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Diamond Charts Primer: What they are -- and aren't

Monday, March 30, 2009

I've been needing to get this online into the FAQ section of the site for some time — there actually was one before my old database imploded last year — but it comes up enough that it's worth a permanent note, in addition to the material listed under "The Fine Print" here in various places on The Comics Chronicles. (Some of that got also eaten in a recent redesign; restoration is underway.)

Estimates based on Diamond's sales charts — and before that, Capital City's — have been appearing for years, frequently sparking discussions as to what the numbers actually are reporting. Publisher purchase orders, creator royalty statements, print runs — all manner of other information about comics sales regularly available to some in the industry may be found to never coincide with the Diamond tables. There's a reason: what Diamond is reporting, and what those sources represent, are different groupings of comic books. In fact, it is a calculation unique to a moment in time, and to Diamond Comic Distributors itself: Unless you have an adding machine in the Diamond warehouse clocking your own comics for an identical period of time, your mileage will vary.

For reference, here’s what is NOT in the Diamond reports — and thus, in the Comichron, and ICV2, and ComicBookPage estimates of Diamond’s reports:

1) Diamond’s sales to the U.K. These tend to be in the 10% range when it comes to units. Diamond sold approximately $36.8 million in comics, trades, and magazines in May 2008 in North America; my best guess on UK sales is another $3.8 million. These are reported disparately to some publishers, but may not be divided out in other available publisher information. A print run of a book that sold out in a single month, for example, will invariably be higher than the Diamond estimate because overseas copies are not in the Diamond totes.

2) Newsstand sales, if the publisher has them, as well as any sales through other distributors, direct sales, or subscriptions — again, if the publisher has them.

3) Trade paperbacks through Diamond's returnable bookstore program — or anyone else's.

4) Any comics shipped by Diamond outside the exact period being reported. This one sounds obvious, but it's very significant. Comics shipping in the final week of the month find their sales bifurcated to a greater degree than comics shipping in the early weeks of the month. All sales are still reported — and so the aggregate totals are unaffected — but a Week 4 or Week 5 title will have a smaller relative fraction of its total sales with its initial entry.

Before 2003, we could safely say that the charts underestimated sales on all comics because they only reported preorders. Since 2003 and Diamond’s move to final order reporting though, we do get reorders that ship within the same calendar month. This benefits Week 1 books more than any on the list, as a consequence.

It's one reason I place more emphasis on the aggregate figures when it comes to studying the historic health of the industry — and relatively less on the internal trendlines of individual titles. Month-to-month comparisons become complicated when a book ships at different times in the months being compared. It’s this, not just the issue number, that causes the decline you usually see when multiple issues of a weekly ship in the same month. It’s not necessarily that sales are trailing off — just that the earlier issues have had more weeks in which to gather reorders.

It's also not entirely clear that the "shipping month" for Diamond exactly corresponds with the calendar in all occasions; it appears to match a set group of shipping days from the warehouse, but holidays and other events might cause minor alterations to the reporting calendar, as we've seen from some books being reported that came from slightly outside the reporting period.

So excluding all the above, the tables Diamond releases are said to reflect comics shipped in the calendar month to Diamond's retail accounts in North America. How reliably are the estimates that observers have been calculating for years reporting the numbers behind the table? The answer depends on the year being discussed.

Before 2003, when the tables were reporting preorders, different analysts found varying figures depending on where they sourced their actual sales figures from. Different publishers received purchase orders on different days, and so there was seldom perfect agreement between sources as to what the "magic number" was. I addressed this issue beginning in 1996 by taking data from several publishers at once — until I had data from comics accounting for nearly a quarter of the list. That narrowed down the margin of error quite a bit. While I maintain that method produced more reliable results, it remains the case that before 2003, different analysts using different publisher sources would always find slightly different results.

After February 2003, however, Diamond shifted to reporting actual comics shipped, including reordered issues. At that point, inter-publisher differences with the data very nearly vanished. It appears that, at that point, Diamond streamlined the issuance of order data to many publishers so that it synched up better with the shipping period being reported. Independent observers using the reports that publishers received from Diamond immediately found that margins of error collapsed, with the order index numbers far better reflecting the numbers Diamond was sending different publishers for the month. My estimates, Milton Griepp's, and others converged, even though we're all using different publisher data to calculate the "magic number."

So since 2003, the estimates do appear to be reliably reporting the numbers behind the Order Index Numbers — the comics, Diamond says, that it shipped to North American accounts in the shipping month. They are based on data that Diamond has itself provided publishers, corresponding to the period indicated, and that the publishers have provided analysts. Those numbers are not the sum total of comics a publisher sells, or even sells through Diamond, or even sells through Diamond in a single month. No royalty statement, no boardroom report will ever match the numbers in the table. As it is the most transparent and regularly reported indicator available — it has wide circulation, and deservedly so. But it is not all of circulation, nor do they (or we) claim it to be. When it comes to reporting the health of the comics market, it is instead a clue — a very important one, but not always the whole story.

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February 2009 comics sales: Hanging in there

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The February 2009 comics sales figures are now online here at The Comics Chronicles — later than planned due to various circumstances, but nonetheless showing a market that seems to be hanging in there, at least as compared with the general economy. While losing ground against the same month in 2008, the month nonetheless looks to be in range with many other dead quarter months this decade. Notably, Top 300 unit sales, while down 10% versus last February, were up 5% over February 2004 — and only about a quarter of a million copies below the same category in February 1999.

As noted before, orders for the later printings of the Barack Obama Amazing Spider-Man #583 allowed the issue to perform an unprecedented feat in the Diamond Exclusive Age, repeating in the top position. Before February 2003, reorders did not appear in sales charts, but it is possible that X-Men Vol. 2, #1 might have done the trick in August and September 1991. And it was before sales charts altogether, but the reprint waves of Star Wars #1-3 in 1977 seem likely to have allowed those issues to be the top-seller in the market several times. Click to read more about possible precursors.

The month by the numbers:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
February 2009: 5.63 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -10%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -5%
YEAR TO DATE: 11.25 million copies, -14% vs. 2008
TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES February 2009: $19.23 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +26%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +27%
YEAR TO DATE: $38.42 million, -5% vs. 2008
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES February 2009: $5.04 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +45
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +36%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100: $8.1 million, unchanged vs. 2008
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES February 2009: $24.27 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -3%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +29%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +27%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100 TPBs: $46.52 million, -5% vs. 2008
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines) February 2009: $28.72 million ($31.2 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -12%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +27%
YEAR TO DATE: $60.03 million, -11% vs. 2008
The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.42; the average comic ordered cost $3.41.

The trade paperback drop may be deceptive; as Brian Hibbs has noted elsewhere, Diamond's warehouse move in February appears to have taken some SKUs out of play for part of the month. We'll see what happens to the category in March. Additionally, I have made revisions to the trade paperback totals in December and January here on site after catching a necessary correction to the formula. All aggregate totals have been updated.

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

February 2008's top selller was the new X-Force #1, with orders of 105,084 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

February 2004's top-seller was New X-Men #153, with orders of 113,848 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

February 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #367, with orders of 130,872 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart here.

February 1994's top seller was X-Men Vol. 2, #31, a consensus leader at both Diamond and Capital City Distribution. Capital City alone sold 104,550 copies of the top-seller, and total sales were likely in the 700,000 to-800,000-copy range.

February 1989's top seller at Capital City was Uncanny X-Men #245. Capital City sold 74,400 copies of the issue, and archival sources available to The Comics Chronicles confirm the actual sales at 413,600 copies across all channels.

Finally, February 1984's top comic book, both at Capital and likely everywhere else, was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #2, continuing the year-long mega-cross-over.

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February 2009: The charts

Monday, March 16, 2009

Diamond Comic Distributors released the full charts for its February 2009 comics orders today; the estimates will be along later as I'm traveling this week, but you can see the raw Top 300s and the market shares on the newly updated February 2009 page.

I won't speculate as to what the numbers might work out to be except to note that since Batman sold so many more copies to retailers this month, the order index number is much higher than it was last time out (and thus the figures in the OIN column are generally lower). Again, estimates coming later.

Something notable in the market shares is that Eaglemoss, a magazine publisher that also produces toys, moved past Wizard in dollar share. Eaglemoss's product line includes magazines that include action figures — several at $14 each made the Diamond magazine table this month. That explains its positioning, and why Wizard remains so much farther ahead than Eaglemoss in unit share. Note that only the magazines produced by Eaglemoss, and not its other products, are included in the Comics, Magazine, and Trade Paperback market shares. Diamond did used to release market shares for the company overall; you can see how the two groupings compare in a month like February 1999.

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February 2009 top sellers: Obama repeat rare, maybe not unprecedented

Friday, March 13, 2009

Though probably not unprecedented, an incredibly rare thing happened in February 2009: The #1 comic book from the previous month charted in the top spot again. Diamond Comic Distributors' early wave of data on February 2009 comics sales, reported on Comichron here — finds Amazing Spider-Man #583 in the top spot for the second month in a row.

Granted, these are reprints — probably predominantly the fourth and fifth printings. Historically, later printings have not always been counted in distributor charts as being the same item — but then, the January 2009 numbers merged the first three printings, so if we're counting later prints as being the same as originals, then merging them here follows the same rules. Throwing asterisks around gets pretty complicated, anyway: We've been merging variant covers that were not simultaneous releases for years in these charts, like for X-Men Vol. 2, #1 and Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #1 — while there have always been things kept separate, like the direct market and newsstand editions of things like Man of Steel. Hairs can be split many different directions.

The tops of the lists (full lists here):

Top-Selling Comic Books
1) Amazing Spider-Man #583 (mult. ptgs) • $3.99 • Marvel
2) Batman #686 • $3.99 • DC
3) New Avengers #50 • $4.99 • Marvel
4) Thor #600 • $4.99 • Marvel
5) Dark Avengers #2 • $3.99 • Marvel

Top-selling Trade Paperbacks
1) Watchmen • $19.99 • DC
2) Batman R.I.P. Deluxe Edition HC • $24.99 • DC
3) Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe • $11.95 • Oni
4) All Star Superman Vol. 2 HC • $19.99 • DC
5) DMZ Volume 6: Blood In The Game • $12.99 • DC

Diamond calls the repeat unprecedented — and, certainly, within the Diamond Exclusive Era from 1997 to present, that is the case. Before that, I'm not so sure. One problem is that before February 2003, reorders did not appear in the sales charts — so a comic book would pointedly not appear twice. Were there comics that might have? I took a look at August and September 1991, when X-Men Vol. 2 #1 was cycling; readers may recall its release was staggered across multiple weeks with covers abbreviated A-E. (DC did the same thing with Legends #1.) The top book in September was Spider-Man #16, which Todd MacFarlane had returned to write — but would the reorder numbers for #1 have been enough to top its sales? Very possibly: Capital City sold 228,900 copies of Spider-Man #16, but 1.87 million copies of the five covers of #1. With today's reporting, we might find that book topping the charts for both months, due to reorders.

There are other candidates for "repeat" top-sellers. The earliest likely one seems the most certain: Star Wars. Whitman released reprints — comics just like the Obama Spider-Man printings in nature — of #1-3 in bags in at least two and possibly more different waves; we can tell this by differences within the printings. Whitman sold so many that it evidently suspended its simultaneous-printing program for all other Marvel titles for two to three months to focus on Star Wars reprints, which is why there aren't any "fat-diamond" label Marvels for whole months with early 1978 cover dates. More than 1 million reprint copies are believed to have been sold of those issues, which would be enough, even broken up, to allow for repeat top chartings in those days.

That's way before the Diamond era, of course. But while there are occasions like that where the same comic book may have been the top seller two months in a row, Diamond is right that the official charts have not reflected any such case — until now. So while it's probably not unprecedented, it's unprecedented enough!


Share of Overall Units

Marvel

47.83%

DC

28.27%

Dark Horse

4.66%

IDW

4.43%

Image

3.95%

Dynamite

2.28%

Viz

0.89%

Wizard

0.89%

Boom

0.69%

Eaglemoss

0.40%

Other

5.70%







Share of Overall Dollars

Marvel

44.70%

DC

26.83%

Dark Horse

5.16%

IDW

4.93%

Image

3.71%

Dynamite

2.07%

Viz

1.85%

Eaglemoss

1.32%

Wizard

1.20%

Boom

0.77%

Other

7.47%



A note as to scheduling: Diamond is set to release more detailed data next week, but I'm on the road — I will be speaking at Midsouthcon in Memphis, March 20-22. I'll try to get as much data run as I can, but in the meantime, the February page has been established for linking.

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GoogleTrends and webcomics: Why the disconnect?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Since posting about what webcomics creators were seeing on GoogleTrends, I've received several chunks of detailed reporting from established webcomics producers agreeing with those who said GoogleTrends' measurements were off on the low side, and by a great degree. Even when compared with information in Google's own Google Analytics service, which, as Google says, it does not use in its GoogleTrends formula.

This is good to know (and heartening!), but it's also what makes the matter puzzling: If it is the case that GoogleTrends is tracking the traffic of this specific genre of websites more poorly than others, what's the reason? It would seem to be a problem worth exploring. I know from my days working in interactive media at a publisher that rankings from sites like GoogleTrends and Alexa are generally not used in advertising decisions — there are far more precise, auditable measures that publishers can provide. But if there's something peculiar to the way Google interacts with webcomics sites, it would be good to know about.

I have a few theories, but I suspect there are readers out there who have more facility with the nuts and bolts. Webmasters spend a lot of effort optimizing their sites for search engines; there are probably tricks to optimize for external auditing systems, as well. (Presuming we knew how the systems were doing what they're doing — which, in Google's case, we really don't...)

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Archie 2008: Some newsstand numbers

Monday, March 9, 2009

One of the few major publishers still shipping comics to subscribers Periodical Class — and thus filing Statements of Ownership with sales figures — is Archie. Seeing the Statements for it is always particularly useful, as Archie owes more of its sales to the newsstand and thus direct market numbers are not very meaningful. As in past years, Johanna Draper Carlson has a batch of 2008 figures online here.

Regard only the "average" column; the "most recent issue" data invariably covers issues for which returns have yet to be fully reported. Looking at publisher Statements over the years, you'd see almost all comics sales seemingly trending upward for that exact reason; but it's apples and oranges, or rather, apples versus apples that haven't been reported to the publisher as unsold yet.

I have Statement figures for 39 out of the 50 years for the main Archie title included sales figures (the earliest Statement yet found is much earlier, #31 from March 1948). Currently, I'm looking for forms in Archie for 1960, 1971, 1978-1983, 1999-2000, and 2006 — if you run across them, please send them to the address on the sidebar. I also have a number of holes to fill in the other titles, but here's an opening request...

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Webcomic observers puzzle over GoogleTrends reports

Friday, March 6, 2009

As wrong as it feels to write something non-Watchmen related today, there is still an interesting finding at The Floating Lightbulb, a blog focusing on webcomic trends and business practices. While The Comics Chronicles is devoted to print, enough has been said about a possible print-to-online migration in recent years to make looking in on that market's experiences worthwhile. In this post, blogger Bengo takes a look at GoogleTrends reporting for major webcomics and webcomics aggregators and finds, alarmingly, that GoogleTrends is seeing steady declines in unique visitors for many of the largest sites.

The writer cautions that we do not know what GoogleTrends is reporting: Bengo initially thought the data came from Google Analytics, the free platform that Google provides webmasters, but added later that this is not the case. GoogleTrends describes itself in this manner:

Trends for Websites combines information from a variety of sources, such as aggregated Google search data, aggregated opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in consumer panel data, and other third-party market research. The data is aggregated over millions of users, powered by computer algorithms, and doesn't contain personally identifiable information. Additionally, Google Trends for Websites only shows results for sites that receive a significant amount of traffic, and enforces minimum thresholds for inclusion in the tool.
Bengo also adds that several webmasters have reported that what GoogleTrends has reported for their sites is not reflected in their internal data, so there are a number of grains of salt in all of this. It's of note that you can't pull up a GoogleTrends report for Google itself — so if the number of people using the Google search engine dropped, for example, everything might move with the tide.

That said, we can look at the GoogleTrends charts for some other sites and see things that, we might surmise, reflect reality. Regard the most basic chart for Marvel.com:


...which displays clear spikes for the Iron Man movie and the second Hulk movie. My own experience with website traffic tracking is that it's good for the showing the broadest of moves, like this one — and for micro-level information, like who's coming from where on a particular day. But comparisons between months and, most particularly, between sites are subject to a lot of other variables, often having more to do with what's being used to do the measuring. Alexa site rankings below 100,000th place see ridiculously wide swings — and GoogleTrends as well doesn't report on sites where it hasn't got enough data to reliably sift.

That said, what would it mean if the traffic of major webcomics sites were, indeed, softening as a group? Bengo suggests one driving factor might be the rise of the ComicPress theme for Wordpress: "Big host sites are losing out to owner operated sites. WordPress and other tools make it easier to be less reliant on hosts. This doesn't mean big host sites aren't able to grow, but without enough good comics calling them home, their all-important social communities will fracture."

I would also look at the possibility that advertising platforms like Project Wonderful are allowing webcomics creators to distribute their links far more efficiently, and draw upon the larger existing pools of readers, effectively draining off a portion to subsidiary lakes. (I have some direct experience with this: My own webcomic with Chuck Fiala has seen more traffic in a week from the ad system than it has in whole months before. The lake was landlocked; now, there are canals.) You might have a situation where the number of online readers for comics is increasing in aggregate, but where the linkages are making it easier for readers to migrate the sites that most suit their interest. Thus, an increasing fragmentation of audiences, just as we see in television.

The print-comics equivalent would be the direct market distributor catalogs of the 1980s, which put small-press efforts alongside the established comics from Marvel and DC. Exposure to those larger audiences established many new publishers — and the number of copies sold went up in aggregate. (However, in the 1980s case, sales at the majors were not really harmed by the wider selection — and in the early 1990s, while the majors did lose market share, their own sales still went up with the rest of the boom.)

It will be interesting to hear how well the GoogleTrend data holds up as people compare the information with their internal and other external metrics.

Update 3/12/09: And I have heard from those people, and, as Bengo heard, the GoogleTrends numbers are quite a bit lower than what people are seeing internally. Read more here.

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Proto-Watchmen: Sales figures for Charlton's hero titles

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I thought I'd exhausted all the answers the Comichron database potentially had on Watchmen questions — but this week is throwing some curveballs. I've had several requests in the last few days for information about the Charlton super-hero titles from the 1960s, specifically the characters that were the partial inspiration for the Watchmen.

The challenge here is that Charlton comics circulated in fewer numbers than those of almost any other publisher that filed circulation statements in the 1960s; check out the rankings from the individual years, and you can see how far down they rank. And while I have Statements of Ownership from at least 34 different Charlton series — ranging from Fightin' Army to Sick to Teen-Age Love — not many have been turned up for the super-hero titles as yet. Of the five major Charlton players related to Watchmen, about the only data I have relates to one character: Captain Atom, the precursor to Doctor Manhattan. But it's spread across two — or three — titles, depending on how you look at it.

Captain Atom debuted in Space Adventures #33, the March 1960 issue — and we can see from the partial results reported on the Space Adventures page that that issue probably sold an anemic 110,000 copies, a ninth as much as the best-selling title of 1960, Uncle Scrooge. Charlton's market penetration was simply too poor, then and forever: We know from the market shares for 1959 suggested by the Ayer Directory that its market share was less than 10%. Charlton cited sales of 2.5 million copies monthly in that year — and its slate was large enough that nothing under that umbrella was probably doing better than 150,000. Looking at the non-hero books I have info on, I rather doubt that any Charlton book topped 200,000 in the 1960s at all — not until The Flintstones, which Charlton inherited from Gold Key.

Anyway, in addition to the new (if incomplete) Space Adventures page is a page for the title Atom departed for in 1965: Strange Suspense Stories, another book with a lot of Ditko work and with one of the most tortuous name-changing progressions I've ever seen for a comic book. No, really — Lawbreaker to Lawbreaker Supense Stories to Strange Suspense Stories to This Is Suspense! to Strange Suspense Stories again — and, finally, to Captain Atom, the title under which you'll find both series here (since they shared subscription rolls). At least when they went back to Strange Suspense, they restarted the numbering. (And there was even a Fawcett title under the same name in the early 1950s, evidently unconnected to this numbering — just as there was an unconnected Nationwide Captain Atom. Oy.)

Captain Atom included several Blue Beetle back-ups — the precursor for Watchmen's Nite Owl. The Charlton 1960s Blue Beetle runs are even more complicated — a five-issue volume, then it hijacks the Unusual Tales numbering from #50-54 — and then another five-issue volume. None of the stand-alone series lasted long enough to produce postal circulation statements — and while I have the 1964 Statement from Blue Beetle #50 — the figure therein, 136,036 copies sold per issue, refers to sales of Unusual Tales issues. The 1965 Blue Beetle sales would be in yet another series, Ghostly Tales, which started from #55 where B.B. left off. (This may be part of why there weren't more Charlton collectors: It was too darn confusing!)

Blue Beetle's third try did feature Ditko's The Question, the precursor to Rorschach — but again, there were no Statements in that title. That leaves, from Watchmen, Comedian's inspiration, Peacemaker: while Statements have been found in Space War and Fightin' Five, the title it became, none have been reported to me from issues after #40, when Peacemaker debuted. And finally, Ozymandias' antecedent, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt; I have no Statements at all from that title, or its precursors, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds and Son of Vulcan (the latter's two-issue stint notable for including Roy Thomas' first professional work, according to Overstreet).

So a lot of blanks yet to be filled in — which readers with clear scans of Statements can do by using the jjm [AT] comichron address. But I doubt anyone will answer the greatest mystery of all: Why did Charlton even bother with a Second-Class Mailing permit, when it sold so few subscriptions? Unusual Tales had 11 subscribers in 1963 — and 14 in 1964 — and the other books weren't much better. Was their subscription agent in the Witness Protection Program?

Addition: I'm not the only one whose thoughts have turned to Charlton; check out this interesting history of the firm here. The history starts with "The two founders of Charlton Comics met in a New Haven County jail cell 1934" — and goes from there!

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When Watchmen hit the stands: A best guess

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Having posted a piece on Watchmen's original sales rankings in 1986-87, comments on The Beat led me to do some follow-up research into when the comics actually hit the stands.

For this, I turned to Comics Buyer's Guide's "Comics in Your Future" column, beginning with issue #654 (cover dated May 30, 1986). "Future" was the equivalent of the shipping lists we see from Diamond Comic Distributors today, and ran every two weeks in the weekly newspaper. "Future" still appears today, under that name, as part of CBG's website.

Now, CBG ran two dates: The date the books were to ship to distributors, and the official on-sale date. The ship to distributors dates were almost always Tuesdays in this period; the on-sale dates were the Thursdays 16 days later. However, my belief is that in those days, the on-sale dates related to the projected newsstand availability date, and not the date that distributors could put the book on sale. In those days of warehouses near the printer and aggressive competition between distributors, the "ship to" date reads to me to be much closer to the real thing:

Ship to distributors
#1 • May 13, 1986
#2 • June 20, 1986
#3 • July 8, 1986
#4 • August 12, 1986
#5 • September 9, 1986
#6 • October 14, 1986
#7 • November 11, 1986
#8 • December 9, 1986
#9 • January 13, 1987
#10 • February 10, 1987
#11 • (First scheduling) March 17, 1987
(Second rescheduling) April 28, 1987
(Final rescheduling) May 19, 1987
#12 June 2, 1987

I also have, to backstop this, my own personal collection "accession list" records from the time. It records that on September 13, 1986, I purchased Watchmen #5 (as well as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4) at the June Rd. Memphis Comics & Records location, a store notable in comics history as perhaps the only comics shop located in a walk-up above a liquor store. That date is four days after the "ship to distributor" date, and it synchs with some of what I know of how the books were hitting shelves. With competition starting up that year (in the still-existent Comics & Collectibles, which I see now has its defunct competitor's URL), Memphis retailers were making runs to the Sparta, Ill., warehouses to pick up the shipments in person. So I would interpret those dates above as the earliest that anyone had the books; and that in one case, the book was on shelves by the next New Comics Day — which I think was Friday, for us.

(Not coincidentally, that Sept. 13 entry is the very last one in my four-year-long accession record history — the next week I moved off to college, got a girlfriend and otherwise got a life. Haven't used the life much since then — as this website clearly shows — but never mind...)

Anyway, we see from the records that as of #5, an adult warning had been added to Watchmen's reprinted solicitations. And while I initially thought from Capital's records that #12 had shipped late, it was in fact, #11 that was rescheduled twice. #12, with its extra pages, does not seem to have been rescheduled — at least, I can find no different date for its shipping anywhere. Yet Capital reported orders for it twice, in April and May, and evidently did not report taking a different round of orders for #11. (And then, of course, it looks like #12 comes out in June — but it doesn't appear in the Capital list for then. Remember, the charts rank preorders, so the rankings appeared before the issue even came out!)

It also looks, from the #11 delays, that #10 was the last issue that Glenwood Distributors got, and that #11 would not have been impacted as much by its loss, as the stores would have had more time to find alternative distributors by then. In any event, I have revised the tables on the rankings page to reflect the new (old) information.

It's interesting reading those old newspapers to recall what was going on in the industry. Watchmen was first "cover-featured" on CBG for #658, the June 27, 1986 issue -- in the form of a pictorial showing the covers from #2-4. "The covers of DC's Watchmen are actually the first panel of each issue's chapter, surely the first time an entire series of comic books has begun the story on the cover." But many more of the pages of the year were devoted to the other issues of the day: Marvel sparring over the return of Jack Kirby's art, Frank Miller denying all responsibility for the many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle clone titles, Spider-Man's wedding, the collapse of Glenwood, and so on. Watchmen had an interesting place in a very wild year.

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How Watchmen #1-12 charted when they came out

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Watchmen is one of the most reprinted comics series in history — but where did Watchmen rank at the time it came out, in its original comic book form? As mentioned when posting Neil Dorsett's essay on Watchmen and Film Techniques a few days back, the number of public inquiries about the series has, as you might guess, gone to Mars — and, unlike Doc Manhattan, shows no signs of coming back. So I hit the circulation database and the shelves of distributor magazines — and what I came up with appears in this essay: "Watchmen Sales Rankings in its Initial Release."

It may surprise newer readers to see that Watchmen never ranked higher than 5th place in unit sales at Capital City, the distributor for which most information is known. Watchmen was up against books with heavy newsstand distribution, and at half its cover price; recall this is 1986-87, when Man of Steel is running, when Marvel is launching a long-awaited ongoing Punisher title, and when DC is starting Superman again with John Byrne's new #1. It's partly because of all of this going on that Watchmen's penetration so high on the direct-market list is remarkable indeed: the early 1990s Image-and-Valiant era found titles with non-franchise characters breaking the Top 10, but it wasn't something you saw in the mid-1980s. Watchmen's dollar sales place it higher still, although Capital wasn't reporting that in those days.

These are obviously partial findings in the piece, but there are some interesting tidbits — like the collapse of Glenwood Distributors right as the series hit the home stretch, resulting in Capital selling more copies of #12 than it did of #1. And you can see very clearly exactly how tied the comics market still was to the adolescent demographic: "Black September," when orders customarily collapsed every year when school started, is very visible in Watchmen's orders at Capital. For this reason, Watchmen #4, of all issues, was Capital's best seller in initial orders.

The chart on the page also attempts to place the release month in connection with the cover date; I do have the resources to find exact shipping dates — hopefully I can get to that at least as it concerns the Glenwood collapse soon.

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