Monday, June 15, 2009
Wall Street reports often speak of "market leadership" in tracking intraday rallies and slides; what's happening with the big issues often drives the market. On the new comics racks, market leadership counts for even more — instead of thousands of stocks, we're looking at a few hundred new issues each month. And as we've seen, fewer than 60 new releases each month account for half of all the comics retailers order in Diamond's Top 300.
The top of the list explains a great deal about what happened in the month of May in the comics industry, as seen in the estimates here. When retailers order just as many comic books in the month of May as they did in January and in February, that’s usually not something you want to see — but that’s exactly what happened in Diamond’s Top 300 for May. May's Top 300 Unit Sales to retailers were the lowest for any May since 2002: unit sales were off 20% versus last May, with dollar sales were off 19%. Trade paperbacks were off, as well — and while the overall figure shows only a drop of 3%, I view that figure with caution, as I did last month: that much action in the backlist suggests more effects from discount promotions. It wouldn’t take a whole lot to make a large difference.
The top of the chart, again, was the main factor. Diamond’s Top 50 were off 28%, or 1 million copies, from last May, and that’s the lion’s share of the shortfall. Last May had Secret Invasion #2, Final Crisis #1, and three other #1s in the Top 6. Meanwhile, the highest ranking premiere this May was in 20th place, New Mutants #1. This month’s top-seller at Diamond, New Avengers #53, only sold around half the issues of last year’s top-seller.
But the tide carries everyone — as seen in the accompanying graphic, order counts at all 300 places on the Top 300 chart were lower than those from May 2008. (That doesn’t refer to orders within individual titles, just that the 50th place item last year outsold this year’s 50th place item, etc.) Summing up the various groupings, here's how the unit sales contribution of each sector of the chart changed this May:
Top 25: -29%
Ranks #1-50: -28%
Ranks #51-100: -16%
Ranks #101-150: -10%
Ranks #151-200: -6%
Ranks #201-250: -8%
Ranks #251-300: -14%
The lower parts of the list are doing relatively better this than those higher up — but that’s partially because an item on the lower part of the list is relatively more likely to be from one of the larger publishers this year due to line expansions.
What does it all mean? Chartwide drops suggest wider factors such as the recession or a change in the size or make-up of the retail ordering population. It’s possible, given the disparate hit to the top of the charts, that we might have something going on where the suburban, more mainstream-driven stores are more impacted by the recession, and ordering more lightly on the event titles. The problem is, we don't have a lot of historical evidence showing how general economic conditions impact different kinds of comics differently. In a couple of recent recessions, events within the industry had more to do with market performance — but those recessions were smaller in scale.
TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
May 2009: 5.63 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: - 20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -10%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -14%
YEAR TO DATE: 28.93 million copies, -12% vs. 2008
TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2009: $18.68 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +10%
YEAR TO DATE: $97.57 million, -7% vs. 2008
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2009: $6.88 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -13%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +33%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +111%
YEAR TO DATE: $33.05 million; down 2% when just comparing just the Top 100
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2009: $25.56 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -18%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +16%
YEAR TO DATE: $130.59 million; down 6% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
May 2009: $35.81 million ($39.51 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -3%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +49%
YEAR TO DATE: $168.88 million, -2% vs. 2008, +35% vs. 2004
The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.42; the average comic ordered cost $3.32.
As noted before, Diamond included in its initial wave of data information on several small publisher titles, allowing this month's table to include 15 items not in the Top 300. They appear on the table but are not included in the aggregate Top 300 figures we use for comparison purposes.
Some of the annual comparisons show some light — most of the five-year dollar category comparisons remain up, some by more than the rate of inflation. The $7.95 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen release topping the TPB table sold so many units it'd be in 41st place were it classified as a comic book. And June gives us a month with weaker comparatives — and we’ll see what Captain America #600 adds to the mix. 2009 has shown itself to be a volatile year, from month to month; the ups and downs are likely to continue.
Looking back at earlier times:
May 2008's top seller was, again, Secret Invasion #2, with 182,390 copies sold to the direct market in its first month. It was Diamond's second-best selling issue of the year — and the month also included Final Crisis #1, Diamond's ninth-best seller of the year. See what we were up against this month for yourself, here.
May 2004's top-seller was another high-profile spring launch, Astonishing X-Men #1, with first-month orders of 209,300 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.
May 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #370, with preorders of approximately 127,400 copies in the direct market. 1999 was a year almost completely without the kind of chart-shaking events we saw in other years; Uncanny was the top book 10 months in a row. Check out the sales chart here.
May 1994's top seller at both Diamond and Capital City Distribution was Spawn #22. Capital alone sold 111,550 copies of the issue, suggesting the overall sales in the 400-500k range.
May 1989's top seller at Capital City was Batman #435, continuing John Byrne's "Many Deaths of Batman." Capital alone had orders of 82,000 copies for the issue, suggesting overall orders in the 400-500k range.
Finally, May 1984's top comic book, both at Capital and likely everywhere else, was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #5, continuing the year-long mega-cross-over.
Again, Secret Wars was the #1 book at Capital every month in 1984, a record matched later only by Todd McFarlane's "adjectiveless" Spider-Man #1-12 in 1990-91.