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January 2010 comics sales steady, market up slightly overall

Sunday, February 21, 2010

by John Jackson Miller and T.M. Haley

Despite having the best-selling direct market comic book of the decade after reprints figured in -- the Obama appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #583 -- last January was a pretty bad month in comparison with January 2008. So this January didn't have a lot to live up to — and, indeed, it held its own against that month when it comes to periodical sales: retailers ordered essentially the same number of Top 300 comics. Marvel's Siege #1 topped the list in this month without a new Blackest Night issue.

And while the Top 300 trade paperbacks were down by nearly $1 million in sales year-over-year, once all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines are accounted for, the market finished about $700,000 ahead, or up about 2%. View the January 2010 sales estimates here.

The aggregate totals appear below. Obviously, there is no separate “year-to-date” number this time:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2010: 5.62 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: unchanged
Versus 5 years ago this month: +13%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +1%

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2010: $19.36 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +39%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +36%

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2010: $5.25 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -27%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +6%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +38%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2010: $24.61 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -3%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +33%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +36%

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
January 2010: $32.01 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +37%

The average comic book in Diamond’s Top 300 cost $3.52, well shy of December's $3.59 record. The average Top 300 comic book that retailers ordered from Diamond cost $3.44. The median comic book price in Diamond’s Top 300 was $3.50, and the most common cover price on Diamond’s list remained $2.99.

Where did the direct market make up the ground it lost in the Top 300 trade paperbacks? There are a few possibilities. Last January’s report found that the Watchmen-powered frontlist was strong, but that the backlist was disproportionately weak; this year, the frontlist was relatively weaker and the backlist relatively stronger. There was also some greater degree of deep-discounting on trades and hardcovers by publishers to retailers this January, which would tend to boost the overall retail dollar total — although there was not nearly as much of this as in some months of 2009.

Another contributor was likely sales of comic books below the 300th place mark. That’s not generally a major factor, but with more prolific mid-sized publishers now in the mix, the titles ranking low on the list are selling more copies. The 300th place title in January 2010 had orders of 2,357 copies; a year earlier, that figure was only 1,612 copies.

The parity in Top 300 comic book unit sales would seem to suggest that the number of comic book accounts did not change significantly at the end of the year, traditionally the time when closures tend to be more likely.

Here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...
January 2009's top seller was Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man #583. While it turned out to be the top seller for the decade with estimated Diamond final orders of 530,500 copies, first-month orders were just above 352,000 copies. The issue, timed for Inauguration Day, resulted in four reprintings, each with their own distinctive variant covers — which contributed to the issue retaining the #1 spot in February.

Check out the detailed analysis of the month's sales here — and sales chart here.

January 2005's top-seller was Marvel's New Avengers #2 with Diamond final orders of more than 153,400 copies. This was the second consecutive month that New Avengers topped the rankings. Check out the sales chart here.

January 2000's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #378, the first part of the "Ages of Apocalypse" storyline, with estimated Diamond orders of over 113,700 copies. Publishers slimmed down their slates of titles in the month, resulting in poor sales for the first month of the new decade. Preorder units and dollars for the top 300 comics were both down 9% from the year before, with preorders of 5.58 million copies and $14.28 million respectively.

Check out the January 2000 sales chart here.

January 1995 had a consensus top-seller at Diamond and at Capital City Distribution: Marvel's Amazing X-Men #1. Part of the original "Age of Apocalypse" storyline, Amazing X-Men was the title that replaced X-Men Vol. 2 for the four-month event. After the disastrous January of 1994 when 1,000 stores closed, the positioning of a major event for the "dead quarter" was a welcome change. (It would be repeated the following year, with "Marvel Versus DC."

At Capital City, Amazing X-Men had preorders of 92,650 copies, but advance reorders appear to have talen it to 127,600 copies, well over what the regular X-Men title had been averaging. Click to see the Capital City sales estimates for January 1995, which fuse known orders from Capital with the distributor's Top 600 list for the month. Capital's Top 600 comics preorders for the month amounted to 5.28 million copies worth $11.67 million. While that unit count is not far off what it is today, note that Capital alone reported having 3,500 accounts in that month — more than the entire direct market has currently. (Some of those 3,500 accounts may not necessarily have been full-line accounts — and it's unclear how old that reference was when it was printed.)

Diamond's sales for Amazing X-Men were likely closer to 170,000 copies, although only the Order Index numbers for Diamond are known. Check out the Diamond rankings for January 1995. All told, Amazing's sales were probably in the 400-500,000-copy range.

Comparisons between the distributors are difficult to make — while Capital and Diamond both published their rankings at the same time each month, one chart may have been prepared earlier in the month than the other. But we can see some interesting things. The average Top 300 comic book at Diamond cost $2.26; the average comic ordered from Diamond cost $2.20. When the next 300 items are added at Capital, the average comic book offered leaps up to $2.47 — independent titles were simply more expensive. But the average comic ordered from Capital wasn't much more expensive, only $2.21.

January 1990's top seller was Legends of the Dark Knight #5, concluding the "Shaman" storyline with orders of 126,200 copies at Capital City. Following the release of the Batman film in June 1989, Batman was on a roll; Batman was only ousted from the #1 spot in June. Other distributors and the newsstand likely brought Legends #5's sales closer to half a million copies.

January 1985 had Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #193, the 100th issue since the "new" X-Men reboot, as its likely top seller. This was the first non-Secret Wars month, and while Crisis on Infinite Earths had just started in the month before, the 12-issue maxi-series was still gaining steam. Amazing Heroes, the then-biweekly Fantagraphics magazine was running its own Top 100 list in this period; the January charts found X-Men #193 in first, followed by Fantastic Four #278 and then Crisis #2. Dave Olbrich, the editor during that time, told The Comics Chronicles the Amazing Heroes charts were based on unit sales a pool of retailers the magazine surveyed. The AH charts for December had Crisis #1 in fourth, behind Secret Wars #12, Web of Spider-Man #1, and the previous month's Uncanny X-Men issue.

When was Crisis #1 actually released? According to Comics Buyer's Guide #578 (the Dec. 14, 1984 issue), the issue shipped from printers on Dec. 11 and had a newsstand on-sale date of January 3, 1985. However, direct-market retailers usually received comics one to three weeks before the newsstand. Our own purchase records from comics shops in 1984 show DC comics available late in the week after the ship-from-printer date, so it's likely comics shops had Crisis #1 on the shelves by Dec. 20, for the holidays. Anyone remember?

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