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2003 all over again

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Well, not really — but resuming the process of posting prior months of data on the site, all of the Diamond estimates for 2003 are now online, starting with January. This completes all of the months for which Diamond Final Orders are known, which Diamond Comic Distributors began releasing in February 2003.

But 2003 is interesting to look at in the present context, as it represented a lull in what had otherwise been a comeback for the comics industry. 2002 had been strong, with the industry hitting on all cylinders: The Spider-Man movie drew attention to Marvel, where the Ultimate line was developing; DC had the last part of Dark Knight Strikes Again at the start of the year, with Jim Lee's "Hush" beginning in Batman later; Dark Horse had another Star Wars movie; and Image and Dreamwave shared in a revival of interest in 1980s comics like and G.I. Joe and Transformers.

By contrast, the first half-plus of 2003 had significantly less going on. X-Men had a successful sequel, but Hulk's movie fared poorly — and the 1980s wave seemed to have exhausted itself. It really wasn't until the fall, when the finale of "Hush" combined with new entries like Marvel 1602, Superman/Batman, and the looooong-awaited JLA/Avengers that the market recovered its earlier heat, edging into positive territory for the year.

Notably in the present context, new trade paperback sales as found atop Diamond's Top Seller chart were actually down for most of 2003 and for the year overall; the periodicals pushed the year ahead (as did, likely, the trades below 50th place, which is as far as the Diamond charts went at the time). Why the top-selling trades slowed in 2003 deserves some study, but it's likely that a lack of trade-able hits at the end of 2002 and in early 2003 played a role, since we're talking about the very top of Diamond's list here. And a lot of top-sellers in 2002 were from Dreamwave — which was generally absent from the 2003 TPB tables.

The drop in sales of the Top 300 trades in February 2009 has earned some mention online, so it's worth seeing in a year like 2003 that (a) periodicals were able to close the gap that year, and (b) the slowdown in trades was an echo of what had happened in the months before it on the comic book side of things. We had a colossal month for comic books in October 2003 — and yet the trades were way off versus the year earlier. We might expect retailers were recommitting some of their trade dollars to comics — but also, trade paperback sales would be a lagging indicator reflecting a softer beginning to the year. Note that it's in December 2003, with the Hush trade release, that we begin to see the top TPB list reflecting the fall's periodical successes.

Finally, 2003 is interesting because, again, Diamond switched to reporting Final Orders, which also permitted me to begin calculating the Overall statistic I use here. But what's less remembered is that Diamond had previously released preorder charts for February, March, April, and May 2003 — the reason being that preorder tables were always published earlier, and the February Final order tables simply weren't available yet. I ran preorder numbers for each of these months; these are interesting in that they show that the preorder charts understated orders for many titles by 5-10% (because no reorders were included); they also overstated sales because they included comics that were not shipped on time (or, in some cases, ever). One day I'll get around to posting those figures, at least in synopsis, if there is interest there.


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