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June 2009 comics sales: Almost tied at halftime

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A lot of things put off finishing the calculations this month — half the industry is in San Diego, and I've busy promoting my new projects (both my new Star Wars ebook and news of my new Mass Effect series were released this week). As it is, I'll be doing the usual comics-sales-through-history notes in a separate, later post. But the estimates for June 2008 comics orders are now complete and online, and they show an industry that is in a lot better shape at midyear than many would have imagined.

A nice rebound in aggregate Top 300 comics sales helped overall orders for comics, trades, and magazines nudge slightly ahead of June 2008 — and I mean slightly, a difference of $60,000 or so. The numbers for the second quarter were ahead 4%, not quite recovering the ground lost in the first quarter. Overall dollar orders in the direct market at midyear stand at nearly $206 million, off about 1%, or less than $3 million, from the same period last year. The "long tail" of trades is where the difference is being made up, as Top 300 Comics units, dollars, and Top 300 Trade Paperback dollars are all off for the year to date by 10% or less.

The figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
June 2009: 6.56 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: down 2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: unchanged
Versus 10 years ago this month: +1%
Q2 2009: 18.92 million copies, -7% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: 35.49 million copies, -10% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
June 2009:
$22.7 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +23%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +36%
Q2 2009: $64.06 million, -3% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: $120.28 million, -4% vs. 2008

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
June 2009:
$6.04 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -35%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +15%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +35%
Q2 2009: $20.76 million, -17% vs. 2008 when comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
YEAR TO DATE: $39.09 million; down 9% when just comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

June 2009: $28.74 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -3%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +31%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +36%
Q2 2009: $76.88 million, -6% vs. 2008 when comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
YEAR TO DATE: $159.34 million; down 5% when just comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)

June 2009:
$37.03 million ($40.57 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: up less than 1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +25%
Q2 2009: $114.79 million, +4% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: $205.91 million, -1% vs. 2008, +33% vs. 2004

Right off, we see an interesting thing: When we look at the month of June across time, the Top 300 comics are generating unit sales within a very narrow range: 6.56 million copies now, 6.66 million last year, 6.53 million 5 years ago, and 6.52 million 10 years ago. That’s a 100,000-copy range, scarcely one hit title. Yet roughly the same number of units is generating 6% more dollars than last year, 23% more than five years ago, and 36% more than 10 years ago. Such is the change in pricing!

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.50; the average comic ordered cost $3.46. These are both records, and as noted here earlier, $2.99 is still the most common cover price for comics in Diamond’s Top 300, although that balance has changed a lot this year and $3.99 is catching up. The gradual changeover to $3.99 for many publishers is having amplified effects on the charts, relative to some of benchmark pricing changes in previous years; few publishers are stopping at the intermediate $3.50 step, and $2.99 to $3.99 matches the previous record jumps by percentage, from 15¢ to 20¢ in the mid-1970s and 75¢ to $1 in the late 1980s. The problem is that we really can’t look at the 75¢ to $1 records to see how it affected unit sales, because it was right at the beginning of that boom, where numbers on everything were going up because of the explosion in the number of comics outlets. There may be clearer effects visible in the 15-to-20¢ example, but I don’t know how useful info from a largely newsstand model will be.

In any event, at least the month of June shows unit orders holding relatively firm, despite the pricing trends.

The Top 100 Trades were off a great deal against June 2008; as described in the post on how graphic novel pricing has changed, last June's list had more hardcovers and more higher-priced products than June did this year. Still, as much as we hunt for the effects of price resistance in new comics sales, it's not unreasonable to expect that a recession might hit the big-ticket items to a more pronounced degree. We'll see as the summer progresses whether this is part of a larger trend.

Revised graphics are on the way, but in the meantime, some updates have been made to the Vital Statistics section. The Diamond-era records section now includes information as to how many publishers have had books in the #1 slot since 1997 (four: Marvel, DC, Image, and Dreamwave); the longest run for a title in that time at #1 (Uncanny X-Men, 10 issues in 1999); and the greatest number of consecutive months that a single publisher has had the #1 title since 1997 (Marvel, in a 27-month stretch that ended in April 2009).

And the #1 books for all months since 1996 have been updated on the Top Comics page. Seeing them all together notes a little numerological oddity: The issue numbers of the #1 books from December to May were #8, #583, #583, #3, #853, and #53! I suspect the Illuminati...

Oh, yeah — if you're looking in on us from the main site, there should now be a Flash module at left sending the Twitter feed. If you have the latest Flash version and it's not coming up, let me know — these things can be a little wonky.

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