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Welcome to Comichron, a resource for comic book circulation data and other information gathered by
John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.

 

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Marvel Age of stock reports ends; Disney buyout approved

by John Jackson Miller

And now, here at the end of the year, a last little bit of comics history: Disney shareholders approved the purchase of Marvel Entertainment for $4.3 billion. The Associated Press reports that Marvel shareholders will receive $30 per share in cash, plus 0.745 Disney shares for every Marvel share they own. Given Disney's value, the AP calculates that values Marvel shares at $54.25. The final settle, for the record, was $54.08.

Up fast in the early 1990s; down to destruction in the second half, and right back up again. The old ticker symbol, MRV, is since retired. I suspect the charts and data will be offline eventually; in the meantime, here's Yahoo Finance's look at the history just ended:



And that's about it for our ability to track comics industry companies based on stock market filings. In its two publicly traded incarnations — separated by bankruptcy — Marvel's reports were themselves collectibles, and showed detail on its publishing operations that will likely be harder to come by in Disney filings.

Comic Wars: Marvel's Battle For SurvivalMotley Fool, which has provided heaping gobs of Marvel analysis over the years, says goodbye to the stock with a look back and also suggested ways Disney could use Marvel's properties to get ahead. "Pixar can render Marvel properly," suggests Rick Munarriz. "Animated treatments of some of Marvel's more obscure franchises will help Marvel, in turn, reach younger audiences, ideally without alienating its fan base." (Is Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy around the corner?)

Anyway, it's been a long ride since that first public offering in 1991: Our own Marvel timeline has just been updated. For more about Marvel's stock history, check out Dan Raviv's detailed tome, Comic Wars: Marvel's Battle For Survival.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Comichron Presents: Top 300 Comics of the Decade in comics shops

by John Jackson Miller


The Barack Obama commemorative issue of Amazing Spider-Man was the comic book ordered most by comics shops in North America in the decade of the 2000s, according to analysis by The Comics Chronicles.

Comichron looked back at 119 months of comic-book orders reported by Diamond Comic Distributors, the exclusive retail agent for the largest publishers in the industry. Sales from these months are posted individually at the site (except for a few remaining to be posted from the early years of the decade); it's not 120 months because the December 2009 figures have not been released yet by Diamond. The tables report Diamond's Top 300 comics from each month, as well as the number of copies ordered by its approximately 3,000 retail accounts; the figures represent final orders beginning in February 2003, and preorders before that. Since many comics reappear on the list several times due to reorders; all reorders for the same comics were combined to form a listing of the 300 comic books most ordered by retailers in the 2000s.

The ten comic books with the most comics shop orders in the decade are as follows:

1) Amazing Spider-Man #583
    Jan-09 • Marvel • at least 524,914 copies ordered

2) Civil War #2
    Jun-06 • Marvel • at least 341,856 copies ordered

3) Civil War #3
    Jul-06 • Marvel • at least 337,025 copies ordered

4) Civil War #1
    May-06 • Marvel • at least 328,524 copies ordered

5) Captain America #25
    Mar-07 • Marvel • at least 317,713 copies ordered

6) Civil War #4
    Sep-06 • Marvel • at least 290,994 copies ordered

7) Civil War #5
    Nov-06 • Marvel • at least 283,863 copies ordered

8) All Star Batman & Robin #1
    Jul-05 • DC • at least 276,017 copies ordered

9) Civil War #7
    Feb-07 • Marvel • at least 274,451 copies ordered

10) Infinite Crisis #1
    Oct-05 • DC • at least 269,991 copies ordered


These figures are for the comic book direct market only — the network of comic book stores that sell the lion's share of comic books in periodical form in North America. Sales of these comics on newsstands or by subscription are not included. But quite a lot of information is revealed in this data. All the Top 10 comics of the decade topped the quarter-million copy mark, and all the Top 300 of the decade topped the 100,000-copy mark. Notably, all ten top comic books come from the second half of the decade, underlining the degree to which the industry recovered from its turn-of-the-century nadir.

Apart from the inauguration day commemorative issue of Spider-Man which set off a collecble frenzy early in 2009 with its multiple variants and reprintings (you can see some of the versions, and what they're going for, here), the top of the list is dominated by Marvel's Civil War, a limited series that served as the anchor for the decade's most popular linewide cross-over event. (Civil War #6 is the only issue not to make the Top 10, and that placed 11th.) Civil War #2 and #3 nudged past Civil War #1, reflecting that retailers had seen demand on the series' first issue and had time to boost their orders for later issues. Reorders and reprintings of Civil War #1 continued to sell throughout the year, however, and the issue made Diamond's Top 300 chart in seven consecutive months. The same thing happened with DC's Infinite Crisis #1.


It's possible that Civil War #1 did indeed surpass the later issues, because the figures cited above only account for the sales of issues in the months in which they made Diamond's Top 300 list. The bottom item on the list varied throughout the decade, as seen here, so sometimes it took several thousand copies sold for an item to reappear on the list. As noted, much of Civil War #1's sales life cycle is represented on the table, but there are bound to be months for all titles where reorders for them were "bubbling under" the Top 300 and thus out of sight for tracking purposes.

Only five publishers are represented in the Top 300 list for the decade. Marvel had the most entries, 186; DC had 102 comics on the list. Dreamwave had seven entries, all Transformers issues from that company's brief time on the shelves. Transformers: Armada #1 placed highest, at 128th. Dark Horse had three issues on the list, all from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season 8. #1 was Dark Horse's top performer on the chart, at 111th place. Image had two issue on the chart, led by Spawn #100 in 137th place. No other publisher pops up until Dynamite, with Red Sonja #1 landing around the 1,200th place mark. Archie shows up with its 600th issue landing around 3,000th place, and IDW also makes its first appearance in the 3,000s.

Note that since December 2009 isn't in yet, these rankings could change slightly; certainly, Blackest Night issues will move further up the list. The first issue is already up to 29th with reorders reported by Diamond to date. Looking at what we have, though, we can easily see where the strength is in the decade by looking at the number of Decade Top 300 entries by year:

2000: 5
2001: 22
2002: 16
2003: 23
2004: 40
2005: 41
2006: 63
2007: 58
2008: 19
2009: 13


Not unexpectedly, the hits cluster right around the Big Event heyday, the period that gave us Civil War and Infinite Crisis. There was also the weekly 52 phenomenon, which added many entries.

One reason comics from the early decade are less represented is that before January 2003, Diamond did not report reorders, so those issues are at a disadvantage. However, looking at known reorder rates from when Diamond did begin publishing the data, reorders are unlikely to shuffle the list dramatically. The industry was still coming out of the seven-year recession of the 1990s, and few titles were selling over 100,000 copies.

Items on the table are listed in the months in which they first made the Diamond chart — following the links to the individual months' pages shows what those comics sold initially, since later reorders pop up in the months that follow. It's interesting to see what months had the most hits:

January: 20
February: 17
March: 20
April: 23
May: 36
June: 34
July: 34
August: 29
September: 25
October: 17
November: 20
December: 25


Comic books have historically been a summer-dominated business, and while that is reflected here, there's a more even distribution than we might have found in previous decades. Hits, increasingly, can happen in any season, providing strong enough material is slated for it.

A few more words about what's on the list — and what isn't. Orders for variant editions and reprintings of comic books were combined if those versions were essentially the same product — that is, same physical configuration, same interior, and same cover price. This rolls up most of the snap-reprintings into the same entry, but disallows items like "Director's Cuts" or the Marvel Must-Have editions, which are in many respects distinct products.

And, importantly, the list above focuses on comic books sold at full, and not promotional, prices. The Diamond lists have, in the past, included a number of comic books offered below publisher cost: Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #60, priced at 9¢, had preorders of 752,700 copies in August 2002. There are many such examples of free or promotionally priced comics; Diamond made the decision a few years ago to no longer list low-priced comics, and that move has been followed with this list to guarantee comparisons of like items.


Since comics shops are the focus of this list, it also does not include a number of other highly circulated comics. Gears of War #1 didn't make the Top 10,000 comics of the decade in comics shops, but it garnered attention for its strong circulation through game stores in 2008. Unfortunately, as with newsstand sales, not a lot of specific numbers are available from the video game trade; and much circulation in outside channels is promotional, rather than sold. (In the Gears case, Gamestop managers reported offering it as a giveaway to customers preordering video games, but it's unclear what portion of circulation free or "bonus" copies represented.) The game market is a new channel with comics circulating in a number of different manners (for disclosure purposes, I note my own Mass Effect: Redemption #1 has a variant in January's Mass Effect 2 Collector's Edition) but it is as yet unclear how to integrate this sector's information for purposes of comparison, were it to become available.

Again, this is only for the comics shops — and because not all reorders make the list every month, any decade ranking released by Diamond would differ somewhat. And as this is a periodical ranking, it doesn't get into the sector that brought the most new money into the business in the 2000s, bound collected editions and graphic novels. But it's an interesting snapshot. How do the 2000s compare with other decades for comics? Probably not spectacularly — only a handful of the charting issues would make a similar chart for the speculator-mad 1990s. But, as just noted, comics are not just about periodical sales any more, with stories reaching readers in more ways than ever.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Flashbacks to the Past: November 2009

by John Jackson Miller

Following the report on comics orders for November 2009, here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...


November 2008's top seller was Marvel's Ultimatum #1, with first-month orders through Diamond Comic Distributors of approximately 114,200 copies. It was the slowest month of the year, unit-sales wise; Marvel's Secret Invasion had ended the month before. Perhaps bigger news was that comics were more expensive in November 2008 than in any month in history to that point. The average comic book offered in Diamond’s Top 300 comics had a cover price of $3.50, beating the previous record (itself only a month old) by 12 cents.

November marked a number of changes from Diamond in its reporting, as the company began releasing Top 10 lists several days before the larger data rollout; it also began listing the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks for the first time, bringing that list into parity with the comics list. Check out the detailed analysis of the month's sales here — and sales chart here.


November 2004's top-seller was DC's Superman/Batman #13, another of the new Supergirl issues, with first-month orders of nearly 158,000 copies. With Identity Crisis and "Avengers Disassembled" still running, aggregate periodical sales were slightly up over the previous year; trade paperbacks, however, were significantly down (much like November 2009). Check out the sales chart here.

November 1999's top-seller was Image's Tomb Raider #1, ending the ten-month run of Uncanny X-Men in the top slot. Lara Croft's comics debut had first-month preorders through Diamond of more than 189,400 copies.

A different video game, however, was driving most of the new traffic to specialty stores: The Pokémon Trading Card game fad was near its absolute peak. (Personal note: In the middle of the month, Krause Publications, recognizing the craze, purchased Scrye magazine, naming me editor.) Retailer Garrett Anderson, manager of A-F Books of Tinley Park, Illinois, told Comics Retailer magazine that questions about the game had worn him out. "I long for the days when the typical question was something like, 'Who would win in a fight, Flash or The Hulk?" he said. "Still, it's better than 'What's a good comic book to buy that will one day be valuable enough to pay for my kids' college bills?'"

Check out the November 1999 sales chart here.


November 1994 had a consensus top-seller at Diamond and at Capital City Distribution: the deluxe version of Marvel's X-Men #40. Capital's orders were 95,575 copies; overall sales of the issue, including newsstand and subscription copies, were in the mid-300,000s.

Again, the big news story in most comics shops wasn't comics, but Pokémon's trading-card game precursor Magic: The Gathering. The beginning of the end of the initial craze had begun, with the November release of the Fallen Empires expansion — a bomb with most players, and, as the first set with widespread mass-market distribution, the first where supply was sufficient to fill all orders. Retailers who had over-ordered speculating they would only get a small allocation found themselves buried under product. (One, accustomed to receiving only 10% of his Magic orders, ordered 550 display boxes, ten times what he needed — only to receive them all, at a loss to him of tens of thousands of dollars.)


November 1989's top seller was Legends of the Dark Knight #3, with orders of 126,900 copies at Capital City. Overall orders were likely over half a million copies. The buzz had faded somewhat from the speculator summer (first of a series); Capital reported in its magazine that "the fall of 1989 seems to be developing as a period of a 'soft fall landing' for the comics market after extremely robust growth.'"

While Legends had the numbers, more money was definitely brought in by the first Elseworlds title, Gotham by Gaslight. At $3.95, the squarebound title with art by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell had orders of nearly 100,000 copies at Capital alone.

Finally, November 1984's top comic book was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #11, marking eleven straight months with the limited series in the top slot.


November 2009 comics sales help market close gap with 2008

by John Jackson Miller


Comic book orders in direct market gained some ground in November, led by strength in the periodical market, according to The Comics Chronicles analysis of data released by Diamond Comic Distributors. The estimates appear here.

This is the first month for we can do year-to-year comparisons on the full Top 300 Trade Paperbacks, which Diamond began reporting last November, and we see from them that trade paperback orders  were down considerably — but the periodical market made up for it. Last November was the weakest month of the year in Top 300 Unit Sales — many important titles being delayed until December — so this year’s performance looked that much better by comparison. This November also included DC’s rings promotion for Blackest Night, tying ring purchases to orders on specific titles.

Overall, the direct market to date in 2009 is running just slightly behind 2008 — we’re down $3 million for the entire year, or less than 1%. The gap was more than $5 million last month, so ground has been closed. However, as noted, December 2008 was a blockbuster, with many delayed titles shipping along with regular monthly issues, so it seems unlikely that the industry will close much ahead.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
November 2009: 6.15 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +7%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -8%
YEAR TO DATE: 68.57 million copies, -7% vs. 2008, +1% vs. 2004, -4% vs. 1999

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
November 2009: $21.56 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +12%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +16%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +23%
YEAR TO DATE: $213.81 million, -1% vs. 2008, +21% vs. 2004, +27% vs. 1999

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2009: $6.12 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -29%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +10%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +54%
YEAR TO DATE: $72.4 million; -17% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2009: $27.68 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: unchanged
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +15%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +25%
YEAR TO DATE: $295.11 million; -4% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
November 2009: $34.95 million ($38.9 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +21%
YEAR TO DATE: $393.8 million, -1% vs. 2008, +32% vs. 2004

Chew Volume 1: Taster's ChoiceChew Vol. 1 was the top-selling trade paperback.

Diamond also released a Top 50 Small Publisher list that added a number of data points, down to Archie in 359th place. The inclusion of 21 additional comics adds 39,000 units to the list, selling for $136,000. These have been included in my charts, but not counted toward Top 300 sales for comparison purposes. However, it does give us a good look at what portion of comics sales are "bubbling under" the Top 300 list, a topic explored previously here.

The 359th place title had direct market orders of around 1,260 comics, less than half that of the 300th place title. These extra data points show a sales slope that drops fairly sharply beneath 300th place — and we can infer that if Diamond’s list were 20% longer, going to 360th place, this month it would have added around 117,500 comics sold, for around $410,000. That’s slightly less than 2% of the value of the Top 300 — so unless the “long tail” for comics is incredibly long (something Diamond’s changed stocking practices would seem to make less likely) the Top 300 really does seem to capture the vast majority of new comics orders. Interestingly, these 21 comics past 300th place are right at the average price for all comics Diamond sells, something we wouldn’t have expected a few years ago. Many of the issues are lower-priced Archies — and only one of the issues is priced higher than $3.99 (Archaia’s Secret History Book 6).

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.51; the average comic ordered cost $3.50. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $3.25. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300.

While the direct market is close to flat for the year versus 2008, it is up 32% versus 2004. What’s the role of inflation? The Consumer Price Index has increased 14.5% since 2004, meaning that either we’re selling more units in aggregate, or the average item sold is more expensive by a rate far exceeding inflation. Top 300 Comics unit sales are, as noted above, up 1% year to date versus the same period in 2004, whereas the dollar value of those comics is up 21%. The price of the average comic book retailers sold in 2009 is $3.42, as compared with $2.86 in 2004. That’s an increase of 19.5%. So it’s true that inflation is contributing to part of that increase — but not all. Increased trade paperback sales account for the rest of the jump versus 2004.

Note also that the selection of years for comparison is important in looking at inflation; there are stretches in which price increases in comics have not kept up with the change in CPI, and so sometimes what appears to be an outpacing of inflation is actually the product catching up with other categories. Starting from 1999 prices, CPI predicts a comics price today of $3.36 — much closer to the actual average. Comics pricing increased slower than the pace of inflation in the stretch from 1999-2004.

The monthly Flashbacks column will follow shortly.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Comics in serial form: Necessary and vital

by John Jackson Miller

Tilting at WindmillsIt's been a long time since the days when I was editing Brian Hibbs' Tilting at Windmills column every month for Comics Retailer magazine, but I wanted to direct readers to this month's internet installment, which includes an analysis of the reasons why the comic book periodical is and remains a necessary component to the North American comics publishing industry.

Some of these are points that have been raised here and elsewhere for a long time, having to do with how comics are produced, and the limitations of a graphic-novel only strategy; Brian compiles them in a compelling analysis that also takes in the manga comparison. Were this 1999, this'd get a cover blurb!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Diamond releases Top 300 lists for November 2009

by John Jackson Miller
Diamond Comic Distributors has released the Top 300 Comics and Trade Paperback lists for November 2009, as well as the full Market Shares; they can be found now on Comichron pending our calculations of our estimates. As discussed here earlier, the full range of data required to calculate Overall Sales and other statistics is not usually available until midmonth.

Still, the lists give us some details to work with, including a larger-than-usual number of entries after the Top 300. Diamond released a table with the Top 50 comics for publishers with market shares less than 1%; that resulted in some additional data points.

The average price of comics offered in the Top 300 was $3.51; the average weighted price (that is, the average comic book that retailers ordered) in the Top 300 was $3.50. The average comic book in the top 25 cost $3.55. The median comics price in the Top 300 was $3.50; the most common cover price of comics in the Top 300 was $2.99.

Estimates coming soon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

November 2009: DC takes seven of Top 10 slots

Diamond Comic Distributors appears to have shaved a full week off of its process when it comes to starting the rollout of sales information; as with last month, we have the actual order rankings almost immediately. Diamond is also back to rolling out just the Top 10 Comics and Trade Paperbacks this time with the full list to follow; click to see the charts for November 2009.

Blackest Night #5 helped DC again dominate the highest part of the top-sellers list for comics; only Captain America Reborn #4 in third from Marvel kept DC from repeating last month's feat of taking the top six slots. Five of the Top 10 comics ordered by retailers were priced at $2.99, five at $3.99. (They very nearly alternate!)

The unit shares and dollar shares show the same companies in the top seven slots: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Dynamic Forces (Dynamite) and Boom.

Image's Chew, a $9.99 collection, led the trade paperbacks list. It seems likely that one of the $20 volumes below it on the list will have a higher dollar contribution, but that determination will have to wait for the order index numbers.

Probably the most interesting thing about November 2009's data release, when it all becomes available, is in that trade paperbacks list. It was in November 2008 that Diamond first began publishing its Top 300 Trades, rather than its Top 100. Until now, this year, all year-to-year comparisons have been for the truncated Top 100 lists, but now we'll be able to see a one-to-one (or, rather, a 300-to-300) comparison. My guess, given what we've seen in the Overall estimates, is that the Top 300s for this year have tended to come in slightly below last year dollar-wise, but we'll have to see.

Diamond will release its full Top 300s with its order index numbers next — probably early next week if the pattern holds. As explained here before, because of the earlier release, it is not possible to obtain all the needed corroborating data immediately to generate the sales estimates and aggregated overall estimates that we do here on The Comics Chronicles; those tend to become available mid-month, as the individual publishers get their final actual sales reports.

However, as always, we'll publish the estimate-less rankings when they become available and update as we have more information. Be sure to get our RSS feed and sign up for updates on Twitter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

October 2009: Flashbacks to the past

Following the report on comics orders for October 2009, here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...

October 2008's top seller was Marvel's Secret Invasion #7, with first-month orders of approximately 154,600 copies in the direct market, slightly fewer than the previous issue. The midlist pushed deep this month, with the 300th place comic book selling more than 4,000 copies — resulting in what was then the best month to date in the Diamond Exclusive Era for Overall Sales, Top 300 Comics Dollar Sales, and Top Comics Plus Top Trades. The average cost per comic book in the Top 300 also set a record high. Check out the sales chart here.

October 2004's top-seller was Identity Crisis #5, with first-month orders of more than 125,500 copies. Initial orders for the Top 300 Comics were actually off more in October 2004 than they were in October 2009; a 20% drop. One part of it was that no issue of Avengers came out; Marvel had released two in September and would release two in November. Check out the sales chart here.

October 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #375, a $2.99 special issue with preorders of approximately 114,900 copies in the direct market. This ended a ten-month run for Uncanny as the top title; a stretch in which nothing else major was really going on. The big news of the month, though, was the Sandman: The Dream Hunters hardcover, which had preorders of more than 18,000 copies at $29.95, one of the earlier graphic novel releases to top the half-million dollar mark at full retail in preorders. Check out the October 1999 sales chart here.

October 1994 had a split decision atop the comics charts. Capital's list had the deluxe version of X-Men #39 in first, with Spawn #19 and #20 in second and third; Diamond's list had a complete reversal of the three positions, with Spawn #20 selling 5% more copies than the identically priced X-Men issue. Newsstand draws and for X-Men were likely higher, and it had subscription sales in the mix as well, so it likely gets the nod. Capital's orders for X-Men #39 were 94,850 copies; overall sales of the issue, including newsstand and subscription copies, were in the mid-300,000s.

Interestingly, in October 1994, the fastest-moving thing in most comics shops was not comics at all, but Magic: The Gathering, which was at the peak of its initial wave of popularity with recently released Legends display boxes going for four times suggested retail price.

October 1989's top seller at Capital City Distribution was Legends of the Dark Knight #2, edging out Batman #442, which cost fifty cents less and featured the first appearance of the Tim Drake Robin. It's probable that including newwstand sales and subscriptions, that regular Batman issue might have nosed into first; Capital's Legends #2 sales were 155,650 copies, while Batman #442 had Capital orders of 152,450 copies. It's a fair bet that with the newsstand bias toward less-expensive and ongoing titles (and the fact that Batman took at least a couple thousand subscribers into 1989), that issue may have been the true #1 book marketwide. Orders overall for the two issues overall were likely in the 600,000-copy neighborbood.

It's notable that the trade paperback was already beginning to make a market impact; the cover feature of the October 1989 Capital City Internal Correspondence magazine dealt with the increasing backlist. "We're reordering books in quantities I never thought possible," said Capital co-founder John Davis.

Finally, October 1984's top comic book was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #10, marking ten straight months with the limited series in the top slot. The third-place title may have actually been the second-place title in dollar volume: DC's Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #1.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

October 2009 comics orders slammed; market off slightly for year

The estimates of Diamond Comic Distributors orders for October 2009 are online here at The Comics Chronicles, and they point to a down month across the board, with double-digit losses in all categories.

There was a particularly steep drop of 30% in dollar orders for the Top 100 Trade Paperbacks; DC had Watchmen and a heavily ordered Joker hardcover last October. Comparatives were tough on the comics side, too, with issues of Secret Invasion and Final Crisis topping the charts last October. Dark Avengers is, thus far, not playing the same kind of regular chart-dominating role that we saw Marvel’s stand-alone "event hub" limited series (Civil War, Secret Invasion) playing in recent years. DC, however, is getting mileage from Blackest Night, which helped it take the top six slots on the chart for what is, as suggested here earlier, likely the first time since 1968.

There was also much more strength further down the charts last year; the 300th place comic book had orders of around 4,230 copies last October, versus around 2,711 copies this year. This October only had four shipping weeks, versus five last year; the fifth-week effect tends to be an amplifier, allowing an extra high-traffic day for titles releasing in the month as well as increasing the probability that a title will be available for shipping in a given month in the first place.

It all added up, again, to a decidedly rough month — with all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazine dollar orders at Diamond down 19%. Still, while this month sent the year-to-date total back into the red, it is only just so — less than $5 million in orders separates this year and last. And the industry is still a full third larger than it was five years ago. While prospects for a flat or slightly up year are looking less likely, the industry would not be down by that much for the year even if November and December followed October’s track.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
October 2009: 6.20 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -18%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -4%
YEAR TO DATE: 62.42 million copies, -5% vs. 2008, +2% vs. 2004, -4% vs. 1999

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
October 2009: $21.47 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -14%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +26%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +24%
YEAR TO DATE: $213.81 million, -2% vs. 2008, +22% vs. 2004, +28% vs. 1999

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
October 2009: $5.92 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -30%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +66%
YEAR TO DATE: $66.28 million; down 12% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
October 2009: $27.39 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -17%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +19%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +26%
YEAR TO DATE: $280.05 million; down 5% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
October 2009: $34.19 million ($37.94 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +23%
YEAR TO DATE: $358.85 million, -1% vs. 2008, +33% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.53; the average comic ordered cost $3.46. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $3.25. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300.

The monthly flashback column, looking at past Octobers, will be along soon. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First since 1968: DC takes Top 6 slots in October

In one of the earliest releases of such data since Final Orders began being reported in 2003, Diamond Comic Distributors released its Top 300 Comics, Trade Paperbacks, and Market Share data today — releasing the full tables in addition to the usual advance announcement. With the release so early — and my own schedule playing a role — the Comics Chronicles estimates will be along a good deal later, but the charts for October are now online here.

They show something that hasn't happened in comics in a very long time — by my count, at least 40 years: DC swept the top of the list with the six-best selling comic books of the month, as ordered by retailers. Blackest Night again led the market, its fourth issue taking the top spot.

Marvel has taken the top six slots many times in the decade of the 2000s; in January 2005, it took the top thirteen slots. But DC's performance immediately stands out. The company has not taken the Top 6 in the entire Diamond Exclusive Era — and going further back shows few recent opportunities for it to have done so. While I have not scoured every month going backwards, the most obvious candidate was April 1993, when the return of Superman began in the line; the top five titles were Adventures of Superman, Action, Superman, another issue of Adventures, and Superman: Man of Steel. But in both the Diamond and Capital lists, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 from Valiant took the sixth spot.

That sends us back to 1968, when DC had seven of the top eight comic books — and as Archie wasn't out every month, there may have been months when DC had the top six titles on the racks. Certainly, it had the Top 6 in months of 1966, when DC published 11 of the Top 12 comics and, again, the other ranking title, Archie, was only out nine times a year.

Of course, in that era, we're not looking at the same statistic; we're looking at overall sales, including newsstand, as opposed to direct market sales, which is what the Diamond chart represents. In the case of October 2009, it is possible that Marvel's newsstand and subscription sales on its higher-ranking titles might change the ranking somewhat. But as a direct market phenomenon, this appears to be a first for DC.

Marvel still led in overall unit and dollar market shares, though by a narrower margin than sometimes seen recently; Marvel had 98 comics in the Top 300, to DC's 96. Only 19 publishers were represented in the Top 300.

On the cover price front, the average cover price of comics offered in the Top 300 moved to $3.53, a new record high by three cents; the average weighted price of comics ordered was $3.46. The average cover price of comics in the Top 25 was $3.35. The median cover price in the Top 300 moved up a notch to $3.25; the most common cover price in the Top 300 remained at $2.99.

More estimates later. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Superman sales, 1960-1987... and 50 years of Statements of Ownership

By request — and finding that I had almost all of them — I have posted all the circulation data published in the main Superman title beginning in 1960 and running until DC stopped publishing sales data in 1987. By that time, the series had transformed into Adventures of Superman; it may appear to be information for two titles, but as far as the Postal Service regulations were concerned, it's all one series. (It recently changed back to Superman with #650, another restoration of a legacy title's historic numbering.)

Superman, we see in the yearly tables, was the #1 title for several years in the 1960s — and probably in 1963-64 as well, years in which DC published Statements with no sales figures. While the Statement of Ownership period at DC is only a chunk of the title's long history, I include a little bit about estimated sales before 1960 and after 1987. Everything from 1996 on can be found in the monthly sales charts here on site.

The Superman file is nearly complete; while I have numbers from 1960 and 1961, I do still want to see copies of the actual Statements for 1960 and 1961. (1961 is in #151; 1960's is probably in #143 or thereabouts.) If you locate these Statements, drop me a line. There are also ones without numbers from the 1940s and 1950s; those would be interesting to see just to add their issue numbers to the database.

And on the subject, it's that time again: Statements of Ownership for 2009 sales are now appearing in comic books offered by Periodical Class subscription. This means most ongoing titles from Marvel, Archie (including digests), and odd other titles including Mad. DC, Dark Horse, and Image titles do not publish Statements.

I'm gathering many of these on my own as usual, but if you find some and want to help, send clean scans (as well as the issue number and cover date of the series you find the Statement in) to me at jjm [at] comichron.com. Just the numbers will work, too, but note that I need the figures in every field — and, importantly, only the numbers for the average for the year; the figures for "issue closest to filing date" do not account for full returns and are not useful.

This is the fiftieth year for which sales figures will be available in Statements; in Archie, we'll soon have all 50 years!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

September 2009 comics sales: Back in positive territory

The third quarter held good news for the comics industry, with September’s five-week month boosting overall retailer orders of comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines into positive territory for 2009. Click to see the estimates for the month.

Direct-market retailers ordered about $6 million more worth of comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines from Diamond Comic Distributors than in last September; we’re ahead of last year overall by about $3 million, so this is the month that made the difference. We see resilience particularly in unit sales within the top-selling comic books list: The Top 300 is back over 7 million copies again, a 4% increase over the same month last year and a 12% increase in dollar terms.

Trade paperbacks remained just slightly off within the Top 100, but the industry is ahead for the year once the Top 300 comic books are added to the total.

The figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
September 2009: 7.05 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +4%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: unchanged
Q3 2009: 20.84 million copies, -1% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: 56.22 million copies, -7% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
September 2009: $24.57 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +12%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +23%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +33%
Q3 2009: $72.05 million, +12% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: $192.33 million, -1% vs. 2008

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
September 2009: $7.19 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -2%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +31%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +40%
Q3 2009: $21.27 million, -10% vs. 2008 when comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
YEAR TO DATE: $60.36 million; down 9% when just comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
September 2009: $31.76 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +10%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +24%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +33%
Q3 2009: $93.32 million, +3% vs. 2008 when comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
YEAR TO DATE: $252.66 million; down 2% when just comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
September 2009: $41.01 million ($45.16 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +34%
Q3 2009: $118.75 million, +4% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: $324.66 million, +1% vs. 2008, +35% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.44; the average comic ordered cost $3.48. It’s unusual for the weighted price to be higher than the average price offered; this comes from the heaviest-selling comics being priced more expensively. Indeed, we see that the average price of the top 25 comics is $3.55. $2.99 is still both the median and the most common cover price for comics in Diamond’s Top 300.

What are the direct market’s chances for an up year in 2009? Last October was very strong, while last November was relatively weak. December was big, but not as big as October. We’re looking at an average of 7 million comic books a month just to stay even in the Top 300, meaning we need this September’s performance every month. We’re probably not going to wind up with more Top 300 comics unit sales this year unless we manage 8 million-plus a month; however, we’re well positioned for the Top 300 comics to end up ahead in dollar terms. Overall, my projection is for total orders to wind up around $430-445 million range; that’s a range that includes last year’s sales of $436.6 million. So without a serious collapse or explosion, we’re looking at an essentially flat year in dollar terms. We might be a point or two ahead or behind at most — which in 2009, seems like better news than we might have expected.

Looking back at what came before, we find one major landmark two decades ago...

September 2008's top seller was Marvel's Secret Invasion #6, with first-month orders of approximately 164,400 copies in the direct market, slightly fewer than the previous issue. Notably this month, Marvel topped 50% in the Final Unit Sales Market Shares for the first time since Diamond began printing final market shares. Check out the sales chart here.

September 2004's top-seller was Superman/Batman #12, beating out titles in a month that included Identity Crisis and "Avengers Disassembled" with final orders through Diamond of 139,500 copies. It was a month with sizable increases year-over-year across several categories. Check out the sales chart here.

September 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #374, with preorders of approximately 110,700 copies in the direct market. It wasn't as bad a month as some we'd seen in 1999; dollar preorders for the Top 300 comics were even slightly up in a month that included DC's weekly Day of Judgment.

Again like I mentioned last month, the number of copies preordered of the Top 300 comics in September 1999 was almost identical to the number of copies ordered in September 2009. But it is important to note that does not mean that comics' reach is unchanged this decade; completely apart from the 33% more money that retailers received for that same number of comics in 2009, the market now includes something it didn't have in 1999: millions more trade paperbacks, circulating through comics shops and through mainstream bookstores where comics weren't as prominent back then. Check out the September 1999 sales chart here.

September 1994 was ruled by a comic book with a cover price that looks right at home 15 years later: Marvel's Generation X #1, priced at $3.95. With a shiny wraparound cover, it was the top seller at both Diamond and Capital City Distribution, where it had orders of 124,200 copies. Overall sales were probably closer to half a million copies. It was an auspicious beginning, and Generation X would continue its run for several years, even inspiring a TV movie just a couple of years later — remarkably quickly, as media moved back then.

Considering that the #2 comic book, Spawn #25, cost less than half as much and still sold 10% fewer copies, the performance of Generation X #1 seems even more remarkable.

September 1989's top seller at Capital City, Diamond, and probably everywhere else was a landmark comic book: Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #1, which I regard as the official beginning of the early 1990s comics boom. The first issue was so heavily ordered by retailers that DC, according to Maggie Thompson, grew concerned that retailers wouldn't be able to absorb the huge volume of copies they ordered. The publisher then spread the shipments out across four weeks, sheathing the issues in four different colored cover wraps — inadvertently providing fuel to the "variant cover" craze that followed.

Capital's initial orders were astonishing for that day and time: 216,050 copies, meaning that with other distributors and the newsstand, LOTDK #1 is likely the first million-copy seller for the comics market in several years — perhaps even since the 1977 issues of Star Wars.

Incidentally, not one of the four pastel-wrapped versions (which our collecting circle referred to as "the Crayola-covers: salmon, periwinkle, raw umber, and flesh") is worth more than any other today on the secondary market. My own survey of eBay five years ago found 70 copies in a one-day search.

Finally, September 1984's top comic book was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #9, known colloquially as "the issue after the Spider-costume one."

This report begins my fourteenth consecutive year of Diamond estimates; more to come, both looking back and ahead, in the future.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Top comics for September 2009

Just back from Baltimore Comicon and the Diamond Retailer Summit, where it was great to talk about the industry with a lot of very smart people — including the folks that have generated the sales charts studied here for years. And the beat goes on — with the rollout of Top 10 lists and market shares for September 2009.

As the charts behind the link show, it was basically a static month at the very top of the list: Blackest Night #3 was the top seller, the series repeating in the top spot. The order of the next three was also identical to August 2009, with the September issues of Captain America: Reborn, Batman and Robin, and Green Lantern reprising their rankings from the month before. The $4.99 Wolverine Giant-Size issue was the top debut, at fifth place.

The trade paperback list was led by the fifth Buffy Season Eight trade. The seventh DMZ trade ranked in third place; I had a nice conversation with series creator Brian Wood at Baltimore, who has raised many good points online about the things that the Diamond charts don't capture. As I've mentioned here many times before, the fine print's here on the site for a reason — and it's always good to remember what the charts are and what they aren't.

The detailed figures and my estimates should be along soon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Diamond Summit

If the Diamond September sales figures are released over the next several days, it'll take a while to get to them — as I'll be heading to the source, attending the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore. I'm a featured guest for Dark Horse Comics, promoting Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and our 2010 Mass Effect series), and will at booth #205-206 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday. My last Diamond event was its retailer roadshow back in late 1995 following all the distribution changes — and my last retailer event was probably the last San Diego Expo in 2001 (I think), so it'll be really good to see everyone again!

Before that, I'll be at Baltimore Comicon — no set schedule, but I'm sure you can find me at the Dark Horse booth (#1503) from time to time. Be sure to drop by!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

August 2009: Flashbacks to the past

Continuing our look at what came before August 2009, we find some interesting landmarks...

August 2008's top seller was Marvel's Secret Invasion #5, with first-month orders of approximately 165,900 copies in the direct market, a few thousands copies less than the previous issue. Check out the sales chart here.

August 2004's top-seller was Astonishing X-Men #4, beating out the third issue of Identity Crisis with final orders through Diamond in August of 145,600 copies. It was a very strong month overall, with double-digit increases year-over-year across several categories. Check out the sales chart here.

August 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #373, with preorders of approximately 116,300 copies in the direct market. It just got worse and worse for the direct market in the summer of 1999, with percentage drops in all categories. Interestingly, the number of copies of the Top 300 comics preordered that month, 6.77 million, is identical to the figure for ten years later, August 2009. However, the August 2009 comics had a retail value 31% higher, showing clearly the effect of cover prices. Check out the sales chart here.

August 1994 was "Zero Month" in the DC Universe, with titles publishing #0 issues in the wake of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time the month before. The top "zero issue" took fifth place at Diamond, Batman #0. The top seller for the month was another split decision between the two distributors, with X-Men #37 on top at Capital City Distribution and Spawn #24 leading the list at Diamond. The top seller between the two is likely the X-Men issue, given its stronger newsstand presence and its subscription base; notably, as well, this is the period when Marvel was producing both $2.95 "deluxe" editions and $1.50 regular versions of its X-titles. It's the enhanced version that's ranked #1: Capital City alone sold 106,800 copies of the issue, bringing total sales across all channels were probably closer to half a million copies.

August 1989's top seller at Capital City was Batman #440, the first part of "A Lonely Place of Dying," the storyline notable for introducing Tim Drake as a replacement Robin. "Lonely Place" gave DC an opportunity to really capitalize on the attention following the release of Tim Burton's Batman film, which was still in theaters in August; Capital City's preorders on the issue were 122,550 copies, putting the true total in the 500-600,000-copy range.

Finally, August 1984's top comic book was one of the most famous comic books of the 1980s, Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #8. Many of the changes in Secret Wars didn't last for very long. The change to the black Spider-Man costume introduced in this issue lasted longer than some, making the first issue of the regular series with the costume a modest collectible in its day.

And while that change, too, was reversed, the costume's real legacy involves the character Venom, spawned years later.

Monday, September 28, 2009

August 2009 comics sales remain steady

The sales estimates for August 2009 are now online here; thanks for your patience. August with its four ship weeks managed to look a lot like July with its five, which in recession-ese means "steady as she goes" once again.

The dollar value of all Marvels ordered in the Top 300 Comics and Top 300 Trades was, in fact, almost identical to July’s figure — within a couple of hundred dollars! DC’s performance was very close, as well, slightly beating its July total thanks to the performance of Blackest Night. DC took four of the top 10 slots on the periodical charts.

Dollar sales of the Top 300 trade paperbacks slipped again, off 16% against a very hard comparative month: Watchmen's re-release moved more than 43,000 copies in August 2008.
But combined Top 300 comics and Top 300 trades were up by 1%. Basically, the top comics made up the million dollars the top trades lost. The overall figure is close to flat versus last year for the third month in a row.

There continue to be many more heavily-discounted trades moving through the system this year than last; as in previous recent months, adjustments have been made to the overall estimate to retain as much of an apples-versus-apples comparison as is possible. Slightly more merchandise value at cover price entered the direct market than the $36.15 million figure indicates.

While sales of a number of mainstream titles are finding new lows, in aggregate, unit sales for the Top 300 comics are comfortably ahead of where they were five years ago — and far ahead in dollar terms.

Notable this month is one of the highest rankings of Archie in the direct market age, with its landmark 600th issue (and marriage storyline) landing in 35th place. Archie's overall sales are always understated by the Diamond tables, since it has significant newsstand sales; it's unclear what impact the anniversary issue will have on its newsstand draws, so it's difficult to say how many copies will be in circulation. Of course, Comichron followers know we need only go back forty years this year to find Archie as the #1 title in comics!

The figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
August 2009: 6.77 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +8%
Versus 10 years ago this month: unchanged
YEAR TO DATE: 49.17 million copies, -8% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
August 2009: $23.3 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +5%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +30%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +31%
YEAR TO DATE: $167.76 million, -2% vs. 2008

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
August 2009: $6.73 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -16%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +18%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +54%
YEAR TO DATE: $53.17 million; down 10% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
August 2009: $30.03 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +1%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +28%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +33%
YEAR TO DATE: $220.9 million; down 4% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
August 2009: $36.15 million ($39.9 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: down less than 1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +31%
YEAR TO DATE: $283.65 million, -1% vs. 2008, +35% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.45; the average comic ordered cost $3.44. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $2.99. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300.

The historical look back at Augusts past will follow in a later post. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Diamond Top 300 lists for August: Prices steady

Diamond Comic Distributors rolled out the full charts for sales of its Top 300 Comic Books and Trade Paperbacks to retailers today; it will be a while before I have the analysis with sales estimates online, but you can see the full charts now, along with the order index numbers. Full market shares also appear; click the image at right to see the dollar shares more clearly.

A few items of note at this stage: Sales levels look at a glance to be relatively similar to last month's, but we'll have to look more closely. Cover prices for comics in the Top 300 didn't move much — the average title offered cost $3.45, with the average comic book ordered priced at $3.44. The median price for new comics offered remained at $2.99, and that was also the most common price for new comics.


The trade paperback and graphic novels list was led by the tenth Walking Dead volume and included releases from Boom and Avatar in third and sixth places (Irredeemable Vol. 1 and Franekstein's Womb respectively). Both those products are under the $10 mark, but it does appear this was the highest placement for Boom in the trade tables to date. Avatar posted an Alan Moore paperback in fourth in March.

Full sales estimates coming soon...
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