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May 2010 comics orders bounce back, but trade orders lag

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

by John Jackson Miller and T.M. Haley

New comic-book orders in the direct market increased in both unit and dollar terms in May, but trade paperback weakness continued to keep the overall dollar volume nearly flat, according to estimates by The Comics Chronicles. Click to see estimated comics orders for May 2010. Apologies for the delay in reporting this month: I just finished my first novel (Star Wars: Knight Errant, out next February).

After a couple of months where the calendar and publisher offerings made for year-to-year comparisons that were wildly uneven, this May probably provided a more fair comparison with the previous year. Unit sales for comics were up 9% with dollars up 15% — that latter partially a reflection of the fact that the price of the average comic book retailers ordered has gone from $3.32 to $3.51. May 2009 was regarded as weak at the time, being up against Final Crisis #2 and Secret Invasion #1 the previous year; May 2010 unit sales are up, but still have a ways to go to get back to 2008 levels.

The real difference continues to be in trade paperback orders; retailers ordered half a million dollars more of Diamond’s Top 300 trade paperbacks in May than in April, but the total is still down 15% from May 2009. That weakness appears to be present in the backlist, as we calculate that once all comics and trade paperback orders are accounted for (including those beneath 300th place) overall orders for comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines were down 2%. It appears that retailers ordered at least $2 million more in trade paperbacks below 300th place last May.

My suspicion continues to be that orders for bigger-ticket items have been more likely to be impacted by the general recession; retailers are letting trade paperback inventories fall a bit, even in months in which they’re ordering more comic books (even given the price increases). Running some correlations, I have not been able to draw a direct connection between new comics cover prices and trade paperback sales, although that is something worth revisiting.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
May 2010: 6.15 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +2%
YEAR TO DATE: 28.78 million copies, -1% vs. 2009, -2% vs. 2005, unchanged vs. 2000

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2010: $21.56 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +15%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +26%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +33%
YEAR TO DATE: $100.22 million, +3 vs. 2009, +19% vs. 2005, +32% vs. 2000

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2010: $6 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -13%
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: -6%
YEAR TO DATE: $28.25 million, -15% vs. 2009

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 100 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2010: $27.56 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +8%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +23%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +29%
YEAR TO DATE: $128.41 million, -2% vs. 2009

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
May 2010: $35.05 million ($39 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +31%
YEAR TO DATE: $164.29 million, -3% vs. 2009, +21% vs. 2005

The average comic book in Diamond’s Top 300 cost $3.49. The average Top 300 comic book that retailers ordered from Diamond cost $3.51. The median comic book price in Diamond’s Top 300 was $3.99, and the most common cover price on Diamond’s list remained $3.99 for the third consecutive month.

As June includes Batman #700, I would expect to see the order index number climb dramatically in the June chart; Batman is the title Diamond uses to key its charts.

Here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...
May 2009's top seller was Marvel's New Avengers #53, with estimated first-month Diamond orders of over 94,300 copies. As suggested above, New Avengers had about half the orders of May 2008's top seller, Secret Invasion; this month's Avengers relaunch sold nearly 70,000 more copies to retailers. Check out the detailed analysis of the month's sales here — and sales chart here.


May 2005's top-seller was DC's Green Lantern #1, with Diamond first-month orders of more than 168,300 copies. DC titles took several spots in the top five, with the final issues of Green Lantern Rebirth and Villains United taking the third and fifth slots. Check out the sales chart here.

May 2000's top-seller was Image's Uncanny X-Men #382, with estimated Diamond preorders of approximately 114,800 copies. Chris Claremont's return to the series coupled with the upcoming release of the first X-Men movie to bring the title back to Diamond's top spot. Check out the sales chart here.

May 1995's top seller at Diamond and at Capital City Distribution was Image's Spawn #32. Capital reported preorders of approximately 94,600 copies, meaning overall sales were probably closer to 400,000. Marvel moved its distribution to Heroes World in July, effectively ending (for a while) the era in which a single distributor's charts reported sales for all publishers, although Capital did for a time integrate Marvel orders based on retailer reports into its tables.

May 1990's top seller at Capital City was Batman #451, one of two Batman issues in the month. Both Batman issues topped Legends of the Dark Knight #9, finally unseating the title after its long ride at #1. By this point, Batman was almost back at parity with what was then the traditional market leader, Uncanny X-Men. Capital had preorders of 83,350 copies on Batman #451, suggesting overall orders north of 400,000 copies.

The top dollar title for the month was the first Batman Archives, priced at $39.95. Capital had first-month orders of 7,650 copies on the hardcover.

May 1985's top seller at Capital City was Marvel's Secret Wars II #3, the shorter sequel to 1984's best-selling comics series. Capital's orders were approximately 61,900 copies; overall sales would likely have been higher than 300,000.

3 comments:

Paul Nolan July 1, 2010 at 12:29 PM  

Could the lack of money be pushing trade readers over to websites outside the direct market? Taking business to websites who heavily discount rrps?

John Jackson Miller July 1, 2010 at 12:52 PM  

I think that's entirely possible, but as TPB sales through the mass market were down in 2009, too, it's unclear how much they're taking away.

I have also seen it theorized that most of the key issues have now been collected, resulting in fewer high-demand TPB releases of older material. This happened in manga, as the ratio of high-interest to esoteric material being reprinted in the States began to shift.

Paul Nolan July 1, 2010 at 1:38 PM  

Thus explaining Marvel's recent Spider-Man: Secret Wars and similar series, trying to make more material available to be collected and then to capitalize on past successful collected stories.

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