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January 2011 comics sales slide not an avalanche

Monday, February 28, 2011

by John Jackson Miller
It took longer than I had intended to get the January 2011 comics sales estimates online; it was a busy month on the other side of my business, with my first novel, Star Wars: Knight Errant, releasing. (In a sense, I was still paying attention to sales charts — just of a non-comics kind!) But the delay, bringing us to the same week in which we would expect February figures to be released, may be all for the best — as January has little to say on its own about the state of the market.

Yes, the figures for January 2011 alone set some new low marks. The Top 300 comics sold 4.4 million units in the direct market, the worst showing for periodicals since the 1930s, when comics were just getting started. In dollars, the Top 300 sales were the lowest since January 2005. The trade paperback picture wasn't much better: the $4.6 million in Top 300 trade paperbacks retailers ordered was the lowest figure since such records were first published in October 2008; looking at the Top 100 alone, orders were $2.83 million, the lowest since February 2004. Overall, Diamond reported comics and trade dollars sales were off 20% year-over-year; direct market orders of $25.79 million were just a sliver over the same month in 2006.

But — those comparatives are not the whole story. As I noted the same day that the initial figures came out, Diamond had far fewer new comics and graphic novels to sell this January than it did last January. A revised calculation found 15% fewer new items on offer from January last to this one; not enough to cover the whole drop, but a big chunk of it. Two retailers I spoke with said January saw some of the smallest shipments they had ever seen from Diamond.

The reasons are several. Some marquee titles simply did not ship issues in January, but that's not the only factor. Diamond took off the last week of 2009, so anything that would have shipped to retailers that week wound up in January 2010.

And another major element had to do with Diamond changing its shipments to Tuesdays at the start of this year. I have it on good authority that a number of publishers had not yet adjusted their systems, and that their items arrived at Diamond too late to be shipped in their scheduled windows. That resulted in books slipping into later weeks of the month, and books having fewer days to generate reorders. The result of the smaller slate is that the Top 300 included a lot of titles that don't normally appear; the 300th place title had just 1,291 copies ordered, a level we just don't see these days. It's the smallest number of copies sold in that ranking since September 2006.

Should we have expected dollars those missing books to flow the books that did appear? In stores, maybe; some dollars would have been spent on alternative purchases. But remember that we're looking at what is largely retailer preorders here: dollars left over after the order was done might have been just as likely to go into other merchandise, or toward some other need.

So January doesn't mean that much. It's not great news by any stretch of the imagination — there are many better ways to start the year! But Diamond can only sell what it has to sell.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2011: 4.4 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -22%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -21%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -16%

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2011 versus one year ago this month: -23.23%

---

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2011: $15.42 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +7%

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2011 versus one year ago this month: -21.98%

---

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2011: $4.6 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -12%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -20%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: -18%

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
January 2011 versus one year ago this month: -16.53%

---

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2011: $20.02 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +5%

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
January 2011 versus one year ago this month: -20.24%

---

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
January 2011: approximately $25.79 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +1%

Now, an interesting thing happened in the cover prices for the month. The average title in the Top 300 cost $3.61 and the average comic book retailers ordered in the Top 300 cost $3.50. These are sizable drops; the median price actually dropped down to $3.95, although the most common price remained $3.99. Publishers are drawing prices back for 2011, although the mix of titles in this unusual month may again play a role.

What will February look like? Last February saw retailers ordering nearly a million more comics than retailers ordered this January, with the penultimate issue of Blackest Night on the charts. I haven't done a comparison of items that shipped from last February to this one, but supply is likely not to be quite the issue it was in January.

Read more...

It's the supply: Diamond had 23% fewer comics for sale in January

Thursday, February 3, 2011

by John Jackson Miller

Soon after my report this morning on the January sales drops, I received a note from Jason Wood who writes a column at iFanboy, noting that, while the December-to-January shortfall may not be meaningful, the year-to-year sales drop was the worst seen from January to January in the Diamond exclusive era. Diamond reported a fall in dollar sales of comic books of 22%, which, he notes, is worse than any of the drops seen in the Top 300 as reported by Comichron since 1998. January 2000's yearly drop was 9.2%, the worst seen to date.

But there are a couple of reasons I remain cautious about ascribing more to this data point. While comparing December to January has inherent problems, the truth is that comparing any two months, even year to year as we always do, contains chances for error. We know that having a fifth shipping week tends to add around 11% in sales, and while both January 2010 and January 2011 both had four shipping weeks, in December 2009, Diamond was closed at the end of the year and did not have a shipping week between Christmas and New Year's. So January 2010 came with an additional number of days of orders and reorders, since books only make the chart when they're shipped.

So I looked at Diamond's new release archive at the lists of what actually shipped. Indeed, the number of different comics items — ones with different order codes — that shipped was about 20% larger the first week of 2010 than it was in the first week of 2011. That includes everything from the comics publishers, including statues. And when you go out to the entire month, you see:

January 2010: 683 different comics and trades shipped, including variants
January 2011: 555 different comics and trades shipped, including variants

That's a 23% decline, right there. I just did a rudimentary count, and the actual total could well be different when variants are merged, but it really does look like there was more product to be ordered in 2010.  This is more than can be explained by the holiday difference; this would appear to simply be the old pattern of publishers holding fire at this time of year and releasing fewer items. Some years, that effect is more in evidence than others; this could potentially be one of the bigger years for this kind of positioning.

None of this is to say that sales on individual titles might not be declining; we'll know when the Top 300 is released and the estimates appeared. But Diamond can only sell what it has to sell. The fact that sales decline from one period to the next isn't necessarily just a function of people being less interested in a single title. It could well be that there are simply fewer titles to be interested in — and, last month, it does appear that there was a significant difference.

Update: Even without knowing the sales estimates, we can see the effects of fewer new offerings. Look at just about any ongoing series at the bottom of the Top 100 for January, and you will see it was ten or more slots lower on the charts last month. It is unlikely that those titles all improved in sales; it is more likely that there were fewer new series launches, and that the rankings for ongoing series rose while their quantity sales stood still or even slipped. 

Read more...

January 2011: Bad, but a light trading day in the market

by John Jackson Miller

The Top 100 comics and trade paperback lists for January 2011 are out, along with Diamond Comic Distributors' aggregate month-to-month and year-to-year comparisons. Sales are off considerably against January 2010 and against last month, with double-digit declines for comics dollar sales and trade paperback dollar sales.

There’s not enough data inside the lists to say a whole lot yet; just looking at the order index numbers on the Diamond chart, there would appear to be one book in the low six figures, Fantastic Four #587 with the Human Torch's demise. Jack of Fables Vol. 8: The Fulminate Blade was the top collected edition.

Jack of Fables Vol. 8: The Fulminate BladeWe can look at the comparison year, of course. Last January was very slightly up over January 2009, the Barack Obama Amazing Spider-Man month, and it had a couple of things going for it like Siege #1 and Green Lantern #50 on the comics side, and Walking Dead Vol. 11 doing 17,000 copies on the trade side. It’s not clear that we have the same big item on the trade side, and if Fantastic Four #587 was a last-week-in-month book, it’s possible it didn’t have as much sales impact as it otherwise might have had. (Update: It also appears that there were many fewer releases this January, too.)

These are the aggregate figures Diamond released:

COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
JANUARY 2011 VS. DECEMBER 2010
COMICS
-27.70%
-23.75%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-32.41%
-31.09%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-29.35%
-24.45%
JANUARY 2011 VS. JANUARY 2010
COMICS
-21.98%
-23.23%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-16.53%
-19.36%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-20.24%
-22.91%
CURRENT 12-MONTHS ROLLING VS. PREVIOUS 12-MONTHS ROLLING
COMICS
-6.64%
-8.40%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-1.81%
-2.83%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-5.09%
-7.93%


January is the traditional beginning of the Dead Quarter, and we have seen some pretty awful drops in this period before — enough so that I have written about it several times in the past. And we know a few things now.

First of all, don't look too deeply at the January versus December drop. It's the least "fair" month-to-month comparison there is. January is always down some amount from December, even in good years — often a huge amount. Any retailers who do close usually do so at the end of the year so as to put Christmas on the books and not incur another tax year, and the weather is frequently more impactful in January. Here's the estimated change within the Top 300 comics dollar sales from December to January from 1997 to 2009-2010:

December 1996 to January 1997: -15.3%
December 1997 to January 1998: -27.7%
December 1998 to January 1999: -15.2%
December 1999 to January 2000: -18.5%
December 2000 to January 2001: -8.9%
December 2001 to January 2002: -3.6%
December 2002 to January 2003: -4.8%
December 2003 to January 2004: -19.9%
December 2004 to January 2005: -26.7%
December 2005 to January 2006: -17.0%
December 2006 to January 2007: -4.8%
December 2007 to January 2008: -7.0%
December 2008 to January 2009: -24.36%
December 2009 to January 2010: -13.96%
December 2010 to January 2011 (all comics): -27.7%

Now, the above Diamond category actually reports all comics and trades, not just the Top 300, but we can see that the drop is identical to the one from December 1997 to January 1998, and very close to the one from December 2004 to January 2005. What's interesting about that is that while 1998 was still in the period of collapse, 2005 was a very strong year. The drop is also close to the 2008-2009 difference, and 2009 ended up being flat. So the December-to-January difference isn't often  a factor in performance by the end of the year — nor, indeed, is January, period.

This is the thing about the "Dead Quarter": since publishers know there are fewer customers in the stores, they alter their slates accordingly. The result is very much like watching the stock market during the week between Christmas and New Year's. Yes, the market moves up or down, but on very light volume that is frequently not telling for the rest of the year. Our volumes in this quarter are lighter anyway, so any fluctuation in them will have less effect in the long run. As I’ve written before, “All months in comics are not created equal. A strong August erases six weeks of winter.”

The Top 10 comics for the month:


RANK
DESCRIPTION
PRICE

VENDOR
1
FANTASTIC FOUR #587
$3.99

MAR
2
BRIGHTEST DAY #17
$2.99

DC
3
BRIGHTEST DAY #18
$2.99

DC
4
SPAWN #200
$3.99

IMA
5
AVENGERS #9
$3.99

MAR
6
X-MEN #7
$3.99

MAR
7
BATMAN AND ROBIN #19
$2.99

DC
8
NEW AVENGERS #8
$3.99

MAR
9
BATMAN #706
$2.99

DC
10
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #651
$3.99

MAR
 
 The Top Graphic Novels:


RANK
DESCRIPTION
PRICE

VENDOR
1
JACK OF FABLES VOLUME 8: FULMINATE BLADE
$14.99

DC
2
THE WALKING DEAD VOLUME 1:DAYS GONE BYE
$9.99

IMA
3
THE DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER HC
$24.99

MAR
4
THE GOON VOL. 10:
$16.99

DAR
5
BATMAN: JOKER'S ASYLUM VOLUME 2 TP
$14.99

DC
6
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOLUME 4 TP
$15.99

MAR
7
STARMAN OMNIBUS VOLUME 6 HC
$49.99

DC
8
HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOLUME 5 TP
$14.99

DC
9
MADAME XANADU VOLUME 3 TP
$17.99

DC
10
THE WALKING DEAD VOL. 2: MILES BEHIND US TP
$14.99

IMA

The market shares for January are as seen here:

TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
39.06%
42.37%
DC COMICS
26.38%
31.80%
IMAGE COMICS
7.60%
6.45%
DARK HORSE COMICS
4.82%
3.70%
IDW PUBLISHING
4.75%
4.60%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
2.82%
2.51%
BOOM! STUDIOS
2.01%
1.80%
EAGLEMOSS PUBLICATIONS
1.40%
0.31%
VIZ MEDIA
1.28%
0.58%
WIZARD ENTERTAINMENT
0.68%
0.62%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
9.19%
5.25%

The detailed data for the month is expected next week.

Read more...

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