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Top comics of the year -- for 1992, 1993, and 1994!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

by John Jackson Miller


It's the week for end-of-year lists — but as Diamond Comics Distributors won't release its December sales figures until later next week, the comics year isn't over. (It's probable that Avengers #1 will be the top seller for the year, but we'll see.) So instead I present not one, but three end-of-year lists — from 1992, 1993, and 1994, representing the peak of the speculator market and beginning of the crash.

Earlier this year, The Comics Chronicles added individual months from 1995, getting us past the period when Marvel's titles were not available from other distributors and, thus, not included in sales charts. (Read more about that "lost year.") That allows us to move back into the boom times of the early 1990s; 1993 saw the highest dollar sales (and, I believe, quite possibly the highest unit sales) in the history of the American comic book industry. It also shows, at a glance, one of the reasons that Marvel bought its own distribution company.

1992 was the first year that I can find in which Diamond published end-of-year rankings. The Top 300, as well as the Top 50 Trade Paperbacks (many of which are actually just pricier comics) can be seen here. Not surprisingly, Superman #75 was the top seller for the year both at Diamond and at Capital; the "Death of Superman" issue released in November 1992, leading to the single-highest dollar volume day in comics sales history. The year also saw the founding of Image and the release of Spawn #1, although in market shares, Image was still being counted as part of Malibu. Only Capital published dollar shares that year:

1992
Marvel • 45.76%
DC • 20.91%
Malibu (including Image) • 8.55%
Dark Horse • 5.55%
Valiant • 4.11%


Now, by 1993, as the market moved upward to its "Return of Superman" peak in April (when a monumental 48 million comic books shipped), the dollar shares at Capital had completely changed:


1993

Marvel • 33.43%
DC • 19.00%
Image • 14.79%
Valiant • 9.35%
Malibu •  3.52%
Dark Horse • 3.36%


Suddenly, we had the "Big Six" — and whereas in 1992, the Malibu/Image/Valiant/Dark Horse grouping accounted for 18% of dollar sales, in just a year it was up to 31%, most of it coming out of Marvel's hide. In Diamond's year-end rankings for 1993, the top Marvel book came in 14th place!


Again, the market peaked in 1993, so by 1994 —which started off horribly, with a thousand of the approximately 11,000 stores shuttering in January alone — the pie began to seriously shrink. Marvel's dollar share continued to shrink, as well. So while Marvel's purchase of Heroes World later in the year to distribute its own was certainly a shock to the system, some of the motives are apparent. Marvel had contributed to the creation of a market with historically low barriers to entry — most anyone who wanted to publish a comic book could do so (and was doing so, with as many as 600 titles a month coming out in this period). By running its own distributor, it wouldn't be subsidizing potential rivals. It could well be argued that the low barriers to entry helped all publishers, Marvel included — but looking at the scale of the market share loss above, we do get a sense of the circumstances that were surrounding the decision. (Marvel also bought Malibu in 1994, so the Big Six became the Big Five at that point.)


While Capital and Diamond each published end-of-year Top Sellers lists, I've only published Diamond's so far — although in all three cases, the distributors disagree on the top title for the year. Capital actually ranked Superman #75 in fourth for 1992, putting Spider-Man #26 in the top slot; but I'm guessing overall, Diamond's probably got the right top seller. Diamond ranks more copies sold of the cheaper Return-of-Superman book Action #687 by the end of 1993, but with the variants, I'd guess that Capital's top title, Adventures of Superman #500, is the better bet for top seller of the year. And in 1994, Diamond's report doesn't make much sense, placing Violator #1 as the top title — a book that didn't make the top 20 for the year at Capital. (Diamond also listed Codename: Stryke Force #1 at #3, which failed to make Capital's top 200 for the year.) Capital listed Generation X #1 as its top issue; my bet would be that the true top issue marketwide was more likely Spawn/Batman, the #2 book at both distributors.

The new pages for 1992-94 also include the covers for the #1 title each month from Diamond and Capital; the actual ranking pages for those months will appear here later. We do see some disagreement here again from time to time between the Diamond and Capital charts, mainly over Spawn, which appears to have done slightly better at Diamond.

Also, a graphic navigation grid has been added to the Yearly Comics Sales page, giving access to all of the annual pages. The end-of-year Diamond lists from later years are waiting to be uploaded, but I wanted to get these early years up first. My thanks to T.M. Haley for help entering the data!

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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%

---

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%

---

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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Flashback Friday: NYT on "Heroes Reborn"

Friday, December 17, 2010

by John Jackson Miller

No time for a longer flashback today, but with the New York Times moving much content back behind a paywall in January, now is probably a good time to search for any of those comics articles you'd like to see before the change.

I was amused to find an interview with me from September 1996, back when Marvel was launching "Heroes Reborn": the story mentioned that I was "compiling the industry's first long-term data base." (Actually, September 1996 was the first month that I had published monthly estimates for the industry, so I really was just getting started!) At any rate, there are some interesting numbers in there about Marvel's business at the time — just a few months before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

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Flashback Friday: Xander in Lost Universe

Friday, December 10, 2010

by John Jackson Miller


A brief flashback today on a title that had a brief run: Gene Roddenberry's Xander in Lost Universe, a part of the Tekno-Comix line from 1995. A part of Big Entertainment, Tekno-Comix was a short-lived attempt to build series around the names and concepts of celebrities ranging from Leonard Nimoy to John Jakes.

It was the largest major new publisher launch to come in the downturn of the mid-1990s, and involved a million-dollar advertising and promotional blitz. The first issues of its flagship titles, appearing in November 1994, actually placed 24th and 25th at Diamond Comic Distributors — but the curiosity factor soon faded, and by March 1995, those titles were out of the Top 60.

The concepts of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who had died in 1991, appeared at Tekno early in 1995 in the seven-issue series, Gene Roddenberry's Lost Universe. The follow-up series, Xander in Lost Universe ran longer, with nine issues (including a zero issue).

As part of the overall effort to walk the major-publisher walk, Tekno gave its titles newsstand distribution and sold subscriptions during its brief run. That resulted in a single Statement of Ownership for Xander, appearing here. But the filing, appearing in #4, came much too soon in its run for the numbers to mean much of anything: unless Xander was considered the same series as the preceding Lost Universe title for subscription and accounting purposes (a definite possibility), the publisher would not have had a complete picture of returns from the newsstand. In any event, the higher sales on the first issue (or, rather, the zero issue) of Xander would have greatly distorted average sales.

The title did not survive to a second filing, so what we see here is what we get. Click to see more Title Spotlights!

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Amazon gives Bookscan data access to authors

Thursday, December 9, 2010

by John Jackson Miller

BookScan, the A.C. Nielsen service that tracks book sales using point-of-purchase information in thousands of bookstores — plus online sales from Amazon — has now made its sales data available through Amazon. If you're the book's author, that is. As the Los Angeles Times also reports, Amazon has added a Sales Data tab to the dashboards of Amazon Author Central accounts, providing geographical breakdowns of sales.


Sample of Amazon's geographical breakdown for a title
As an Amazon author, I took a test drive. First of all, a main page aggregates all an authors' sales over a four-week period, allowing you to see which of your books sold the most copies. Maps show the geographical breakdowns of sales — only the continental United States is depicted.

In the drilldowns, there are per-title sales by week, with four-week tracks that can be viewed by title or format, such as paperback and hardcover. Amazon Ranking History is also included, showing a book's ranking at Amazon over time. (To see how far back the tracking went, I checked on one of my older books; the three major graphics provided appear here, minus identifying detail.)

Sample of Amazon's Bookscan four-week copy counts for a title
Graphic novels and trade paperbacks are included for tracking. The Times report says that "BookScan's sales tallies do not currently include sales of e-books, for the Kindle or other devices," Amazon says, but I was able to view the Ranking History for my own e-books across time. So while Kindle numbers aren't provided, you do see the tracking. The "all available" track goes back six months for Kindle items; a little more than a year on books.

BookScan combines sales reported by participating retailers, including Borders and Walden, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Target, and Buy.Com. Some retailers do not participate, including Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. As such, it amounts to what Nielsen says is 75% of book sales in the United States. Diamond's sales through comics shops are not included.

Sample of Amazon's Rank History track for a title
Now, the trick with Amazon Author Central is that while it initially populates your list of titles based upon Amazon's records of author names, the search engine is not infallible; some of my own books are there, some not. It is up to the author to submit corrections to the list — a painless process, you just visit your book's page on Amazon and copy the item number. Those corrections are reviewed at Amazon, so you can't just create an account and track anybody's books.

The four-week track means it's more of a system designed to provide creators snapshots, as opposed to their own accounting system; you'd have to record the numbers every week. As yet, it's only a graphical interface; you can't pull down a table or Excel chart. Presumably that is a possibility for the future.

Still, this is a major innovation and one that will be very useful to many creators. Amazon gives an creator or author credit in its system not just to writers of graphic novels, but also to artists, so presumably, those creators would be eligible to apply for Amazon Author Central accounts as well.

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Diamond November comics sales down, trades up

Friday, December 3, 2010

by John Jackson Miller


Diamond Comic Distributors has released its initial sales report for November 2010, a month in which it appears that dollar sales on collected editions including TV-boosted Walking Dead jumped nearly 12%, while comics dollar sales dropped nearly 5%. Combined dollar sales were slightly up, by less than 1%. Last November was boosted in part by the ring promotion DC did for Blackest Night, so it was a pretty strong month to be comparing against; comics sales were up 12% in dollars that month versus November 2008.

The Walking Dead Volume 13Batman: The Return scored the top spot for DC, which accounted for eight of the top ten comic books. (The list can be seen here.) Walking Dead Vol. 13 led the top collections list, which included a repeat appearance for last month's chart-topper, Superman: Earth One. It continues to look like a challenging year for comics, one in which the bright spots really stand out.

Diamond releases the new market performance information in a grid that includes a lot of data, which I have sought to simplify by separating things out here. (12/28 update: Diamond initially transposed unit and dollar reports; all have been corrected here):

Total comics unit sales:
Versus 1 year ago this month: -10.2%
Year to date: -5.79%

Total comics dollar sales:
Versus 1 year ago this month: -4.86%
Year to date: -4.64%

Total trade paperback and graphic novel unit sales:
Versus 1 year ago this month: +14.84%
Year to date: -4.35%

Total trade paperback and graphic novel dollar sales:
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11.70%
Year to date: -3.22%

Total comic, trade paperback and graphic novel unit sales:
Versus 1 year ago this month: -8.28%
Year to date: -5.66%

Total comic, trade paperback and graphic novel dollar sales:
Versus 1 year ago this month: +0.24%
Year to date: -4.18%

I'm still in the process of revising and refining the estimate for Overall sales in October, which would thus impact the estimates of how much of the market fell outside the Top 300 charts. It looks that while the market may have moved as much product as my estimates expected, the discount rate increased, meaning publishers took in less money for them — and as the Diamond market shares on which the Overall sales are based on wholesale dollar revenues, the Overall total for the month is lower than I initially projected. The change won't mean much to the year-to-date totals, but it does impact the other projections. I expect that as we continue to work with the new Diamond figures, it'll become easier to see when discounting has come into play.

There are now 191 months of Diamond data online at The Comics Chronicles; check them out from the beginning of our posted data, here. And don't miss our Flashback Friday piece, today delving into the sales of Vampirella in the 1970s.

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Flashback Friday: Vampi and Spidey, a tale of two 'zines

by John Jackson Miller and Joyce Greenholdt

We've added two magazines to our Title Spotlight section this week, but apart from their physical sizes and the fact that there are comics inside, they don't have a thing in common but the staples.

Warren Publishing released the first issue of Vampirella in 1969. Like its sister publications, Creepy and Eerie, it was a black-and-white horror anthology aimed at an older audience. Unlike Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie, Vampirella usually starred in the main story of each issue as well as hosted the other features.

Sales figures for the magazine weren't published until 1974, but for six of the nine years in which Warren published circulation statements, Vampirella's average paid circulation stayed above 90,000 copies per issue. In its final three years, sales dropped steadily each year. However, looking at the sell-through numbers, the title consistently stayed above 55% throughout, much better than the "print three to sell one" newsstand model of the time for comics.

Warren's Vampirella lasted for 112 issues, ending shortly before the company declared bankruptcy. Harris Publications acquired the company's assets and later published Vampirella #113, reprinting earlier stories, as well as a number of Vampirella comics series and mini-series. Dynamite Entertainment acquired the rights to Vampirella earlier this year and has announced plans to release hard- and softcover collections of both the Warren and Harris materials.

Moving into the 1990s, Marvel's Spider-Man Magazine came out of the company's partnership with and eventual acquisition of children's publisher Welsh Publishing. The magazine was aimed at younger readers and contained, in addition to comics stories featuring Spider-Man and the X-Men, a variety of other features, including jokes and puzzles. Other titles, inlcuding one combining National Football League coverage and comics, came out of the Welsh partnership.

The sole circulation statement for the short-lived series (only about 10 issues made it to the newsstand) would have been released before much sales data could have been accumulated, but the numbers it shows are troubling, particularly the sell-through figure of 24.9%. Since Spider-Man Magazine wouldn't have had much of any sales through the Direct Market comics shops, whatever the newsstand sales were would be about all it had.

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