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Dead Quarter no more: Best winter in comics in years

Thursday, April 5, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

Over the past two months, we haven't been able to make a very good comparison with 2011's comics sales. January was up against a month in 2011 in which many of Diamond Comic Distributors' products missed their shipping month because of the distributor's switch to Tuesday arrival dates; February was had an unusual five shipping weeks. But with March's sales, we finally have 13 weeks to compare — and while March itself was against a five-week month and slightly off, it nonetheless contributed to the first time in the 21st century the direct market has ordered more than $100 million in the first quarter of the year.


The Comics Chronicles initially estimates retailer orders of $33.7 million for the month; that brings the quarter to $101.9 million. (Click to see the preliminary charts for the month.)  Retailers ordered more than $12 million more in comic books and trade paperbacks than they did in the first quarter of 2011, and the figure even beats out the first quarters from the boomlet years mid-decade in the 2000s. (That is not adjusted for inflation —2007 or 2008 would probably beat out this quarter if it were. But comics prices have actually gone down since the first quarters of 2011 and 2010, so inflation becomes less relevant to the nearer-term comparisons.)

There is, again, an asterisk that will live as a curiosity in the records for all time. Diamond included Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 in the totals for March, even though it didn't go on sale until April. "Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 was shipped to retailers a week before its on-sale date and invoiced to retailers in March 2012 to facilitate pre-launch parties for the book. Diamond Comic Distributors' sales figures are factored on the books invoiced to retailers during the calendar month, not on the book's on-sale date." I can confirm that is exactly how it works. It certainly doesn't hurt the month to have it in there; I expect orders may approach 200,000 copies when the full figures are out next week. But even at that, it's a contribution of less than $1 million to the month. March would look slightly worse without it, but again, it fares well versus a five-week March from last year.

The top-selling graphic novel was a familiar name, Walking Dead Vol. 1. As often happens, when a prominent title is priced lower than the average for the category — the book costs $9.99 — it gave a boost to the unit sales for the category. Trade paperback and graphic novel units were the one category this March that outsold last March.

The comparatives for the month:


COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
MARCH 2012 VS. FEBRUARY 2012
COMICS
-5.32%
-2.99%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-7.13%
9.54%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-5.89%
-2.07%
MARCH 2012 VS. MARCH 2011
COMICS
-1.18%
-2.45%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-5.67%
2.93%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-2.61%
-2.03%
FIRST QUARTER 2012 VS. FIRST QUARTER 2011
COMICS
15.85%
14.74%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
8.39%
7.25%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
13.42%
14.13%

Diamond did not compute a this-quarter versus last-quarter figure this time around; it would be a drop of about 11.6%. But the drop from Q4 2010 to Q1 2011 was nearly 16%, so that's a much softer slide into winter.

Here are the market shares:


TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
36.21%
39.94%
DC COMICS
30.95%
36.09%
IMAGE COMICS
6.66%
5.59%
IDW PUBLISHING
5.74%
4.71%
DARK HORSE COMICS
5.24%
3.98%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
2.90%
2.38%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.42%
1.27%
AVATAR PRESS
1.15%
0.93%
ZENESCOPE ENTERTAINMENT
1.06%
0.98%
VIZ MEDIA
0.86%
0.38%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
7.81%
3.75%

Looking back, I believe that this month marks the first time in the Diamond Exclusive Era that there have been five publishers above the 5% mark in Dollar Market Share. CrossGen never topped 5%, and while publishers besides Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse have topped 5% before in recent years, we never had more than four publishers above 5% in any given month. To get back to months with five publishers over 5% we probably have to go back to 1994, when Valiant finished the year over 5%.

The full estimates will be along next week. In the meantime, be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook. The big historical update is coming, offering a great opportunity for you, the comics reader, to get involved!

2 comments:

Anonymous,  April 8, 2012 at 12:25 PM  

I'm curious, how can you tell the sales and unit figures from March of this year if you don't have all of the sales yet? That's what is kind of confusing because the sales figure index of X-Men vs Avengers is pretty high, and there's at least 5 different titles that sold over 100k which is a lot better compared to last years. So that's why I'm wondering why at all would it go down period?

John Jackson Miller April 8, 2012 at 3:15 PM  

Diamond releases comparative change numbers every month -- which you see in the grid above -- in the first wave of the data release. So while we can't see exact sales figures yet, we do know that in aggregate how they will compare to last month and last year.

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