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August 2009: Flashbacks to the past

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Continuing our look at what came before August 2009, we find some interesting landmarks...

August 2008's top seller was Marvel's Secret Invasion #5, with first-month orders of approximately 165,900 copies in the direct market, a few thousands copies less than the previous issue. Check out the sales chart here.

August 2004's top-seller was Astonishing X-Men #4, beating out the third issue of Identity Crisis with final orders through Diamond in August of 145,600 copies. It was a very strong month overall, with double-digit increases year-over-year across several categories. Check out the sales chart here.

August 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #373, with preorders of approximately 116,300 copies in the direct market. It just got worse and worse for the direct market in the summer of 1999, with percentage drops in all categories. Interestingly, the number of copies of the Top 300 comics preordered that month, 6.77 million, is identical to the figure for ten years later, August 2009. However, the August 2009 comics had a retail value 31% higher, showing clearly the effect of cover prices. Check out the sales chart here.

August 1994 was "Zero Month" in the DC Universe, with titles publishing #0 issues in the wake of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time the month before. The top "zero issue" took fifth place at Diamond, Batman #0. The top seller for the month was another split decision between the two distributors, with X-Men #37 on top at Capital City Distribution and Spawn #24 leading the list at Diamond. The top seller between the two is likely the X-Men issue, given its stronger newsstand presence and its subscription base; notably, as well, this is the period when Marvel was producing both $2.95 "deluxe" editions and $1.50 regular versions of its X-titles. It's the enhanced version that's ranked #1: Capital City alone sold 106,800 copies of the issue, bringing total sales across all channels were probably closer to half a million copies.

August 1989's top seller at Capital City was Batman #440, the first part of "A Lonely Place of Dying," the storyline notable for introducing Tim Drake as a replacement Robin. "Lonely Place" gave DC an opportunity to really capitalize on the attention following the release of Tim Burton's Batman film, which was still in theaters in August; Capital City's preorders on the issue were 122,550 copies, putting the true total in the 500-600,000-copy range.

Finally, August 1984's top comic book was one of the most famous comic books of the 1980s, Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #8. Many of the changes in Secret Wars didn't last for very long. The change to the black Spider-Man costume introduced in this issue lasted longer than some, making the first issue of the regular series with the costume a modest collectible in its day.

And while that change, too, was reversed, the costume's real legacy involves the character Venom, spawned years later.

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August 2009 comics sales remain steady

Monday, September 28, 2009

The sales estimates for August 2009 are now online here; thanks for your patience. August with its four ship weeks managed to look a lot like July with its five, which in recession-ese means "steady as she goes" once again.

The dollar value of all Marvels ordered in the Top 300 Comics and Top 300 Trades was, in fact, almost identical to July’s figure — within a couple of hundred dollars! DC’s performance was very close, as well, slightly beating its July total thanks to the performance of Blackest Night. DC took four of the top 10 slots on the periodical charts.

Dollar sales of the Top 300 trade paperbacks slipped again, off 16% against a very hard comparative month: Watchmen's re-release moved more than 43,000 copies in August 2008.
But combined Top 300 comics and Top 300 trades were up by 1%. Basically, the top comics made up the million dollars the top trades lost. The overall figure is close to flat versus last year for the third month in a row.

There continue to be many more heavily-discounted trades moving through the system this year than last; as in previous recent months, adjustments have been made to the overall estimate to retain as much of an apples-versus-apples comparison as is possible. Slightly more merchandise value at cover price entered the direct market than the $36.15 million figure indicates.

While sales of a number of mainstream titles are finding new lows, in aggregate, unit sales for the Top 300 comics are comfortably ahead of where they were five years ago — and far ahead in dollar terms.

Notable this month is one of the highest rankings of Archie in the direct market age, with its landmark 600th issue (and marriage storyline) landing in 35th place. Archie's overall sales are always understated by the Diamond tables, since it has significant newsstand sales; it's unclear what impact the anniversary issue will have on its newsstand draws, so it's difficult to say how many copies will be in circulation. Of course, Comichron followers know we need only go back forty years this year to find Archie as the #1 title in comics!

The figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
August 2009: 6.77 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +8%
Versus 10 years ago this month: unchanged
YEAR TO DATE: 49.17 million copies, -8% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
August 2009: $23.3 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +5%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +30%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +31%
YEAR TO DATE: $167.76 million, -2% vs. 2008

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
August 2009: $6.73 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -16%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +18%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +54%
YEAR TO DATE: $53.17 million; down 10% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
August 2009: $30.03 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +1%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +28%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +33%
YEAR TO DATE: $220.9 million; down 4% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
August 2009: $36.15 million ($39.9 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: down less than 1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +31%
YEAR TO DATE: $283.65 million, -1% vs. 2008, +35% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.45; the average comic ordered cost $3.44. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $2.99. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300.

The historical look back at Augusts past will follow in a later post. Stay tuned!

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Diamond Top 300 lists for August: Prices steady

Monday, September 14, 2009

Diamond Comic Distributors rolled out the full charts for sales of its Top 300 Comic Books and Trade Paperbacks to retailers today; it will be a while before I have the analysis with sales estimates online, but you can see the full charts now, along with the order index numbers. Full market shares also appear; click the image at right to see the dollar shares more clearly.

A few items of note at this stage: Sales levels look at a glance to be relatively similar to last month's, but we'll have to look more closely. Cover prices for comics in the Top 300 didn't move much — the average title offered cost $3.45, with the average comic book ordered priced at $3.44. The median price for new comics offered remained at $2.99, and that was also the most common price for new comics.


The trade paperback and graphic novels list was led by the tenth Walking Dead volume and included releases from Boom and Avatar in third and sixth places (Irredeemable Vol. 1 and Franekstein's Womb respectively). Both those products are under the $10 mark, but it does appear this was the highest placement for Boom in the trade tables to date. Avatar posted an Alan Moore paperback in fourth in March.

Full sales estimates coming soon...

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Diamond August top sellers out: Blackest Night overtakes Cap

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's that time again. Diamond Comic Distributors started the monthly roll-out of comics sales information today with its release of the top ten sellers in the month of August for several categories. DC's Blackest Night, which came in second place last month to Marvel's Captain America: Reborn #1, claimed the top slot with its second issue. The second Cap issue came in second place. DC took three of the top four slots, thanks to Batman and Robin #3 and Green Lantern #45.

Marvel had several debuts, with Ultimate Comics Avengers #1 and The Marvels Project #1 making the Top 10. Eight of the top 10 comics were priced at $3.99, with the other two at $2.99.

Image's tenth volume of Walking Dead was the top-selling trade paperback to retailers in the month.

Marvel led in both unit and dollar market shares, with the dollar shares at 39.7% for Marvel versus 33.16% for DC. Dark Horse came in third in both categories, followed by Image and IDW.

As we can see from the link, this is, again, just the Top 10, without order index numbers; those will follow here soon, with the actual estimates later on. In the meantime, we might note that August 2008, while not having any #1s in the Top 19, did have both Final Crisis and Secret Invasion continuing, so it remains to be seen how well this August's slate will compare in the aggregate. Notably, only three of the Top 10 comics last year were priced at $3.99, so it's almost certain that the average weighted price for comics ordered will go up.

More to come. Stay tuned...

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Warner forms DC Entertainment; Levitz steps down

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ten days after Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, Warner Bros. Entertainment announced today the formation of DC Entertainment, intended to leverage DC comics properties more directly into Hollywood productions.

The comics company, headquartered in New York City, now comes more directly under the film studio's management. Diane Nelson will run DC Entertainment, according to the corporation's public release, reporting directly to Jeff Robinov, head of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. Paul Levitz, longtime publisher of DC and president of the company since 2002, will return to writing comics for the company.

It's been a historic couple of weeks for the comics business — and this, plus Disney's purchase of Marvel, may be seen by many as the center of the comics industry changing from one coast to the other. (That explains the big shadow that passed over the Midwest!)

Paul Levitz, it will rightly be said by many, is fully of the comics industry, having started as a collector and fanzine publisher decades ago. He and Paul Kupperberg advertised their Etcetera fanzine in the second issue of Comics Buyer's Guide, then known as The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom, in April 1971. He's had many roles at DC over the years, and can clearly be said to have had not just a ringside seat for many moments in comics history, but an active role in shaping the industry's development, with the cultivation of lines such as Vertigo and, critically, the trade paperback. DC was a leader in making collected editions part of the business model in comics; if not for them, the comics industry would be in far worse shape financially today.

Levitz also played a major role in shaping the current direct-sales market for comics. When Marvel bought Heroes World Distribution and withdrew its comics from direct-market distributors in 1995, reports from insiders at the time were that Time-Warner, looking to react, had a variety of options on the table, including rerouting comics distribution through Warner's other distribution channels — a move that, if taken, could have dramatically changed the direct market, perhaps leaving no direct-market distributors standing to accept Marvel when it gave up on self-distribution in 1997. Levitz, by reports, fought strongly for an in-industry solution to the distribution situation — the result being the exclusive contract with Diamond. While the single-distributor situation that eventually resulted has had its critics over the years, it is almost certainly true that bringing an external, non-industry distributor into the picture would have ramped up uncertainty far higher than it already was in that volatile time.

What does the ownership — and, today, in DC's case, management of the two largest publishers by Hollywood mean for the comics industry? First, it's not clear that much will change in either case — both have been part of corporate America for a long time, answering to boardrooms of people outside the industry. The more important element, as mentioned above in the distribution case, is that there remain people at the production and distribution levels who understand the medium, its delivery systems, and what consumers expect. I don't see how that changes.

More importantly, at this time in history, it's not a bad time for a publisher to be considered something more than "just a publisher." Thanks to the happy historical accident of the comic-book direct market and its non-returnable marketplace, comic books are probably the healthiest sector of the entire magazine industry: The vast majority of our publications are pre-sold, and as noted, trade paperbacks give us a place to continue profiting from our past works. By contrast, the returnable magazine market is in a shambles, and book publishing is facing challenges of its own. These are good times to be considered not just a company whose business is putting ink on paper, but a foundry of ideas.

So it's another red-letter day. Something about the morning of September 9 in the hobby market — exactly ten years ago, Hasbro announced the purchase of Wizards of the Coast (and my first child was born — the news that had my attention that day).

And as a further personal note, I should say that in my many years researching the state and history of the industry, Paul was supportive and helpful on many research projects. We did not always agree on what the numbers meant or how I presented them, but I think he respected the need for retailers and other interested parties to have useful information. I look forward to reading more of his comics in the future!

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When the first DC comic hit the stands

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

After writing about the considerations that went into figuring out when Marvel Comics #1 might have hit stands — including a look at the file copy from Jacquet Studios, which produced the comic book — I received some interesting material from Glen Cadigan relating to an even earlier title — the first DC publication.

Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson launched what would later become DC with New Fun, an oversized tabloid with black-and-white interiors not long after the monthly Famous Funnies began. "As most people have forgotten," Cadigan said, "not only was Lloyd Jacquet the original editor of the first Marvel comic ever published, but he was also the editor of the very first DC title, New Fun #1, which has a cover date of February 1935." Last year on eBay, he writes, a copy of New Fun was sold — depicted here — that included the following letter from Jacquet:

1-11-35
New FUN — hot off The Daily Eagle press — goes on sale today from coast to coast. Take this copy home — try it on the youngsters from 2 to 90 — and see them go through this live, modern idea of a kid's mag, filled with original comics and features!

Lloyd Jacquet, Editor
P.S. How do you like it?

Cadigan said he supposed the letter was written for retailers — but as he only saved the scans from the auction, he couldn't refer back to the listing to see if it was any more specific as to the issue's origin or its provenance. I would imagine Jacquet's likely audience might also include colleagues in the publishing community; there might also be advertisers and distributors in the potential audience, if those contacts were inside Jacquet's domain to handle for Wheeler-Nicholson.

"In any event," Cadigan wrote, "it gives a specific day for the shipping date of New Fun #1 (1-11-35), which is either less than a month or about a month-and-a-half from the cover date, depending upon whether February means the first or last day of the month." I would assume that is indeed January 11 and not the international November 1 — though both days would have been Fridays in 1935.

Another mystery is what's written on the cover of the issue — Cadigan made out words which might be "Better Boston" or "Batter Barton" on top, but the two words below are even less clear. It's not obvious that they're from the same hand as the accompanying letter.

So what does it say about when the issue hit the stands? Cadigan notes that something else to look at is that Timely may have had different business practises than National did in 1935, and five years later things may have been different across the board. "But in 1935, the same man that packaged Marvel Comics # 1 put a February cover date on a book that was printed in January, so it's something to consider."

It's a very interesting data point — if there's more information as to the background of thin interesting letter and issue, I'd love to hear it. And, just as with the Pay Copy of Marvel #1, it adds its own set of variables. Did the printing press send Jacquet his copy of New Fun at the same time it shipped to the newsstand? Or did it ship Jacquet his copy earlier, in which case we’re awful close to that February issue coming out in February, against known later newsstand practices. But maybe that logic hadn’t been established yet. Either way, yeah, were looking at a comic in his hand pretty close to the cover date.

The Marvel Pay Copy continues to be the real wild card in this. The July dates are payment dates; that’s pretty clear. But was Jacquet or his associate going through an issue they had in hand and marking checks as they sent them — meaning they had the comic book in July — or were they using the file copy later on as a double-check, just making sure once the issue is in hand that everyone’s gotten their money? Because those dates could have been written at any time, August, September, or October.

There is another concern that comes out of seeing a publisher start from a one-month gap and go to a two- or three-month gap, because it means we’re doubling up on issues at some point on the true monthlies. If we’ve got...

Jan ship, Feb cover
Feb ship, Mar cover
Mar ship, Apr cover

...and we somehow go to what we had later...

Jan ship, Apr cover
Feb ship, May cover
Mar ship, Jun cover

...then we’ve got months where two comic books coming out, and they just kept advancing the cover date. Now, this is common practice for magazine publishers, slipping a 13th issue into the year and advancing cover dates (as opposed to inserting a “Summer” issue” or whatever). The ship-date-to-cover-date gap grows, but you’d only know when the shift happened by recording every arrival date. Particularly if issues are released on a four-week system, an added 13th issue would be imperceptible.

But it does create challenges if we're trying to figure out when certain historic issues actually shipped. This is side project #24 here at Comichron, but there does seem to be enough information out there to at least sketch out a skeletal framework of the changing shipping-versus-cover date gaps for each publisher across time.

As Ron Goulart writes in Comic Book Culture, money was an issue for Major Wheeler-Nicholson on New Fun, and "he often didn't get around to paying his artists the small fees — usually five dollars per page — he'd promised them." Lloyd Jacquet himself quit after months of non-payment, as did his successors Sheldon Stark and cartoonist Whitney Ellsworth, Gerard Jones writes in Men of Tomorrow. Maybe a Pay Copy of New Fun would have come in handy for the major — especially if it were valued at today's prices!

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