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November 2008 comics sales: Cover prices set record

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Top 300 comics and Top 300 trade estimates for November are now online, subject, as you'll learn in a moment, to change.

As noted earlier here, Diamond made a number of changes in the rollout of its charts this month, including the very important increase from reporting the Top 100 trade paperbacks to the Top 300. However, there may be some bugs to work out, as I and a number of other observers detected some discrepancies. Particularly, it appears that the same Order Index Number (equal to 1% of Batman unit sales) was not used for both the Top 300 Comics and the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks list. In looking at the publisher reports that we compare the Diamond charts with, it appears that the correct “magic number” for the trade paperback table is 999 copies, whereas the magic number that fits the actual periodical data best is 1,031.

There are a number of ways this could occur — particularly if the reports were prepared at two different times, which seems likely. Order codes for Batman were also combined this month, so they may have been aggregated for one purpose and not for the other.

So what’s right? On the periodical side, the cluster of actual sales versus estimates sales looks as close as it does every month — which is to say, if 1031 is not the right number for the model, then it can’t be off by more than a couple in either direction. The trade paperback clustering is unusual in that many trades reported match the publisher report exactly when 999 is used as the magic number; many more are just slightly off to the low side. I do not know how to account for this, except to say that it is never the case that the counts suggested by the Order Index Numbers exactly match what’s in the publisher reports. There is always a little variance in the mix.

Milton Griepp and I both arrived at the same conclusion independently with regard to the differences between the charts; and while there may be corrections coming from Diamond, in looking harder at the data, I think we can make a best-guess from the numbers at hand. There is significant matching on the two lists as long as two different Order Index Numbers are used; it’s possible that all that might be required to unify the lists is to generate order index numbers from 1031 instead of 999 — or to multiply the existing numbers in the TPB column by 1.032. The only other thing that might happen is that the actual order index numbers would change for the individual titles: this would seem unlikely to account for much, because, again, we do have strong correlation with actual publisher sales now. We might see a little oscillation, but not a whole lot affecting the bottom line.

So what appears here is my best guess; again, should corrections come, I'll take another pass through the data.

OK, now to the bottom line. Not much good news for consumers or the market this month: First, comics were more expensive in November 2008 than in any month in history. The average comic book offered in Diamond’s Top 300 comics had a cover price of $3.50, beating the previous record (from last month) by 12 cents. The median price is still $2.99, and $2.99 is still the most common price within the chart. The weighted average price — comics dollars divided by comics units — was $3.35, another record. The average price of comics in the Top 25 was $3.43.

I calculate the overall comics, magazine, and trade paperback sales at $33.06 million, off 9% for the month; for the year, we’re still up, but by only half a percent. Roger Fletcher said on ICV2 that Diamond’s sales to shops were off 3% for the year; I’m not certain what’s covered under that umbrella, but it’s possible the reference may include Diamond’s other lines. (Or my overall calculation could be off — although it is based on applying actual known sales to the market share charts, and there’s evidence that it’s been pretty close in the past.)

The narrower categories were off badly on the periodical side. The Top 300 Comics were off 17% in units, posting the worst monthly performance since January 2006 and the worst November performance since 2000. The Top 300 were off 11% in dollars; it was only the worst month since February 2008, though, and the worst November since November 2004.

The vital stats for the month, subject to change:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
November 2008: 5.76 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -11%
YEAR TO DATE: 73.67 million copies, -6% vs. 2007

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
November 2008: $19.32 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +9%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +15%
YEAR TO DATE: $237.57, -4% vs. 2007

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2008: $8.31 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: unchanged
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +27%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 30 vs. the Top 30: -6%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100: $54.87 million, +4% vs. 2007

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2008: $27.63 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +12%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 30 TPBs: +11%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100 TPBs: $292.44 million, -3% vs. 2007

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
November 2008: $33.06 million ($37 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +41%
YEAR TO DATE: $396.8 million, +0.5% vs. 2007

Getting the Top 300 trades does really show us a lot more of the picture — just the Top 100 brought in $6 million, whereas the next 200 added $2.3 million. The “overall” total minus the combined comics and TPB totes leaves only $5.4 million, much of which is more trades — but now, we can say that the Diamond Top TPB list accounts for more than half of direct market initial orders. (Bookstore sales are another matter.)

With one month left to go in the year, it looks like there is a chance for the “overall” category to come in above 2007 — but the narrower categories are less likely to go positive, and Top 300 Units are trailing by 5 million copies, so that’s out of the question. While that mark be the first down year for comics in a long time, it would be exceptional indeed for the medium to outperform 2007 in an economy where very little else is. That the drops are likely to be single digits is a sign of strength, to some degree — although the full effect of price increases in comics (particularly in a period of stagnant inflation) is yet to be understood.

Again, when and if Diamond issues revisions, I’ll take another look under the hood — but my guess is things won’t change much.

Note for December's report: If, as I read from the Diamond retail newsletter, UPS is closed Dec. 31 in the United States, that day's shipments wind up on Jan. 2. I would imagine as they're in the December catalog, though, they'd be tabulated with it.

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Diamond goes to reporting Top 300 Trades

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Diamond's new reporting for this month continues: After a web post of the Top 100 trades yesterday, the media release includes indexed figures for the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks and Graphic Novels, a three-fold increase bringing the TPB reporting in line with the Top Comics list.

It is unknown whether this is intended to be the manner for the future, but if so, it represents a significant addition to Diamond's reporting. I have yet to complete all calculations for November, but it looks as though the distributor sold a record $6 million of its Top 100 trades to retailers in the month, approaching June 2008's record; $8.3 million, when the next 200 places are added.

The Comics Chronicles has regularly reported how the unreported trades each month lately have accounted for business in the neighborhood of to $10 million that's not otherwise captured in the Top Seller lists. These 200 trades account for $2.3 million of that this month, so it would appear that the the Top Trades list is back to capturing at least half of all dollars represented by trades again.

I need to re-run some numbers before posting, as the cross-year comparisons now need to be adjusted. As done in the past when Diamond has added to the TPB count (from 10 to 25 to 50 to 100), we'll both provide the whole total, as well as comparing the same number of apples to the same number of apples. This month, for example, just the Top 100 trades would appear to be just slightly above November 2007 sales for the same number of items, while just the Top 50 appear to be 26% ahead of the Top 50 from November 2003, when only 50 TPBs were reported.

UPDATE: Looking into the numbers, it appeared probable that the Trade Paperback chart and the Comics chart were using two different "magic numbers" for the Order Index Number. I have heard that there may be revisions coming for the comics chart — of so, I will delay my report until everything appears.

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Diamond November 2008 data rollout continues

Monday, December 15, 2008

And Diamond now has posted more charts on its website: the Top 100 comics for November, the Market Shares, the Top 50 Manga, and something called the Top 50 Independent Comics chart. I am told that the full charts are still yet to come.

The manga are, as in previous such lists, not indexed. The indies are indexed, and would seem to be a resorting of the list, pulling out Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse. I can see some definitional discussions — doing magazine issues about "independent" publishers in the past sometimes had every publisher wanting to be so labeled, or else publishers declaring they weren't indie publishers — but it's an interesting sorting nonetheless.

In terms of new information, this month's Indies list doesn't add anything to what would be the regular Top 300, as everything here is in the Top 300 already (by the Quantity Ranks listed). If it did, it would be tricky to overlay atop the existing data, at least in the apples-to-apples department — you might have items above 300th place one month, but not the next; and there'd of course be no items above 300th place for the majors. The info would be interesting on its own, but you'd probably still want to limit aggregate comparisons to the Top 300.

The spooling out of the release does have interesting effects for the blogosphere, which got the Top 10 last week — and Newsarama has a report on the Top 100 today. While The Comics Chronicles will post early data or links to it as time is available, we're more of an informational resource than a news site, so expect our main monthly posting to follow the release that includes the most data — the Top 300.

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Ultimatum #1 tops list in "early peek" at Diamond November list

Thursday, December 11, 2008

About a week before Diamond Comic Distributors would customarily release its Top 300 Comics and Top 100 Trade Paperbacks lists for November, it has announced the Top 10 sellers in each category and the top five publisher market shares. Elissa Lynch at Diamond has confirmed for The Comics Chronicles that this list is preparatory to, and not in place of, the regular indexed sales figures.

The Top 10 comics:
1) Ultimatum #1 • $3.99 • Marvel
2) Batman #681 RIP • $3.99 • DC
3) Hulk #8 • $2.99 • Marvel
4) Wolverine #69 • $2.99 • Marvel
5) Uncanny X-Men #504 MD • $2.99 • Marvel
6) Amazing Spider-Man #577 • $3.99 • Marvel
7) Captain America #44 • $2.99 • Marvel
8) Buffy the Vampire Slayer #19 • $2.99 • Dark Horse
9) JSA Kingdom Come Special: Superman #1 • $3.99 • DC
10) Justice Society of America #20* • $2.99 • DC

The Top 10 Trade Paperbacks:
1) Fables Vol. 11: War & Pieces • $17.99 • DC
2) Michael Turner Tribute • $8.99 • Aspen
3) Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate • $15.95 • Dark Horse
4) Heroes HC Vol. 2 • $29.99 • DC
5) Watchmen HC • $39.99 • DC
6) JLA/Avengers • $19.99 • DC/Marvel
7) Watchmen SC • $19.99 • DC
8) Joker HC • $19.99 • DC
9) Naruto Vol. 32 • $7.95 • Viz
10) Fruits Basket Vol. 21 • $9.99 • TokyoPop

The top five companies' market shares:


Dollars

Units

Marvel

36.96%

42.90%

DC

34.21%

34.52%

Dark Horse

5.86%

4.84%

Image

4.35%

3.80%

IDW

2.96%

2.83%

Other

15.65%

11.11%



The "early peek" at the top-sellers lists appears to be an enhancement from Diamond, capitalizing on the attention the indexed charts receive each month — charts that have appeared from one distributor or another in comics since the early 1980s, when Milton Griepp introduced them to Internal Correspondence at Capital City. Diamond is a longstanding supporter of increasing public awareness of what's going on in the medium, and The Comics Chronicles applauds its continuing efforts to do that with this added, early release of information.

EDIT: Link added and column headers corrected for table.

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