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FAQ: Comics in the Top 300 by publisher, 1997-present

Thursday, January 29, 2009

They're frequently asked questions: How many comics are the major publishers releasing each month? And how many are charting in the Diamond Top 300 title lists? And does getting more comics out translate to greater sales or market share?

Answering the first question requires tracking the Diamond shipping lists — looking at Previews alone won't work, as some items ship late or don't come out. Then the order codes get merged — once you make the arbitrary decision of what comics are the same thing and what aren't. (Are reprint versions of the same comic book the same item? What if they have different covers?) And it can be labor-intensive to do such a count — so much so, that when we did it at Comics Buyer's Guide for all the comics shipping in 1997, it took days for several staffers to complete. (Answer: 5,695 different comics, with variant covers counted as different items.)

So when I was recently asked what I had on hand regarding how slates of releases had changed over recent years for various publishers, that stumped the Comichron database. That's not a calculation I regularly run. But while it's not exactly the next best thing, we can see something of it by answering that second frequently asked question: How many comics have charted each month for the major publishers?

For Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and IDW — the five largest publishers at the end of 2008 — the answers appear here. The tables and graph go all the way back to April 1997, which was the first month in which all publishers, including Marvel, were again being distributed by Diamond after the Exclusivity Wars (beginning the "Diamond Era" in this site's terminology).

There are a number of caveats on the page — explaining both how these numbers are neither representative of publisher performance nor publisher output. In the first case, pretty obviously, placing an item on the list is not indicative of its unit and dollar sales — and for the purposes of these counts, the #1 comic book and the #300 comic book carry the same numerical weight. Further, any publisher can gain market share without being on the list at all (as manga and trade-only publishers regularly do).

In the second case, yes, even the major publishers don't always place every new title in the Top 300, particularly when the competition is fierce. In December 1993, Marvel had 18 new releases that wound up in the 300s on Capital City's more-inclusive list — a number of Marvel U.K. books, and some others. And then, depending on when we're talking about, presence on the list might not indicate a separate item — or even an item that shipped at all. Before 2003, the charts were all preorders, meaning some comics on them never came out or came out later — in which case, sometimes, they'd appear again on the lists. And since then, comics with strong reorders can appear on the list more than once. And while Diamond's team does a pretty good job of combining variant cover and reprints into the same order entry, sometimes rogue issues slip through.

So it is not correct to look at these counts and say, "wow, Publisher X is putting out Y titles a month." It is probably close to the case, but the real number could be more (if there are books outside the 300) or less (if there are duplicates, cancellations, etc.).

Looking at the numbers — or simply at the graphic — we see immediately that Marvel's number of entries on the list, in decline during the bankruptcy years of 1996-1998, slumped during the worst part of the comics recession — and later rebounded as the industry did in the 2000s. (Yes, the increase in the number of titles probably contributed to that industry rebound — but I'll leave the correlation-causation studies to others for the moment.) And the number of entries has in recent years climbed indeed, with 119 items in the December 2008 list, all but one of them new. We see from the table that its average monthly count in the Top 300 has increased annually since 2001. The 2008 annual rise is not the largest annual increase by percentage or by number; that was the increase in 2004.

We also see from the figures that IDW has added entries in every year since its inception. The others appear to go back and forth; Image has had some wider annual changes, which one suspects may be associated with evolving strategies when it comes to taking on books from outside the main studios.

Finally among the frequently-asked questions, does getting more comics out translate to greater sales or market share? Understanding, again, that market share is more than just the Top 300, let's look once more at Marvel. The average Marvel in the fourth quarter of 2008 moved around 33,500 units at $112,700 retail; averaging the 583 comics that weren't Marvels in the Top 300s, we get sales of 17,800 copies retailing at $58,000 each. So — if you're looking at market share just within the Top 300 — with the average Marvel entry representing nearly twice the copies and dollars as the average entry from anyone else, any additional entry would tend to help market share so long as that relationship holds.

That's self-evident, statistically; whoever you are, as long as your average title is doing better than the average title by everyone else, line increases help market share when we're looking at sales within the Top 300. And anyone can track any publisher's averages, and how they change across time, by looking at the data in varying groupings. (For example, in December 2008, the average unit and dollar value of Marvels in the Top 300 appears in line with past performance. Marvel's 119 items had average unit sales of around 34,900 copies and average dollar sales of $119,000 at full retail; in December 2007, when it had 99 offerings in the Top 300, the average Marvel title had orders of around 33,200 copies selling for about $106,600. When you expand the look to the whole fourth quarter, the averages change a bit. Marvel's 21% more entries in the Top 300 in the fourth quarter of 2008 sold an average of 7% fewer units and 1% fewer dollars each versus the averages for the entries it had in the lists of the fourth quarter of 2007.)

Answering the frequently asked questions above and presenting the tables and graph pose a number of invariable follow-up questions, only a few of which I'll engage here:

Was the number of Marvel releases at the end of the year unprecedented? No, not really. Here's the Top 300 count at Diamond in December 1993:

Marvel: 103
DC: 65
Dark Horse: 17
Image: 12

But, again, Diamond did not publish its entire list, then or ever. Capital City did. Marvel had 115 releases in its Top 300 — another sign that Marvel performed better at Capital stores than at Diamond stores in 1993 — but 133 non-TPB releases in its charts overall. Counts in the 130s or 140s are pretty close to what I've heard were the high-water mark of that boom time; I only did spot-checks, but it looks like by the middle of 1994, Marvel's down to the 110s.

That leads us to the second follow-up question:

Are changes like this — a doubling of a slate over the course of several years — unusual for Marvel or anyone else?
No — there's quite a lot of volatility in offerings across time. We've seen publishers — heck, the whole comics publishing industry — ramp up and cut back for a variety of reasons, and sometimes in much shorter periods of time.

These are some old estimates I need to revise, but my last research into the subject suggests that the number of different comic books released peaked in 1953, falling down to half those levels in 1962 (the nadir being only around 1,500 different comics released in the year). Marvel's line, once artificially restricted by its distributor contract, began to grow later in the decade — and then dramatically in the early to mid 1970s, leading to a glut peaking around 1976. Massive line cuts for Marvel and others followed (including the DC Implosion), and the number of releases settled just above the 1962 bottom in 1982-83.

Then the direct market, allowing access to new publishers, sparked the black-and-white boom. That peaked in 1987-88 — during which we finally caught the 1953 title count (though not the sales volume) — and started downward again in the black-and-white crash. But the slowdown in title count growth was very short — 1989 was the only down year — before it was off to unprecedented heights during the speculator boom of the early 1990s. Then the crash — and the distributor changes beginning in 1995 — and a drop in offerings again. Which pretty much brings us to the time-period in the charts above — artificially limited as it is to the Top 300. (The years mentioned in this paragraph were generated by taking the entire Standard Catalog of Comic Books and sorting it by year; the snapshot generated isn't perfect, but it does give us the peaks and valleys.)

So these changes have had a history of happening; just not in the electronic age where everyone can share the spreadsheet.

Finally, there's the all-important follow-up question that comes up whenever people notice line sizes increasing: How many titles can the market bear? As the main mission of The Comics Chronicles is to provide historical context, prognostication isn't really my department: History tells us that question is only really accurately answered when the market tells you. We just don't know. The forces at work in past oscillations may not be in play now, to the same degree, or at all.

To that score, however, we might note some things that are different this time out. First, in that boom in the early 1990s, the comics shop new-issue rack was much more likely to be the sole destination of many more of the items being released. The major publishers may have had newsstand sales and subscriptions, but to a large degree, the direct market was intended to be the breadwinner for most titles. Marvel had a few subsidiary lines the Nelson religious comics (remember The Illuminator?) or specialty comics like NFL Pro Action that might have sold a little into the direct market but were really printed for a different market (Christian bookstores, in the Nelson case). But this was the great exception — whereas today, with trade paperback and manga-sized collections opening up other channels, we'll see lines like Marvel Adventures and its classic literature comics where a presence in Previews is part of, but not the entirety of, the publishing plan.

It also strikes me that, since few retailers now or in 1993 have the capacity (or desire) to stock every new title, the efficient targeting of fragmented audiences has something to do with the question of what the market will support. I would suspect there is a greater degree of diversity in all the major publishers' lines in 2009 than in 1993 — even within the superhero lines (as we were counting Spidey and X-monthlies in the double digits back then). And the trade paperback may have made it possible to push that diversity further out into the marketplace to where the readers are. Marvel had a line of Clive Barker comics in the early 1990s; it has a line of Stephen King comics now. My guess is that the industry is better organized to push something like The Stand in front of potential King readers today than it was in putting Hellraiser in front of Barker fans then. Time, and the numbers, will tell.

As for the past — my department — more data on this topic to follow in the days ahead, I'm sure...

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Diamond clarifies sales results

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

As noted also in the updated main post below: Dan Manser, director of marketing at Diamond, has confirmed my understanding of the numbers: Indeed, all three findings that have been reported are correct. The 3-4% drops in Diamond's 2008 sales mentioned in previous interviews with Bill Schanes and Roger Fletcher refer to Diamond's overall sales, including ancillary products; Steve Geppi's quoted 5% increase refers to trade paperbacks; and my "overall comics, magazines, and trades" estimates split the difference. "Your facts/figures bear things out correctly... it's just 3 sets of statistics/numbers."

So the groupings would appear to read this way: everything Diamond sells slightly down; comics and trade paperbacks very slightly up; and trade paperbacks slightly up. Thus, 2008 continues the 2001-present run of sales growth found in my own tracking.

Manser also adds that while the "new" column was unintentionally added to the comics list this month — it's only marginally useful — the column will continue in the trade paperbacks list, even including the month of release. This is a very helpful item, and should provide a lot of interesting insights.

Diamond's giant year-end charts will appear next week, he said.

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2008 Year-End Comics Sales: The industry moves sideways

Monday, January 26, 2009

Diamond Comic Distributors released its top-sellers list and market shares for December 2008 last week — and as the end of a quarter and the end of the year, the report from the comics industry's main distributor provides a lot to talk about.

First, speaking just of December: As seen from the tables with estimates here, it was a record month in many categories, not for the least reason that Marvel released a very large number of items into the market, taking 119 of the Top 300 comics slots, almost all of them new items. The result was Marvel’s highest Top 300 unit count since December of 1996 and the market’s highest Top 300 unit count since August 2007. Marvel’s Top 300 comics dollars were the highest observed in the Diamond exclusive era, and the market’s Top 300 comics dollars were the highest since December 1996.

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES December 2008: 7.67 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +21%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +5%
4th Quarter 2008: 20.96 million copies, -1% vs. 4Q 2007
2008 FINAL: 81.34 million copies, -5% vs. 2007

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES December 2008: $25.37 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +12%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +40%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +37%
4th Quarter 2008: $69.59 million, +3% vs. 4Q 2007
2008 FINAL: $263 million, -3% vs. 2007

December was the second month that Diamond published its sales for its Top 300 Trade Paperbacks and Graphic Novels, meaning that year-to-year comparisons require looking only at the subset Diamond was previously reporting (100 titles in 2007, 50 in 2003, and 25 in 1998). Regardless of the year, trade sales in December outdid the equivalent subset in previous years:

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
December 2008: $6.70 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. just the Top 100: +4%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +32%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +89%
4th Quarter 2008, just the Top 100 TPBs: $16.19 million, +3% vs. 4Q 2007
2008 FINAL, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: $59.27 million, +4% vs. 2007

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 100 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
December 2008: $32.08 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +39%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +39%
4th Quarter 2008: $86.08 million, +4% vs. 4Q 2007
2008 FINAL, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: $327.19 million, -1% vs. 2007

And finally, the widest calculation that can be computed from the Diamond release, Overall Sales of Comics, Trades, and Magazines, was up 11% for the month — and 39% over the same month five years ago:

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
December 2008: $39.78 million ($43.8 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +39%
4th Quarter 2008: $114.89 million, +3% vs. 4Q 2007
2008 FINAL: $436.58 million, +1.5% vs. 2007

Now, to 2008: As noted, the industry didn't so much grow or slip as move sideways. Top 300 Comics Unit and Dollar Sales were down 5% and 3% respectively, and the top 100 trades were up 4%. The overall figure is up 1.5% in my aggregated month-by month calculations, a process explained here (along with the caveats it entails).

That would make this the eighth straight year with an overall increase, but I am approaching this observation with some caution given statements out of Diamond that sales were off last year — three different sources there have stated sales declined slightly, with one referring to a 4% drop.

However, it is unclear (EDIT: Not any more: see the addition, below) whether that figure refers to its entire sales, including toys and other products; just comic book sales; or comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines. The Overall numbers refer only to the last group mentioned. Sales could be down by 4% in either one of the first two groups or both without making a 1% increase impossible in the grouping that includes trades — especially given Steve Geppi’s announcement that trade sales were up 5% last year. Comics and trade dollars are not completely at parity — comics still lead by at least 3-to-2 dollarwise — but figure a 5% gain in trades might put a 3% loss in comics dollars into positive territory overall.

A different means of running the same calculation, applying known publisher total sales for the year to the annual market shares Diamond reported, yields a similar number, $436.62 million — so close as to be attributable to rounding within the individual months. The annual market shares are, in fact, predictable from the individual months' market shares at the sums estimated for those months — so if error exists, it would need to exist consistently throughout the individual months.

But while that does appear to backstop the estimate, we're dealing close to the borderline — and flat, slightly ahead, or slightly behind, we can say that 2008 was an exceptionally close year to 2007, particularly in light of the general economy. The year more resembles the slowdown of 2003 than any of the earlier (and more dire) examples; unit sales for the Top 300 were down that year, but price increases covered the gap. We'll see as 2009 progresses whether 2008 was a blip, as that was — or a turning point.

There will be more analysis of the year on the site in the coming days, but check out the updated market shares and trendlines while you're here.

Finally, in the post-Diamond Dialogue era, there are a few changes from Diamond this time out in what they report. They now say what items are “New This Month.” I have incorporated this into the tables in two ways. In the comics tables, when something is a reorder, the word “(reorder)” appears in the issue-number field. This is done in lieu of adding a new column, partly in order to keep the tables on the site of a uniform column count. To that end, I already had a spare field in the TPB tables, so for those, the column says “(new)”. This provides the info, while preserving the number of columns so different months can be combined easily.

EDIT 1/29: Dan Manser, director of marketing at Diamond, has confirmed my understanding of the numbers: Indeed, all three findings are correct. The 3-4% drops mentioned by Bill Schanes and Roger Fletcher refer to Diamond's overall sales, including ancillary products; Steve Geppi's quoted 5% increase refers to trade paperbacks; and my "overall comics, magazines, and trades" figures split the difference. "Your facts/figures bear things out correctly... it's just 3 sets of statistics/numbers." Manser also adds that while the "new" column was unintentionally added to the comics list this month — it's only marginally useful — the column will continue in the trade paperbacks list, and even including the month of release. This is a very helpful item, and should provide a lot of interesting insights.

(Data revised 3/29)

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Primer: The "Overall" estimate

I've written about this before, but as I can see it will be relevant in the estimates for 2008, here's a quick overview of how the Overall Comics, Trade Paperbacks, and Magazine Dollar Sales statistic used here is calculated.

Unlike the data work most commonly done with the Diamond Top Sellers charts, this measure does not involve order index numbers and individual titles, but rather the Market Share chart that Diamond releases every month. Diamond reports the Final Unit and Dollar shares of its Top 20 Publishers of comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines. This is commonly seen here in the left sidebar column of any given month; last month's example is here. Scroll to the middle, where it says "Market Shares."

These figures presumably cover everything Diamond sold in the three categories — and they do definitely include magazines, since Wizard and Eaglemoss are ranked. One would suspect that sales of Mad would be attributed to DC's share — and so on. These shares are different from the shares you'd get from just looking at the Top 300 Comics Dollars — or even the Top 300 Comics plus the Top 300 Trades dollars — because (a) magazines are included, and (b) so are all the comics and trades beneath 300th place.

You can see the difference in the shares the samples here, again, from November. Let's look at just IDW's and Fantagraphics' dollar market shares:

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SHARES:
IDW: 3.31%
Fantagraphics: 0.05%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE DOLLAR SHARES:
IDW: 3.04%
Fantagraphics: 0.18%

FINAL DOLLAR SHARES FOR COMICS, TRADES, AND MAGAZINES:
IDW: 2.96%
Fantagraphics: 0.49%

The Top 300 Comics Dollar Share finds IDW way ahead, because IDW ranked 20 comics to Fanta's 1. When the Top 300 Comics are added, IDW's share slips relative to other publishers, and Fantagraphics' share more than triples — because Fantagraphics has more trades. But when you get to the widest category, which includes everything on the backlist, Fantagraphics' share nearly triples again — such is the length of its backlist!

OK, so the shares are different, and the Comics, Trades, and Magazines total represents the widest circle of items that Diamond reports. Now, at the same time that Diamond made its shift to reporting Final Orders only in its Top 300 list, in 2003, I began a new calculation using the final monthly order file that Diamond provides for publishers. This source material includes every single item shipped in the month, right down to single copies of backlist trades. It also accounts for a tiny number items subtracted from the system, in the case of refunded orders.

If you've got that data for a publisher, and the publisher made the Top 20, you can derive the size of the whole pie. Imagine a publisher with a dollar share of 20%, and with known orders of $8 million:

Publisher Actual Dollar Share: 20%
Publisher Actual Orders: $8 million
Overall Estimated Dollars: $40 million (or $8,000,000/20%, or $8,000,000 x 5)

That's all there is to it — but before first using the calculation years ago, I did some checking. For example, the projected Actual Dollars for every publisher in the Top 20 Market Share list must be higher than the figure observed for the publisher by adding the dollar values of its items in the Top Comics and Top Trades lists. And it is. The major publishers, most of whose revenue is captured in the Top 300s, are close to the average number, but always below it — and then you get the Fantagraphics, where the "Overall" projection for the publisher is much higher, because of all the backlist items not captured in the Top 300s.

So the measure holds up there, but is it measuring what we think it's measuring? Over the years I've been calculating it, there have been a number of data points from Diamond and other publishers, some corroborating the estimates, others placing the estimate a bit high.

In a press release about Free Comic Book Day a couple of years ago, Diamond announced that "comic shops sold over 100 million comic books and graphic novels in 2006 worth approximately $385 million at retail — an increase of approximately 18% over 2005." That 2006 figure tracks well with the $396 million I had estimated for Diamond's overall comic book, trade paperback, and magazine sales for 2006, seen here — and the magazine portion would close the remaining gap. So that one's pretty close indeed.

On the other hand, following the "18% increase" number suggests 2005's comics and trades were at $326 million; the "overall" estimate was $352 million. That's more double the gap. Did magazines sell more dollars in 2005 than 2006? Probably. Enough to cover the gap? Probably not. It's looking like 2008, where the Overall estimate looks for the year to be up by maybe 1%, is running a few points ahead of where recent statements from Diamond would put it. Still just a few points, but if true, a few points high.

There are a number of mathematical possibilities on both sides: the Diamond statements might not be reflecting the exact category of Final Comics, Trades, and Magazines the Overall estimate looks at. They might just be talking comics — or they might be talking about everything Diamond sells. In December 1998, back when Diamond reported its category market shares, 23.5% of its sales came from non-comics products. That's certainly changed (and, wow! magazines were outselling trade paperbacks back then), but it is possible for multiple things to be true: comics down, trades up, comics and trades flat, all products down.

But it's also possible that the yearly Overall figure — which is actually an aggregate of 12 monthly estimates — is not measuring what we think it's measuring. I think we can be reasonably confident that the Market Share table is an accurate statement of the market shares in the category for a specific period; we can also be reasonably confident that the Final Order files I'm talking about also reflect sales for a specific period. Are the periods exactly the same? I think so — after all, the Order Index Numbers in the Top 300 square up with the Final Order files perfectly. But things get a little more complicated in dealing with the trades, as I found in November; those figures do not square up as perfectly. This suggests that the snapshots — the publisher's data and the Market Share table — might be slightly off with relation to each other when it comes to the products referred to in each, introducing a margin of error. But again, an argument in favor of the estimates: Using the monthly market shares and the publisher data as I have actually predicts, almost exactly, the annual market shares Diamond published. What that means is that if the size of the projected overall pie is off, it must be off consistently, by the same factor, every single month.

I realize this has gotten pretty detailed — more so than intended for a primer — but to those of you who've stuck it out, this statistic is something I intend to continue looking at to see if refinement is possible. As stated, the December 2008 numbers, nearly done, look to raise the issue, so this seemed a good time to get under the hood and have a look around.

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Comichron on the air

Friday, January 23, 2009

Still churning on the end-of-year analysis, but in the meantime, I was a guest recently for a wide-ranging ComicBookPage podcast with John Mayo and Bob Bretall. It's actually a "Super Fan Spotlight," getting into my personal collecting interests and comics and fiction writing — but as John and I both track the same numbers in the comics industry, there's a good deal of minutia as well as speculation about the short-term and long term future of comic books and graphic novels.

Also, I'm interviewed on Fictional Frontiers on Philadelphia's 1360 AM airing at 11 AM this Sunday, Jan. 25; it's more about my comics work, but there is some discussion of the work done here, if I recall. Early next week it will be online at the Fictional Frontiers site.

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Order minimum update: Schanes@Newsarama

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Diamond's Vice President of Purchasing Bill Schanes talked to Newsarama about the changes to the purchase order minimums, confirming the basic math discussed here earlier and my own assumtpions about they whys and wherefores coming from Diamond's side. Every item, or SKU, a distributor carries has an attached maintenance cost on their end, not limited to the physical space of holding the product; with 5,000 new comic books a year (and that's a low estimate), logistical costs begin cutting into economies of scale.

It's notable that Schanes also pointed to variant covers as falling under the benchmark rules: "Our belief is that if there are fewer choices on those types of variant covers, the individual issues actually perform better, and are more profitable for all concerned," he said. As quite a lot of the books in the Top 300 in 2008 fell under this definition and contributed to the 300th-place issue unit count rising, it'll be interesting to see how the future Top 300s are affected.

Of note to the end-of-year analyses, Schanes said that "Diamond’s sales were down last year – within a realm of acceptability, but they were down, and we’re looking at decreases in 2009." This follows Roger Fletcher's earlier statement that sales were down 3%, and Steve Geppi's statement that trade paperback sales were up 5%. I still have to complete my 2008 analysis, but depending on what baskets we're looking at, a number of different things could be true at once. There's Diamond's comic book sales, Diamond's sales of comics and trades, and Diamond's sales including its entire merchandise line, and more — so it'll helps to know specifically the numbers mentioned refer to. (Even the trade paperback number might refer to the direct market, or to that plus the distributor's separately organized bookstore business.)

Related update: Former Cold Cut employee and a fellow numbers-tracker from way back Matthew High passes on word he's heard that for periodicals, the order codes will have a sunset of 60 days after initial release, after which "Diamond locks down the code and does not accept any more reorders. Apparently this will not affect non-periodical items (like graphic novels, trades), but I could see how this could throw a major monkeywrench in the works for how some retailers out there do business. Also not sure if this affects brokered publishers or not." It's unclear whether by comics periodicals this means simply comics-related magazines — or comic books themselves (which are, of course, periodicals). Either way, pending confirmation, this would seem to be consistent with the officially stated goal of removing SKUs from the system, so than not all 5,000+ comics and magazines that ship every year have a spot on the warehouse shelf alongside the trades.

I do know from seeing past reports that Diamond has been shipping onesie-twosie on comic books and magazines that were released a good ways back — so there's no telling how many slots it was keeping open beyond the items in the STAR System reorder catalog. If you've ever visited a distribution center or seen a pictorial, it's always quite a sight seeing what's physically required to stock comics; it's one of the reasons the mortality rate for distributors was already high, even before the exclusivity battles of the mid-1990s.

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The hamsters are still running...

This is a triple-whammy of a month for the sales reports — December plus end-of-quarter plus end-of-year — and there's a whole bunch of tables on the way. The monthly analysis is taking longer than usual as a result, but the wheels are still turning. Stay tuned — some interesting stuff ahead...

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Diamond Dialogue's monthly printed edition ends

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This is an overdue note, but a bit of comics circulation history came to a close with the publication of the December 2008 Diamond Dialogue retailer magazine. It was the second retailer magazine of any staying power — after Capital's Internal Correspondence — and it was the last monthly left after the folding of Comics & Games Retailer at the end of 2007.

"It is with a touch of sadness that I announce that this will be the last print edition of this monthly magazine," Steve Geppi said in the magazine's editorial. "After almost 17 years and hundreds of issues, the publication is closing up shop. However, this is not 'curtains' for Dialgoue, because the same great content will be available online at Diamond Daily. In this age of the Internet, we feel that key product and sales information will make a bigger impact if it's delivered sooner to retailers, allowing them to make more intelligent ordering decisions as quickly as possible.

"But that's not the end of Diamond Dialogue: Once a year, we plan to produce a printed Dialogue Annual, starting with our first edition in February 2009. Therefore, this is not the end, but a new beginning for Diamond Dialogue."

I regret not getting a piece on this online before, because it is, again, a major piece of comics circulation history. The so-called "Top 300 lists" found on this site and on the Web began their lives there — actually, in Diamond's case, a Top 100 list. Dialogue in its current incarnation began with #1 in January 1992, itself a two-color supplement to the relaunched Previews, which started with Vol. 2 #1 that month. An earlier Dialogue magazine had been produced using the numbering of the earlier previews volume; I have one of the 1991 issues but don't know how far back it was published.

Dialogue was helpful for many years in that regard — while it was also considered a serious competitor by Comics Retailer for ad dollars in the 1990s, it was also the source of much information. The recent change in Top Seller reporting, I would suspect, was motivated by this change; it is more information, and not less. I will miss looking at the new issues, but the old ones continue to yield useful historical information.

Dialogue performed its main role, as a promotional vehicle for the distributor's products, perhaps more consistently than its competitors. Internal Correspondence, while doing a lot of the same things, included several commentaries stepping outside of that role — particularly, in Milton Griepp's closing columns, some of which warned of the 1993 crash. And in the most extreme example, it was distributor Walter Wang's 1994 commentary criticizing Marvel in the newsletter for his Comics Unlimited distributorship that resulted in Marvel withdrawing its business from his firm. (Diamond later bought the operation, which had been hobbled by the lack of its largest supplier. The event was a harbinger of Marvel's purchase of its own distribution firm, later in the year.) Dialogue, by contrast, almost always remained on-message — while serving up many features about store promotions, interviews with retailers, and a number of pictorial interviews with "Star Collectors."

That was the last monthly, but retailer magazines continue in Diamond's annual, and in the ICV2 Guides. Previews is, in a sense, still a retailer magazine, too.

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L.A. Times and the recession narrative

I had mentioned earlier the piece where a California newspaper built interviews with a comics shop owner into part of a series on the recession — making, the retailer said, a year of sales growth seem like a year of declines. Which brings us to California's biggest paper, the Los Angeles Times — and today's article, "Superhero Power Ebbs," which I got to see a little closer up in its production.

I was late in responding to the reporter's request for information, so when I finally contacted her, it was to fact-check data already pulled from my site. I noticed at that point that the statistic used — unit sales in the Diamond Top 300 in 2008 — was the worst single subcategory for the year, and being a subcategory, not necessarily representative of the performance of the industry. "I understand the thrust of your story," I wrote, "but I would also observe that the particular stat you're citing is the industry's weakest category for the year, and not the statistic I would say is most meaningful. The "overall" category includes all comics and graphic novels sold by Diamond to comics shops, and to November 2008 we're up one half of one percent, or $396.8 million."

The reporter agreed to add that statistic — and although you can see the unit sales statistic stood, she was willing to make edits to those portions I saw, the few having to do with information sourced from me. A mention of what happened to stores in the 1994 comics collapse was given context as having followed a boom in which the number of outlets tripled. While I may disagree with the thrust of the piece (the rest of which I did not see until now), she did make the appropriate efforts to contact me when it came to my own information, and did correct as necessary.

So she did right by me — even if it is not the story I would write. I'll leave it to readers to analyze the rest of it (media watchdog Tom Spurgeon, whom I contacted before its publication, publishes his observations here).

What would I write? Well, it's here, on the site. I readily admit the industry faces challenges — including some of a different nature than we've seen before — but The Comics Chronicles is about history, about providing the numbers that give historical context. We're kind of the Farmer's Almanac in that regard — while there might be a little prognostication now and again, we're really more about "You think this is cold? Well, in 1999..." The numbers that form that context could be misleading — again, those changing challenges — but asked to evaluate 2008 just by the numbers, 2008 feels more like the slowdown of 2003 than the collapse of 1994 -- and most people probably don't remember a slowdown in 2003. Could it change? Sure. Is there something out there numbers aren't showing? Could be. This is simply a read of the numbers we have to read.

It is the case that, in my online incarnation, I've had more opportunity to talk up the industry's performance than talk it down — because since 2001, the industry has been on an upturn. Back in my print days of the 1990s, when blood was everywhere in the industry, writing about the business was a lot more depressing. But unlike the "Dungeons-&-Dragons is demonic" and "comics are bad for you" stories where I actively truth-squadded pieces in the past, when it comes to the numbers, my interest is really more in keeping the history books right -- on the plus side and the minus side. That meant shooting down the "collecting-new-comics-is-big-bucks!" stories that came my way for comment in the mid-1990s too, which, believe it or not, national magazines were still writing long after the speculation boom had peaked.

We'll continue to watch media reports as the recession continues. It's early enough days that we're just getting the first round of mainstream media stories on the field; if comics succeed in defying the forces pulling on the rest of the economy for any length of time, I suspect we'll eventually see that reflected more.

Read more...

Of order minimums and the charts

Monday, January 19, 2009

News circulating that Diamond has increased its minimum purchase order for comics from $1,500 to $2,500 has generated a lot of discussion on the Web, with speculation on where the dividing line might fall. Past estimates on The Comics Chronicles suggest some possible, if partial, answers.

First, sorry, Chevy Chase, there will be math. First, according to Dan Vado of Slave Labor from one of the above links, that $2,500 doesn't appear to refer to the total dollar value of the order, but rather what the publisher will realize from the sale after Diamond and the retailers' share is accounted for. Let's take 40% for the sake of argument. The total value of dollars at retail for a purchase order to be generated for a single item would be $2500/0.4, or $6,250.

This means this many copies at the following comic book price points:

$2.99: 2,090 copies
$3.50: 1,785 copies
$3.99: 1,566 copies
$4.99: 1,252 copies
$5.99: 1,043 copies
$6.99: 894 copies
$7.99: 782 copies

...and then moving up into trade-land...

$12.99: 481 copies
$13.99: 446 copies
$14.99: 416 copies
$15.99: 390 copies
$16.99: 367 copies
$17.99: 347 copies
$18.99: 329 copies
$19.99: 312 copies

So where does the end of the monthly Top 300 comics list fall? We're still awaiting data for the bottom of the list for December 2008, but the average estimated 300th place item for the first 11 months had sales of 2,779 copies, well above the mark for books at $2.99. Looking back, though, earlier years had lower numbers:

2007: 2,069 copies
2006: 1,796 copies
2005: 1,427 copies
2004: 1,238 copies
2003: 1,403 copies
2002: 1,050 copies
2001: 1,017 copies
2000: 1,758 copies

...and so the average 300th place book would have come in just slightly under $6,250 at $2.99 in 2007. I have added a quick page (which requires a little formatting yet) of the 300th place items from the last 10 years to Comichron, to go alongside the generally more trafficked page listing the Top Sellers Monthly since 1996.

But now for Caveats Gone Wild:

First, as has been noted often this year, part of the reason the sales numbers have increased at the "bottom" of the list is that the bottom is now closer to the middle. As the slates of the major publishers have increased, mainstream books have been moving into the lower end of the list, either first-run or reprint. Six out of the eleven months of 2008, the 300th place item has been from Marvel, DC, or Image. So the independent publishers more likely to be concerned by a new order minimum may be less likely to reach the Top 300 than before.

Second, $2.99 is really not the right price to be talking about for indie publishers. I haven't done a full-scale analysis, but the 300th-place item averaged $3.59 in 2007 and $3.72 in 2008 — and again, in 2008, half of 'em were from the big publishers. I would bet that $3.99 is closer to the mode for independent publishers.

Third, looking at the Diamond Top 300 is not necessarily representative of all that a publisher will realize on a book in its initial order period. We're not seeing reorder activity reflected in those charts for books shipping the last week of the month; that activity winds up in the next month's chart (and results in repeat appearances for some of the larger titles). That may or may not coincide with the accounting period that the distributor would be looking it — so a fifth-week ship book coming in under the threshhold might well have reorders bringing it above in the next month. I'm not a publisher, but I do know from dealing with them in producing my estimates each month that the public charts are just one way to group the month's sales, and not necessarily the same one being used for the fiscal calendar.

Finally, Diamond has indicated in the past that the minimums are used as guidance, and not necessarily the only factor involved in deciding what gets stocked.

What about trade paperbacks and the order cutoff? Diamond helped us a bit here by going to the Top 300 reporting for November 2008. A total of 256 of the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks listed sold more than $6,250 at full retail. All of the items on the chart coming in below $6,250 were priced at $14.95 or below — and more than half were priced below $10, mostly manga.

What does that mean? It's hard to look at the Top 300 TPBs chart and know whether you're looking at first-month sales or not — many items on there are a repeat, backlist appearance. Diamond has just added a column to its Top 300 Comics report flagging what is new to the charts, so we'll see if that gets added to the trades list. It'd surely be a help!

Again, this is just math based on several requests I've gotten to run some numbers today based on the $2,500-at-40% level — this is absent official word from Diamond as yet, and is subject to revision as further information becomes available.

Read more...

Diamond December 2008 sales data updated

Diamond continues its rollout today of the December 2008 comics sales figures, with a release of a longer (and corrected) market share list and the Top 100 Comics.

On the December number score: First off, my hunch was correct that the dollar and unit sales columns were reversed in last week's "sneak peak," so I'm glad I didn't post them. The corrected and expanded ones from Diamond are here, reproduced below:

Publisher

Comics, Magazines, & GNs Retail Dollar Share

Comics, Magazines, & GNs Unit Share

Marvel

45.05%

49.63%

DC

29.05%

31.15%

Dark Horse

5.23%

4.24%

Image

3.59%

3.21%

IDW

2.90%

2.57%

Dynamic Forces

2.24%

1.92%

Viz

1.64%

0.80%

Wizard

0.87%

0.63%

Tokyopop

0.87%

0.36%

Boom

0.63%

0.59%

Eaglemoss

0.55%

0.11%

Random House

0.50%

0.16%

Avatar Press

0.37%

0.34%

Fantagraphics

0.36%

0.08%

Gemstone

0.36%

0.16%

Zenescope

0.35%

0.38%

Archie

0.29%

0.41%

Devil's Due

0.26%

0.20%

Aspen

0.24%

0.31%

Digital Manga

0.20%

0.07%

Other

4.47%

2.68%


As we can see, "other" is always higher in dollars than units.

The Top 100 comics are reproduced here — and we can see a new addition to the charts: "New This Month" replaces the "In Stock" column. This will be very helpful in light of the news of Diamond increasing its order minimums for publishers, since we'll be able to more quickly weed out the comics sold on reorder as we look to see where the dividing line really falls.

Qty Rank

Retail Rank

Index

Code

Description

Price

Ven

New this Month

1

1

163.08

SEP082358-60

SECRET INVASION #8 (Of 8) SI*

$3.99

MAR

*

2

2

116.81

AUG080114

FINAL CRISIS #5 (Of 7)

$3.99

DC

*

3

3

110.12

OCT082339-40

SECRET INVASION DARK REIGN DKR*

$3.99

MAR

*

4

5

102.39

SEP082361

NEW AVENGERS #47 SI

$2.99

MAR

*

5

6

100.47

OCT082345

NEW AVENGERS #48 DKR

$2.99

MAR

*

6

7

100.00

SEP080111-2

BATMAN #682*

$2.99

DC

*

7

9

96.58

SEP080113-4

BATMAN #683*

$2.99

DC

*

8

10

93.92

OCT082409-10

HULK #9*

$2.99

MAR

*

9

11

92.10

SEP082368

MIGHTY AVENGERS #20 DKR

$2.99

MAR

*

10

4

91.61

SEP082309-10

ULTIMATUM #2 (Of 5)*

$3.99

MAR

*

11

13

89.18

OCT082473

WOLVERINE #70

$2.99

MAR

*

12

14

88.02

OCT082461-2

UNCANNY X-MEN #505 MD*

$2.99

MAR

*

13

15

85.54

OCT080110-1

BATMAN #684*

$2.99

DC

*

14

17

81.10

SEP080155

JUSTICE LEAGUE O/AMERICA #27 SIGHTINGS

$2.99

DC

*

15

19

78.94

SEP082381

THOR #12

$2.99

MAR

*

16

20

77.81

OCT080152

JUSTICE LEAGUE O/AMERICA #28

$2.99

DC

*

17

21

76.92

SEP080038-9

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #20*

$2.99

DAR

*

18

23

76.16

OCT082396-7

CAPTAIN AMERICA #45*

$2.99

MAR

*

19

24

74.66

OCT082381-2

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #579*

$2.99

MAR

*

20

25

74.53

SEP080156-7

JUSTICE SOCIETY O/AMERICA #21*

$2.99

DC

*

21

26

73.72

OCT082384-5

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #581*

$2.99

MAR

*

22

8

73.27

OCT082342

DARK REIGN NEW NATION DKR

$3.99

MAR

*

23

27

72.34

OCT080153-4

JUSTICE SOCIETY O/AMERICA #22*

$2.99

DC

*

24

31

69.50

OCT080108-9

DETECTIVE COMICS #851*

$2.99

DC

*

25

32

69.28

SEP080151

GREEN LANTERN #36 (RES)

$2.99

DC

*

26

12

67.90

OCT082349

SECRET INVASION REQUIEM #1 DKR

$3.99

MAR

*

27

34

67.38

OCT082383

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #580

$2.99

MAR

*

28

35

64.82

OCT082463

X-MEN LEGACY #219

$2.99

MAR

*

29

36

62.91

OCT082466-7

X-FORCE #10*

$2.99

MAR

*

30

16

61.92

SEP082387

ASTONISHING X-MEN GHOST BOXES #2 (Of 2)

$3.99

MAR

*

31

38

61.17

OCT080132-3

ACTION COMICS #872 NEW KRYPTON*

$2.99

DC

*

32

39

60.67

OCT082343-4

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #8 DKR*

$2.99

MAR

*

33

18

59.59

OCT080122-4

BATMAN CACOPHONY #2 (Of 3)*

$3.99

DC

*

34

41

59.15

OCT080106-7

SUPERMAN #683 NEW KRYPTON*

$2.99

DC

*

35

42

57.84

AUG082347

FANTASTIC FOUR #562

$2.99

MAR

*

36

22

57.49

OCT082360-2

DARK TOWER TREACHERY #4 (Of 6)*

$3.99

MAR

*

37

43

56.23

SEP082362

AVENGERS INITIATIVE #19 SI

$2.99

MAR

*

38

44

55.84

OCT082394-5

AVENGERS INVADERS #7 (Of 12)*

$2.99

MAR

*

39

46

54.81

OCT082341

AVENGERS INITIATIVE #20 DKR

$2.99

MAR

*

40

47

54.64

OCT082380

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #129

$2.99

MAR

*

41

49

54.06

MAY082347

KICK ASS #5 (MR)

$2.99

MAR

*

42

28

53.48

SEP080100

FINAL CRISIS REVELATIONS #4 (Of 5)

$3.99

DC

*

43

51

53.23

OCT082347-8

WAR MACHINE #1 DKR*

$2.99

MAR

*

44

29

52.72

OCT080096

FINAL CRISIS SECRET FILES #1

$3.99

DC

*

45

30

52.65

OCT082363-5

STAND CAPTAIN TRIPS #4 (Of 5)*

$3.99

MAR

*

46

33

51.80

OCT082464-5

X-INFERNUS #1 (Of 4)*

$3.99

MAR

*

47

54

50.13

OCT082472

DEADPOOL #5

$2.99

MAR

*

48

55

49.18

SEP080144

SUPERMAN BATMAN #54

$2.99

DC

*

49

56

48.67

OCT080134-5

SUPERGIRL #36 NEW KRYPTON*

$2.99

DC

*

50

57

48.19

OCT082460

WOLVERINE ORIGINS #31

$2.99

MAR

*

51

58

47.46

OCT082379

ULTIMATE X-MEN #99

$2.99

MAR

*

52

59

47.45

OCT082402-3

DAREDEVIL #114*

$2.99

MAR

*

53

61

47.11

OCT080148

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #31

$2.99

DC

*

54

37

46.41

AUG082314

ULTIMATE HULK ANNUAL #1

$3.99

MAR

*

55

40

44.76

OCT082415

MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 #3 (Of 4)

$3.99

MAR

*

56

64

44.64

OCT080090

TRINITY #27

$2.99

DC

*

57

65

44.41

OCT080091

TRINITY #28

$2.99

DC

*

58

66

43.74

OCT080092

TRINITY #29

$2.99

DC

*

59

67

43.62

OCT080093

TRINITY #30

$2.99

DC

*

60

68

43.41

OCT080094

TRINITY #31

$2.99

DC

*

61

70

41.89

OCT080114

TITANS #8

$2.99

DC

*

62

45

41.44

OCT082434

THOR GOD SIZED #1

$3.99

MAR

*

63

48

40.63

OCT082430/

SEP088006

MARVELS EYE O/CAMERA #1 (Of 6)*

$3.99

MAR

*

64

50

40.28

OCT084215

ANGEL AFTER THE FALL #15

$3.99

IDW

*

65

72

39.43

OCT082398-9

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #124*

$2.99

MAR

*

66

73

39.38

OCT080113

TEEN TITANS #66

$2.99

DC

*

67

52

38.97

OCT082440-1

PUNISHER WAR ZONE #1 (Of 6)*

$3.99

MAR

*

68

53

38.93

OCT082459

X-MEN KINGBREAKER #1 (Of 4)

$3.99

MAR

*

69

77

38.92

OCT082438-9

THUNDERBOLTS #127*

$2.99

MAR

*

70

80

37.67

OCT080131

NIGHTWING #151

$2.99

DC

*

71

81

37.01

OCT082446-7

SKAAR SON OF HULK #6*

$2.99

MAR

*

72

82

36.94

OCT082468

CABLE #9

$2.99

MAR

*

73

83

36.83

OCT082469

X-FACTOR #38

$2.99

MAR

*

74

85

36.39

OCT082378

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #59

$2.99

MAR

*

75

86

35.92

SEP082396

WOLVERINE MANIFEST DESTINY #2 (Of 4) MD

$2.99

MAR

*

76

60

35.44

OCT082350-1

X-MEN NOIR #1 (Of 4)*

$3.99

MAR

*

77

62

34.84

OCT082476

X-MEN MANIFEST DESTINY #4 (Of 5) MD

$3.99

MAR

*

78

88

34.78

SEP082363

SECRET INVASION FRONT LINE #5 (Of 5) SI

$2.99

MAR

*

79

89

34.58

OCT080157/

OCT088013

WONDER WOMAN #27*

$2.99

DC

*

80

90

34.41

OCT080127

BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS #14

$2.99

DC

*

81

63

34.22

OCT082352-3

SPIDER-MAN NOIR #1 (Of 4)*

$3.99

MAR

*

82

92

33.77

OCT082457-8

GUARDIANS O/GALAXY #8*

$2.99

MAR

*

83

95

33.03

OCT082455

WHAT IF CAPTAIN AMERICA FALLEN SON

$2.99

MAR

*

84

96

32.64

OCT082470-1

YOUNG X-MEN #9 MD*

$2.99

MAR

*

85

99

31.85

OCT082346

MS MARVEL #34 DKR

$2.99

MAR

*

86

69

31.82

OCT082442

PUNISHER WAR ZONE #2 (Of 6)

$3.99

MAR

*

87

101

31.46

OCT082432-3

NOVA #20*

$2.99

MAR

*

88

102

31.28

OCT082477

WOLVERINE MANIFEST DESTINY #3 (Of 4) MD

$2.99

MAR

*

89

71

30.41

OCT082443

PUNISHER WAR ZONE #3 (Of 6)

$3.99

MAR

*

90

105

29.84

OCT080129

ROBIN #181

$2.99

DC

*

91

107

29.30

OCT080042

STAR WARS LEGACY #31 VECTOR PART 12 O/12

$2.99

DAR

*

92

75

29.26

OCT082444

PUNISHER WAR ZONE #4 (Of 6)

$3.99

MAR

*

93

76

29.25

OCT082456

WHAT IF SECRET WARS

$3.99

MAR

*

94

78

29.16

OCT082431/

SEP088007

MARVELS EYE O/CAMERA #2 (Of 6)*

$3.99

MAR

*

95

108

29.13

OCT082453

WHAT IF SPIDER-MAN BACK IN BLACK

$2.99

MAR

*

96

109

29.03

OCT084027

BOYS #25 (MR)

$2.99

DE

*

97

110

28.71

OCT080143

BOOSTER GOLD #15

$2.99

DC

*

98

79

28.65

OCT082452

WHAT IF HOUSE OF M

$3.99

MAR

*

99

112

28.35

OCT080146

FLASH #247

$2.99

DC

*

100

84

27.36

OCT082478

X-MEN SPIDER-MAN #2 (Of 4)

$3.99

MAR

*


The December 2008 estimates — and the 2008 year-end estimates — will appear on Comichron after the full release is received and analyzed. Stay tuned...

Read more...

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