campaign. Act 1 trades have also already been translated and retailed for foreign sales; non-English and Kickstarter editions are not included in the sales numbers below.

Sales

Rank

Title Sales
344 Providence Ltd HC Act 1 (Apr 2016) 3,268

Raw sales for Act 1 are higher than for the initial release of either Courtyard or Neonomicon. It will be interesting to see what the drop will be for the subsequent acts, and how sales for the trades go. The only reason the Act 1 Limited Hardcover is so far down in sales rank is the absolute explosion of sales in trades and graphic novels in the last few years.

Digital editions of Providence have been release contemporary with print retail editions; digital comics on Comixology and Avatar Press’ online store are both selling for cover price, which is not unusual (most digital comics are offered at cover the week of release, so as not to undercut hardcopy retailers), but none of the prices on the back issues have dropped yet.

(As time permits, we expect to update this page with new sales figures. This page was last updated Oct 2016.)

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