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Free Comic Book Day 2010 is Saturday

Friday, April 30, 2010

by T.M. Haley   Bookmark and Share

Free Comic Book Day is being held this Saturday for its ninth year. This year publishers and retailers have joined with Diamond Comic Distributors to give away more than 30 unique comic titles, as well as a Marvel HeroClix figurine. You can find the full list of titles here.

Signing schedules can also be found on their website. If your local comic shop is not listed, give them a call for a complete list of events and signings. (And Comichron's John Jackson Miller will be at Galaxy Comics in downtown Stevens Point, Wis., from 1-3. Hope to see you there!)

You can read more about the origins of Free Comic Book Day — as well as its original purpose — here. There's also a handy FAQ page on the official website.

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March 2010: Flashbacks to the Past

Thursday, April 29, 2010

by John Jackson Miller and T.M. Haley

Following the report on comics orders for March 2010, here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...
March 2009's top seller was Marvel's Dark Avengers #3, the top seller for 2009 with estimated first-month Diamond orders of 96,532 copies. It was the first month (and, to date, one of only two months) in which the top-selling comic book had fewer than 100,000 copies in first-month orders. Watchmen's film release dominated the month's comics news. Check out the detailed analysis of the month's sales here — and sales chart here.

March 2005's top-seller was DC's Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, a promotionally priced dollar comic book with Diamond first-month orders of nearly 200,000 copies. Among normally priced comics, New Avengers #4 led the market with nearly 155,000 copies. Check out the sales chart here.

March 2000's top-seller was X-Men #100, with estimated Diamond orders of more than 144,800 copies. X-Men #100 was the start of Marvel's Revolution relaunch to promote the upcoming first X-Men movie release.

It marked the beginning of many changes in the X-Men run, notably new costume designs and a six-month time jump in each issue. The Revolution rebrand would continue until July of 2001, when the series would be once again revamped by a new entourage of authors. Check out the sales chart here.

March 1995's top seller at Diamond and at Capital City Distribution was Marvel's Amazing X-Men #3, continuing the "Age of Apocalypse" storyline. Capital reported preorders of approximately 104,300 copies. After a dip in sales of the second issue in February, the third issue sold even more preorders than the first; this is reflective of the fact that retailers, ordering two months in advance, had by this point seen the initial sales from the first month of the "Age of Apocalypse."

March was otherwise a tumultuous month at the beginning of the Distribution Wars. On March 3, 1995, Marvel announced that beginning with July-shipping product, Heroes World would become the exclusive distributor of Marvel comic books to the direct market. Capital City promptly filed suit under the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law; Capital settled with Marvel later in the month, gaining the right to distribute Marvel comics for a slightly longer time.

In the middle of the month, DC held its fourth annual retailer meeting; attending retailers were given few clues as to DC's ultimate plans. Marvel began meeting with retailers itself on March 24, with the first of its "Marvelution" meetings in New York City to announce trade terms.

And in what remains one of the more puzzling acquisitions of financier Ronald Perelman's shopping spree, Marvel purchased trading-card publisher Skybox for approximately $150 million. Skybox was a relatively recent startup in a field that was already suffering hard times; Marvel consolidated its operations with Fleer, which it had purchased earlier.

March 1990's top seller at Diamond and Capital City was Legends of the Dark Knight #7, the second issue of Grant Morrison's "Gothic" storyline. Capital's orders on the issue were 95,750 copies; overall sales were likely closer to the 400,000- to 500,000-copy range.

March 1985's top seller at Capital City was Marvel's Secret Wars II #1, the shorter sequel to 1984's best-selling comics series. Capital's orders were approximately 85,000 copies, meaning overall sales were probably in the half-million copy neighborhood.

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Jim Shooter on Marvel Whitmans, the direct market, and more

Sunday, April 18, 2010

by John Jackson Miller    Bookmark and Share

Just back from the inaugural Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, where in promoting my own work I got to meet Jim Shooter, there to promote the new Gold Key heroes line of comics for Dark Horse. Shooter is a key figure in comics history, having tenures in various capacities with DC, Valiant, Defiant, Broadway, and, of course, Marvel, where he was editor-in-chief for much of the 1980s. Needless to say, I'd saved up quite a few questions about past publications — and he was kind (and patient!) enough to answer them. It wasn't in the nature of an interview, but I don't think he'd mind if I shared the following answers here. Some confirmations, some new details:

The Marvel Whitmans. In my column in Comics Buyer's Guide #1609, I discussed what had been a long-held misunderstanding by many collectors — that the so-called "Whitman" Marvels were all reprints. These were the copies with the issue numbers and prices in "fat diamonds"; Nick Pope's excellent record of them is here. Shooter said the program was developed specifically for Western Publishing and its Whitman bagged edition program, and that they were definitely printed simultaneously with the Curtis newsstand editions. The only reprints are those that are labeled as such, like Star Wars adaptation copies.

When I asked about reports of direct market retailers having bought copies from the Whitman run, Shooter said he did not believe that any dealers received any copies from it. Phil Seuling's direct-market pioneering Seagate was getting Curtis newsstand copies, he said, which was why the move to a special non-newsstand trade dress was eventually made in 1979. I'm not sure how to reconcile that with the anecdotal reports: since the logo for that was a squashed diamond shape (and, reportedly, inspiration for the name Diamond Comic Distributors), it's possible some retailers were remembering receiving later issues not from the 1977 to early 1979 Whitman run.

Star Wars is why there are no other Whitman Marvels cover-dated in early 1978. One reason I'd always believed that the "fat-diamond" copies were not a direct market printing was that there's a three month gap where there are no Marvels at all, except for Star Wars. The timing coincided with the massive, million-copy selling adaptation of the movie, which, he says, saved Marvel when it was in dire straits. My guess in the CBG column was that Whitman had simply chucked its usual printings of Marvel monthlies to do nothing but Star Wars copies; Shooter confirms this was the case. Whitman kept coming back asking for 300,000 more copies — and then more again. I didn't get into specific numbers for each printing, but this does seem to resolve that question. (There are discernable variations between at least two of the reprintings; the interior indicia-only version would seem to be the earliest, with later ones having the word "reprint" on the cover corner box.)

Dazzler and the direct-only titles. Something Shooter did have an exact number for was the number of copies the first Marvel direct-market only comic book sold: Dazzler #1 had orders of 428,000 copies, he said. It was ironic, he said, because an issue featuring a new, untried character had been deliberately chosen for the test so as not to antagonize Marvel's newsstand accounts. If anything, the enormous orders that the title received only served to underscore even further the enormous potential the emerging comics shop market had.

I also asked about the trio of titles that eventually moved from newsstand exclusively to the direct market — Ka-Zar, Micronauts, and Moon Knight. The selection of the titles was specifically motivated by their relative strength in the comics shops, he said; naturally, Marvel was able to look at numbers from both markets. It's a relatively early case of target marketing using direct-market sales figures as a guide.

First issues. In the 1950s, we saw that many publishers chose not to begin new series with #1s, completely contrary to today's market logic! Newsstand dealers and readers, the story goes, were reluctant to buy into untried titles — and so we saw titles started at artificially high numbers, or adopting the numbering of other completely unrelated titles. I had asked Paul Levitz about how real this effect was and how long it persisted in comics back in my column in CBG #1623. Part was conventional wisdom and part was rooted in logistics, he said; because there were so many independent distribution agencies to deal with, getting a new title prepared for the market was a complicated, manual process — and up through the 1960s, it was probably easier  to change a title's name and content without renumbering than it was to set up a new product in the system.

Shooter said he believed it was probably conventional wisdom that the staff of Atlas — a Marvel precursor — bought into thoroughly, and certainly Atlas had a huge number of comics starting at odd numbers, with titles changing names repeatedly. Whether the bias against first issues was really much in effect on the part of the newsstand distributors — and he was skeptical of that — he figured that it was almost certainly no longer the thinking by the late 1960s, around the time that Marvel's distribution deal changed allowing it to launch several new series, from Iron Man to Sub-Mariner.

Those are just a few of the topics touched on — but they include some things I've wondered about for a long time. I appreciated him taking the time to discuss them!

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March 2010 comics sales jump, quarter finishes up overall

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

by John Jackson Miller    Bookmark and Share

If it takes a quarter of growth to end a recession, count this one over — at least in comics. While the market notched some positive quarters in the wide overall category last year, those gains weren't always reflected in the narrower categories, like periodical unit sales. This quarter was different. Orders placed for comic books through Diamond Comic Distributors leapt in March — 14% for Top 300 Comics Units, 20% for Top 300 Comics Dollars —resulting in a first quarter that was up in all categories except for the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks grouping. And that category's sales were pumped up by the Watchmen movie. Click to see our March 2010 estimates.

As individual months go, March 2009 didn't put up big numbers to compare against. It was, as reported here, the first month in which the top-selling comic book did not break 100,000 copies in first-month orders through Diamond — and while the market got some mileage out of the Watchmen movie, a lot of those related sales to retailers had already taken place. But apart from the Obama Spider-Man comic book — the best-selling comic book of the 2000s — there wasn't much going on in the rest of the quarter, either. The first quarter of 2010 has had, among other things, Blackest Night, Siege, and, this month, the Twilight manga. Strong quarters in comics tend to require "tentpole" projects of one kind or another, and this quarter had them.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
March 2010: 6.05 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +14%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -10%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +4%
YEAR TO DATE: 17.06 million copies, +3% vs. 2009, -3% vs. 2005, +1% vs. 2000

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
March 2010: $21.29 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +12%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: $59.35 million, +6% vs. 2009, +19% vs. 2005, +35% vs. 2000

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2010: $6.36 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -10%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +44%
YEAR TO DATE: $16.71 million; -9% versus 2009

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2010: $27.65 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +8%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: $76.07 million; -2% vs. 2009

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2010: $35 million ($38.5 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +13%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +11%
YEAR TO DATE: $96.99 million, +6% vs. 2009, +19% vs. 2005


As with last month, the overall figure for the month's total comic book, trade paperback, and magazine orders is preliminary and subject to later revision, but it does look to be in positive territory as well.

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.55; the average comic ordered cost $3.52. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $3.50. $3.99 was the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300 for the first time ever, as reported here yesterday.

While comics prices have been increasing, probably the easiest way to subtract inflation out is to look at the number of units sold. We know that the Top 300 comics sold more copies in both March and the first quarter, but it also appears that the comics off the chart are doing better, as well. Looking at the 300th place comics shows us that the bottom book on the chart has nearly doubled in unit sales from March 2009 to March 2010, from 1,962 copies to 3,706 copies.

The Flashbacks column will be along later. This weekend, I'll be at C2E2 in Chicago where I'll be appearing at the Dark Horse booth; check here for updated times. (And our thanks to Dark Horse, which mentioned Comichron in a profile appearing in all its April issues!)

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$3.99 now the most common cover price for comic books

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

by John Jackson Miller    Bookmark and Share

Throughout the last few years, we've been reporting the slow and steady climb of comic-book cover prices — but we've always also been able to say that the most common cover price for comic books offered by Diamond Comic Distributors has remained $2.99, even in months when the average cover price was climbing as much as 55¢ more. No more. In March 2010 — a month that is looking to be a very good month for comics sales, for which our sales estimates will be along soon — the record was broken. More comic books in Diamond's Top 300 were priced at $3.99 than $2.99.

It's still close: 130 comic books were priced at $3.99, with 124 priced at $2.99. The intermediary step, $3.50, continues to be bypassed with only 16 comics at that level.

It is mainly a psychological barrier, as the average price of comic books offered was $3.55 — and the average price of all comics retailers ordered was $3.52. The average price will not be $3.99 until a lot more comics are priced higher still — and that does not look likely any time soon. Only eight comics were priced at $4.99 in the March Top 300. It's also possible the most common price might drop back to $2.99 in some later month. But it is a noteworthy moment, right back with the first time most comics were priced at 15¢, 50¢ or a dollar. Four bucks is the new four bits, kids...

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March 2010 top-sellers: Blackest Night finishes on top

Thursday, April 8, 2010

by John Jackson Miller and T.M. Haley     Bookmark and Share

DC's raise-the-dead event comic book Blackest Night shipped in the last week of March, but interest in the Geoff Johns series was enough to make it the top comic book ordered by comics shops in the month, according to top-sellers lists released by Diamond Comic Distributors. The top-sellers lists, along with a first look at market shares, can be found here.

All eight issues of Blackest Night took the top spot; only the skip month of January prevented the series from racking up those months consecutively. It worked the same way for Secret Invasion's eight issues in 2008. Will the string of #1s continue? The first issue of the follow-on-series, Brightest Day #0 is slotted for April release — and while many #0 issues are promotional editions priced too low to be counter in Diamond's rankings, the book is a 56-page issue at $3.99, so it definitely will be in the mix.

The hardcover for Kick-Ass took the top spot in the bound-edition list, in advance of the movie. The Twilight manga from Yen Press came in tenth. The first comics adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's novel series generated significant interest in the mass market, and the amount of direct-market retailer demand was subject to much speculation. How well retailers gauged demand for this crossover project will become more apparent when April reorders appear.

Analysis of the full Diamond charts will appear here after they are released.

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