That Nico vs. Reptil variant cover for issue 5 would have made a lot of sense as the cover for issue 4. I thought Dave Johnson's cover to issue 4 was cool, but I really don't like it when the cover doesn't match up to the interior content.
When you say they print close to order, does that mean that this second printing could actually be a much smaller number than the first? Just that they got enough requests for it that they are printing some more copies, but not necessarily 20 or 30 thousand of them?
Yes, that's correct. In general, second printings are a much smaller print run than the first printing. This can lead to funny* listings on Ebay, where I saw someone trying to sell a "New 52 Batman #1 Rare Third Print Variant" for three times its cover price.
There are times when second printings will have a larger print run than first printings, but that's usually when a low-selling title makes big news and sells out quickly, like when Alpha Flight #106** was released.
But in the case of Avengers Arena, and any of the titles that are getting the Marvel NOW! sales push, I think it's safe to assume that the second printings are smaller print runs.
*Funny in a face palm kind of way.
**Please forgive that very dated example. It was the first that came to mind.
Right, but given the drop off in sales (Diamond sales) does that mean Marvel intentionally published 40% fewer copies of issue 3 than issue 1?
Marvel tends to print pretty close to order. It's hard to judge the strength of a new book's sales by its second and third issues, because those issues are being ordered before stores have had the first issue on their racks. Once the sales data is out for issues 4 and 5, I think we'll have a better understanding into how well the series is doing.
Selling out on the distributor level is a good thing for Marvel, and is what drives their second printings. Since demand is not universal, there may still be stores that have first prints of issues 1-3 sitting on their shelves, but if Diamond is sold out and Marvel is doing a second printing, then there are retailers who are looking for those issues for their customers.
I believe it was Quesada and Jemas who enacted Marvel's no overprint rule when they took over in 2000. They have made exceptions (and will tout it when they do), but for the most part, they print to order. It's a pain for retailers, because if demand spikes after the final order cut-off, there's no extra supply from where they can up their orders.