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Ghost Rider circulation history online

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

Between the new movie and the lawsuit, Ghost Rider is much in the news, and The Comics Chronicles has received a number of requests for historic data. Complete Statement of Ownership data for three series have been posted here: Ghost Rider Vol. 1 (1973-83), Ghost Rider Vol. 2 (1990-98), and Ghost Rider 2099 (1994-96). The 2099 page had been previously online, but this is the first appearance here for data for the two longest-running Ghost Rider series.

While not an upper-tier title for Marvel in that time, the 1970s series lasted longer than most of the horror-themed titles from that era, and the title even went from bimonthly to monthly at the end of the decade.

The second series, meanwhile, was one of several Marvel revivals to get hot during the comics boom of the early 1990s. The best-selling individual issue, #28, had overall sales of 602,500 copies according to documentation, of which nearly half a million copies came from the Direct Market; this was during the "Rise of the Midnight Sons" promotion. Unfortunately, the title's fortunes tracked the collapse of the industry, losing half its sales in 1994 and again in 1995. I project the 81 issues of the first series sold 10-12 million copies combined; 17-19 million copies of all 93 issues of the second series combined.

In addition to the 2099 title, there was another Ghost Rider spinoff in 1994: Blaze. It didn't run long enough to produce circulation statements. A longer-running revival of the Ghost Rider series ran 35 issues from 2006-2009; I have not checked it for Statements. If anyone has, please let me know. Sales figures for the individual issues through Diamond can be seen on the Monthly Comics Sales pages; Diamond's sales would be the lion's share of sales for that title.

For background on Statements of Ownership, see here.

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The big picture: Bookscan, comics shops, and a $680 million year

Friday, February 10, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

As in past years, Brian Hibbs has gotten access to the actual sales for trade paperbacks and graphic novels in 2011 as recorded by Bookscan, a service of Nielsen. I encourage readers to take a look at Hibbs's article and see how the figures break down.

Bookscan draws upon cash-register data from many member bookstores — and from Amazon — and its share of industry sales on individual titles varies. The service reportedly covers something like 70% of bookstore sales, but that varies depending on the item. Thanks to Amazon offering Bookscan figures to creators, we're able to compare them with known sales to get a sense of what's in and what's out; from what I've seen, that 70% is a reasonable estimate, but I don't have enough data to draw from to say for sure.

So the list comprises a big chunk of bookstore sales. Does it cover all items? Pretty much, yes, with reports for more than 24,000 items going all the way down to single copies. My own spot-check found a few significant titles that should have been in the file but weren't, but I do not have a big enough sample to say how comprehensive the list is. For discussion purposes, figure that the list gives us maybe three-quarters of all sales outside comics shops for graphic novels and manga. So how'd they do?

Hibbs finds that the top 750 items, once non-comics items are weeded out, sold for $79,961,951 at full retail; that's down 8.5% from last year, just in that grouping. On the other hand, the list of items in the "long tail" grew again, and it adds about $95 million to the overall total; that brings the overall amount to $175 million.

Armed with that, as in past years, I have calculated an "all-industry number. Here's how it works.

We start with the two figures we already know about 2011. The Top 300 trade paperbacks for every month in 2011 had sales of $70 million in comics shops — and sales for all trades in the Direct Market were probably closer to $150 million. We also already know that the Top 300 Comics each month accounted for $248 million of Diamond's $417 million in sales; periodicals not in the Top 300 and magazines would have accounted for the remaining $20 million or so.

Now we go to the mass market. Taking Hibbs' figures, we have around $175 million in Bookscan outlets for graphic novels. That may be high, depending on how much of the long tail of that table still has non-comics items in it; but let's take it as is. If Bookscan is three-quarters of the market or so, that could mean there's another $50 million or so in graphic novel sales outside Bookscan.

So all told, that's about $225 million in graphic novels and trade paperbacks outside the comics shops — and $375 million in trades altogether. This means that trades are pulling in more money than comic books, right?

Yes, but there's some outlets for comic books we have yet to add. Comics are still sold through newsstands, although the percentage is falling; looking at Marvel and Archie's Statements of Ownership, I would guess there could be $30-35 million in newsstand sales not covered in the Diamond charts. And finally — and almost always forgotten — are subscription sales, which could bring in another $3-5 million.

Between those sales and the sales inside comics shops, periodicals would be doing something near to $305 million. Comic books are still king in comics shops, where they're nearly 60% of the trade — but they are closer to 45% of all comics and graphic novel dollars, if Hibbs' Bookscan estimates are correct.

So, that gives us, fusing everyone's estimates with a fudge factor involved:

Direct Market Comics, Trades, GNs, and Magazines (Comichron): $417 million

Mass Market Trades and GNs (Hibbs/Bookscan): around $225 million

Newsstand Comics (Comichron/USPS): around $35 million

Subscription Comics (Comichron/USPS): $5 million

Comic book and trade paperback sales in North America: $660-690 million

And that's where you get the largest figure that's on the Yearly Sales table here. The Direct Market is 60% of the overall market for comics, and nearly twice the size of the bookstore market when it comes to comics material.

Note, it does not include two important groupings. Diamond UK sells about 10% again its U.S. direct market sales of comics and graphic novels to comics shops in the United Kingdom — so that's another $40 million or so that publishers here realize. This may or may not expand out to the UK bookstore market the same way, given rights issues, but if it did, the United Kingdom could add $60 million or more to the U.S. total, meaning U.S. print products are bringing in three quarters of a billion dollars annually.

And that doesn't get into digital sales at all.

The biggest question marks above have to do with the portion of the mass market outside Bookscan, first and foremost — and then the size of the newsstand market. The Direct Market figures are pretty solid, comparatively. These calculations are very rough, and subject to revision as I get more data. But the point is that the comics market is a lot bigger than what's just in comics shops — and it's larger than many probably imagine.

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Uncle Scrooge -- only the best-seller of the 1960s!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

I've been adding quite a lot of Statement of Ownership data to the Comichron database for an update coming soon; the list of titles I have information for in 1960 has more than doubled in length since my initial post here. It's all coming soon, but for an early taste, I've added a full Title Spotlight page for the #1 title of 1960 — Uncle Scrooge, created by Carl Barks for Disney. I have full data for all but a couple of years — see it here.

Uncle Scrooge was an original creation for comics, first appearing in a Donald Duck story before getting three issues of Dell's Four Color Comics. Those three issues were the start of a series that continued from Dell into the 1960s, before changing to Western Publishing's Gold Key and, later, Whitman labels.

The series was quarterly as it entered the 1960s, and its sales of just over a million copies per issue was indeed enough for the top spot; only Walt Disney's Comics & Stories also topped 1 million, also in 1960.

Not counting Mad, no other American comic book would sell more than a million copies until Star Wars #1, in 1977 — and no comics title has ever had more copies reported sold in its annual Statement of Ownership. Marvel's adjectiveless X-Men series topped out just under 1 million when its first average was figured, though X-Men #1 from 1991 remains the best-selling American comic book of all time.

We see Uncle Scrooge data up until 1972, when Gold Key gave up on second-class subscriptions — but the figures would return to the title in the 1980s when Gladstone revived it. Disney took over for a while, and then Gladstone took it back — and subscriptions and statements continued. I don't believe there were statements in the Gemstone or Boom issues of the 2000s; if anyone knows otherwise, please let me know. Likewise, I have not ruled out the existence of forms for 1990 and 1992, which would have appeared in issues early in those years; these were during publisher transitions so it is possible they may not exist. But if anyone has them, drop me a line at my contact address on the left of this page.

It's meaningful, I think, that the best-seller of the 1960s should come from Barks, whose work was originally uncredited and who was known originally to fans as "the Good Duck Artist." Fandom in the 1960s was bringing attention to a lot of people who had previously been unheralded, and Barks is a great example. He changed comics — and now comics were changing.

Update: I was asked over on Facebook (where you can follow Comichron) why the title suffered such a steep decline in 1963, falling more than half a million copies from 1961, the last year we had figures for. (In the transition to Gold Key, the publisher decided to only print subscription sales for its line in 1962 — an error fixed in 1963.) There are a few possibilities for the drop that come to mind.

With its own distribution network, Dell's reach was vast. The title's sales were almost certainly more than a million in 1958 and 1959. Dell was not audited by ABC so it's not easy to know, but my sense is it was less impacted by the Code than the publishers of other titles. By 1963, though, it wasn't Dell any more, but Gold Key — and if that involved a shift to the regular Independent Distributor networks, that could account for a major difference there. Uncle Scrooge had also gone from four times a year to six, which could have had an impact on print runs and orders — and just before that, I really think Dell's mistiming of the market by going to 15¢ was ultimately ruinous when the rest of the market went to 12¢. There may be other reasons, but it's worth noting that Gold Key saw these drops pretty much across the board, so I don't think it's necessarily endemic to Scrooge.

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January 2012 comics sales estimates online

Monday, February 6, 2012

by John Jackson Miller


In comics, the month of January has often stolen the life from whatever good things were going on in the trade, saleswise, so it is usually good enough when we can say that the first month of the year didn't foul the nest. This January, however, seems to have been a good one for the Direct Market, though we must look past the comparatives with last January to see it. Click to see the comics order estimates for January 2012.

Last January had 23% fewer new items on the market as publishers adjusted to Diamond's shift to Tuesday shipping — and just as I advised against putting too much stock into the market's relative decline that month, I caution against taking the year-to-year change figures below too seriously, either. But when we look back earlier, we see that this month's Top 300 comics combined not only sold more copies than the grouping last January, but also more copies than January 2010 and January 2009 as well. That 2009 month was memorable for the publication of the top-selling comic book of the 21st Century so far, the Barack Obama commemorative issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but the market still this January still ordered 15,000 more comic books than it did that month.

The case can be made that the 2012 sales picture is healthier in some respects, as the unit sales are more evenly distributed, thanks to the DC relaunch; as I mentioned at the time, the Obama issue was about all the market had going for it that winter, early in the comics recession. The 300th-place title this month had orders of 2,606 copies, which would have placed it at 266th in January 2009. (See the complete list of 300th place titles.)

Led by Justice League #5, DC titles took the top ten slots this month, and my hunch would be that this is the first time that has happened in the history of comics. Even in the 1960s, there were other contenders — Dell and Archie, among others — keeping DC from a complete lock on the top tier month-in and month-out. For total chart-topping domination, however, the most remarkable case probably remains March 2005, in which Marvel had 23 out of the top 24 regularly-priced comics. (Click to see the complete list of 1st place titles.)

Regardless of its comparative positioning on the comics charts, however, it's noteworthy that Marvel's combined comics and trade paperback dollar orders in the Top 300s actually increased slightly versus December, whereas the market as a whole sold $1.5 million less in comics and trades in the Top 300s. So it's not always about chart placement. This month, a single product like the Fear Itself hardcover is the top-line equivalent of more than 40,000 comics units.

The aggregate totals:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2012: 5.78 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +31%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -14%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -1%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -35%

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2012 versus one year ago this month: +33.56%

---

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2012: $19.82 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +29%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +18%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -9%

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2012 versus one year ago this month: +32.05%

---

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2012: $5.97 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +30%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: -46%

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
January 2012 versus one year ago this month: +18.38%

---

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2012: $25.8 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +29%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -6%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +9%

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
January 2012 versus one year ago this month: +27.47%

---

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
January 2012: approximately $32.54 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +30%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -3%


Trade paperbacks and graphic novels saw a year-over-year boost thanks in part to the Batman: Through The Looking Glass hardcover. It does appear that the frontlist had a better month than the backlist, as the Top 300 trades were up 30% year-over-year, while the entire list was only up 18%. A hardcover selling a lot of copies would contribute to that effect. The January 2002 figure was so much higher than 2012 in part because of Alternative's 9-11 Emergency Relief title, which sold over 12,000 copies in preorder.
The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.51; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.43. The median price for comics offered crept up to $3.50, a figure not seen in several months — but $2.99 is the most common price offered.

As noted here earlier, February will be unusual in that it has five shipping Wednesdays, something that only happens ever 28 years. In the longer term, the question will continue to be whether publishers can continue to prime the pump following the DC relaunch. The Before Watchmen promotion will surely help — it will be interesting to see how the figures compare to what we know of sales from the series the first time around.

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Best January since 2008 for comics orders

Friday, February 3, 2012

by John Jackson Miller


On a day in which the United States celebrated a very good jobs report and the Dow Jones Industrial Average traded at its highest level since the financial crisis began, it is perhaps fitting that that we have a report for comics sales in January that doesn't make people sick. It would, in fact, be stellar — if last January hadn't been artificially depressed by Diamond Comic Distributors' change to Tuesday shipping, which resulted in many fewer items being released. Still, the figures for January are very good news, working out to around $32.75 million, by my initial estimates, which would make it the best January since 2008. Click here to see the preliminary rankings for January 2012 comics sales.

The month of January has traditionally been horrible, sapping any energy built up in the previous year. But the slide from December — 6.25% in overall dollars — is the smallest that we've seen since, again, 2008, before the comics recession and the general recession began. The year-over-year increases of 33.56% in comics unit sales, 32.05% in comics dollar sales, 18.38% in graphic novel sales, 27.47% in overall dollars are great big numbers that should and will always be seen with an asterisk because of last January's issues. We sold about $7 million more in comics and trades this year partially because there were more comics and trades to sell. But we're only off less than $2 million from December, and that bodes well.


The DC relaunch effects are certainly a contributing factor; Justice League #6 led the market. The Batman: Through the Looking Glass hardcover was also a help, topping the graphic novel chart. A milder winter in many parts of the U.S. probably also helped. Marvel and DC split the market share lead this month, with Marvel leading the unit shares and DC topping the dollar share side of things.

It's also interesting to look at what role cover price declines are having. The Top 100 comics had an average price of $3.35, down a quarter from last January's overall average. But the comics unit and dollar sales are correlating more closely, which suggests that the typical books sold are priced closer to the mean.

Here are the aggregate changes:

COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
JANUARY 2012 VS. DECEMBER 2011
COMICS
-7.01%
-8.93%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-4.51%
-4.86%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-6.25%
-8.65%
JANUARY 2012 VS. JANUARY 2011
COMICS
32.05%
33.56%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
18.38%
8.46%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
27.47%
31.38%


And the market shares:
TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
35.17%
37.51%
DC COMICS
33.55%
39.86%
IMAGE COMICS
5.48%
4.83%
DARK HORSE COMICS
4.89%
3.55%
IDW PUBLISHING
4.35%
3.78%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
3.46%
3.66%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.66%
1.35%
EAGLEMOSS PUBLICATIONS LTD
1.47%
0.30%
VIZ MEDIA
0.92%
0.42%
RANDOM HOUSE
0.79%
0.18%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
8.26%
4.57%


So the news is good — but we won't know how good for a while. We shouldn't look to February for much comparative clarity — it's got five Wednesdays. There hasn't been one since 1984 and won't be another until 2040. I will not make a prediction about what the industry will look like then!

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Diamond Comic Distributors marks 30 years

Thursday, February 2, 2012

by John Jackson Miller


I missed the actual date yesterday but on Feb. 1, Diamond Comic Distributors — the sales agent for most large comics publishers to comics shops in North America — celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Steve Geppi, today
When Steve Geppi began distributing comics and related merchandise to fellow shop owners on Feb. 1, 1982, the comic book Direct Market was still fairly new. Phil Seuling began selling Marvel and DC comics non-returnably to comics shops in 1975, later incorporating with partner Jonni Levas as Sea Gate Distributors. Geppi was already in the business as a retailer at that time: he had left his job as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in 1974 to open his first shop, Geppi's Comic World, which operated out of the basement of a TV repair shop.

While his company formally began service as Diamond on Feb. 1, 1982, it had one warehouse and 17 customers — Geppi had already been doing work on the distribution side having taken over operations for New Media Irjax's Boston and Tampa distribution centers, according to the corporate timeline. There began, then, a long association with the comics industry. Many retailers have been customers from the beginning, and several publishers have been selling through it from the start. Geppi also
recognized in a press release the contributions of many of his longtime employees. "I am deeply grateful to all of them for their hard work, and I am honored to work alongside them." Diamond Executive Vice President and COO Chuck Parker has been with the company for 27 years, for example.

Chuck Parker
"Steve Geppi has long been synonymous with comic book distribution," said Parker. "His enthusiasm and passion for comic books and pop culture in general, coupled with a retailer’s background, gave Steve a unique and insightful appreciation of what a successful distributor must do in order to achieve."

So Diamond has been a huge part of the story of comics for a generation. It was already the #1 distributor when I entered the business side of comics, just before the tumultuous times of the mid-1990s that left Diamond the only full-line distribution company standing. I've had many positive experiences with the company, first as a working journalist, and now as a comic-book creator. And of course, as a historian archiving the past of the comics market here for The Comics Chronicles.

Steve Geppi in 1992, for Diamond's 10th anniversary
On that score, I should also note as a historical matter Diamond's long publication history. Diamond's Previews began to evolve from a simple listing into its more familiar catalog form 1988; Diamond Dialogue was being published as a newsletter at that point, but was already including some of the sales chart data that this site archives today. I hope to get more of the early stuff online in the future. While there is no longer a print retailer monthly,  Diamond continues to release the sales charts each month on its website — so this is yet another tradition that's continued for a quarter of a century.

Diamond provided a historical timeline, which I have excerpted parts of below; I will get some of this on the timeline section of the site eventually.

1974: Steve Geppi opens Geppi’s Comic World, which operated out of the basement of a TV repair shop.


1982: Geppi founds Diamond Comic Distributors with one warehouse and 17 retail customers.

1988: Diamond goes national with the acquisition of Bud Plant.

1990: Diamond acquires selected assets of Seattle based distributor Destiny Distribution and takes over the operations of Oregon’s Second Genesis.

1991: Diamond UK, Ltd. begins operations in the U.K., leading to the acquisition of England based distributor Pacific Distribution, Ltd.

1992: Diamond’s Star System, which will evolve into the Previews Backlist Service, begins operation, giving retailers access to thousands of graphic novels and trade paperbacks.

1993: Diamond acquires England-based Titan Distributors Ltd., consolidates U.K. operations and becomes Diamond Comic Distributors (UK).

1994: Diamond acquires selected assets of New York-based distributor Comics Unlimited, Ltd.


1995: DC, Image, Dark Horse, and Acclaim choose Diamond to be their exclusive sales agent to comic specialty retailers.


1996: Diamond acquires selected assets of its largest competitor, Capital City Distribution. It also launches the toll-free Comic Shop Locator Service.


1997: Marvel signs an exclusive agreement with Diamond to service specialty market retailers. Diamond centralizes its customer service program and adds an Order Adjustment program,

1998: Diamond Online’s Retailer Services Area, the forerunner of today’s Retailer Services Website, goes live. Online ordering becomes available two years later.


1999: Diamond’s Vendor Services Website opens.

2000: Selected assets and liabilities of Alliance Games Distribution are purchased; Alliance Game Distributors eventually becomes a major operating division of Diamond. Diamond starts the Diamond Bookshelf program for librarians and educators.


2001: Through Alliance, certain assets of West Coast distributors Berkeley Distributors and Barchetta Distribution are acquired. Online reordering becomes available on the Retailer Services site.


2002: Diamond teams with retailers and publishers for the first Free Comic Book Day, designed to attract new customers to comic shops and expose them to what comics has to offer. The Diamond Daily e-newsletter begins. Diamond Book Distributors is founded to service the growing demand for comics and graphic novels in the book trade.


2004: The first Final Order Cut-off Form is posted on Diamond’s Retailer Services Website, allowing retailers to place orders up until the publisher sets its print run.


2005: Diamond opens its Memphis Distribution Center.


2007: Diamond’s ComicSuite Point-of-Sale software is announced.


2008: PREVIEWSWorld.com debuts on the web. Diamond’s Olive Branch Distribution Center opens with 600,000 square feet of space and a high-tech Warehouse Management System.

2010: Diamond launches kidscomics.com to direct young readers and their parents to kid-friendly comic shops across the United States and Canada.

2011: Diamond launches Day-Early Delivery.


And more to come...

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