Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Moon Knight Report!

I put out a call to arms on July 7 regarding Vengeance of Moon Knight # 10. The book had some critical acclaim, but sales were still plummeting toward cancellation levels. They tried everything. They put out a "Marvel Must Haves", charging only $4.99 for the first three issues of the series. They put Spector on the Secret Avengers, plopped a "Heroic Age" banner on the cover, fired up the obligatory Spider-Man and Deadpool guest appearances, and got a really nice up-and-coming penciller on the title in the form of Juan Jose Ryp.

But what got my attention with issue # 10 was the price reduction. Vengeance had been a $3.99 title for its entire run, and here was this pretty close to unprecedented dip. There was nothing in the solicitation copy trumpeting this, it wasn't sold as a gimmick, it wasn't a special offer for a new reader "jumping on" point. Last month it was $3.99, and this month it isn't.

The idea, of course, was to show Marvel that comics readers really are price conscious, that it's a tool we use to make buying decisions. The prevailing wisdom is that it doesn't matter, or at least not enough to curtail the practice. We needed to show them differently.

So did it work? That's a tricky question to answers. The old saw is that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. But it's a decent place to start, so let's look at recent Diamond sales figures and see what happened when VOTMK went down a buck:

Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 6: 19,094 copies sold
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 7: 20, 718 copies sold (Deapool cover/appearance)
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 8: 20, 597 copies sold (Deadpool cover/appearance)
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 9: 18, 694 copies sold (Spider-Man/Ryp art)
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 10: 19, 143 copies sold ($2.99 price point)

When the price went down, sales on Moon Knight went up. That's a fact. In today's market, any increase is a minor miracle. 1-2% attrition is pretty much the rule these days. Barring some kind of high profile creator addition, a re-boot to a new # 1, or an anniversary special comics nearly invariably trend down month-to-month.

Moon Knight # 10 had none of those traditional boosters. The main contributing factor to the sales increase appears to be price. In a market where downtrends are oppressively constant, that's a win. A significant, demonstrable win. That picture at the top of this column? That's a second print, baby! There were enough people demanding retailers to get a damn copy of Moon Knight on that empty shelf that Marvel had to go back to press.

Yes. Yes! I can promise you that Marvel noticed this, and I thank any and every one of you that bought a copy because some maniac with a comics podcast told you it was a good idea. Your work was not in vein - first of all, it was a pretty good issue. Secondly, we did send a message to the Powers That Be about price.

So we won, right? Yes and no. Sales went up 449 issues, which is significant. Statistically, Marvel would have expected to see something in the neighborhood of a 400 issue decrease, all things being equal. From that perspective, the gain was actually closer to 800+ issues.

But here's the rub: in terms of profit, the math doesn't come out ahead on the lower price point. Let's say they left the price alone and just let those 400 predicted issues drop:

18,694 issues - 400 = 18,294 X $3.99 = $72,993.06

Instead they dropped the price and picked up a few readers:

18,694 issues + 449 = 19,143 X $2.99 = $57,237.57

$72,993.06 - $57,237.57 = a total loss of $15, 755.49

By dropping the price, I believe Marvel dropped almost $16,000 in cash. Ouch, babe! So did the Marvel brass notice that they picked up readers? You bet. But they also noticed that they lost money doing it. Dropping your price 25% to pick up another 2% readership is not a sound business decision.

I think the other fairly depressing thing to note is that while the price reduction did seem to help, throwing goddamn Deadpool into the mix between issues 6 and 7 helped a lot more, and didn't cost them anything but a little dignity. Moon Knight picked up almost 2,000 readers adding the Merc With A Mouth, and that help stayed almost perfectly steady for the second appearance in issue # 8.

We're like all those women who can't wait to tell the pollsters about how they like sensitive men with senses of humor, and then you find them an hour later in the parking lot blowing some complete asshole in the front seat of his Corvette. We like to bitch about how much price matters, sure. But in the end, Deadpool sells. # 1 reboot issues sell. That's the reality.

The full story is really yet to be told, though. Because we haven't factored in those second print copies yet. Yeah, they had to run a new cover, and it cost them a little money. But it's mostly gravy. If that issue comes out at something like 5,000 copies, they probably broke even on the price point gambit. And I can promise you that if readership expanded 5G, that will absolutely get the movers and shakers reconsidering price.

The bonus there is that if you have a good product, getting the book into more hands is advantageous at equivalent dollars because of advertising, licensing and potential word of mouth gains.

My guess is that the reprint comes nowhere near that figure, but I can dream. And in the end... we did move that mountain, folks, even if it was just an inch.

- Ryan

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