On -isms: Did Low Sales Really Kill The Crew?

By | Thursday, May 18, 2017 Leave a Comment
So one of the recent news items is that, with only two issues out so far, Black Panther & The Crew will be cancelled with issue #6. In speaking with The Verge, co-writer Ta-Nehisi Coates cited low sales as the culprit.

The big comic news outlets I've seen reporting on this don't add much beyond Coates' explanation. A few opinion pieces I've read suggest that Marvel expanded the Black Panther line too rapidly for the market, and that it couldn't handle three related books a full year before the movie comes out. Which is precisely what Brian Hibbs noted in his Tilting at Windmills column a month ago, citing sales in his own stores.

And while those of us outside Marvel don't have access to their actual sales numbers, and the estimates we do have (courtesy of John Jackson Miller) are only as recent as Black Panther & The Crew #1, let's take a look to see how things line up...
April 2016
Black Panther #1 -- 253,259

May 2015

Black Panther #2 -- 77,654

June 2016

Black Panther #3 -- 75,037

July 2016

Black Panther #4 -- 72,302

August 2016

Black Panther #5 -- 83,756

September 2016

Black Panther #6 -- 58,746

October 2016

Black Panther #7 -- 60,857

November 2016

Black Panther #8 -- 43,451
Black Panther: World of Wakanda #1 -- 57,073

December 2016

Black Panther #9 -- 39,123
Black Panther: World of Wakanda #2 -- 45,009

January 2017

Black Panther #10 -- 38,741
Black Panther: World of Wakanda #3 -- 25,248

February 2017

Black Panther #11 -- 35,429
Black Panther: World of Wakanda #4 -- 17,454

March 2017
Black Panther #12 -- 37,612
Black Panther: World of Wakanda #5 -- 15,847

April 2017
Black Panther #13 -- 30,509
Black Panther: World of Wakanda #6 -- 14,547
Black Panther & the Crew #1 -- 35,604
First, it should be noted that pretty much all titles have a normally significant drop-off after the first issue, and then experience a slow, but fairly inevitable, decline after that. You can see both Black Panther and Black Panther: World of Wakanda both experience a sharp drop after the first issue, and then generally head down from there, but at a slower pace.

You can also see a drop in Black Panther from #7 to #8 as World of Wakanda is introduced. This would support the claim that this market cannot sustain multiple Panther-related titles, and every new title is mostly just gutting the audience of the previous one. However, that drop is only 17,406. Which might seem like a lot, but compare that to the drop between #5 and #6 of 25,010. There were no new related titles introduced then, and it experienced a sharper decline. Additionally, the drop between issues #5 and #6 of World of Wakanda when The Crew is introduced is only 1,300; even the regular rate of drop-off the book was already experiencing was greater than that.

The sales for Black Panther #1 are atypical, I would say, probably in large part due to the media hype around Coates' debut at Marvel. But if we apply the first-to-second-drop-off percentage of World of Wakanda to The Crew, that would put The Crew #2 at around 28,000. If Hibbs' experience of a radical drop is more typical across the industry, sales of The Crew would have to had plummeted by 60% to get to where World of Wakanda was (roughly) holding.

Now, considering that Marvel didn't cancel The Crew outright, and is opting to run the series through #6, I think it's safe to say that the first-to-second-issue decline didn't put it into the "losing money" category right off the bat, but I expect Marvel ran some projections and estimated the title would cease being profitable around #6 or so, assuming a normal sales decline. The exact cut-off point for any given title is different, depending in part on how much they're paying the creators. Obviously, if they're paying their creators more, they're going to need to sell more books to make that money back. But since Coates, probably the most expensive creator on any of these books, is working on all of them, that acts as something of a leveling factor.

So if we're saying sales on The Crew is what's leading to its cancellation, that suggests Marvel thinks the book will be selling fewer than 15,000 copies by #6. (15,000 is evidently enough to let World of Wakanda keep going past #6.)

Let's do some back-of-the-envelope math. Assuming The Crew has the exact same sales decline curve as World of Wakanda, the next several issues would sell like this:
Black Panther & the Crew #1 -- 35,604
Black Panther & the Crew #2 -- 28,078
Black Panther & the Crew #3 -- 15,750
Black Panther & the Crew #4 -- 10,888
Black Panther & the Crew #5 -- 9,885
Black Panther & the Crew #6 -- 9,074
While Marvel is publishing 10-12 titles a month that sell less than 10,000 these days, they are definitely way in the minority. It's just no longer profitable; I suspect they'll be dropping at least a few of those titles in the near future as well. But with the aforementioned expense of having Coates on a title, I suspect that even being just under the 10,000 mark makes for some razor-thin profits.

I'll be honest; I was fully expecting to show that it wouldn't be the sales numbers and that was just a PR spin to shut down a series that may have gone farther into social commentary of police brutality against Blacks than Marvel anticipated. But as I sit here and do my own number-crunching... yeah, it's definitely a sales thing.

Now, whether or not Marvel put enough effort behind promoting the series and whether that turns out to be an example of racial bias is another discussion altogether!
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