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How much of new comics sales is in the Top 300?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The April 2009 analysis is almost finished (though the tables are online already), but in looking back through the historical numbers, I found something that sheds some light on a frequently asked question: What portion of new comics sales is outside the Top 300?

The only way to know is to have a look at Diamond's entire slate of new comic books — but, of course, only indexed figures for the Top 300 Comics are made public. But in the early 1990s, Capital City Distribution was printing everything in Internal Correspondence, down to items with very small order counts — and the list didn't include reorders, so we got mostly first-time listings. In April 1994, Capital added columns for percentage of total preorders and cumulative percentage to the Top Comics list. It looked at units — and so we saw from the top of the list...

1) X-Men #33 • 1.767% of all comics units (1.77%)
2) Spawn #21 • 1.704% of all comics units (3.47%)
3) Uncanny X-Men #313 • 1.59% of all comics units (5.06%)

...that the top three books accounted for more than 5% of all new comics preorders.

Capital recorded orders for 596 new comics (!) in April 1994 — that may seem hard to believe, but such was the size of publishers' lines back then. The 301st place book was Marvel's Conan Saga #87. And while Capital occasionally mixed trade paperbacks in the list, this time it did not. So that month, we see that the unit sales break down as follows:

Top 10 comics: 13.49% of all comics preordered
Top 25 comics: 26.94% of all comics preordered
Top 50 comics: 42.2% of all comics preordered
Top 100 comics: 62.14% of all comics preordered
Top 200 comics: 84.93% of all comics preordered
Top 300 comics: 95.35% of all comics preordered
Top 400 comics: 98.66% of all comics preordered
Top 500 comics: 99.70% of all comics preordered

So we see that in a year with likely a longer tail than we have in 2009, Capital's Top 300 accounted for more than 95.35% of the comics it sold — or, put another way, only about 1 in 21 copies preordered were outside the Top 300. Capital itself observed that half the comics sold were represented by the Top 67.

The very next month, Capital shifted the calculation from New Comics Units to overall Comics Products Dollars — which put everything from trade paperbacks to cold-cast figurines on the list, so it becomes less useful for this analysis. (And then in mid-1995, Capital lost several exclusive publishers.) But I remember seeing this first calculation by Capital years ago in my first year editing the industry trade magazine Comics Retailer — and it's why I long assumed that the Top 300 captured the vast majority of new comics sales by copy count. Certainly, when we get into the late 1990s, many publishers' slates had shrunk or disappeared — so it was possible that 300 items captured even more of the market than it once had.

What about today? Again, Diamond does not publish indexed figures for copies beyond its Top 300. But — following the analysis here earlier on the changing shape of the Top 300, let's have a look at how the "cadres" break down today, versus 15 years ago at Capital. To make things even, we'll just look at Capital's Top 300 only — removing the 4.65% of 301-and-above items from consideration:

CAPITAL APRIL 1994 Share of Top 300 Unit Preorders
The Top 61 alone accounted for 50% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-10 account for 14.15% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-25 account for 28.25% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-50 account for 44.26% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-100 account for 65.17% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-200 account for 89.07% of Top 300 Comics Units
First 100 titles alone account for 65.17% of Top 300 Comics Units
Second 100 titles alone account for 23.9% of Top 300 Comics Units
Third 100 titles alone account for 10.93% of Top 300 Comics Units

DIAMOND APRIL 2009 Share of Top 300 Comics Units
The Top 58 alone accounted for 50% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-10 account for 13.47% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-25 account for 28.32% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-50 account for 45.63% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-100 account for 69.01% of Top 300 Comics Units
• Ranks #1-200 account for 90.88% of Top 300 Comics Units
First 100 titles alone account for 69.01% of Top 300 Comics Units
Second 100 titles alone account for 21.87% of Top 300 Comics Units
Third 100 titles alone account for 9.12% of Top 300 Comics Units

So what do we see? Contrary to some assumptions, today's Top 300 table has not really grown that much more top-heavy: nearly the same number of titles account for half the unit sales in the Top 300 (58 versus 61). The April 2009 table was slightly less hit-driven at the very top of the list — and the Top 25 share is almost identical. Once we extend out to the Top 100, we do see the top of the list accounting for more of the sales in the table — 69% versus 65%. Comics in the 100s account for fewer units than they had 15 years ago, while the share represented by comics in the 200s accounts has shrunk the most.

Remember, we're also not looking at the total number of units sold, but rather what part of the trade each chunk of this list accounts for. And we're looking at units, not dollars — although in April 2009, we saw that the Top 59 comics accounted for half of Top 300 dollars — not a big difference from units. But the comics in the 200s account for 9.56% of Top 300 Comics Dollars, so they're more than punching their weight; it's the comics in the lower end of the Top 100 — the upper midlist — that aren't representing the same dollar share as they are unit share. I would speculate that's because they are the books least likely to have premium pricing (as hit titles might) — whereas books at the bottom of the Top 300 might be more likely to be part of a higher-priced line.

This is only a comparison of two months 15 years apart, but it shows that, while there have been some changes over the years, the charts may not have changed as dramatically as the earlier comparisons here of years in the 2000s might have suggested.

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