Comic Book Advertising

So I was reading my weekly batch of comics the other day, when I noticed something that seemed a little odd to me. It was the ads. Oh, they were still there, but the more I looked at them, the more I realized that most of them were house ads for other comic books.
That’s actually more significant than you might think, since periodical comics derive a fair amount of their revenue from ad sales. So how many ads ran this month in comics as compared to just a couple of years ago? The answer surprised me.

For this extremely informal survey, I compared a comic published by one of the Big Two (that’s Marvel and DC, for the uninitiated) with a cover date of July 2008, and another comic published by the same company with a cover date of November 2005. (This was really about as unscientific as you can get, since the sampling consisted of a comic I bought last month and the first non-recent comic I found in my closet this morning.)
Before I give you the results of the count, let me tell you a little bit about how ad sales work in comics. Typically, a comics publisher doesn’t sell ads for a single issue or title. The reasons for this are pretty simple – a glance at the comics sales lists shows comics ranging in sales from just a couple thousand on up to 250,000 on the high end. In the world of magazine publishing, even 250,000 can be considered a low circulation in certain circles. So when comics publishers sell ads, they’re usually placed in all of their comics (or in a certain group of comics) to get that number up. The individual issue might sell 50,000 copies, but if your ad goes into 10 issues that month, that’s a circulation of 500,000.
You get the idea. So let’s take a look at those numbers. The Jun 2008 issue had a total of 12 pages of advertising. Of those, 9 pages were house ads (ads for products published or made by the company publishing the comic) and 3 pages were for non-house ads. (Navy recruitment, an album, and a video game.)
The November 2005 issue also had 12 pages of advertising. Of those, all 12 were non-house ads. (1 Cell phone, 6 video games, 1 DVD, 2 TV shows, 1 card game, 1 movie.)
That’s quite a difference. It’s possible that the different dates are a factor; a November cover is on shelves in September, which is when new shows are hitting the air and video games are ramping up for the holidays. But there is an overall decline in advertising sales, and it’s safe to assume that comics are not immune.
Not great news for the comics publishers, but given the success both companies have seen in the movie arena, they’ve more than likely found ways to compensate for any lost revenue. And certainly, there are many successful comics publishers that don’t rely on advertising for income.
But I will say this: if anything is going to push the price of comics up from $2.99 to $3.99, this is it.

7 Responses to “Comic Book Advertising”

  1. Kyle says:

    Now this is some interesting information. I wonder if they experience any kind of benefit from running house ads in place of the outside ads? I know that I am prone to “ad blindness” and will occasionally just breeze by ads, both online and in print. But the loss of that outside revenue can’t be a pleasant experience. Lots to think about here.
    And on a completely separate note, am I the only one having a Dr. Seuss flashback looking at those Sea Monkey People?

  2. Gallegos says:

    Oh man, what a tease: I thought you were going to write a blog about those adorable Sea Monkey ads that ran in almost every comic I read as a kid!!
    I never did order them, but I *did* order from those turn-of-the-80’s ads featuring a box of 100 World War II plastic figures, or 100 Revolutionary War figures. It took like 4 months for them to arrive, and I checked my mail box dutifully every day during the supposed 4-8 week delivery period. I was so sad, thinking they’d never arrive.

  3. Liz Scheier says:

    I am responsible for the genocide of many, many a Sea Monkey. What a flashback…

  4. Darth Duff says:

    Those X-Ray specs never did work!! Actually, the muscle man concoctions didn’t do much either. I miss those crazy ad pages. Makes me think of my old GI Joe comics.

  5. I actually bought some Sea Monkeys at Wal-Mart a couple of years ago. When I re-hydrated them, only one had survived what has to be a horrible experience… he lasted about two weeks.
    Thinking about Sea Monkeys makes me sad now, but it was such an archetypal comic ad that I couldn’t resist…
    Of course, now I need to go to Toys R Us this week and get some new Sea Monkeys!

  6. Thom Marke says:

    I personally enjoyed Stan Lee’s no-prizes.

  7. Matt says:

    I bought these X-Ray Specs once a year, always forgetting that they were truly a waste of money.

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