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Diamond 1997: One third of publishers only released a single issue

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I mentioned below a census I ran on all Diamond products that shipped in 1997; it may shed some light on the number of publishers who, at least at the beginning of the Diamond Exclusive Era, had access to the system.

Using the shipping lists and cancellation lists from every week in 1997, the staff of Comics Buyer's Guide and I calculated that Diamond had shipped 5,695 different comic books (not trades, but comic books); we also counted 391 different trade paperbacks. These are not Top 300 entries; this is everything.

Now, one of the interesting things about that calculation was the representation of publishers, and the number of issues they shipped. Those 5,695 comic books, we counted, came from exactly 500 different publishers, from A & T to Zub.

More than two-thirds, or 340 publishers, released fewer than four issues — not titles, but issues — in the year, meaning they weren't even releasing a quarterly series. And more than one-third — 169 — of the publishers only put out exactly one issue in the entire year. More than 10% of the issues Diamond released represented publishers releasing three issues or less; single-issue publishers accounted for about 2% of all items.

We weren't able to run market shares based on the whole 5,695-issue list, because we only had estimated sales for the Top 3,600 issues or so. We did find that the 32 publishers that only placed one comic book in the Top 300 all year accounted for 0.16% of Top 300 units and 0.23% of Top 300 dollars for the year. Some of those publishers probably also had issues under 300th place, but we can kind of see the numbers we're dealing with; it's possible that a third of the publishers Diamond was dealing with were producing less than 1% of its combined sales.

It would be interesting to have someone run a full count of the shipping lists for 2008, along the same lines, to see how those numbers have changed; that would add something to the discussion about independent publishers and Diamond's order minimums.

As an artistic matter, a publisher releasing a single comic book all year contributes something if the comic book is worthwhile; and looking at the list of the single-issue publishers that year does reveal a few publishers that would figure larger in later years (to say nothing of the talents being published). Meanwhile, as a financial matter, every individual issue and every different publisher any distributor handles involves expenses for the distributor. The debate about this topic centers on finding the balance between these two. Based on this old bit of research, my guess is that 1997, even as deep in the heart of the comics recession as it was, represented a very high level of access for the single-issue (or single-title) publisher relative to some other years.

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