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January 2009 comics sales: Big chill indeed

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Comics sales in the first month of January reverted to historical "dead quarter" form, sinking 9% in overall dollars and in Top 300 dollars — and shaving a chilling 17% off Top 300 Unit Sales. This, despite sales of the Barack Obama Amazing Spider-Man #583, which as expected came in at almost 353,000 copies across the first three printings and one initial variant. Click to see the sales charts for January.

The first printing of the Obama issue is the smallest of the three, coming in somewhat above normal sales for the title; both the second and the third printings sold more than 100,000 copies, with the second being the best-seller of the January versions. The million additional dollars came in handy, as new comics were already off by more than 1 million copies versus the previous year. The appearance of the new president may not have saved January, but it does appear to have made a major difference, particularly in areas where retailers spread awareness of the title through local media and signage.

While the issue isn't done cycling, its one-month sales were the best in comics since December 1997, and the 357,000 copies preordered of Image's Darkness #11, marketed with eleven variant covers. This month is notable for anothe record, however — the average comic book ordered by retailers cost $3.41, the highest ever. Those and other Diamond-era records can now be found on The Comics Chronicles on our new records page.

The month by the numbers:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2009: 5.62 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +9%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -8%

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2009: $19.17 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +32%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -22%

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2009: $6.2 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. just the Top 100: +8%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +54%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +110%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2009: $25.37 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -12%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +27%

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines) January 2009: $31.31 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +43%

Again, even with the Obama Spider-Man, we’re looking at a pretty heavily down month in the Top 300 comics in units — and to a lesser degree in dollars. In the context of previous Januaries, it’s worse than drops seen in the 2000s, but not as bad as the horrid drops of the 1990s. There were a number of store closures at the end of 2008 — not a large number, but not an inconsiderable one — and we can see the evidence of that in the fact that the month-to-month title drops seem to be distributed more or less uniformly. Historically, the variable with the strongest relationship to comic book circulation is almost certainly the number of outlets — but as the in-title drops in many cases exceed the percentage of the retail base that went out, that leaves plenty of room for other causes like the general economy.

And importantly, while we’ve been up against a couple of very strong January performances in the recent past, it’s worth noting that we’re still 22% above January 2006 overall.

The frontlist of the trade paperback sector did well this time around; just the Top 100 were up 8% in dollars, something that Secret Invasion and Watchmen certainly had something to do with.

Looking at the top-selling comic books in the past..

January 2008's top selller was the new Hulk #1, with orders of 133,895 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

January 2004's top-seller was Ultimate Fantastic Four #2, with orders of 126,209 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

January 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #366, with orders of 139,010 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

January 1994's top seller was X-Men Vol. 2, #30. By this time, Uncanny X-Men was usually outselling its newer sister title — but this issue was special, as it featured the wedding of Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Both Diamond and Capital City's sales charts agreed on the issue at #1, selling about 30% more than the Uncanny issue that month. Capital City alone sold 145,750 copies of the top-seller, and total sales were likely in the 800,000-copy range.

January 1989's top seller at Capital City was Uncanny X-Men #244, an issue notable for the first appearance of Jubilee. Capital City sold 71,200 copies of the issue, and archival sources available to The Comics Chronicles confirm the actual sales at 432,400 copies across all channels.

And January 1984's top comic book — at Capital and likely everywhere else — was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #1, the granddaddy (or at least older uncle) of many, many freestanding cross-over event titles to come.

(Data revised 3/29)

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