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Wired profiles comics shop employees

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wired magazine has a pictorial and interview feature on "Secret Lives of Comics Store Employees" — where we get a look at the shops themselves and some of the people who work there. It's the kind of feature we wouldn't have seen a decade ago, when more stories tended to depict comics shops as outside the retail mainstream. It's also a good reminder that, as many people who work behind the scenes to put comics out, retail has, for years, accounted for the largest share of comics industry jobs.

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Comics sales in the 1930s: Famous Funnies

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I am often asked about comics sales in the old days — meaning the really old days of the Golden Age. One of the people who's done a lot of work in this area is Russ Maheras, who provided me his Audit Bureau of Circulation research on Famous Funnies a few years back.

Launched in 1934 as an added way for Eastern Color Printing to keep its presses rolling, Famous Funnies, initially filled with comic strip reprints, is regarded by some as the first traditional comic book for comparison purposes. While there have been unending debates on that distinction that would bore you to tears, the relevant matter to circulation research is that it was a monthly 10¢ four-color magazine similar in size to conventional comic books, and sold via newsstand sales. Whatever came before, Maggie Thompson and I agree that its publishing and distribution model became a standard for the business, thus providing a dividing line for us later folks looking to compare apples to apples whenever possible.

So never mind Buck Rogers in the 25th Century — what was he doing in the 1930s and 1940s? Well, while there are no subscription numbers from back then — postal statements did not require them until 1960 — Famous Funnies does have overall figures from the auditing agency. And it is especially helpful in that its ABC figures are for a single title, and not pooled as many listings are. That's been the bane of much audit agency research in those days — it is not always clear what issues are included in a given month's sales figures. Here, it is exact:

#30 • Jan-37 • 485,136
#31 • Feb-37 • 460,468
#32 • Mar-37 • 380,427
#33 • Apr-37 • 396,371
#34 • May-37 • 351,913
#35 • Jun-37 • 371,202
#36 • Jul-37 • 438,824
#37 • Aug-37 • 485,151
#38 • Sep-37 • 530,824
#39 • Oct-37 • 440,837
#40 • Nov-37 • 429,298
#41 • Dec-37 • 456,050

#42 • Jan-38 • 438,937
#43 • Feb-38 • 420,162
#44 • Mar-38 • 401,002
#45 • Apr-38 • 349,070
#46 • May-38 • 324,698
#47 • Jun-38 • 323,795
#48 • Jul-38 • 378,122
#49 • Aug-38 • 373,295
#50 • Sep-38 • 425,970
#51 • Oct-38 • 343,233
#52 • Nov-38 • 312,589
#53 • Dec-38 • 331,827

#54 • Jan-39 • 357,386
#55 • Feb-39 • 356,893
#56 • Mar-39 • 348,914
#57 • Apr-39 • 334,377
#58 • May-39 • 280,350
#59 • Jun-39 • 328,153
#60 • Jul-39 • 367,736
#61 • Aug-39 • 389,005
#62 • Sep-39 • 408,545
#63 • Oct-39 • 311,541
#64 • Nov-39 • 310,173
#65 • Dec-39 • 327,685

#66 • Jan-40 • 329,629
#67 • Feb-40 • 319,277
#68 • Mar-40 • 266,483
#69 • Apr-40 • 241,918
#70 • May-40 • 218,009
#71 • Jun-40 • 203,608
#72 • Jul-40 • 239,716
#73 • Aug-40 • 249,258
#74 • Sep-40 • 281,761
#75 • Oct-40 • 225,236
#76 • Nov-40 • 198,228
#77 • Dec-40 • 214,825

#78 • Jan-41 • 251,900
#79 • Feb-41 • 224,942
#80 • Mar-41 • 219,904
#81 • Apr-41 • 227,062
#82 • May-41 • 165,922
#83 • Jun-41 • 175,561
#84 • Jul-41 • 193,805
#85 • Aug-41 • 212,435
#86 • Sep-41 • 204,397
#87 • Oct-41 • 191,517
#88 • Nov-41 • 191,406
#89 • Dec-41 • 186,991

#90 • Jan-42 • 183,938
#91 • Feb-42 • 167,988
#92 • Mar-42 • 163,628
#93 • Apr-42 • 201,141
#94 • May-42 • 185,609
#95 • Jun-42 • 208,536

We see sales dropping off in the immediate prewar period; competition was a lot greater, by then. 1942 was likely the first year with more than 1,000 individual comic book issues released. Newsstand comics circulation probably hit its high-water mark in the early 1950s, just as Famous Funnies was winding down; I haven't seen numbers from that end of the run, but would suspect it was probably underselling a lot of the newer competition by then.

The numbers are exact enough, incidentally, for someone to take a stab at matching circulation changes with cover subject. Famous Funnies had rotating cover subjects, most early issues spotlighting humor comics; action covers, like the one above, mostly came along later. I note that #82 there sold more poorly than some of the humor covers in the stretch on either side, but someone would really need to square up the subjects and numbers to see if there was a direct relationship or not. My hunch is that newsstand sales in those very early days were incredibly fluke-y, with newsdealer accounts shifting around and draws changing at random — and print runs bouncing around depending on what else the publisher needed the resources for. But it would be an interesting study for someone, especially if more titles and issues are brought in.

Just a glimpse at some of the older data out there...

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Marvel closes up 15% on 4Q 2008 report

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Something actually went up on Wall Street: The market evidently liked what it heard in Marvel's quarterly report for the fourth quarter of 2008, with the stock closing up more than 15% to $27.55 after the earnings call.

Marvel's third quarterly report had topped Wall Street estimates; so, too, did this one, with Reuters reporting that "profit more than doubled, beating market estimates for the sixth straight quarter, as it benefited from the strong performance of its first self-produced films."

Marvel's revenue more than doubled to $224.3 million, the report said, including film-production revenue of $135.5 million, principally from Iron Man DVDs. Publishing revenue grew 9% to $33.1 million: recall that Diamond sales for the market in the quarter were $114.89 million at full retail. Marvel's portion of that, based on market shares, is about $42 million, so figuring roughly three-eights of that as the publisher's revenue, the direct market accounts for somewhere around $15.75 million, or just over half of it. If foreign or some other kinds of receipts are in that publishing revenue total, that'd square up fairly well with the direct market/mass market breakdown posited here earlier.

The company said it still saw a steep drop in earnings and revenue for 2009, when it has fewer self-produced movies.

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Spotlight: Turok, Son of Stone sales

Monday, February 23, 2009

Here's something that should interest collectors of Dell, Gold Key, and Whitman comics — and the later Valiant and Acclaim comics: The complete sales history of Turok, Son of Stone is now on The Comics Chronicles, including all data from all the Statements of Ownership ever printed in the title. We even go back to 1957, when there were no figures printed but the statements still ran. The Statements were photocopied from a complete set and provided to me in the 1990s by a writer who signed his name simply "Bill Turok." Thanks, Bill!

Interestingly, the highest reported sales of Turok from its original run were lower than Capital City Distribution's sales, alone, of the first issue of Valiant's Turok, Dinosaur Hunter in 1993. (That issue, with its "chromium" cover, cost $3.50, about what the average comic book today sells for.) Another time-lost time...

The Title Spotlights section is coming together slowly, yet, but this is one title report that's likely complete.

Unrelated note: My work on Comichron is among the topics in an interview just posted on ComicsCareer. You, too, can count comics for fun and profit. Well, for fun...

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More retail reports

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some more stories about comics retailers in the press. The Chillicothe Gazette of Chillicothe, Ohio, covers the closure of Acme Comics, a fixture in the city since 1993. Kathy Hall, who cofounded the store with her late husband, told the paper that while traffic has not decreased, the number of regular purchasers has because of the local economy. "I have people call and say, 'No, I can't pick up my books this month,'" Hall told the paper. "Even people who stopped by all the time."

Population 22,187, Chillicothe is about an hour south of Columbus and serves a wide area of Southern Ohio. Hall's mention of the local economy is a useful data point, as it will be helpful as the recession continues to differentiate whenever possible between closures due to external conditions, and those due to problems within the comics industry itself. Obviously, it doesn't matter in the near term — a lost store is a lost store. But as Hall seems to suggest, there is no less area interest in comics; that fact would serve the industry in any rebound in the general economy.

The Fresno Bee also has a piece on comics shops and the recession — no closings in this one, but retailers discussing strategies. Visalia, Calif., store owner Roy Gallagher says sales are down 4-5% year-over-year at his Collector's Choice store, and Dave Allread of Heroes Comics (presumably in Fresno) says his operation "know a little better in a few months whether a person who was buying eight to 10 comics each week drops down to five or six." The article deals with cover prices in some detail and reads somewhat less melodramatically than some other recent pieces from California papers.

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Bookscan... and comics' big year

Friday, February 20, 2009

Edit: Caught a simple but embarrassingly large math error, thanks to John diBello. The ICV2 data included Diamond data within. Corrections made to the math, and new info below...

San Francisco retailer Brian Hibbs has his annual look at the Nielsen Bookscan numbers for trade paperbacks online, and again it provides a lot of interesting information about how comics are continuing to add to the industry bottom line through sales of bound editions.

Bookscan draws upon cash-register data from many member bookstores, and its share of industry sales on individual titles varies. It really depends on what the item is. Creator royalty statements tell me that the Bookscan share of mainstream action titles ranges between 40% and 60% of the amount not sold in comics shops; but for others, it can be much less. Tom Spurgeon passes on Eric Reynolds' note that Bookscan reported Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 1 sold 719 copies, whereas the title's book trade sales were actually 4,000 copies. There are a number of reasons why this might be true, and particularly for alternative titles; it's very possible that the independent or alternative booksellers where Fantagraphics sees much of its traffic are not as well represented in Bookscan's sample. On the other hand, I'd guess that the average Bookscan store might do better in manga and super-hero comics. It's hard to know without more information.

At any rate, I was waiting to do my protected "all-industry number" for 2008 — not just the direct market — until both Brian's and ICV2's information was out. Recall my direct market estimate was for $436.6 million at full retail in the comics shop market for all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines. Brian reports that the 17,571 different trade paperbacks, graphic novels, and manga in the Bookscan file sold 15,541,769 copies worth $199,033,741.57 — an average of $12.80 per book. (We see here the role of manga: By contrast, the average trade paperback in Diamond's Top 300 trades in December 2008 sold for an average of $18.76 a copy!)

That number for trades in Bookscan is up 1%, Brian reports, while dollars are up 8%. The absolute number of trade paperbacks reported is up 25%, though — the result of so many things coming into print and staying in stock. In this light, the Diamond efforts to shave shelf-items make more sense: the Diamond Dialogue Annual just published reports that the new warehouse in Olive Branch, Mississippi, just across the border from the old one in Memphis, has inventory slots for 20,000 "stock-keeping units," or different products. If you figure that three months' worth of comics accounts for 1,500 or more slots and there are also toys and other items to contend with, it becomes clear that Diamond would not now be able to shelve every single item that sold in a Bookscan store last year. That may be inviolved in its recent steps toward inventory control.

OK, back to numbers: Milton Griepp in his end-of-year estimate estimated that bookstore sales of graphic novels — including manga, he confirmed for me — equaled $395 million in 2008, up from $375 million in 2007.

[Edit: Changed portion begins.]
Trade paperbacks through Diamond to the direct market amounted to approximately $150-160 million in 2008; that's the Overall figure minus the Top 300 Comics, magazines, and some extra for the comics below 300th place. So the book trade portion for TPBs would account for $215-225 million. This is relatively near to the Bookscan number. Milton subdivides $175 million for manga, which mostly would have sold in the mass market. I do not know why the royalty statements I've seen from various creators from various companies are over-reporting returnable sales relative to Bookscan; perhaps they are including copies not yet returned and paying for them anyway.

Finally, there's newsstand and subcription sales of periodical comics. The Top 300 comics for every month in the direct market totaled $263 million; ICV2 estimates $320 million if you throw in comics outside 300th place and newsstand. Looking at the increased volume in the "long tail" for Diamond comics in 2008 — and newsstand sales tipped by Marvel and Archie's Statements of Ownership, that's looking like a guess of $30-40 million newsstand not covered in the Diamond charts. That seems reasonable — remember, almost all of Archie's business is there — so for the moment let's take that as likely. Finally — and almost always forgotten — subscription sales. We know Amazing Spider-Man had 10,800 subscribers at $27 before the three-a-month schedule started last year; I'd have to dig further, but it's likely that there could be somewhere between $3-5 million out there in subscription dollars coming in.

So, that gives us, fusing everyone's estimates:

Direct Market Comics, Trades, GNs, and Magazines (Comichron): $437 million
Mass Market Trades and GNs (ICV2/Hibbs/Bookscan): $215-225 million
Newsstand Comics (ICV2/Comichron/USPS): $30-40 million
Subscription Comics (Comichron/USPS): $3-5 million

Comic book and trade paperback sales in North America: $685-707 million

I would fudge-factor that $680-710 million — which is what's going on the Yearly Sales page. I'd thought I would need to revise the previous years upward, but the math error explains the problem.

What's significant about this? It's an increase, yes, but also, it rivals the number that we always talked about for 1993, the historic peak of the market. $850 million was the figure that we at Comics Buyer's Guide derived from interviewing distributors and publishers — I do not know the specific derivation of the figure or what it involved as it was before my time, but we quoted it ever afterward. Now, I really want to revisit that 1993 material one day; the unit sales back then were enormously higher, and I'm guessing the true dollar number was more, too. Not to mention the huge money in the aftermarket back then — which is yet another part of this people often overlook: between eBay, the convention trade, and other sources, I would put the comics aftermarket in the $200 million range all on its own.

So that's getting close to a billion dollars across all channels, not even getting into licensing and ancillary revenues. A good number to remember, as the debates about the future of comics go on...

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Objection: Facts not in evidence

Not to evaluate every mass-media reference to trends in the comics market — much less places that do unsigned snippets about Madonna, video games, and American Idol like gossip-and-fad-chaser Radar Online — but its latest "exclusive" revelation on "The End of Comic Books" cobbles together a couple of data points and leaps wildly into the blue.

Following the discussion of the potential impact of electronic readership on comics, the piece quotes DC's John Cunningham from the New York Comicon panels saying that, "if 10% of the readers migrate to an e-device, that is gonna throw off the economics for 60% of the (comic) books that are published in this country." Fair enough, and possibly true. But it's incorrect for the reader to infer that online migration is a flat loss to the publisher, since the publisher does play a role in determining both the economics and the timing of the online migration. Ten percent leaving to read bootleg is not the same as 10% being otherwise monetized by the publisher — and while no current known monetization scheme would allow a publisher to see the same $2.99 on an electronic version, the presumption has always been that publishers wouldn't depend on just that 10% of existing readers, but a larger pool, available only online, to make the books balance. If offering an online channel cuts print sales by 10% — and an online channel needs to attract, say, twice as many readers as you have print customers to make up that 10% of lost print sales — you're not likely to offer that channel in the first place until you can expect that level of interest. That's why it's taken so long.

So point #1 leaves a few steps out. Point #2 from the piece, saying that while sales of graphic novels are up 5% (a number it got from Advertising Age and previously from Diamond), "that is expected to go in reverse as more content becomes available online." The problem is, thus far, the absolute opposite has been true. Overall comics and trade paperback sales have been up eight years in a row at Diamond. Not by as much in this last year of recession for the general economy — but trade paperbacks continue to lead the way. If the amount of comics-related content has increased every year of the Internet's existence — and graphic novel sales have also increased every one of those years — where is the causal relationship? So if it's an expectation, it's an expectation based on looking at something else. There's more evidence to say that the Internet, with its promotional power and the presence of Amazon and eBay, has popularized the trade paperback as has harmed it.

The unnamed author expects Marvel and DC to remain merchandising powerhouses, but predicts the end of the local comic book shop — "and it's not gonna do the bag-and-board makers a whole lotta good either." This reference overlooks a constant — that because of the tens of billions of comic books already in collectors' hands, comics will always be with us. I expect the Bags Unlimited of the world will have things to bag for a good long time.

Obviously, this isn't a searching analysis by a business site, but a blurb on a pop-culture gossip aggregator. (There's no way to respond to Radar's post on the site — and even the "contact" section is blank, "currently being updated.") But these are the sorts of reports that build narratives when unchallenged; I fully believe that mass-media reports on the sure-fire speculative value of new comic books in the early 1990s aggravated the situation in the market — especially as many appeared late in the game encouraging unprepared publishers and collectors to jump in. External decision-makers don't always have access to all the facts.

It is well to look at the trends and wonder where the future lies — and there are certainly a variety of issues facing comics and categories where numbers are going the wrong way. People who write on message boards that comics are in trouble often aren't aware that industry dollar sales in aggregate have been trending upward annually for most of this decade, but they often are responding to component trends, like unit sales declines within monthlies and price increases. But among pieces directed at the outside world, the more helpful ones are usually those that base their predictions — and statements of current conditions — on as much of the available data as possible.

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Essay: Watchmen and film techniques

Thursday, February 19, 2009

With the Watchmen movie coming up, the number of public inquiries involving it has increased — many asking the simple question of why it's such an important comics work. The simple answer, "read it," works for some; others look for a little more context — particularly students working on term papers!

The Comics Chronicles is styled as a resource for academic research — though most of what's been done here to date relates to circulation history. There is, however, an essay I've referred people to frequently by my old friend and small press cohort, Neil Dorsett — a guy who's forgotten more about film than I ever knew — about the relationship between film techniques and what's on the printed page in Watchmen. That originally appeared in Comics Buyer's Guide in 1999, but it has been unavailable since, and Neil has provided the essay here.

Look also to Watching the Watchmen, the official companion book to the series, in building out a Watchmen bibliography. I'm certain there are many, many more.

I do not expect that many pieces will appear here about what's in comics — writing about the history of the business is a full-time hobby — but it did seem to be of immediate interest to many. I do have some circulation info on the title and how it performed in its initial run — before its many, many reprints; that's to come in the days ahead.

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January 2009 comics sales: Big chill indeed

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Comics sales in the first month of January reverted to historical "dead quarter" form, sinking 9% in overall dollars and in Top 300 dollars — and shaving a chilling 17% off Top 300 Unit Sales. This, despite sales of the Barack Obama Amazing Spider-Man #583, which as expected came in at almost 353,000 copies across the first three printings and one initial variant. Click to see the sales charts for January.

The first printing of the Obama issue is the smallest of the three, coming in somewhat above normal sales for the title; both the second and the third printings sold more than 100,000 copies, with the second being the best-seller of the January versions. The million additional dollars came in handy, as new comics were already off by more than 1 million copies versus the previous year. The appearance of the new president may not have saved January, but it does appear to have made a major difference, particularly in areas where retailers spread awareness of the title through local media and signage.

While the issue isn't done cycling, its one-month sales were the best in comics since December 1997, and the 357,000 copies preordered of Image's Darkness #11, marketed with eleven variant covers. This month is notable for anothe record, however — the average comic book ordered by retailers cost $3.41, the highest ever. Those and other Diamond-era records can now be found on The Comics Chronicles on our new records page.

The month by the numbers:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2009: 5.62 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +9%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -8%

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2009: $19.17 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +32%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -22%

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2009: $6.2 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. just the Top 100: +8%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +54%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +110%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2009: $25.37 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -12%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +27%

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines) January 2009: $31.31 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +43%

Again, even with the Obama Spider-Man, we’re looking at a pretty heavily down month in the Top 300 comics in units — and to a lesser degree in dollars. In the context of previous Januaries, it’s worse than drops seen in the 2000s, but not as bad as the horrid drops of the 1990s. There were a number of store closures at the end of 2008 — not a large number, but not an inconsiderable one — and we can see the evidence of that in the fact that the month-to-month title drops seem to be distributed more or less uniformly. Historically, the variable with the strongest relationship to comic book circulation is almost certainly the number of outlets — but as the in-title drops in many cases exceed the percentage of the retail base that went out, that leaves plenty of room for other causes like the general economy.

And importantly, while we’ve been up against a couple of very strong January performances in the recent past, it’s worth noting that we’re still 22% above January 2006 overall.

The frontlist of the trade paperback sector did well this time around; just the Top 100 were up 8% in dollars, something that Secret Invasion and Watchmen certainly had something to do with.

Looking at the top-selling comic books in the past..

January 2008's top selller was the new Hulk #1, with orders of 133,895 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

January 2004's top-seller was Ultimate Fantastic Four #2, with orders of 126,209 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

January 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #366, with orders of 139,010 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

January 1994's top seller was X-Men Vol. 2, #30. By this time, Uncanny X-Men was usually outselling its newer sister title — but this issue was special, as it featured the wedding of Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Both Diamond and Capital City's sales charts agreed on the issue at #1, selling about 30% more than the Uncanny issue that month. Capital City alone sold 145,750 copies of the top-seller, and total sales were likely in the 800,000-copy range.

January 1989's top seller at Capital City was Uncanny X-Men #244, an issue notable for the first appearance of Jubilee. Capital City sold 71,200 copies of the issue, and archival sources available to The Comics Chronicles confirm the actual sales at 432,400 copies across all channels.

And January 1984's top comic book — at Capital and likely everywhere else — was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #1, the granddaddy (or at least older uncle) of many, many freestanding cross-over event titles to come.

(Data revised 3/29)

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Diamond-era records now online

What's the best-selling comic book in the last dozen years? What's the worst-selling top-seller? There's a reference for that now — as the Comichron "book of records," long-delayed, is finally beginning on site, with the Diamond Era Records page now online. Covering April 1997 to present, it's a first step — and it includes, beyond high-and-low-selling issues and months, info on highest average prices and market share peaks for the major companies.

We find that the Obama Amazing Spider-Man issue, which does indeed look to land around the 353,000-copy direct sales mark, looks to be the best-seller since December 1997, and Image's Darkness #11, which had preorders of 357,000 copies across 11 covers. Missed it by that much!

Obviously, this is a page which will grow and be amended over time. There is also an all-time page in the works. And follow the caveats on the page; the records here are derived from estimates using the Diamond data, and thus include nothing else, like a comic's sales on the newsstand. Both Pokémon #1 and Ultimate Spider-Man #1 had significant external sales, for example — and we have no way of adding for sure what the Obama Spidey's newsstand sales were as of yet.

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Ghosts of Januaries past (updated)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Still running more numbers on January 2009 — my process takes a few extra steps — but it is looking like the predicted losses will be reflected in the final data. Now is a good time, then, to take another look at Dead Quarters past, and what the typical January performances are.

The dropoffs from December to January I originally detailed here — but repeat now. Here's the estimated change within the Top 300 comics dollar sales from December to January from 1997 to 2007-8:

December 1996 to January 1997: -15.3%
December 1997 to January 1998: -27.7%
December 1998 to January 1999: -15.2%
December 1999 to January 2000: -18.5%
December 2000 to January 2001: -8.9%
December 2001 to January 2002: -3.6%
December 2002 to January 2003: -4.8%
December 2003 to January 2004: -19.9%
December 2004 to January 2005: -26.7%
December 2005 to January 2006: -17.0%
December 2006 to January 2007: -4.8%
December 2007 to January 2008: -7.0%

Why the consistent dropoff, even in good years? Christmas shopping. Publishers cutting back offerings due to winter. Retailers cutting back hours for the same reason. Retailers closing shop so as not to owe taxes for another year. Civil War plus trade paperbacks may helped January 2007 just nudge ahead in total dollars, but this is close to an article of faith here: all things being equal, most titles lose sales from December to January.

Now, for the addition, let's look at historic January-to-January comparisons in Top 300 Units. Each year is versus the year before:

1998: -21.2%
1999: -12.3%
2000: -9.1%
2001: -6.3%
2002: +25.2%
2003: -14.5%
2004: -8.0%
2005: -3.3%
2006: +11.8%
2007: +20.3%
2008: +0.9%

And then in Top 300 Dollars:

1998: -23.7%
1999: -5.6%
2000: -9.2%
2001: +0.8%
2002: +16.3%
2003: -7.2%
2004: -6.8%
2005: -4.2%
2006: +19.7%
2007: +25.7%
2008: +0.7%

So we see that even in 2003-2005 — years that were growth years in the end — January new-comics sales slid in dollar terms. And seven of the last eleven years saw unit sales declines in January, despite several of those years ending with increases overall. January is not destiny — all months in comics are not created equal. A strong August erases six weeks of winter!

Not saying we've been spoiled, but we've had a couple of very warm winters here recently, at least in a financial sense. January 1994 saw nearly 10% of the retailer base close. Whatever the performance this year — and however different the current conditions may be for whatever reasons — in the context of historical comics sales patterns, it is these recent years that have been the exception.

Update: Milton Griepp at ICV2 has January off 9% dollar-wise, which is close to my estimate-in-progress; that would put the month worse year-to-year than any drop in the 2000s, but better than the drops in the late 1990s. Units will come off much worse, in the double-digits as I expected. And Spider-Man will look to hit the mid-300s predicted earlier here.

Unit drops look consistent with fewer accounts, with the lowering tide moving everything at once regardless of price point. Overall comics-and-backlist figure yet to come when my estimates post; we'll make up ground there. More later...

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Chicago paper on local retail situation

I spoke recently to the reporter for the Northwest Herald, a suburban Chicago paper, for her piece on the local comics scene, recently posted. The reporter interviewed Al Armstrong of Al n’ Ann’s Collectibles in McHenry on surviving in the recession. “We’re established, and we’ve got a really solid customer base," Armstrong said. "I don’t see us going anywhere.”

The reporter also interviewed the former owner of two Overload Comics and Collectibles locations in Fox River Grove and Cary, who had turned to internet sales after closing down. “It was a passion, and I just went for it,” Michael Knick said. “Unfortunately, the market has changed, and it’s gone in a bad direction.”

Reporter Sarah Sutschek appears to have looked closely at other closures to find their real reasons; she told me she'd decided not to mention the closing of one store, whose owner had died. Not all "recession watch" stories go that far; but in comics, where so many businesses are owner-operator, it's best never to assume a closure was market related. (I couldn't stop the "Biff! Pow! Bam!" headline, though, for which the moratorium should have begun 20 years ago by my watch...)

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January 2009 raw sales: Big winter chill?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Diamond released its raw tables for January 2009 comics sales today, and while it will be a short time before I can run estimates, I have taken the interim step of posting the raw January data in the place where the final data will eventually appear. This includes the Order Index Numbers — and also includes on the left-hand side the elements which are complete: the Final Unit and Dollar Market Shares, as well as the Unit Count by publisher within the Top 300.

It is this last where the story of January may reside. I have only done some thumbnail estimates — and while they are too preliminary to post, my belief is that, the contribution of the Barack Obama Amazing Spider-Man aside, this appears to be a good-old-fashioned Bad January. Unit sales in the Top 300 could be off in the double-digits — with Top 300 dollars off by much less, but still off. It's looking more like January 2006 than either of the past two years — and reminiscent of the older "Dead Quarter" years where the number or releases dropped in the winter. Marvel, which had placed 119 books in the Top 300 in December 2008, only had 92 entries this month, one less than DC. That drop of 27 entries tells the tale, I'd expect.

The final numbers may come in higher — I'm using partial data for my guesswork — but if you see units down by a considerably margin, don't be surprised. The Obama issue may not have saved the month, but it appears to have kept a down month from being considerably worse.

Last note: As stated here earlier, Diamond has added an additional column this month to the trades, not just saying that an item is new, but stating which month the current edition of the item initially was released in. That column appears in my raw and final tables next to the title of the book.

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Winter 1999: Another winter of discontent

In advance of the January 2009 figures being posted, the sales estimates for January 1999, February 1999, and March 1999 have been added to the main Comichron site. Return to a time when the Dead Quarter was indeed fairly dead — with Kitchen Sink folding at the end of the previous year and sales dropping year-over-year.

It was also a time when DC, having acquired Wildstorm, charged ahead of Marvel even in the narrowest categories of Top 300 comics unit and dollar sales. Marvel's number of entries in the Top 300 bottomed out in February (as can also be seen on the trendline here) at 37 comics, a figure probably not seen since the early 1980s. And we see retailers beginning to catch on that Pokémon is, as mentioned below, for real; the first issue of the second mini-series had nearly triple the initial orders of the first issue of the first, just a few months earlier — and that first Pokébook itself is already on its third printing by this time.

A few notes about the Top 300s, which, as you'll see for January, was just the Top 275. That's an artifact of my tracking rules in those days. First, when something was known to have been canceled, I sometimes removed the item: That was the case in January 1999 with the Kitchen Sink version of the new Crow series; orders were cancelled and it was solicited again by Image a little later in the year. Then there was the ongoing presence of Billy Tucci's Battlebooks, which were games in comic-book form; I'd been sorting those out, as well. Finally, because so few items were offered in January, some kind of promotion whereby Image reoffered what must have been every issue of Spawn caused more than a dozen Spawn issues, some from the early 1990s, to make the bottom of the list. While I wasn't always chopping "Offered Again" comics from the list, I think I must have in January 1999 — assuming that Diamond had made a mistake and put a lot of backlist items on the preorder list. I have the original list somewhere, and will look at possibilities for handling the restoration of that list (and others) to the full 300. It will still cause some problems, as Image will, from the Item Count list, look like it put out way more books than it did.

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Obama Spidey and the newsstand

Friday, February 13, 2009

Following up on yesterday's estimate placing the direct-market January sales of the Barack Obama Amazing Spider-Man #583 in the mid-300,000 copy range, Corey Henson has noted the presence of second printings in large numbers in a supermarket stand with no other comics.

While the comics spinner rack is the way most of us remember comics on the newsstand, over the years I have increasingly seen retailers with independent distributor magazine accounts "cherry-picking" comics, racking just one or two titles scattered in with their other magazines (and usually hidden by them, since they're shorter than other magazines). Often, the selection seems scattershot; a single issue of a super-hero crossover, for example, even though none of the other books are stocked. (Twice I've even seen stores — including a big-box hardware store — where something I've written was the only book there. How did they know I was dropping by?) There never was much rhyme or reason to the inventory of newsstand dealers, and there still isn't — only, now, with outlets carrying comics onesie-twosie, the selection makes even less sense than usual.

However, just walking into a convenience store today shows that "ship everything Obama-related" is, evidently, a default choice for the newsstand distributors; so Corey's experience is probably being replicated in a lot of other places. The question he raises is apt: how many more copies might be in the stream beyond that initial 350k or so (if that's what it is)?

First, let's recognize that we won't know the final sales for some time, as there are more reorders to go through. I think that mid-300s figure is solid, but it's possible Monday's numbers might only cover the portion that physically shipped in January. We'll see. On top of that, though, we know from the Statement of Ownership published in late 2008 that...

• the subscription sales for Amazing Spider-Man averaged 10,800 copies last year. The actual number closest to filing date was only 8,410, a drop that might have been accountable to the shift to three times a month (thus burning through a typical $27 sub faster). This figure would not have been improved by the Obama appearance. Then...

• newsstand draws — the number of copies printed and shipped to the newsstand — probably figure in the 15-25k range. This is particularly hard to figure from the Statement given that the averages account for a lot of issues that weren't three-a-month — and I'm not confident the "closest-to-filing-date" figures include everything (which is why I always rely on the averages). But roughly, that first printing, when no newsstand distributor would have known anything special was going on, could be in that range somewhere.

Figuring the sub copies as sold and assuming that the newsstand copies sold out (highly unusual, but possible) then gets us close to 400k without the later newsstand printings. How much might they add? It's very hard to say. Only about 10% of the sales of McFarlane's Spider-Man #1 came from the newsstand in 1990 — and while there were reprintings for the newsstand, one of them, the famously elusive "gold with UPC" second printing, only had a print run numbering in the four figures. So it's anyone's guess.

A tricky question for the record books is how to classify reprinted and variant editions — that's a whole other debate. We know Pokemon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu #1 was probably the #1 comic book of 1999, though it came out in 1998 and only had Diamond preorders of 9,300 copies the first time around. But during the Poke-mania of 1999, it went through more than a dozen reprintings — none of them identified — almost entirely for the newsstand, bringing its total, Viz assured me at the time, over 1 million copies. That's one of those things that's invisible from looking just at the direct market — and the lack of reprint labeling makes it hard to differentiate, as we might, between the various waves in any way that would allow us to compare apples to apples.

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Diamond January 2009: Obama issue adds $1 mil+ to market

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beginning the release of information for January 2009, Diamond has released its market shares and top sellers for the month — and as expected, Amazing Spider-Man #583, the Barack Obama issue, led the charts:

1 ) Amazing Spider-Man #583 • $3.99 • Marvel Comics
2) Dark Avengers #1 • $3.99 • Marvel Comics
3) Final Crisis #6 • $3.99 • DC Comics
4) Final Crisis #7 • $3.99 • DC Comics
5) New Avengers #49 • $3.99 • Marvel Comics
6) Captain America #46 • $2.99 • Marvel Comics
7) Batman #685 • $2.99 • DC Comics
8) Astonishing X-Men #28 • $2.99 • Marvel Comics
9) Justice League of America #29 • $2.99 • DC Comics
10) Buffy the Vampire Slayer #21 • $2.99 • Dark Horse Comics

Looking at the market share, word from retailers, and other information at hand, I feel confident that my initial hunch was close to correct, and that the issue's sales roughly quintupled across all versions. (I'd figured somewhere between quadrupling and quintupling — with the new printings increasingly piling on more.) That would put the issue's direct-market sales in the mid 300,000s — and add a little more than $1 million to the market for the month. Again, this would have the effect of offsetting a 4% drop in unit sales elsewhere, should January be its usual slow self.

How does this answer my own question of how the issue would rank in Spider-history? Unless the newsstand adds more than I'm expecting (I think it initially got the "cougar" cover, but I don't know for sure), it'll be better than anything in the last 15 years, and up there past most of the 1960s and 1970s issues, too. So it's likely the best seller for the series outside of the early 1990s boom period.

To the trades:

1) Walking Dead Vol. 9: Here We Remain • $14.99 • Image Comics
2) Watchmen • $19.99 • DC Comics
3) Secret Invasion • $29.99 • Marvel Comics
4) Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 21: War of the Symbiotes • $15.99 • Marvel Comics
5) Justice Vol. 3 • $14.99 • DC Comics
6) House of Mystery Vol. 1: Room and Boredom • $9.99 • DC Comics
7) Star Wars: Vector Vol. 1: Chapters 1 & 2 • $17.95 • Dark Horse Comics
8) Batman: The Man Who Laughs • $14.99 • DC Comics
9) Joker HC • $19.99 • DC Comics
10) Criminal Vol. 4: Bad Night • $14.99 • Marvel Comics

Watchmen still right up there, in advance of the movie; I would guess Secret Invasion is the top dollar book. And, full disclosure, I did write that Star Wars book, along with Mick Harrison — as with everything, I'm just conveying Diamond's report.

And finally, the market shares:

DOLLAR SHARES
Marvel • 42.82%
DC • 31.24%
Dark Horse • 5.22%
Image • 4.19%
IDW • 3.00%
Dynamic Forces • 1.75%
Viz • 1.52%
Wizard • 1.35%
Avatar Press • 0.88%
Tokyopop • 0.90%
Other • 7.14%

UNIT SHARES

Marvel • 45.86%
DC • 33.45%
Dark Horse • 4.55%
IDW • 3.10%
Image • 3.05%
Dynamic Forces • 1.88%
Wizard • 1.10%
Avatar Press • 0.86%
Viz • 0.81%
Tokyopop • 0.39%
Other • 4.94%

That's it. Look for further data as the next week unfolds.

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Where will Obama issue rank in Spider-title history?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Diamond January 2009 sales data will be along next week, and Amazing Spider-Man #583 will almost certainly be #1 for the month — as some retailers have said, the Barack Obama inauguration day issue helped put what is usually a slow month overall into positive territory. Its role in the present day aside, it will be interesting to see where the issue ranks in the circulation history of Marvel's flagship title overall.

For a look at what's out there, I've posted the information from the Amazing Spider-Man postal circulation statements I have in the database in the Title Spotlight section. I haven't got a lot in that section yet, and as you can see, the Amazing Spider-Man data is partial. I have all the Statements before 2006; it's just a matter of getting the subscription numbers and print runs added in as time allows. If someone has clean scans of the 2007 and 2008 forms (along with the issue numbers and cover dates they're printed in), wing them my way at the address on the page; I know I can lay my hands on the issues, but my newest comics are awaiting sorting and shelving, and you often have to go through several issues at once to find the forms (or confirm that they do not exist).

Anyway, we see the high-water mark is in that post-McFarlane Mark Bagley-era stretch during the boom in 1993, with 593,442 copies sold across all channels, direct market, subs, and newsstand. Now, that's an average; there were individual issues with higher totals. Amazing Spider-Man #375, within that year, was the 30th Anniversary Special with a metallic ink cover; sources put direct market sales of that at 914,300 copies (not counting newsstand or subs!). Capital City's orders on that $3.95 book — yes, $3.95 in 1993 — alone were 208,200 copies. I am inclined to believe that issue was the top-seller for the title ever.

That's for Amazing; the top-selling Spider-Man comic of all time would be the Todd McFarlane "adjectiveless" Spider-Man #1. That issue in its bagged and unbagged forms, according to Marvel, had sales of 3,286,000 copies, the vast majority of them in the direct market. That places it in the Top 5 for modern-era comics; don't ask me to sort the list right now, but figure X-Men Vol. 2, #1 is on top.

Instead of looking for the Obama issue to match those lofty heights, we might look to a nearer contemporary history-related issue for a comparison: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. #2, #36, the black-covered 9/11 issue. It's hard to say its sales exactly, because that was in the preorder-era for the Diamond charts — and at the time orders were taken, 9/11 hadn't even happened yet. Preorders were 92,800 copies — and since Diamond was not putting reordered titles on the charts, we didn't see what the numbers finally were once reorders came in. My guess is sales might have doubled over that, but not much more — because the yearly average in the Statement of Ownership for 2002 (which the issue would have been considered under) goes up, but only by about 10,000 copies.

As to #538? I would guess the current issue will top that 2001 performance; the relative state of the retail base is stronger, and the issue got more national press. Stay tuned...

Update: And a couple of hours later, at the good old comics shop, I located the Statement in the 2008 issue; it's been added to the data. 2006 and 2007 are still needed — though as I note, a cursory search found nothing in 2006. It is unusual seeing the 2008 report, being for the three-issue-a-month period; it's the only $81 subscription rate in the whole database!

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The digital age: Why collectability survives

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kiel Phegley's account of the ICV2 forum at New York Comicon included an interesting comment by Dave Roman, cartoonist and associate editor at Nickelodeon magazine:

  • "Most people I know and that I’ve talked to don’t read books more than once. There is that collector mentality, but that’s a very niche comic book mentality that has to do with rarity and collectibility that will not exist digitally. The idea of a rare digital file may never really happen. So the idea of convincing somebody to pay for a book when so much reading online is free…that’s the reason newspapers are dying, because a newspaper would want to charge for their content — for like an editorial or something — but some blogger can do it for free, and for the most part people don’t care."
Roman's larger point was that he saw a multi-platform future for comics, including the web and print versions for fans of varying formats — and that does seem to be the way it's going. The interesting question, however, is whether a future in which new readers are increasingly accustomed to reading online erodes the market for physical books — and, since he mentioned it, the collectible market for such physical versions that exist. What we know of comics history suggests a few answers.

Taking the second question first: Would the availability of free-or-low-cost versions erode the collectible market? I think the record shows the answer is no — although the degree depends on what end of the market you're talking about.

Let's take the important Silver Age comics, many of which have been heavily reprinted over the years. The early issues of Amazing Spider-Man are among the most heavily reprinted comics in history — both in print and, now, digitally, both official and bootleg. And the value of the extant issues hasn't just held during the proliferation of reprints, it's increased. Prices spiked considerably after the 2002 Spider-Man movie was released — not from existing-collector-to-existing-collector transactions, but because of new money coming in. There were certainly new readers attracted to the Spidey stories who found and were perfectly satisfied by digital or print replicas; but there were also new buyers attracted to the original editions, growing the pool of dollars and, thus, boosting prices on the existing comics. (CGC and the advent of "slabbing" made it possible, as well, to lower the barriers to entry for new buyers looking for high-dollar items.) For these buyers, the replica will never be as good as the original, on paper or a screen — for the same reason as in all the other high-end collectible markets. It's a repro.

What about newer material? We certainly haven't seen aftermarket prices on recent material climb with the velocity they did in the early 1990s — when there were many more participants in the market — but it's hard to see the digital factor. Partially, we've had publishing strategies out there for a while where snap-reprints of things like the Obama Spider-Man issue become available quickly — so we're peeling off the people who are less "repro-resistant" ourselves. But on the other hand, for the entire direct market age publishers have had the ability (whether they did it or not) to keep initial supply relatively close to initial demand — and that's translated to tens of thousands of issues which, while they'll never be hot fodder for speculators, do exist in numbers fewer than those who want them today and thus have been retaining value.

Which brings us to the first question. Presumably, yes, any new reader who is unaware of — or otherwise willing to overlook — the ways in which an electronic version of a comic book is not identical to its physical version would then not be in the market for that version. However, the growth of comics industry sales in the digital age suggests that the physical version does have virtues that endure, parallel to whatever's happening online. The qualitative differences between reading the two are enough to allow markets for each. Compare that with the recording industry, where music is far less "digitally deficient": there, sales of the CD format were affected, because the product was seen to be identical.

This is not to downgrade online comics at all — far from it, in fact. Both comics crafted specifically for the online delivery system and online versions of print comics have dramatically increased the size of the audience for graphic storytelling. But while people have spent the last decade trying to make the print and the online experiences identical, recognizing the enduring value of both platforms (which is what I think Roman was saying in his introduction) could put comics well ahead of some other entertainment forms. Comic books aren't a niche — vinyl's a niche, because very few people have turntables. Meanwhile, you can still read a comic book in 2009 using the same equipment you used in 1939 — your baby blues. What that means is that while you may well have new readers who never take an interest in owning a physical copy — we're a lot more likely to see print converts than recording will see vinyl converts. Will that happen at the replacement level for every comic book in the secondary market? Probably not — but then, that's always been the case for something. The question is, does the number of dollars in aggregate increase? So far, it seems to have.

As the focus of this site is more on the past than the future, I don't often address issues of viability. But there are a few things to remember, when hearing horror stories about newspaper and magazine publishing:

Comics are not magazines, because, thanks to the direct market, most of the copies printed are pre-sold at full-retail prices, as opposed to magazines, reliant on cut-rate subscriptions;

Comics are not magazines
, because, thanks to the trade paperback, there is a proven sales channel for reprints; and...

Comics are not magazines, because the vast majority of people don't throw them away, but perceive them as items with intrinsic lasting value that someone will want to own, if not read.

That last speaks to the collectability aspect, and it is something we should not be quick to throw away ourselves. Past excesses have been destructive, and the primary reason to buy a comic book is to read. But fate's dealt the medium one more card to play that few others have. Unless the Earth is struck by a paper-eating spore from the Andromeda galaxy, physical comics will always be with us — no matter what future publishers do. My rough guess back in my "Things Nobody Knows" column in Comics Buyer's Guide #1598 a few years back was that somewhere around 30 to 35 billion comic books had been sold — that is, printed and not returned — since the 1930s, and that some goodly portion of that, including almost everything from recent decades, still existed. We may not have movies or music or news when the power goes out once and for all, but relax — we'll always have comics!

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Retailer story paints hopeful outlook

Friday, February 6, 2009

With much of the comics world's attention focuesed on New York for the Comicon, another mainstream media report about comics shops has appeared on the other side of the continent. Only this one, from the Seattle Times, involves the chain Comic Stop and presents a more hopeful outlook.

Obama did indeed save January, according to chain founder Jim Demonakos, and the reporter quotes Comics Chronicles information about the 2008 market growth and lack of a strong correlation either way historically between comics industry and overall economic performance.

The reporter, Amy Martinez, did mention to me having seen the more downbeat Los Angeles Times story that circulated widely; I now know of several other interviewees on that one, including myself, who had concerns about the angle the paper took on that one. The local Seattle picture not squaring up with the one painted in the Times story, Martinez said, she expanded her research. It's a good thing: I don't doubt that Southern California and the Pacific Northwest have different retailing environments, and that the local markets might be doing better or worse than what we see in the aggregate. But to the extent that the picture painted in the Times piece differs from the national one, seeking out additional data points is usually helpful.

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Diamond 1997: One third of publishers only released a single issue

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I mentioned below a census I ran on all Diamond products that shipped in 1997; it may shed some light on the number of publishers who, at least at the beginning of the Diamond Exclusive Era, had access to the system.

Using the shipping lists and cancellation lists from every week in 1997, the staff of Comics Buyer's Guide and I calculated that Diamond had shipped 5,695 different comic books (not trades, but comic books); we also counted 391 different trade paperbacks. These are not Top 300 entries; this is everything.

Now, one of the interesting things about that calculation was the representation of publishers, and the number of issues they shipped. Those 5,695 comic books, we counted, came from exactly 500 different publishers, from A & T to Zub.

More than two-thirds, or 340 publishers, released fewer than four issues — not titles, but issues — in the year, meaning they weren't even releasing a quarterly series. And more than one-third — 169 — of the publishers only put out exactly one issue in the entire year. More than 10% of the issues Diamond released represented publishers releasing three issues or less; single-issue publishers accounted for about 2% of all items.

We weren't able to run market shares based on the whole 5,695-issue list, because we only had estimated sales for the Top 3,600 issues or so. We did find that the 32 publishers that only placed one comic book in the Top 300 all year accounted for 0.16% of Top 300 units and 0.23% of Top 300 dollars for the year. Some of those publishers probably also had issues under 300th place, but we can kind of see the numbers we're dealing with; it's possible that a third of the publishers Diamond was dealing with were producing less than 1% of its combined sales.

It would be interesting to have someone run a full count of the shipping lists for 2008, along the same lines, to see how those numbers have changed; that would add something to the discussion about independent publishers and Diamond's order minimums.

As an artistic matter, a publisher releasing a single comic book all year contributes something if the comic book is worthwhile; and looking at the list of the single-issue publishers that year does reveal a few publishers that would figure larger in later years (to say nothing of the talents being published). Meanwhile, as a financial matter, every individual issue and every different publisher any distributor handles involves expenses for the distributor. The debate about this topic centers on finding the balance between these two. Based on this old bit of research, my guess is that 1997, even as deep in the heart of the comics recession as it was, represented a very high level of access for the single-issue (or single-title) publisher relative to some other years.

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Diamond year-end bestseller lists reveal more about indie rankings

Monday, February 2, 2009

Completing its roundup of 2008, Diamond Comic Distributors has released its rankings for its Top 300 Comics and Top 300 trade paperbacks for the year, as well as final market shares. And, just as it's doing now on a monthly basis, it released a Top 50 Independent list for the year — independent meaning all publishers except for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image.

The market shares were previewed already; they appear above and with their specific numbers on the 2008 monthly-sales page of The Comics Chronicles. (The "monthly sales report" section of the site is a bit of a misnomer: it's really the section where sales information is known on an issue-by-issue level, as opposed to the "yearly" section where it's all title-level sales figures by the year.) Since Diamond did not index these year-end rankings (it never does), the lists are reproduced there as they were provided, with some clean-up work so it's a little easier to plug them into the on-site search engine. These year-end lists for Diamond exist back to 1990 or so; I have most of them and will post them as time allows.

Again, since there are no numbers with these, first-month sales for the individual issues can be found on the individual monthly Top 300 pages (using the search window, presuming Google is indexing right). Adding all numbers found gives you the minimum total for the book in 2008, not counting reorders that missed the Top 300 threshold. Thus the #1 book for the year, Secret Invasion #1, tops the 2008 list with at least 262,000 copies, totalling its sales from April, May, and June. I'd have to check the order codes to see if the Director's Cut sales are included, which would be another 18k or so.

Back to the top-selling indies: because Diamond provided the ordinal ranking numbers, we see where these issues would have appeared had Diamond taken the chart out far enough to find them. The 300th place item on the list, Fantastic Four #557, clocked in at at least 62,700 copies, so anything on the Top 300 sold that or more. All but one issue of the Top 50 Independents fell below that level — and that issue was the Project Superpowers #0 dollar comic. Most of the remaining 49 items on the list are from its publisher, Dynamite (which my database records as Dynamic Forces for cross-year consistency), or from IDW; there is a single entry each from Abstract, Aspen, and Avatar.

The 50th place indie, incidentally, is Red Sonja #29, which in January had orders of approximately 17,700 — with whatever its reorders were, it placed 1,456th overall for the year. That equates, for what it's worth, to roughly eight times the purchase order minimum described in the recent discussion of Diamond's new terms for publishers. In fact, if the benchmark is $6,250 at full retail, of the 3,600 items on the 12 Top 300 Comics lists of 2008, only 25 items wouldn't have cleared the mark — and most of those were Archie books at $2.25 or dollar samplers from the major publishers. Understanding that there's a good deal of duplication in the Top 300 lists because of reorders, this probably still puts 4,000 or more comics (not trades, but comics) items above that mark, given that many of the comics not in the monthly Top 300 would have price points higher that would put them over the line.

As we've seen, the publisher composition of the twelve Top 300 lists also changed a lot in 2008.

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Scrye, 1994-2009

Not comics-related, but for those interested in publishing and some of the decisions involved in transitioning titles from publisher to publisher, I have some reminiscences on my personal site relating to the just-announced cancellation of Scrye: The Guide to Collectible Card Games, a magazine I edited from 1999-2001 and managed as part of a larger group for some years afterward. It was an unusual publication both as magazines and as products in the direct market go, with sales simultaneously in the newsstand market, the comics direct market, and through game distributors; the marketing requirements for one often posed challenges for the others.

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