Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Having had some time to digest the numbers from Diamond's wave of October data — and prompted by the helpful findings of an analysis by ICV2 — I've taken another look to see what the additional data means when it comes to those comics ranking beneath 300th place.
As ICV2 notes, the new Diamond data reports that year-to-date dollar sales of comic books are off 4.82%; and our own tracking of the Top 300s each month finds dollar sales off 4.08%. And yet, as discussed earlier here, unit sales for comics at the bottom of the list are at historically high levels.
These facts may seem in conflict, but it's perfectly possible for both to be the case, for specific reasons.
First, let's dig a little more into what's suggested by Diamond's new statistics. Working backward from our "Overall" industry total for the year to date, we find overall comics sales totaling a projected $238.6 million — which would be down from $250.19 million, following Diamond's reported 4.82% drop. We know from our totals that the chunk outside the Top 300 amounts to $33.45 million, or about 14% of overall comics sales. The outside-300 chunk in 2009 to date would come to $36.38 million, or about 14.5% of overall comics sales. The rate of decrease in the chunk is higher than that for the Top 300, around 8.1%; that's enough to cause the gap we see between Top 300 and overall comics dollar sales.
So, yes, so far in 2010, the comics outside 300th place are under-performing last year in dollars. In units, the effect also appears: the bubbling-under books represent about 14% of all comics sold, with fewer units sold in the after-300 books.
At the same time, we have the phenomenon that the lower-tier comics are selling in greater numbers. The list of 300th place books appears here, but we can see the following averages right away:
Average number of copies sold by 300th place item:
2010 YTD: 3,293 copies
2009 YTD: 3,051 copies
2009 (full year): 2,931 copies
2008: 2,931 copies
2007: 2,069 copies
2006: 1,796 copies
2005: 1,427 copies
2004: 1,238 copies
2003: 1,407 copies
2002: 1,040 copies
So the books at the bottom of the list are selling more than they had been, although not a great deal more than they had in 2009 or 2008 (which happen to work out to identical totals). The differences over a several-year-period are enormous, but much less so very recently.That gentle increase in units at the bottom over the last year, thus, isn't a very big one to have to negate to go into negative territory year-to-year.
So why might the comics near 300th place be selling more units, while those beneath the table are selling less in aggregate? As mentioned before here, the proliferation of titles from Marvel and the increasing chart presence of middle-tier players IDW, Dynamite, and Boom are one reason the bottom of the Top 300 is showing higher volumes. (To clarify my earlier post, I wasn't characterizing how the market shares or sales of those publishers have changed in the past year; rather, I was observing that these "Next Three" publishers after Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image are placing more entries and unit volume on the Top 300 list than we saw for most of the 2000s. After Crossgen's collapse, we often only had Devil's Due and occasionally Aspen logging more than 100,000 units in the Top 300, and that was on fewer titles.) So part of the changed trendline appears to come from this deeper bench.
As to why the comics below 300th place are not doing as well year-to-year despite these higher totals, we may look to a couple of possibilities. Much of the volume beneath 300th place is likely reordered titles; if reorders are off by a larger amount than new comics orders are off, this is where it would show up. The fact that we haven't had many mega-hits certainly has some impact in this regard.
Also, in 2009, Diamond began raising its benchmarks for carrying publications, so it is possible that, while we're seeing better per-title performance at the bottom of the Top 300 list, that list likely doesn't extend as beyond it as it once did. We may well run out of new titles slightly earlier in the table than we once did.
So, yes, looking 2010-to-2009, the "long tail" in comics, while adding sales to the total, isn't improving the picture for periodical dollars. (It is having positive effects in trade paperback dollars, meanwhile.) On the other hand, when we extend the comparisons earlier than 2008, it does still appear likely that the Top 300 today is capturing less of the overall picture than it did a few years ago. Top 300 units are down 8% from 2005, while Top 300 comics dollars are up 13%. But when the average 300th place book in 2010 is selling more than twice as many copies as the item ranked in the same position in 2005, it becomes very likely that today's "bubbling-under" chunk counts for more than it did five years earlier. Diamond only published one-year comparisons, so we can't tell how much more — but the comics beneath 300th place probably didn't account for anywhere near 14% of all comics sales then, like they do now.