The Walking Dead is a sure bet in comics. In any given month of 2016, the series — written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by Charlie Adlard, and published by Image Comics — sold between 67k-90k issues, according to Comichron. At $2.99 a pop, that’s between $200k-$269k a month for one title alone. But even a behemoth like TWD occasionally feels the need to bolster sales and bring in new readers, perhaps especially now since the ratings have begun to slip on the AMC show of the same name. So Image Comics rolled out a $0.25 promotional price and retailers went bananas.
Issue #163 of The Walking Dead is now the highest preordered comics in nearly two decades. With the final order cut-off date now passed, Diamond Comics Distributors revealed orders for the issue have exceeded 730,000 copies. Image stresses this number was achieved without the bolster of, say, putting their issue into a subscription box such as LootCrate, which can easily help push a single issue 500k alone. According to the press release, the idea behind the $.25 promotion — which is also being utilized on issues of Image’s Invincible and Outcast, both written by Kirkman — is to help increase the companies visibility by showcasing their best known titles.
From Robert Kirkman:
“The Direct Market helped make The Walking Dead, Invincible, and Outcast the successful series they are today, and acknowledging that support is a big part of our agenda as Image turns 25 this year. Comic book stores have made it easier for us to accomplish everything we’ve done since our last anniversary, so giving back just makes sense, even though it means we’re not making a dime off these books. Don’t get me wrong: Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn, and Rus Wooton are all being compensated as usual for their contributions to The Walking Dead #163, but neither myself nor Image will profit off this issue. As with most of our decisions at Image, we’re looking instead at the long-term benefits of getting more readers into stores and more of the world’s best creator-owned comics into those readers’ hands.”
It’s a good strategy for Image. The Walking Dead #163 could be a jumping-on point for new readers as the “Conquered” storyline begins. It’s an overstuffed issue, too, coming in at a massive 40-pages, so it’s a lot of bang for your buck. And the comic will hit shelves on February 1, 2017, 11 days before the AMC show returns for the back half of its seventh season. But is it really a profit-defeating strategy? Kirkman says they won’t make a dime off The Walking Dead #163, which makes sense as the comic is double the size of a regular issue for only a quarter. But if the series were to have been a standard 22-pages? Let’s do some math.
On average, The Walking Dead comic sells 80,000 issues a month at $2.99USD. That’s $239,200. Now, at a $.25, the 730,000 issues comes to $182,500. That’s a difference of $56,700. Not a small chunk of change, but not “Turn off the lights, we have to pay the water bill this month” bad. A quick call over to my local comic shop confirmed they ordered 100 copies of The Walking Dead #163 for the racks. Which is unheard of for my small-town store. But at such a cheap price point, the manager said he knows people will buy out of interest and, if they don’t, it was only $.25 and the store can put the leftovers in “Mystery Bags” later. To give you an idea of how unprecedented this is, my local comic shop usually orders maybe three copies of a comic to put on the rack for non-pull-list shoppers.
Now I’m not saying comics should be a quarter. We don’t live in the 1950s. But both retailers and consumers can be impulse buyers. Got a new storyline starting? Sales lagging on a comic that deserves more eyeballs? Trying to reach a new audience, expand your audience, create an audience? Nothing is more enticing than the low, low price of, let’s say, $.50 to $1.00. Look at it this way: Say Image had asked $.50 for TWD #163 and it cut into their record-breaking preorders. Say only 500,000 customers preordered. That would still be $250,000, which is how much the comic makes now on a good month. If Image’s good fortune with this gamble can show the industry anything, it’s that you can make money on a lower price point. You just have to take the chance.