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March 2009 in comics: Overall orders flat, down 7% YTD

Monday, April 27, 2009

The March 2009 sales estimates are now online here — later than planned due to various other projects, which also mean that some of the usual historical analysis will be staggered over the next little while as well.

Trade paperback sales (both frontlist and backlist) brought March 2009 almost equal in overall dollars to March 2008; this includes all comics, trades, and magazines Diamond sold to retailers. Only about $12,000 at full retail separated the two months, or less than one percent. However, the unit sales in the Top 300 for the month were the lowest since January 2005, and you have to go back to the first two quarters of 2001 to find lower unit sales for the quarter.

Overall, the direct market is off 7% overall for the quarter which is better than might be expected from the general economic conditions. In overall dollar sales, this quarter was still up 22% over the first quarter of 2004. Comic book retailers ordered $16 million more in comics and trades this quarter than in 2004; inflation plays some role, but not the primary one. The backlist is larger, for one thing — and comics in the low end of the Top 300 are selling more units.

On that score, as reported before, this month marked the first time that the top-seller at Diamond sold fewer than 100,000 copies (though once reorders are included, it may top that). Previously, there had been only two months with just a single title above 100k — January and February 2001. While a psychological marker and one for the records page, I find by looking across past top-seller lists that the offerings much deeper on the list (in the 200s) are selling many more copies than in earlier years; this could be attributable to line expansion at the major publishers, which gives them entries in a section of the list where they hadn’t been in the early 2000s. An analysis of how the shape of the sales charts has evolved over the years shows more — I hope to get that online in a few days.

One point on the Diamond chart equals approximately 916 copies. The historical comparisons for the month:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
March 2009: 5.32 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -13%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -16%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -18%
YEAR TO DATE: 16.57 million copies, -13% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
March 2009: $17.8 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -7%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +10%
YEAR TO DATE: $56.22 million, -6% vs. 2008

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2009: $7.09 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +32
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +35%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100: $12.69 million, up 2% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2009: $24.88 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -5%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +1%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +12%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100 TPBs: $68.91 million, -5% vs. 2008

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2009: $31.09 million ($34.15 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: unchanged (down less than 1%)
Versus 5 years ago this month: +4%
YEAR TO DATE: $91.12 million, -7% vs. 2008, +22% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.45; the average comic ordered cost $3.34.

The theory about some Diamond trade orders not making it into February by the warehouse move might be substantiated by the increase in trade paperback sales reported this month — although Watchmen and the "After Watchmen" promotion surely figure into things as well.

There is a new, experimental element in the trade paperback charts here this month. Diamond did not include its new column showing the publication months of the trades in the Top 300, so to fill the space, I ran a macro placing links to the Amazon.com pages for the trades in the list, so readers can quickly check for the current Amazon sales rankings (and find other identifying material for each title). I did not check all links by hand, but it appears that most of them found their parent title, and that Amazon has pages started on most everything in the list.

I've looked into what Amazon has available in the way of information feeds; at this time, it doesn't look possible to simply provide the live ranking data alone. Everything in the list is almost certainly available for reorder through Diamond, of course, so it's all also available through your friendly local retailer.

As noted, more to come as time becomes available.

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