"Amazing, Amazing, Amazing"

As announced in Philadelphia this weekend, Amazing Spider-Man will move to a three-a-month shipping schedule in the fall. Currently there are three Spider-Man titles: Amazing Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and Sensational Spider-Man (née the “Marvel Knights” Spider-Man). As with Superman and Action Comics and with Batman and Detective Comics, each title usually tells its own story about the main character. There’s the occasional crossover story, but generally you can just read one of the titles and get your fix. So there are three Spider-Man books, but most people don’t read all three. As editor Steve Wacker puts it:

Amazing is the “main” book to most readers and the feeling is that the important Spider-man stuff happens between its covers. No matter how good the creators and stories might be on the supporting books, when forced to choose, most readers lean towards Amazing.

According to Paul O’Brien’s estimates of Marvel’s March 2007 sales, Amazing Spider-Man 539 sold 137,730 copies. That’s a bit high as it was the first issue of a big storyline (Spider-Man being back in his black costume), but it’s by far Spidey’s best seller. That month Sensational sold 56,139 copies and Friendly Neighborhood sold 50,665, so both of them combined don’t sell what the “main” title does. I’d suspect that most of the 50,000 people buying one or the other of the latter two titles are buying both, so it’s possible to assume that there are about 50,000 hardcover Spidey fans out there who are buying all three titles every single month (plus, probably, Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers, of which he’s a member), which leaves ~80,000 readers who only buy Amazing each month.

So how many people are going to stick with Amazing when it goes tri-monthly? The 50,000 hardcore readers aren’t a concern – they already buy three Spider-Man books a month. How many of the remaining 80,000 readers will stick with the new book? If all of them do, Marvel will have picked up 160,000 sales each month, which is well over what launching two brand new books would have gotten them. If even half of the readers stick with it, that’s 80,000 extra readers, which is as well as most of their top books do (in March that’s what Uncanny X-Men sold, and it’s stayed at that level for years).

The question of course lies in how many people decide they care enough about Spider-Man to shell out the extra $5.98 for the two extra books each month. There won’t be a choice anymore to just read one book, so you’ll either pay $9.00 a month to read Spider-Man, or you’ll pay nothing. I’m a bit doubtful that I’ll stick with it, but the advantage is that the story will move along at a very nice pace. If the writing quality is good there will be some real momentum and, even if Marvel isn’t able to keep it up for more than a year or so, they could cut it back to bi-monthly and still probably stay above the numbers they were selling with three different books.