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More comics sold in 2011, but trade weakness contributes to slightly off year

Friday, January 6, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

It was close — very close. Comic books did what they were expected to do in December — but trade paperback novels do what they often do in December, resulting in overall comic book and trade paperback dollar orders finishing 2011 down by less than 1%, according to Diamond Comic Distributors. Click to see the Top 100 comics and trade paperbacks for the month.

December is historically a schizophrenic month in the comic book direct market. Sometimes, we find publishers loading the end of the year up with multiple comic book releases, trying to bring their budgets into line. December 2008 was enormous. The top-selling comic book of 1997, Darkness #11, came out on the very last ship-date of the year. On the other hand, there have been Decembers where publishers didn't try to do much at all in the closing weeks of the year — and in one recent year, Diamond was even closed between Christmas and New Year's. Another year saw horrible weather pushing shipments into the next calendar year. December is full of variety, at least as the sales charts go.

But one common theme has tended to be that November steals trade paperback orders from December. The reasons are obvious, as retailers begin stocking up for the holiday shopping season. Since 2000, Diamond's orders for its top trade paperbacks have dropped, on average, 21% in dollars from November to December. So while November's market move made it look very promising that the Direct Market would finish 2011 ahead overall for the first time since 2008, periodicals were going to have to carry a lot of the weight. And while total new comics sales were up for the month, it wasn't enough to offset the 16% year-over-year decline in trade paperback orders for the month.

So the year finishes off by a small amount, 0.89% in the widest category. But comics, driven greatly by the DC relaunch, rebounded in the year, up 4.57% in units and 1.16% in dollars. Trades finished off only 5.01% in dollar terms — and that made the difference. We can sort of see what happened by looking at trade paperback units, which were off by a wider margin, 11.64% for the year; we recall that 2010 was dominated by sales of Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim, books priced lower on average than other trade paperbacks.

It is also worth noting that the average comic book cost considerably less in 2011 than it did in 2010, and while that pumped up unit sales, it could easily have contributed to the shortfall in overall dollars. It is also the case that not all comics that retailers received in 2011 have been recorded as sold by Diamond, because of the ongoing returnability of DC relaunch titles; that makes some difference, although, by my estimates, not enough to flip the year positive on its own.

Here are the aggregate totals for December:


COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
DECEMBER 2011 VS. NOVEMBER 2011
COMICS
-14.45%
-12.29%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-21.17%
-19.27%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-16.62%
-12.81%
DECEMBER 2011 VS. DECEMBER 2010
COMICS
2.66%
11.83%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-16.20%
-21.44%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-3.94%
8.66%
YEAR 2011 VS. YEAR 2010
COMICS
1.16%
4.57%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-5.01%
-11.64%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-0.89%
3.12%
FOURTH QUARTER 2011 VERSUS THIRD QUARTER 2011
COMICS
7.82%
8.39%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-0.85%
-5.57%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
5.10%
7.34%
FOURTH QUARTER 2011 VERSUS FOURTH QUARTER 2010
COMICS
16.69%
25.08%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-5.75%
-18.08%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
9.01%
20.89%


Now, as to figuring out the total sales for the year, there is still some work to be done. I mentioned last month that Diamond's month-to-month percentage change figures in 2011 were squaring up perfectly with its reported year-to-date change. The reported change percentages for the individual quarters of 2010 and 2011 also square up with the predicted values, based on the monthly changes.

Bringing all the year-to-year changes that Diamond has reported each month into a model with all the monthly changes, however, causes some minor problems. Using all the aggregate change figures Diamond has released (and correcting for the publication error in November 2010), the model tells us that 2011 should only be off 0.3% or so from 2010, not 0.89%. Since the reported monthly and quarterly changes are internally consistent, one conclusion would be that couple of the year-to-year percentage changes Diamond reported earlier in 2011 are very slightly off — January 2011, which was a complicated month anyway, appears to be one of them. What all that this means is that if you plug in any figure for the end-of-year sales for 2011, the component months will not derive a 2010 that was better by exactly 0.89% — all the numbers net out to a 0.3% loss this year. There's nothing to be done about this, really; my expectation is that the 2012 math and the 2011 math will square up better.

Taking one major publisher's total sales in 2010 and dividing by its end-of-year market share finds that Diamond's wholesale comics and trade orders amounted to $184.7 million. The full retail figure for 2010 was probably around $419 million, if we assume that everything Diamond sold to all its customers at different discount tiers went for an average discount rate of around 56%. (The major publisher in question nets out to 57.6%, so that seems about right, given that smaller publisher discounts tend to be smaller on average.)

So using the Diamond-reported end-of-year change figure, this year's wholesale total is just over $183 million, which, if we use that same 56% rate, lands 2011 at $416 million, or off about $3 million. We're still ahead of 2006, at that level, and still off the most recent market peak of $437 million in 2008.


It'll be possible to do some more fine-tuning on that when the end-of-year market shares and some more data come in — and individual month estimates will need some tweaking. But that's the estimate from here at the moment. Subject to change, as always!

Backtracking to December, again — Justice League #4 led the market, and it's a lock that Diamond will find Justice League #1 as the top-seller of the year. Walking Dead Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves led the trades for the month. The market shares are here:
 
TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
34.43%
39.05%
DC COMICS
33.74%
37.72%
IMAGE COMICS
6.75%
4.89%
IDW PUBLISHING
5.26%
4.43%
DARK HORSE COMICS
3.97%
3.34%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
3.35%
3.27%
EAGLEMOSS PUBLICATIONS
1.63%
0.37%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.41%
1.32%
VIZ LLC
1.19%
0.50%
ARCHIE COMICS
0.82%
0.98%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
7.44%
4.12%
 

There is probably more to be written on what's going on with trade paperbacks: as I've noted here before this year and yesterday on The Beat, the decline in trade orders would have been the big story of the year had it not been for the DC relaunch. Certainly the lack of hits on the scale of last year had something to do with it; another element is that trade sales echo periodical sales, so the weaker sales of comics in the first half of the year played out in the second half — when, of course, there was also the relaunch soaking up dollars. I also wonder whether Borders' closure played a role by dumping a lot of books at deep discount on the market, soaking up demand. In any event, the relaunch collections may help the business out in the first part of 2012.

Diamond will publish its end-of-year charts next week, I expect, as well as the full Top 300s for December. In the meantime, be sure to check out the tables from the last 20 years, now online here. And be sure to "like" Comichron on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

3 comments:

Robert January 9, 2012 at 11:56 AM  

I would also think the digital front would have a lot to do with the drop in trade sales. If I buy singles on my ipad, why would I buy the trade?

Anonymous,  January 9, 2012 at 2:20 PM  

Would love to see 10-year numbers (1991, 2001, 2011). I think that would present a better state of the industry (allbeit gloomy).

John Jackson Miller January 10, 2012 at 12:48 AM  

Robert, while that's possible, I'm not sure why digital would hit trade sales harder than it would hit periodical sales -- and periodical sales went up. If you're buying singles on your iPad, theoretically you wouldn't need the individual issues either. So I think something else is going on.

And anyonmous, I mention 5-, 10-, and 15-year tracks for the year here: http://t.co/tyCZxqfr I do not have them for every category, because the numbers weren't available then.

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