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May 2011 comics sales estimates online

Monday, June 13, 2011

by John Jackson Miller

The full data for the month of May is out Diamond Comic Distributors, and as mentioned in the preliminary report here last week, the month softer year-over-year in all categories. The sales estimates for May 2011 can be found here.

Again, unit sales were off by the greatest amount year-over-year, which should not be too surprising: unit sales were at about the same levels as in February, while May 2010 saw the release of 2010's best-selling issue, Avengers #1, among other heavy hitters. This year, Marvel's Fear Itself #2 took the top slot, followed by DC's Flashpoint #1. Marvel, which has many biweekly releases slated for summer, had barely begun to double up releases in May. We'd expect to see the real effect of this move, if any, beginning in June. (While June will also be our first month for any market reaction to DC's September restart, caution is again advised in interpreting that data when it releases, as most of the June ordering decisions were made back in April.)

The 300th place title, a key indicator of sales levels, was Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #2 at 2,913 copies, the second-highest total for that placement for the year and almost the same as the 300th place title sold last May. So the market has the same depth as this time last year — it's the volumes higher on the list that have been shaved off.

Crossed 3D Volume 1As mentioned here before, Avatar had the top-selling graphic novel, the 3-D Crossed 3D Vol. 1. It's a reminder that while digital may have come a long way, there are still plenty of tricks in the print comics bag (and 3-D comic books go back more than 50 years).

The average price of comic books in the Top 300 was $3.54; the average comic book ordered (or weighted price) was $3.47. $2.99 was both the median and most common price for comics in the Top 100.

The combined comics and trades market lost a point in dollar sales versus 2010, and is now off 7.5%. The aggregate figures appear below:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
May 2011: 5.14 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -16%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -32%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +6%
YEAR TO DATE: 25.99 million copies, -10% vs. 2010, -20% vs. 2006, +5% vs. 2001

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
May 2011 versus one year ago this month: -15.46%
YEAR TO DATE: -8.8%

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TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2011: $17.83 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -24%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +37%
YEAR TO DATE: $90.63 million, -10% vs. 2010, -9% vs. 2006, +34% vs. 2001

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2011 versus one year ago this month: -14.39%
YEAR TO DATE: -8.5%

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TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2011: $5.63 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -6%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -6%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: -29%
YEAR TO DATE: $25.87 million, -8% vs. 2010

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
May 2011 versus one year ago this month: -4.42%
YEAR TO DATE: -5.41%

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TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2011: $23.46 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -15%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -22%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +30%
YEAR TO DATE: $116.49 million, -9% vs. 2010

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
May 2011 versus one year ago this month: -11.21%
YEAR TO DATE: -7.51%

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OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
May 2011: approximately $31.2 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -17%
YEAR TO DATE: $152.95 million, -7% vs. 2010

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Waiting game evident in May 2011 comics sales

Friday, June 10, 2011

by John Jackson Miller


While Free Comic Book Day has been turning into the kickoff for the summer sales season, more of the action looks to be developing for later this year. Retailers gave away hundreds of thousands of free comic books in May but didn't order as many of the for-profit ones, making for a month that was softer year-over-year in all categories, according to data released today by Diamond Comic Distributors. The preliminary rankings for May 2011 can be found here.

Unit sales were off by the greatest amount year-over-year, which is not too surprising: May 2010 saw the release of 2010's best-selling issue, Avengers #1. This year, Marvel's Fear Itself #2 took the top slot, followed by DC's Flashpoint #1; at first glance, it looks like the high-water level for top-sellers this month was probably in the 90,000s, but we'll know more when the full list releases.

Marvel, which has many biweekly releases slated for summer, had barely begun to double up releases in May. We would expect to see the real effect of this move beginning in June. (While June will also be our first month for any market reaction to DC's September restart, caution is advised in interpreting that data when it releases, as most of the June ordering decisions were made back in April.)

Crossed 3D Volume 1Notably, Avatar had the top-selling graphic novel, the 3-D Crossed 3D Vol. 1. It's a reminder that while digital may have come a long way, there are still plenty of tricks in the print comics bag (and 3-D comic books go back more than 50 years).

The average price of comic books in the Top 100 was $3.37; the average comic book ordered (or weighted price) was $3.42. $2.99 was both the median and most common price for comics in the Top 100.

The combined comics and trades market lost a point in dollar sales versus 2010, and is now off 7.5%. The aggregate figures appear below:

COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
MAY 2011 VS. APRIL 2011
COMICS
-3.35%
-2.66%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
4.99%
12.69%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-0.64%
-1.42%
MAY 2011 VS. MAY 2010
COMICS
-14.39%
-15.46%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-4.42%
-3.14%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-11.21%
-14.46%
YEAR-TO-DATE 2011 VS. YEAR-TO-DATE 2010
COMICS
-8.50%
-8.80%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-5.41%
-9.80%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-7.51%
-8.89%
 
And the market shares:

PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
42.45%
46.35%
DC COMICS
26.68%
28.37%
DARK HORSE COMICS
4.89%
3.59%
IMAGE COMICS
4.88%
5.35%
IDW PUBLISHING
4.60%
4.26%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
2.83%
3.38%
BOOM! STUDIOS
2.33%
2.00%
ZENESCOPE ENTERTAINMENT
1.04%
0.96%
VIZ MEDIA
1.03%
0.47%
AVATAR PRESS
0.93%
0.76%
OTHER NON TOP-10
8.34%
4.51%

More data as it becomes available.

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Legacy title numbering: A quick reference

Thursday, June 9, 2011

by John Jackson Miller

In the wake of DC's announced relaunches of its whole line in September,  news of another numbering change, this time to Uncanny X-Men, a survivor of past relaunches. David Uzumeri at Comics Alliance writes that "as a consequence of the events of Jason Aaron's X-Men: Schism event series, the stalwart title will end as of October's #544, giving the crown of longest-running uninterrupted title at the Big Two to... Vertigo's Hellblazer, of all the unlikely winners." Hellblazer was at #278 in April.

Increasingly in American comics, longevity records are a complicated matter. Uzumeri is speaking only of Marvel and DC, of course, but there are complications even then. Untouched by the 1990s relaunches, Uncanny X-Men did become our poster-child for a Marvel title untouched by renumbering — but even then, we were having to be careful not to use the phrase "continuously published." Uzumeri was careful to avoid it in his piece, but it is worth a refreshing of the collective memory that the title does have a couple of blips, one of them fairly large.

We'll set aside for a moment the title change from X-Men to Uncanny X-Men that happened in #142 — yes, the cover logo had changed much earlier, but in comics collecting it's what's in the indicia that historically has counted. We can also probably ignore the four months the title wasn't on the racks during the "Age of Apocalypse"; the subscribers received the four copies of Amazing X-Men, which it effectively became for that period, and they continued to receive Uncanny immediately after the event ended. The main title was neither renumbered nor taken out of production. The bigger interruption, though, came in 1970. X-Men was off the shelves for nine months between issues #66 and #67, a hiatus after which it returned as a bimonthly reprint series.

So we would give Uncanny the Big Two record for uninterrupted numbering up until September; Hellblazer, going since January 1988 does not, at a glance of my records, have any similar production breaks, and would have the claim for the Big Two — except that Mad, which began as an E.C. comic book and is now published by DC, is on issue #509. Once again, quibbles enter: it's not comics throughout, and it's been magazine-sized for decades, since #24. I tend to think it should be included, but it would have a clearer claim if we change our term to "comics publication" — as opposed to the traditionally sized comic book.

Again, as we're talking about unbroken numbering and not publication, that lets out the Marvel titles that will remain in the 600s after Uncanny and DC renumber; Amazing Spider-Man, Tales of Suspense/Captain America, Journey Into Mystery/Thor, and Tales to Astonish/Incredible Hulk all were renumbered (not to mention renamed, in the latter three cases). In the Amazing Spider-Man case, the series did continue in production the entire time, with subscribers receiving books continuously despite the renumbering; I suspect that's being done with Fantastic Four/FF, but it gets a bit harder to argue that it's the same title when there's a name change and a renumbering. Amazing X-Men was not counted in the Uncanny numbering, nor was Amazing Scarlet Spider counted with Amazing Spider-Man.

What beats Hellblazer if we go beyond the Big Two? Archie, at #620, would be our candidate for unbroken publication; it was only quarterly when it started in 1942 and it wasn't always monthly afterward, but at a glance I'm not seeing any big gaps. If we allow for hiatuses, then we go with Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, which released #715 in January from Boom, latest in a line of publishers that includes Dell, Gold Key/Whitman, Gladstone, Disney, Gladstone again, and Gemstone. I haven't heard whether the restaurant giveaway Adventures of the Big Boy, which was in the low 500s in the mid 2000s, is still in production.

Detective Comics will of course remain the longest-running continuously published American series regardless of numbering — DC, Marvel, or anyone else — although it's interesting to note that Action has had the higher numbering for many years. Action passed Detective in the 1970s, following a bimonthly stretch for Detective — and then it leapt ahead during its year as Action Comics Weekly.

As with all things in comics collecting, the definitions can be expanded infinitely — as does the number of potential quibbles. The highest numbered American comic book series (where the numbers weren't changed as a stunt) was the second series of Dell Four Color, whose final issue was #1354; several of the numbers were skipped. (And the title on the cover was always changing, anyway, as it was Dell's catchall for specials and new series. The initial issues of many long-running series are actually part of Dell Four Color.)

The highest-numbered continuously published American comics-related publication is Comics Buyer's Guide, with #1678, its 40th anniversary issue, now on sale. And going beyond the United States takes us into the weekly comics overseas — and some really high numbers!

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April 2011 comics sales estimates now online

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

by John Jackson Miller

Incredibly busy lately — and a very busy week for the comics industry, too — but the estimates for April 2011 comics sales are now online here.

No detailed report this time out, but you can find the initial notes for the month here. May 2011 figures are likely to be along in a few days.

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Heroes Reborn vs. Heroes Return: Tale of two restarts

by John Jackson Miller

After doing some research yesterday for my post on restarts inspired by the big news that DC is restarting much of its line at #1, I realized a clarification was necessary to a conversation I had with ComicBookResources' Kiel Phegley before all this news broke: specifically, relating to the differences between the sales tracks for "Heroes Reborn," the 1996 replacement of Marvel's Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man with continuity-rebooting new titles by Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, and "Heroes Return," the 1997 renumbering and restoration of those series to the mainline Marvel universe.

As I noted here yesterday and in Comics Buyer's Guide #1614, it was "Heroes Return" for which we saw orders returning to where they were before the renumbering rather quickly; "Heroes Reborn," in fact, we do not have the "before" numbers for because September 1996 was when I began getting reports from Heroes World, Marvel's exclusive distributor. There is no source for direct market sales for those titles before the reboot. I appeared to conflate the two in the quote on CBR, which I correct here now.

While sales did fall dramatically from the first-issue highs on the "Heroes Reborn" books, I do believe, looking at the Statements of Ownership that are available, that the titles did maintain sales levels substantially higher than the titles they replaced for their whole one-year runs. We are correct in saying that the Volume 3 "Heroes Return" titles soon went back to pre-renumbering sales (when compared to Volume 2), but not so for the Volume 2 "Heroes Reborn" titles (when compared to Volume 1). Here are the known numbers, for all to peruse:
 

Issue # Avengers Captain America Fantastic Four Iron Man
1995 AVG*
85,165 82,285 103,573 82,469
1996 AVG*
123,581 79,676 105,506 64,717
Sep-96 Vol. 2, #1 276,734 274,070 313,980 277,464
Oct-96 Vol. 2, #2 130,961 131,863 162,475 139,986
Nov-96 Vol. 2, #3 125,234 124,614 154,609 138,675
Dec-96 Vol. 2, #4 118,622 117,733 153,255 133,364
Jan-97 Vol. 2, #5 113,922 112,391 152,651 132,583
Feb-97 Vol. 2, #6 120,151 116,580 155,710 136,794
Mar-97 Vol. 2, #7 118,560 109,134 153,457 133,706
Apr-97 Vol. 2, #8 120,937 114,669 154,912 130,696
May-97 Vol. 2, #9 107,567 107,765 142,321 122,436
Jun-97 Vol. 2, #10 114,896 108,861 143,952 121,622
Jul-97 Vol. 2, #11 110,084 101,897 136,545 113,263
Aug-97 Vol. 2, #12 114,787 109,169 137,192 116,881
Sep-97 Vol. 2, #13 109,464 102,516 130,090 110,453
Oct-97 Heroes Reborn: The Return #1-4 (160,000-143,000)
Nov-97 Vol. 3
(#1) 197,885 (#1) 209,793
Dec-97 Vol. 3 (#1) 194,439 (#2) 142,765 (#2) 157,735 (#1) 186,328
Jan-98 Vol. 3 (#2) 138,884 (#3) 108,292 (#3) 121,664 (#2) 129,906
Feb-98 Vol. 3 (#3) 111,036 (#4) 98,005 (#4) 110,539 (#3) 99,903
Mar-98 Vol. 3 (#4) 112,318 (#5) 95,968 (#5) 106,446 (#4) 96,977
Apr-98 Vol. 3 (#5) 116,641 (#6) 95,929 (#6) 108,066 (#5) 95,685
May-98 Vol. 3 (#6) 112,322 (#7) 91,880 (#7) 102,259 (#6) 89,752
Jun-98 Vol. 3 (#7) 114,806 (#8) 93,528 (#8) 100,666 (#7) 91,438
Jul-98 Vol. 3 (#8) 108,860 (#9) 85,837 (#9) 94,278 (#8) 81,609

The first two figures are the Statements of Ownership for the two years leading right up to the start of "Heroes Reborn"; those figures represent not just direct market sales, but all sales, including newsstand. Everything below is direct market preorders — Heroes World until March 1997, Diamond thereafter.

It's clear that the "Heroes Reborn" titles bounce very high in the beginning, and tail off after that: Liefeld's titles (Avengers, Cap) a little more quickly than Lee's (Fantastic Four, Iron Man). Liefeld is off his titles by issue #8. If the Statements from 1996 are correct, we can say that all four "Heroes Reborn" titles sold better than their precursors for the entire year of the experiment.

"Heroes Return," meanwhile, picks up a similar big bounce on relaunch — but those figures are beneath the 13th issue levels of the "Heroes Reborn" titles by #3 for Iron Man and Fantastic Four, by #4 for Captain America, and by #8 for Avengers. All were still above probable pre-Reborn sales, but that would not be the case for much longer, as the entire market continued declining.

As noted yesterday, every relaunch is different, with creator teams making a big difference. Kurt Busiek, who took over the Reborn-era Iron Man and Avengers, fared better in holding onto (and improving, for a while) sales on Avengers than on Iron Man, which had been a Wildstorm-produced title with Lee art in several issues. External factors were also at work. The "Return" relaunch started right into the "Dead Quarter," when sales normally go down. And Marvel spun off Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty just as the Return series was getting going, possibly dividing that title's sales.

The takeaway (besides the fact that Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return are still easy names to confuse after all these years) is that while we can get some lessons from past relaunches, there's enough different in all of them that it's important to drill down. Execution matters, creative teams matter, who's distributing and selling the comics matter. And the relaunch of an entire line, as in DC's case, is almost certainly going to show different results from something like Marvel did in 1996 and 1997, which focused attention on four specific titles. Issue numbers may repeat themselves, but history tends toward variety!

UPDATE: Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, in a conversation with me on Twitter, both said they were told direct market sales of the "Heroes Reborn" titles were at 30,000 copies before their run began. While the Statements of Ownership show average issue sales twice as high or higher for 1995 and 1996 (which would not have included but maybe one issue September-shipping Heroes Reborn books), we can see from the drilldown of the Statements for Iron Man that newsstand sales were still very substantial, with 58,000 copies being returned every month in 1995. That would leave room for more than half the title's sales to be newsstand; throw in subscription sales, and 30,000 for the Direct Market squares up.
While thirty thousand in the Direct Market may sound low for these marquee titles in the mid-1990s, it's important to remember that, as big as they seem now, the "Reborn" books were not always on top of the charts, as they tend to be today; back then, X-titles and Spider-titles were always on top. The particular attention to the four titles did, in large measure, change that situation thereafter.

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