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Comixology's numbers indicate female characters dominate digital comics sales

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Of Marvel's top 10 best-selling comics in March, four of them featured a lead female character (three characters in total, as the first two issues of the company's Princess Leia miniseries hit last month). But when digital retailer Comixology offered their audience the chance to get any two Marvel comics for the price of one, that ratio was flipped and then some. Three of the top 10 choices made in the sale were from Marvel's nascent Star Wars line. The other seven were all female superheroes in the main Marvel continuity.

Overall, March was a good month for Marvel Comics: Of the top 10 best-selling issues of the month, nine were Marvel titles. We know this because precise numbers on comic book distribution and sales are published monthly by Diamond Distributors, the company that transports all of the comics of most major comics publishers in the United States. Anybody has been able to see which comics sold and which didn't just by looking it up for years.

Digital comics, however, are a horse of a different color. There's no monthly release of digital comics sales, and companies have so far not been terrifically forthcoming with those statistics. Anecdotal evidence (and simple common sense) would suggest that the audience for digital comics — made up of folks who aren't trekking to a physical location or buying so many comics as to make a direct-to-door subscription service cost-effective — has the potential to be larger, more diverse and newer to comics; all qualities that the shrinking industry needs. Being unable to compare and contrast comic shop orders with digital sales prevents a full understanding of the comics audience, both for folks outside the industry and for many comics creators themselves.

Except for the occasional times when Comixology, the biggest digital comics retailer out there, gives everyone a peek behind the curtain. In Diamond's overall sales figures for MarchPrincess Leia and Spider-Gwen are the only female-led titles to crack the top 10 of physical issues sold. And March's issue of Ms. Marvel comes in at a measly #59.

In its March buy-one-get-one-free sale, Comixology revealed on its Tumblr, female superheroes dominated:

  1. Silk #1
  2. Star Wars #2
  3. Darth Vader #1
  4. Star Wars #1
  5. Ms. Marvel #12
  6. Ms. Marvel #11
  7. Ms. Marvel #10
  8. Thor #5
  9. Ms. Marvel #9
  10. Thor #4

Sitting at the top is Silk #1 (which features the Asian-American Cindy Moon as a woman with similar powers to Spider-Man), above three books backed by the buying power of the Star Wars fandom. While it's true that first issues usually sell better than their counterparts because of their cachet as a collector's item, there's no resale value on a digital copy.

Most impressively, Ms. Marvel alone claims nearly half the list, corroborating one of our only other hard data points on Marvel's digital comics sales: that in digital, Ms. Marvel is the company's best-selling book. Not bad for a title that's barely a year old. The current run of Thor, featuring a woman as the God of Thunder, is outselling the last book of that name, and it appears that it's claiming a lot of ground digitally as well. It's no wonder that Marvel has decided to put both of these characters on an Avengers team.