Yesterday, I mentioned that the sales of Watchmen trade paperbacks for the year of 2007 was expected to be around 95,000 copies. Friend, and fellow host on Geekerati, Bill Cunningham wanted me to do a comparison between Watchmen trade sales and those of V for Vendetta. Both were comic originals that have sales affected by the reality/possibility of a theatrical adaptation. The original V collection was published in 1988 and Watchmen was published (in trade form) in 1987, so -- all things being equal -- the sales should be similar if the appeal is similar.
According to ICV2, the retailer news service, V sold approximately 75,000 copies of the book from the August prior to the film's release to the August when the film was released on DVD. That would be from August 2005 to August 2006. It should be noted that V was intended to be released in November of 2005 (Remember, Remember the Fifth of November)and had a significant marketing campaign from the summer of 2005 to the eventual release in March of 2006. This can be compared to the current expected sales of 95,000 that Watchmen has for the year of 2007. Except for one major point, Watchmen has yet to have a "major marketing campaign." It certainly has internet buzz and, given the importance of the book in most critic's minds, the upcoming film is being discussed with relative regularity (not to mention that Time selected Watchmen as one of the most important books of the 20th Century).
To continue the analysis. In October of 2005, about 5 months before the release of V, the V hardcover sold 3,700 copies and the trade sold 1,400 for a total of 5,100 for the month. I don't know if the 75,000 in sales was for a combination of the hardcover and the trade, but I imagine that it is because 12 times the October sales figures comes to about 60k for the year of 2005, 15k shy of 75k but also a snapshot from the buildup rather than the August to August timeframe that ICV2 used. Warner claimed in 2006, in the month of March when V was released, that there were "currently...more than 500,000 copies of the book in print." That would be 500k from the initial publication of the collection in 1988 and not 500k in that year alone.
Looking at that information, and in an effort to give a fair comparison to the two books, I could list all the sales of both books from January 2001 to present and include the number of units sold of the #1 comic book of that month as well. That way we could see how, and whether, the movie release affected the sales of V and how the market itself fluctuated, which might also be a contributing variable to V and Watchmen sales. The figures only represent "comic book stores" and we know that Watchmen sold a "total of 22,000 in 2001." It should also be noted that until recently, neither Watchmen nor V were in the Top 25 (or even top 50) of Trade Sales in the direct market which would make a deep representation time consuming but not impossible for Watchmen (actually impossible for V). This also means that the mass market sales of an older, or "classic," trade paperback are likely larger than the direct market sales. After all, Watchmen sold 22k in 2001 while never making it into the top 25 in direct sales and the sales #s of the 25th books weren't staggering.
I won't actually do the full analysis, but I will look at some key dates.
January 2001: #1 X-Men #110 -- 101,000. Watchmen -- not in the top 25 of Trade Paperback Sales thus < 1,349. V for Vendetta -- not in the top 25 of Trade Paperback Sales thus < 1,349.
June 2001: #1 New X-Men #115 -- 142,300. Watchmen -- < 1,900. V for Vendetta -- < 1,900.
November 2001 (the first date where TPB info is readily available and can be regressed): #1 ORIGIN #4 -- 156,959. Watchmen -- < 2,152. V for Vendetta -- < 2,152.
November 2002: #1 MASTERS O/T UNIVERSE #1 -- 104,971. Watchmen -- < 1,198. V for Vendetta -- ?? < 1,198.
November 2003: #1 JLA/AVENGERS #3 (OF 4) -- 148,196. Watchmen -- <1,984. V for Vendetta -- ?? < 1,984.
November 2004: #1 SUPERMAN BATMAN #13 -- 157,949. Watchmen -- < 1,346. V for Vendetta -- ?? < 1,346.
March 2006 INFINITE CRISIS #5 (Of 7) -- 201,855. Watchmen -- 1,857. V for Vendetta -- 7,127.
December 2006: #1 JUSTICE LEAGUE O/AMERICA #4 -- 136,709. Watchmen -- 1,832. V for Vendetta -- 1,316
October 2007: #1 NEW AVENGERS #35 -- 111,481. Watchmen TP -- 2,332. V for Vendetta -- ?? < 1,482.
What the above chart show us is that neither book sold in the top 25, or even top 50, for most of the early 2000s in the "direct market" (at comic shops), but that Vendetta saw a significant increase in sales around the time of its release, but so did Watchmen and Watchmen (unlike V) has continued to stay in the top 100 books sold. In this year's market, direct sales (those at comic shops) amount to approximately 25% of the sales of Watchmen, but we can't use that to induct past performance as in prior years they may have been only 10 percent. What we do know is that DC claimed to have 500,000 copies of V in print in August 2006, including every copy published since 1988, and that Watchmen is selling about 95k this year alone. It seems to me that this demonstrates that the "comic market" is only a portion of trade paperback sales, that the "comic market" is a cottage industry (not saying that is a bad thing, it is profitable after all), that film releases affect the sales of books positively both in the mass market and in the "direct market" as well. Oh, and that more people like Watchmen than V which isn't too surprising given that Watchmen has a more coherent political philosophy.