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October 2009: Flashbacks to the past

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Following the report on comics orders for October 2009, here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...

October 2008's top seller was Marvel's Secret Invasion #7, with first-month orders of approximately 154,600 copies in the direct market, slightly fewer than the previous issue. The midlist pushed deep this month, with the 300th place comic book selling more than 4,000 copies — resulting in what was then the best month to date in the Diamond Exclusive Era for Overall Sales, Top 300 Comics Dollar Sales, and Top Comics Plus Top Trades. The average cost per comic book in the Top 300 also set a record high. Check out the sales chart here.

October 2004's top-seller was Identity Crisis #5, with first-month orders of more than 125,500 copies. Initial orders for the Top 300 Comics were actually off more in October 2004 than they were in October 2009; a 20% drop. One part of it was that no issue of Avengers came out; Marvel had released two in September and would release two in November. Check out the sales chart here.

October 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #375, a $2.99 special issue with preorders of approximately 114,900 copies in the direct market. This ended a ten-month run for Uncanny as the top title; a stretch in which nothing else major was really going on. The big news of the month, though, was the Sandman: The Dream Hunters hardcover, which had preorders of more than 18,000 copies at $29.95, one of the earlier graphic novel releases to top the half-million dollar mark at full retail in preorders. Check out the October 1999 sales chart here.

October 1994 had a split decision atop the comics charts. Capital's list had the deluxe version of X-Men #39 in first, with Spawn #19 and #20 in second and third; Diamond's list had a complete reversal of the three positions, with Spawn #20 selling 5% more copies than the identically priced X-Men issue. Newsstand draws and for X-Men were likely higher, and it had subscription sales in the mix as well, so it likely gets the nod. Capital's orders for X-Men #39 were 94,850 copies; overall sales of the issue, including newsstand and subscription copies, were in the mid-300,000s.

Interestingly, in October 1994, the fastest-moving thing in most comics shops was not comics at all, but Magic: The Gathering, which was at the peak of its initial wave of popularity with recently released Legends display boxes going for four times suggested retail price.

October 1989's top seller at Capital City Distribution was Legends of the Dark Knight #2, edging out Batman #442, which cost fifty cents less and featured the first appearance of the Tim Drake Robin. It's probable that including newwstand sales and subscriptions, that regular Batman issue might have nosed into first; Capital's Legends #2 sales were 155,650 copies, while Batman #442 had Capital orders of 152,450 copies. It's a fair bet that with the newsstand bias toward less-expensive and ongoing titles (and the fact that Batman took at least a couple thousand subscribers into 1989), that issue may have been the true #1 book marketwide. Orders overall for the two issues overall were likely in the 600,000-copy neighborbood.

It's notable that the trade paperback was already beginning to make a market impact; the cover feature of the October 1989 Capital City Internal Correspondence magazine dealt with the increasing backlist. "We're reordering books in quantities I never thought possible," said Capital co-founder John Davis.

Finally, October 1984's top comic book was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #10, marking ten straight months with the limited series in the top slot. The third-place title may have actually been the second-place title in dollar volume: DC's Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #1.

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October 2009 comics orders slammed; market off slightly for year

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The estimates of Diamond Comic Distributors orders for October 2009 are online here at The Comics Chronicles, and they point to a down month across the board, with double-digit losses in all categories.

There was a particularly steep drop of 30% in dollar orders for the Top 100 Trade Paperbacks; DC had Watchmen and a heavily ordered Joker hardcover last October. Comparatives were tough on the comics side, too, with issues of Secret Invasion and Final Crisis topping the charts last October. Dark Avengers is, thus far, not playing the same kind of regular chart-dominating role that we saw Marvel’s stand-alone "event hub" limited series (Civil War, Secret Invasion) playing in recent years. DC, however, is getting mileage from Blackest Night, which helped it take the top six slots on the chart for what is, as suggested here earlier, likely the first time since 1968.

There was also much more strength further down the charts last year; the 300th place comic book had orders of around 4,230 copies last October, versus around 2,711 copies this year. This October only had four shipping weeks, versus five last year; the fifth-week effect tends to be an amplifier, allowing an extra high-traffic day for titles releasing in the month as well as increasing the probability that a title will be available for shipping in a given month in the first place.

It all added up, again, to a decidedly rough month — with all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazine dollar orders at Diamond down 19%. Still, while this month sent the year-to-date total back into the red, it is only just so — less than $5 million in orders separates this year and last. And the industry is still a full third larger than it was five years ago. While prospects for a flat or slightly up year are looking less likely, the industry would not be down by that much for the year even if November and December followed October’s track.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
October 2009: 6.20 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -18%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -4%
YEAR TO DATE: 62.42 million copies, -5% vs. 2008, +2% vs. 2004, -4% vs. 1999

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
October 2009: $21.47 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -14%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +26%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +24%
YEAR TO DATE: $213.81 million, -2% vs. 2008, +22% vs. 2004, +28% vs. 1999

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
October 2009: $5.92 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -30%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +66%
YEAR TO DATE: $66.28 million; down 12% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
October 2009: $27.39 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -17%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +19%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +26%
YEAR TO DATE: $280.05 million; down 5% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
October 2009: $34.19 million ($37.94 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +23%
YEAR TO DATE: $358.85 million, -1% vs. 2008, +33% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.53; the average comic ordered cost $3.46. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $3.25. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300.

The monthly flashback column, looking at past Octobers, will be along soon. Happy Thanksgiving!

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First since 1968: DC takes Top 6 slots in October

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In one of the earliest releases of such data since Final Orders began being reported in 2003, Diamond Comic Distributors released its Top 300 Comics, Trade Paperbacks, and Market Share data today — releasing the full tables in addition to the usual advance announcement. With the release so early — and my own schedule playing a role — the Comics Chronicles estimates will be along a good deal later, but the charts for October are now online here.

They show something that hasn't happened in comics in a very long time — by my count, at least 40 years: DC swept the top of the list with the six-best selling comic books of the month, as ordered by retailers. Blackest Night again led the market, its fourth issue taking the top spot.

Marvel has taken the top six slots many times in the decade of the 2000s; in January 2005, it took the top thirteen slots. But DC's performance immediately stands out. The company has not taken the Top 6 in the entire Diamond Exclusive Era — and going further back shows few recent opportunities for it to have done so. While I have not scoured every month going backwards, the most obvious candidate was April 1993, when the return of Superman began in the line; the top five titles were Adventures of Superman, Action, Superman, another issue of Adventures, and Superman: Man of Steel. But in both the Diamond and Capital lists, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 from Valiant took the sixth spot.

That sends us back to 1968, when DC had seven of the top eight comic books — and as Archie wasn't out every month, there may have been months when DC had the top six titles on the racks. Certainly, it had the Top 6 in months of 1966, when DC published 11 of the Top 12 comics and, again, the other ranking title, Archie, was only out nine times a year.

Of course, in that era, we're not looking at the same statistic; we're looking at overall sales, including newsstand, as opposed to direct market sales, which is what the Diamond chart represents. In the case of October 2009, it is possible that Marvel's newsstand and subscription sales on its higher-ranking titles might change the ranking somewhat. But as a direct market phenomenon, this appears to be a first for DC.

Marvel still led in overall unit and dollar market shares, though by a narrower margin than sometimes seen recently; Marvel had 98 comics in the Top 300, to DC's 96. Only 19 publishers were represented in the Top 300.

On the cover price front, the average cover price of comics offered in the Top 300 moved to $3.53, a new record high by three cents; the average weighted price of comics ordered was $3.46. The average cover price of comics in the Top 25 was $3.35. The median cover price in the Top 300 moved up a notch to $3.25; the most common cover price in the Top 300 remained at $2.99.

More estimates later. Stay tuned...

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