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April 2010: Flashbacks to the past

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

by John Jackson Miller and T.M. Haley

Following the report on comics orders for April 2010, here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...
April 2009's top seller was DC's Detective Comics #853, with estimated first-month Diamond orders of 104,100 copies. The Neil Gaiman issue performed an interesting feat: as Comichron reported, it was the first time an issue of Detective, the longest-running ongoing series in American comics, had ever topped the charts. Check out the detailed analysis of the month's sales here — and sales chart here.

April 2005's top-seller was Marvel's New Avengers #5, with Diamond first-month orders of over 162,300 copies. But DC took the next four of the top five slots in a month where the narrower categories were flat or slightly off year-over-year. Star Wars Episode III helped Dark Horse to one of its higher market shares across history; the movie came out in May, but orders for the adaptation issues and trade were recorded in April. Check out the sales chart here.

April 2000's top-seller was Image's Fathom #12, with estimated Diamond preorders of approximately 124,500 copies. Image topped the charts only twice more in the 2000s, with an anniversary issue of Spawn and Masters of the Universe #1 a couple of years later.

Also in April 2000, Marvel boosted its cover prices from $1.99 to $2.25 for most of its line, helping its market share. Check out the sales chart here.

April 1995's top seller at Diamond and at Capital City Distribution was Marvel's X-Men Omega, the final chapter of the "Age of Apocalypse" storyline. Capital reported preorders of approximately 143,050 copies, placing overall orders north of 400,000 copies. Omega represented something close to an end to the enhanced-cover era; its acetate outer cover makes it one of those issues where online scans look nothing like the comic book! 

The book was priced at $3.99 — and the average comic book ordered within Diamond's Top 300 cost $2.39. The most common cost of comics was $2.50, believe it or not: Marvel and DC's lines were scattered across several price points, including $1.50, $1.75,  $1.95, and $2.25, whereas Image, Malibu, Dark Horse, and Acclaim had many of their comic books priced at $2.50.

April 1990's top seller at Diamond and Capital City was Legends of the Dark Knight #8, the third issue of Grant Morrison's "Gothic" storyline. Capital City's orders on the issue were 84,950 copies, suggesting that overall sales were closer to half a million copies.

April 1985's top seller at Capital City was Marvel's Secret Wars II #2, the shorter sequel to 1984's best-selling comics series. Capital's orders were approximately 65,000 copies, suggesting overall sales in the 300,000-to-400,000-copy range.

While the identically priced Crisis on Infinite Earths undeniably had a longer-term impact on its publisher's line, Secret Wars II was nearly outselling it two-to-one at Capital in April.

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Calendar deals a beating to April 2010 comics sales

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

by John Jackson Miller    Bookmark and Share


As well as the comic-book direct market performed in the month of March, the industry underperformed in April, with orders for all comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines off nearly $10 million, or 24%. The monthly estimates appear here.

The mention of the previous month is intentional, as March had five weeks versus the previous March’s four, while April had four shipping weeks versus the previous April’s five. According to our recent analysis, the average five-week month since 2004 has seen 11% more sales of Top 300 comics units than the average four-week month. Had March 31st been a Tuesday, it’s clear the relative pictures for March and April would have been much different.

Brightest Day #0 joined with the new Flash title, Green Lantern #53, and Batman and Robin #11 to give DC the top four slots on the chart. Marvel led in both dollar and unit market shares overall, helped by the top-ordered graphic novel, the hardcover Kick-Ass compilation. It was the second month in a row for the title to top the charts; the film based on the comic book released in mid-April.  There was no new Siege issue in April (apart from the tie-ins), also impacting overall sales

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
April 2010: 5.57 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -8%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -4%
YEAR TO DATE: 22.63 million copies, -3% vs. 2009, -4% vs. 2005, unchanged vs. 2000

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
April 2010: $19.31 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -15%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +12%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +25%
YEAR TO DATE: $78.66 million, unchanged vs. 2009, +17% vs. 2005, +32% vs. 2000

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
April 2010: $5.54 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -29%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -10%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +65%
YEAR TO DATE: $22.25 million, -15% vs. 2009

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 100 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
April 2010: $24.86 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +8%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +28%
YEAR TO DATE: $100.86 million, -4% vs. 2009

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
April 2010: $31.97 million ($35.44 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -24%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +18%
YEAR TO DATE: $129.24 million, -3% vs. 2009, +19% vs. 2005

The average comic book in Diamond’s Top 300 cost $3.47. The average Top 300 comic book that retailers ordered from Diamond also cost $3.47. The median comic book price in Diamond’s Top 300 was $3.50, and the most common cover price on Diamond’s list remained $3.99 for the second consecutive month.

The poor overall showing for the month puts the overall market back into negative territory for the year, with only the Top 300 Comics Dollar Sales category keeping pace with 2009. Trade paperbacks had a rough outing in both the frontlist and backlist — though, again, the extra week is a important determinant of trade sales. Also, it’s believed that April 2009’s charts may have reflected additional sales owing to some deep-discount promotions by publishers, so that also muddies the water for comparison purposes.

The monthly flashback column will be along shortly.

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Volatility Primer: Quarterly versus monthly sales figures

Monday, May 10, 2010

by John Jackson Miller    Bookmark and Share

There's still some data I want to have a look at before posting the April 2010 direct market sales estimates, but from my initial work with the numbers released today by Diamond, it appears that, even against unremarkable 2009 competition, April will be as weak as a month for comics sales as March was a very strong month. As I expect you'll see other estimates online before our work is complete, this is probably a good time to mention again that, increasingly, the monthly totals are considerably more volatile than the quarterly totals. The chart here shows how the monthly "noise" looks like when superimposed over quarterly unit sales.

The calendar plays a major role. March was a five-ship-week month; April, four. Back in the days when sales charts reported preorders, that fact generally didn't matter that much, because publishers spread their usual monthly offerings out across the entire month (or skipped the final week altogether). But now the charts are reporting comics that actually shipped, meaning that five-week month has one more ship week in which to capture the premiere of a comic book solicited for sale in a previous month but which shipped late. And, of course, it's one more week for shipped reorders to fit into the charts.

Over the last six years, retailers have received 6.29 million Top 300 comic books from Diamond in four-week months — and 6.99 million Top 300 comic books in five-week months. Since 2004, final unit orders for Top 300 comics are 11% higher in five-week months. Why not 25%, given the extra week? That's the effect of the monthly cycle, as mentioned before: All things being equal, most titles are only supposed to have one new issue per month. The extra week is capturing extra reorders and monthly titles which either shipped out of their place in the calendar, or non-monthlies which simply had a greater chance of landing in that month because of the extra week.

So quarterly aggregate totals tend to be considerably less volatile than the monthly totals. But there's another factor: The third month in a quarter tends to have slightly higher sales than the other two quarters.  Looking at all the completed quarters since 2003 when Diamond began reporting final orders, average unit sales for the first and second months of each quarter were nearly identical. But third-month orders were nearly 2.5% higher. That's not a lot, and maybe it's not significant; if you close off the sample to very recent years, the first months of quarters tend to do better. But we can imagine why third months might see more orders: Some publishers may have a fiscal incentive for getting a book to market before a quarter ends; there's also the fact that the final months of a quarter are more likely to have a fifth ship week than the middle months of the quarter, where February very rarely gets a fifth week. (Although if Diamond closes between Christmas and New Year's, that may change the calculation some.)

All of this is basically a prescription for looking at wider ranges of time when evaluating market performance. Comics sales charts are monthly for a reason, but sometimes — as I suspect will be the case this month — the longer-term picture will have more to tell us.

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Iron Man comic book sales through history

Friday, May 7, 2010

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

With the release of the second Iron Man film, we're finally restoring a feature on the site that was first posted when the previous film came out, but was lost in our server crash a ways back: postal statement sales figures for the series, complete for the 20th Century. This version is more detailed, providing print runs, subscription totals, and other information for the core Iron Man title and its immediate descendants.

When Marvel renegotiated its restrictive agreement with its distributor in 1968, it was suddenly able to double its number of offerings. It did so by drawing upon the characters in several of its "double feature" titles. Iron Man and Captain America fissioned from Tales of Suspense, with Captain America continuting the original series' numbering. Iron Man began with a fresh #1, only after a weird one-month gap during which the feature was paired with the Tales to Astonish orphan, Sub-Mariner, in the Iron Man and Sub-Mariner one-shot.

Marvel did not publish sales figures for the title for a very long time, but by the time it did, Iron Man was a mid-range seller along with the other Avengers titles. The series peaked above 200,000 copies in the mid-1980s during David Michelinie and Bob Layton's first run on the title; it approached that level again several times before collapsing during the market recession of the mid-1990s.

Marvel addressed the decline then — and several more times — with the same strategy: restarting the series from a new #1. The "Heroes Reborn" volume 2 and the "Heroes Return" volume 3 resuscitated sales (this run included John's year on the title), as did the Warren Ellis Volume 4 in 2004. But unlike with Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, Marvel has yet to permanently reunify the series into a single numbering. The current flagship Iron Man title, Invincible Iron Man, shipped its 25th issue in April.


It's apparent that the same postal permit was used for the series during its first three volumes; subscribers for the previous series were simply rolled into the next one. However, we don't know if Statements of Ownerships have appeared in the post-2004 versions, so we're reluctant to call the file on the original title closed. If you've spotted Statements in the later runs, please let us know.

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Blackest Night #0 leads April 2010 comics sales

Thursday, May 6, 2010

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

Brightest Day followed Blackest Night into the top slot on the charts, according to preliminary data released for April by Diamond Comic Distributors. The Top 100 Comics and Trade Paperbacks for April as ordered by comics shops in North America, along with market shares and order index numbers, appear on Comichron here.

Brightest Day #0 joined with the new Flash title, Green Lantern #53, and Batman and Robin #11 to give DC the top four slots on the chart. Marvel led in both dollar and unit market shares overall, helped by the top-ordered graphic novel, the hardcover Kick-Ass compilation. It was the second month in a row for the title to top the charts; the film based on the comic book released in mid-April.  There's no new Siege issue in April (apart from the tie-ins).

At this stage we can tell that both the median and most common cover prices of comic books in the Top 100 was $3.99, with the weighted average cost being $3.47. March saw the first time the most common price of comics offered reached $3.99; April seems set to repeat that.

Full estimates will be appear here on the site later, after all data has been released; judging from what we've seen so far, it looks like a solid month but perhaps not quite what the five-ship-week March was. On the other hand, April 2009 wasn't that noteworthy, beyond seeing Detective Comics top the charts for what was likely the first time ever. The comparatives aren't that steep.

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