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November sales actually up, though prices were too

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

by John Jackson Miller

November was the second month for which Diamond published percentage change information for its overall comics and trade paperback sales — and a number of kinks are still being worked out of the process. Many (but not all) are on my end, as you'll read — and as such, it took about three weeks in all for me to publish the sales charts and estimates for November 2010.

Running and re-running my calculations on the Top 300s, I became increasingly convinced that Diamond had transposed the columns for units and dollars in its table when it reported those percentage changes in November. As released, the table showed comic units down 5% and dollars down 10% year-to-year— which I realized was probably impossible, given that the average cover price of comics ordered jumped to its highest level in history in November. Diamond's Dan Manser confirmed to me yesterday that the columns had, indeed, been accidentally transposed; I have made the corrections everywhere those figures appear on the site.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye (v. 1)The table is extremely complicated, so it's not a hard mistake to make at all; I realized today that I had flip-flopped unit and dollar market shares last month, myself — although just on the website, not in my calculations. (That has also been corrected.) Ultimately, the revision is very much good news because it means that overall dollar orders for comic books and trade paperbacks were actually up by less than a percent — as opposed to down the originally reported 8%, which was really the case for units. Trade paperback sales, helped by Walking Dead, were sufficient to recover the ground lost by comics in dollars.

But let's get back to the cover price matter, which is pretty significant. The average title in the Top 300 cost $3.78, which is a record, but it's really the weighted price that's the big mover. The average comic book retailers ordered in the Top 300 cost $3.69, which breaks the old record by 11¢! The median and most common prices were $3.99, and we can see the following breakdown within the chart:

104 titles at $2.99
14 titles at $3.50
154 titles at $3.99
12 titles at $4.99

That's right: more than half the titles in the Top 300 cost $3.99, for the first time ever. Pricing strategies are changing at the major publishers, but they haven't changed yet.

The aggregate totals are here:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
November 2010: 5.48 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -15%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -4%
YEAR TO DATE: 63.64 million copies, -7% vs. 2009, -9% vs. 2005, unchanged vs. 2000

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
November 2010 versus one year ago this month: -10.2%
YEAR TO DATE: -5.79%

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TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
November 2010: $20.24 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +31%
YEAR TO DATE: $225.39 million, -4% vs. 2009, +12% vs. 2005, +29% vs. 2000

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
November 2010 versus one year ago this month: -4.86%
YEAR TO DATE: -4.64%

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TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2010: $7.2 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +18%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -1%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +87%
YEAR TO DATE: $69.79 million, -4% vs. 2009

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
November 2010 versus one year ago this month: +11.7%
YEAR TO DATE: -3.22%

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TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2010: $27.44 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -1%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +3%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +18%
YEAR TO DATE: $295.13 million, -4% vs. 2009

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
November 2010 versus one year ago this month: +0.24%
YEAR TO DATE: -4.18%

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OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
November 2010: approximately $35.8 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +11%
YEAR TO DATE: $382.13 million, -3% vs. 2009

Now, in last month's report and a later revision, I attempted to use the new percentage change figures (which were in their correct columns in October) to figure out what lay in the long tails for comics and graphic novels. With a second month to look at — Diamond also provides month-to-month percentage changes — I was able to look more closely at my model's performance in projecting these overall totals. I've determined that while it's something I may look at year-end, and next year once I get some more baselines, there are too many sources of error involved for a reliable reading.

As readers may know, the Overall Diamond Sales calculation I have computed for eight years here uses the Diamond Market Shares in conjunction with the known complete sales of one or more publishers. (Here's a primer on the calculation.) But there are a couple of problems. Diamond's percentage changes are for comics and trade paperbacks, but its market shares include magazine publishers. Between Wizard, Titan, Eaglemoss, and others, there's usually about 1-2% of the "Overall Diamond Sales" in dollars that you won't find in the Comics Plus Graphic Novels category. This is part of the reason that you'll see, above, that Diamond said all comics and graphic novels were off 4.18% year-to-date, while my Overall total loss is closer to 3%.

But it's not the only reason. Since these are year-to-year comparisons, they're only as good as the data being compared — and if there's a margin of error in the current month's Overall dollar figure, there's also one in the total for the same month in 2009. So that's an additional reason the percentage changes don't square up perfectly.

Finally — and this is pretty complicated indeed — Diamond bases its Dollar Market Share table on wholesale dollar sales: what the publishers actually realized from the sales, not the total cover price of everything. This controls for variations that occur when certain promotions boost the number of items sold, but not the dollar value. Every month, some merchandise goes through the system at a fraction of their usual prices — how much varies by the publisher, and what promotions they have running. Those sales will show up in the unit market shares, but won't make a dent in the dollar shares. A $20 trade sold to a retailer for a dollar will be counted as a dollar.

The problem is that while a wholesale dollar value can be calculated for the market with reasonable certainty — this month, it's $15.22 million — we can't know for sure what the wholesale rate is for the market, because it's different for every publisher, and it's different for them every month. One publisher I see full data from receives 42.5% of cover price on average, but that figure ranges up or down two or three points every month depending on the mix of titles offered and promotions going on. Multiply that times every publisher — some of which have different discount platforms — and you see that the full retail value can't be figured exactly in any given month from available data: only approximated. My Overall full retail value calculation of $35.8 million this month is what you'd get if the $15.22 million wholesale were 42.5% of the whole pie, but the size of the wedge might be slightly different. I use a rolling average of monthly discount rates, but there will always be some bumps.

Unfortunately, the figure here known to the greatest degree — total wholesale dollars — is a tough one to report, for that reason. Most people understand industry sales as encompassing every dollar made through a comic book's sale: the publisher's share, the distributor's share, and the retailer's share. The cover price. Describing industry performance through wholesale dollars is probably better suited for a business-to-business publication: most of the rest of us are more interested in how big the total pie really is.

But while I've reported these approximate Overall totals in the past and will continue doing so, there's just a few too many variables involved to apply them to the percentage changes on a monthly basis. We have a pretty good ballpark guess at what's in the long tail as it is; I'm not confident that running the additional algebra every month will improve the guess by much. So I've backed out the projections for Overall Comics and Overall Trade Paperback unit and dollar sales from the October page — and in future, will be running the Diamond percentage changes without attempting to nail down what each sector's size is. The Top 300 calculations will, of course, continue, as will the Overall calculation. Just understand their changes each month will differ slightly from the Diamond changes; they're reporting on different groupings of product, and doing so with different margins of error.

That's it. There are now more than 75,000 sales figures and rankings here on the site!

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