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November 2009 comics sales help market close gap with 2008

Monday, December 28, 2009

by John Jackson Miller


Comic book orders in direct market gained some ground in November, led by strength in the periodical market, according to The Comics Chronicles analysis of data released by Diamond Comic Distributors. The estimates appear here.

This is the first month for we can do year-to-year comparisons on the full Top 300 Trade Paperbacks, which Diamond began reporting last November, and we see from them that trade paperback orders  were down considerably — but the periodical market made up for it. Last November was the weakest month of the year in Top 300 Unit Sales — many important titles being delayed until December — so this year’s performance looked that much better by comparison. This November also included DC’s rings promotion for Blackest Night, tying ring purchases to orders on specific titles.

Overall, the direct market to date in 2009 is running just slightly behind 2008 — we’re down $3 million for the entire year, or less than 1%. The gap was more than $5 million last month, so ground has been closed. However, as noted, December 2008 was a blockbuster, with many delayed titles shipping along with regular monthly issues, so it seems unlikely that the industry will close much ahead.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
November 2009: 6.15 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +7%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -8%
YEAR TO DATE: 68.57 million copies, -7% vs. 2008, +1% vs. 2004, -4% vs. 1999

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
November 2009: $21.56 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +12%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +16%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +23%
YEAR TO DATE: $213.81 million, -1% vs. 2008, +21% vs. 2004, +27% vs. 1999

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2009: $6.12 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -29%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +10%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +54%
YEAR TO DATE: $72.4 million; -17% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2009: $27.68 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: unchanged
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: +25%
YEAR TO DATE: $295.11 million; -4% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
November 2009: $34.95 million ($38.9 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +21%
YEAR TO DATE: $393.8 million, -1% vs. 2008, +32% vs. 2004

Chew Volume 1: Taster's ChoiceChew Vol. 1 was the top-selling trade paperback.

Diamond also released a Top 50 Small Publisher list that added a number of data points, down to Archie in 359th place. The inclusion of 21 additional comics adds 39,000 units to the list, selling for $136,000. These have been included in my charts, but not counted toward Top 300 sales for comparison purposes. However, it does give us a good look at what portion of comics sales are "bubbling under" the Top 300 list, a topic explored previously here.

The 359th place title had direct market orders of around 1,260 comics, less than half that of the 300th place title. These extra data points show a sales slope that drops fairly sharply beneath 300th place — and we can infer that if Diamond’s list were 20% longer, going to 360th place, this month it would have added around 117,500 comics sold, for around $410,000. That’s slightly less than 2% of the value of the Top 300 — so unless the “long tail” for comics is incredibly long (something Diamond’s changed stocking practices would seem to make less likely) the Top 300 really does seem to capture the vast majority of new comics orders. Interestingly, these 21 comics past 300th place are right at the average price for all comics Diamond sells, something we wouldn’t have expected a few years ago. Many of the issues are lower-priced Archies — and only one of the issues is priced higher than $3.99 (Archaia’s Secret History Book 6).

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.51; the average comic ordered cost $3.50. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $3.25. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300.

While the direct market is close to flat for the year versus 2008, it is up 32% versus 2004. What’s the role of inflation? The Consumer Price Index has increased 14.5% since 2004, meaning that either we’re selling more units in aggregate, or the average item sold is more expensive by a rate far exceeding inflation. Top 300 Comics unit sales are, as noted above, up 1% year to date versus the same period in 2004, whereas the dollar value of those comics is up 21%. The price of the average comic book retailers sold in 2009 is $3.42, as compared with $2.86 in 2004. That’s an increase of 19.5%. So it’s true that inflation is contributing to part of that increase — but not all. Increased trade paperback sales account for the rest of the jump versus 2004.

Note also that the selection of years for comparison is important in looking at inflation; there are stretches in which price increases in comics have not kept up with the change in CPI, and so sometimes what appears to be an outpacing of inflation is actually the product catching up with other categories. Starting from 1999 prices, CPI predicts a comics price today of $3.36 — much closer to the actual average. Comics pricing increased slower than the pace of inflation in the stretch from 1999-2004.

The monthly Flashbacks column will follow shortly.


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