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Obama Spidey and the newsstand

Friday, February 13, 2009

Following up on yesterday's estimate placing the direct-market January sales of the Barack Obama Amazing Spider-Man #583 in the mid-300,000 copy range, Corey Henson has noted the presence of second printings in large numbers in a supermarket stand with no other comics.

While the comics spinner rack is the way most of us remember comics on the newsstand, over the years I have increasingly seen retailers with independent distributor magazine accounts "cherry-picking" comics, racking just one or two titles scattered in with their other magazines (and usually hidden by them, since they're shorter than other magazines). Often, the selection seems scattershot; a single issue of a super-hero crossover, for example, even though none of the other books are stocked. (Twice I've even seen stores — including a big-box hardware store — where something I've written was the only book there. How did they know I was dropping by?) There never was much rhyme or reason to the inventory of newsstand dealers, and there still isn't — only, now, with outlets carrying comics onesie-twosie, the selection makes even less sense than usual.

However, just walking into a convenience store today shows that "ship everything Obama-related" is, evidently, a default choice for the newsstand distributors; so Corey's experience is probably being replicated in a lot of other places. The question he raises is apt: how many more copies might be in the stream beyond that initial 350k or so (if that's what it is)?

First, let's recognize that we won't know the final sales for some time, as there are more reorders to go through. I think that mid-300s figure is solid, but it's possible Monday's numbers might only cover the portion that physically shipped in January. We'll see. On top of that, though, we know from the Statement of Ownership published in late 2008 that...

• the subscription sales for Amazing Spider-Man averaged 10,800 copies last year. The actual number closest to filing date was only 8,410, a drop that might have been accountable to the shift to three times a month (thus burning through a typical $27 sub faster). This figure would not have been improved by the Obama appearance. Then...

• newsstand draws — the number of copies printed and shipped to the newsstand — probably figure in the 15-25k range. This is particularly hard to figure from the Statement given that the averages account for a lot of issues that weren't three-a-month — and I'm not confident the "closest-to-filing-date" figures include everything (which is why I always rely on the averages). But roughly, that first printing, when no newsstand distributor would have known anything special was going on, could be in that range somewhere.

Figuring the sub copies as sold and assuming that the newsstand copies sold out (highly unusual, but possible) then gets us close to 400k without the later newsstand printings. How much might they add? It's very hard to say. Only about 10% of the sales of McFarlane's Spider-Man #1 came from the newsstand in 1990 — and while there were reprintings for the newsstand, one of them, the famously elusive "gold with UPC" second printing, only had a print run numbering in the four figures. So it's anyone's guess.

A tricky question for the record books is how to classify reprinted and variant editions — that's a whole other debate. We know Pokemon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu #1 was probably the #1 comic book of 1999, though it came out in 1998 and only had Diamond preorders of 9,300 copies the first time around. But during the Poke-mania of 1999, it went through more than a dozen reprintings — none of them identified — almost entirely for the newsstand, bringing its total, Viz assured me at the time, over 1 million copies. That's one of those things that's invisible from looking just at the direct market — and the lack of reprint labeling makes it hard to differentiate, as we might, between the various waves in any way that would allow us to compare apples to apples.


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