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Records abound in October sales; reboot titles held sales levels

Monday, November 7, 2011

by John Jackson Miller


The estimates for October 2011 comics orders by comics shops in North America are now online here at The Comics Chronicles, and as speculated upon last week when Diamond Comic Distributors provided the first taste of data for this second full month of the DC relaunch, it was a record-setting time in many ways:

Highest dollar sales for the Top 300 comics. Retailers ordered comics in the Top 300 worth $25.36 million in October, the highest total for that figure since the Diamond Exclusive Era began in the mid-1990s. The previous record was held by October 2008, with $24.9 million in orders. The totals in the early 1990s were likely higher, even given inflation.


Number of titles from each publisher in the Top 300, 1997-present.
Most titles in the Top 300 by a publisher. DC placed more titles in the Top 300 than any publisher since the Diamond Exclusive Era began in 1996: 129. (Update: See the item-count tracks for the five largest publishers over time, here.) All but one of the "New 52" titles that launched in the previous month reappeared in the Top 300. The previous high-water mark was set by Marvel, which had 119 entries on the charts in December 2008 and June 2009. I do not have exact counts from the charts from before 1996, and reorders would not have been included on any charts before 2003. DC's previous high-water mark was 107 entries in October 2007.

Largest number of issues reappearing in the Top 300. I haven't really kept this statistic before, but there always a few titles from the previous month that reappear on the list. As mentioned, this month dwarfed any previous experiences, as 51 out of the 52 DC reboot titles that appeared on the charts in September 2011 reappeared. (The only which didn't make the Top 300 again is Men of War, but that is not necessarily because of a lack of demand — if most of its print run was reported by Diamond as sold in September, it might not have charted again.)

Usually, when titles reappear, it's because of reorders; in the DC case, 41 titles from September were made returnable, with their reported sales levels reduced. Squaring up September and October finds that Diamond reported sales of 670,000 copies of those September #1s in October; that's an addition of 19.5% on top of the 3.43 million copies those comics sold when they first came out. It's not clear whether those are all reorders being reported, or Diamond logging the returnable over-run copies as sold. But the reappearance of so many DC titles on the charts directly led to the next record...

Fewest publishers with titles in the Top 300. Often when the major publishers are prolific or producing many blockbusters with reorder activity, the number of publishers who make up the Top 300 shrinks. This month, only 13 publishers made the Top 300, the lowest level since the folding of Heroes World Distribution in 1997. The previous low, 15 publishers, had been seen in June of the last two years. And the large number of major publisher titles in the Top 300 led to the next record...

Highest orders for the 300th place title. I've talked here before about the 300th place title as a benchmark for how comics are performing at the farther end of the sales spectrum. This month, Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #3 from Dark Horse set a record for the highest number of copies ordered at that position, 5,167 copies. It beats a nearly 15-year-old record, Archie's Cheryl Blossom Goes Hollywood from November 1996.

As a consequence of there being so few publishers in the Top 300, Diamond's supplemental tables listing top independent and small press performers dug especially deep, as readers will see here; the table has 45 entries below 300th place, going all the way down to 425th place. We see again the strength of the long tail in periodicals from this, as the next 125 comics after 300th place add 400,000 copies worth nearly $1.5 million to overall sales, or between 5-6% again what the Top 300 sold.

There are some superlatives that don't rise to the level of records, but are noteworthy nonetheless. Trades were off this month, but the Top 300 comics plus the Top 300 trades posted their highest dollar sales since July 2009. Unit sales within the Top 300 comics were no record, but at 7.59 million copies was at the highest level since December 2008. It was, in fact, the best the best October for periodical units since 1997. And with them, the unit sales total for the Top 300 turned positive for the year.

Finally, something Comichron doesn't normally track is worth mentioning. Many have expressed interest in how the DC reboot titles would fare across time. I have described here in the past how the month-to-month sales reports that Diamond provides aren't a perfect measure of any title's individual, ongoing performance; there's too much statistical noise. If any title shipped in Week 3 of September and shipped in Week 4 of October, those titles would appear from the charts to have sold less in October even if the eventual sales are identical. (We already know that a fifth week adds 11% in unit sales to the market.) Since I’m not prepared to go digging around in the shipping files to add a column for weeks-on-sale, I don't tend to make those comparisons here very much.

But anyone can compare the numbers from the two months, and this is what they'll find in aggregate: Diamond reported orders for the 52 DC reboot titles of 3.43 million copies in September (this includes the copies of Justice League shipped in August). The October orders for those 52 titles were 3.22 million copies, a second-issue drop of only 6%, line-wide. That is a much lower figure than most new series see, and, in fact, we find that a number of titles — from Catwoman to Detective to Red Hood — had higher first-month orders for #2 than they had for #1.

Now, there are again caveats, in addition to those already mentioned: the September #1s had additional sales in October, as well, to the tune of 19.5% of their September totals. But to compare apples to apples, at this point we have to look at initial, first-month demand — and here, it looks like, by the time retailers were ordering for October, they approached the market with a certain amount of additional confidence and cash.

The aggregate totals:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
October 2011: 7.59 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +31%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +24%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +18%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -27%
YEAR TO DATE: 58.96 million copies, +1% vs. 2010, -12% vs. 2006, +8% vs. 2001

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
October 2011 versus one year ago this month: +32.12%
YEAR TO DATE: +1.86%

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TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
October 2011: $25.36 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +22%
Versus 5 years ago this month:+33%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +40%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +1%
YEAR TO DATE: $202.85 million, -1% vs. 2010, -1% vs. 2006, +34% vs. 2001

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
October 2011 versus one year ago this month: +24.37%
YEAR TO DATE: -0.23%

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TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
October 2011: $5.78 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -28%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +32%
YEAR TO DATE: $56.84 million, -9% vs. 2010

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
October 2011 versus one year ago this month: -12.9%
YEAR TO DATE: -5.39%

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TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
October 2011: $31.14 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +20%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +35%
YEAR TO DATE: $259.69 million, -11% vs. 2010

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
October 2011 versus one year ago this month: +11.93%
YEAR TO DATE: -1.93%

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OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
October 2011: approximately $40.8 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +33%
YEAR TO DATE: $339.4 million, -2% vs. 2010
The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.41, with the average comic book ordered by retailers costing $3.34. $2.99 was the median and most common price of comics.

As mentioned here earlier, 2011 now has at least a shot at matching or beating last year's $418.6 million total; November 2011 has those five shipping weeks, and the hurdles for beating November and December 2010 are lower. We'd need to get year-over-year improvements in the 10% range again to hit the break-even point. But it's reachable, especially if trade paperbacks pick up. Trade paperback sales tend to echo the popularity of whatever comics were coming out six months earlier, for obvious reasons; we're getting out of the weak winter and more into the stronger summer season for reprint fare.

Finally some quick housekeeping notes: Comichron now has a Facebook page — and you can also follow us on Twitter.

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