Or why isn't consumer budgeting considered when first issue sales are discussed?
There is a phenomenon in comics where the first issue of a new title greatly outsells subsequent issues. Generally speaking the #1 issue sells a certain, fairly large number of issues but then over the course of subsequent issues the number slowly declines. Often the decline between first and second issue is the largest, dropping many units between the first and second issue. And this attrition in comics sales for any particular series is something I worry about.
It seems that this is also something that the big comic companies worry about too: they are often engineering new ways to sell #1 issues or buzzy one-shots, and constantly launching and relaunching new series. In part, I think, to generate high sales from first issues. From my casual-industry-following vantage it looks like comic publishers think they can grow their sales by launching lots of new series as a way to increase the numbers of titles readers will follow. However, I think something else might be going on, something, it seems, that isn't being discussed much.
I am a huge contributor to the first issue effect. Not because I am a collector, or because I slowly lose interest in comics I am reading but because I am strictly budgeting my comics intake. I read ten and only ten ongoing mainstream published comics at a time. As a result if I want to pick up a new title, I have to drop one of the ones I am currently reading: and this looks a lot like comics sales attrition. But, I do not drop old titles out of a lack of interest in them, I drop old titles because something new comes along and I cannot afford to read both. I also frequently try first issues, sometimes even two or three, when new comics series are released. I like to try new titles, see if I like them more than what I am already reading, and then decide if I will adopt this new title in place of a current one. Often I will read a first issue, decide it isn't better than what I am already reading and never pick up a subsequent issue (first issues, they are important). I will sometimes pick up a couple more issues to help me make up my mind, but often in this instance I will still end up dropping the new title after only these first couple issues. Both of these things will contribute to the remarkably high sales of comics for the first few issues. (Conversely, if I pick up a new title, I drop another title which contributes to the sales attrition of longer running titles.) What I am trying to say is that the first issue phenomenon could be explained by people trying new titles within the context of a maxed out comics budget.
My point is that the high sales of #1's and the gradual attrition of sales on other titles might be evidence of an over saturated comics market. If this hypothesis is true the audience is already buying, basically, all it can afford to buy. Adding new titles just dislodges the audience from established books so that a new title doesn't really generate any new, sustainable sales. The spike in sales with a new number one beyond people simply switching titles might only be curious readers giving the new title a try before deciding to stick with their current, budgeted collection. If so, then releasing tons of #1's generates an artificial bump in sales that comes on the expense of existing readers and might just be a mechanism of wringing just a little bit more cash out of the audience. And this is something I worry about.
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