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Statement of Ownership database hits the 3,000 mark

Saturday, March 31, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

March 2012 is the fifth anniversary of The Comics Chronicles site, which began with a posting that included the sales figures I had collected to that point that had appearing in the Statements of Ownership in comics from 1960 to 1969.

I promised at the time to provide more years later on — but I didn't realize how much later on. What happened is that as I continued to look into what titles and years I still didn't have data for, I realized there were too many holes yet to go forward with simple rankings. So I have continued plugging holes and adding data — and here in the waning minutes of March five years later, I have just added the 3,000th postal statement containing post-1959 comics sales figures to my database. More than 450 titles from more than a dozen publishers from the last 52 years are included.

So I won't be able to make the anniversary month, but a large update is forthcoming, nearly doubling the number of titles for the 1960 list, for example. It took me and those helping two years to locate the first 2,000, but a decade to get the next thousand. There are major changes coming to the 1960s lists, and I will be posting those first.

My expectation is that fewer than a thousand more remain to be found — and now I believe I know where the majority of them appeared. So when I do the updates this time around I will be including a hit list of specific titles, years, and in many cases, exact issues yet to be surveyed; I'll also involve the Comichron Facebook page in the process, so readers can help. There are a lot of cases where I have the sales figure but not the entire Statement, which includes a lot of useful data; I'm looking to add all of those to the files as well.

So while I'm not nearly done with this lifelong project, the home stretch is visible up ahead. Stay tuned to Comichron in the weeks ahead: it won't take five years this time!

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More on "The Rule of Eight"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

Following yesterday's mention of his Rule of Eight — an observation relating to the survival rates for independent publishers whose lines expanded quickly — Marc Patten wrote to remind me of an important nuance: "If memory serves, I think the 'Rule of 8' stemmed from the concept of new companies with some sort of shared universe concept, rather than just number of titles."

Thus, the eight-monthly-title barrier he perceived would not necessarily apply to publishers with differentiated lines. Dark Horse and Image both had mini-universes (Dark Horse with "Comics Greatest World" and Image with its families of studio titles), but in either case no one shared-universe sub-line accounted for more than half the publisher's output.

But when it comes to firms where the majority of the publisher's business relied on a shared universe, eight monthly titles appears to have been more of a red line, historically: Valiant/Acclaim, Tekno•Comix, and CrossGen are among the companies that vanished after crossing it. "There is still no shared-universe line that has managed to survive outside of Marvel/DC to date as far as I know," Patten says, beyond that eight-monthly limit.

There are likely exceptions to be argued with the formulation, but the larger point is this: the expansion seen in middle-tier companies today is in some ways different from the expansion seen in the 1990s. Publisher lines are more differentiated internally, and less reliant upon individual customers who buy everything. Comics have become, like many other media, more grazer-friendly.

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Virtuous cycle? February comics sales show depth

Monday, March 12, 2012

by John Jackson Miller


I have written many times that the recovery in comics sales that began in earnest at the end of 2001 was built upon a "virtuous cycle" developing, in which retailers placed the money from strong-performing comics not solely into paying down other expenses, but into ordering more of the next big project. With Marvel's "Avengers Vs. X-Men" event launching later in 2012, the question was whether the market could hold its gains from the DC relaunch through the "Dead Quarter," giving shops something to work with as AVX approached.

As reported here on Friday, according to figures released by Diamond Comic Distributors, Direct Market orders had their best February in years, with the year-to-date increase mirroring the increase of early 2002, when Wolverine: The Origin fed into Dark Knight Strikes Again, which fed into the Spider-Man movie, the first Free Comic Book Day, and the Transformers nostalgia boomlet. With the estimates for February sales online, we see that the internal numbers also show positive signs.

Last February, while itself a rebound month for the market, had the lowest orders ever for a top-selling title, with Green Lantern #62 selling 71,500 copies to retailers in its initial month. This February, market-topping Justice League #6 had orders approaching 135,400 copies (excluding the Combo Pack) and six titles outsold last year's top-seller.

But perhaps the more important comparisons come by looking at the two-month cycle — the tempo retailer orders are placed on. Most titles would expect to lose significant ground as the winter months are entered; retailers in February 2011 cut their Green Lantern orders more than 6% from the previous December. This February, Justice League's orders dropped by less than 5% from December — and the issue was a Feb. 29 shipping product, so it included only first-day shipments. I would suspect that going down the list we'd find a similar lessening of the usual winter order reductions; retailers ordered nearly 1 million more copies of the Top 300 comics in the month than in February 2011, so that seems likely.

February's total was, of course, aided by the fifth shipping week — it was the first February with five Wednesdays since 1984. Past years show about an 11% increase in Top 300 comics unit orders in weeks with five months; this month's increase in the Top 300 was 18%, so there's something more going on. Whether due solely to the extra week or not, the depth of publisher offerings was much greater this month: we never see a February with just 15 publishers represented in the Top 300. February used to be the month where we'd see the publisher names that usually bubble under. But this month, Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and IDW combined for 239 entries — and Dynamic Forces (Dynamite) added an additional 25! So there aren't a lot of slots left.
 
We can further see the depth by looking at the 300th-place title bellwether. Look at the number of copies ordered of the 300th-place title in the last

February 2003 • 1,585
February 2004 • 857
February 2005 • 1,155
February 2006 • 1,561
February 2007 • 1,314
February 2008 • 1,997
February 2009 • 2,604
February 2010 • 2,237
February 2011 • 2,860
February 2012 • 4,185

These are all years in which Diamond reported Final Orders, so we're comparing like against like in all cases. Even with the fifth week, retailers ordered far more copies of the titles in the low 200s than they did during even the years that were overall, like 2005-2007. The fragmentation of sales across multiple titles is an old theme on this site, but the above figures are a pretty good indicator that something fundamental has changed in the Direct Market.  (The 300th-place graphic novel, by the way, had unit orders of 337 copies, versus 295 last year.)

It may be that the successful model for a middle-tier publisher is no longer keeping to a small-sized line — the "Rule of Eight" observed by market analyst Marc Patten many years ago, who found a high mortality rate for publishers that extended past eight monthly titles in the post-Image era. IDW (which had its highest market share ever this month), Dynamic Forces, and to an extent Boom have joined Image and Dark Horse on what would appear to be a tier where trade paperbacks are making the economies of scale make sense. Is eight titles is no longer the barrier, but the lower entry point to a Periodic Table-like island of stability? And how many publishers can inhabit that region? It's something worth more research.

Here are the aggregate figures:


TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
Feburary 2012: 6.09 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +18%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -8%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +17%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -24%
YEAR TO DATE: 11.87 million copies, +24% vs. 2011, -11% vs. 2007, +7% vs. 2002, -30% vs. 1997

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
February 2012 versus one year ago this month: +19.63%
YEAR TO DATE: +25.94%

---

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
February 2011: $20.98 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +1%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +39%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +11%
YEAR TO DATE: $40.8 million, +22% vs. 2011, -2% vs. 2007, +28% vs. 2002, unchanged vs. 1997

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
February 2012 versus one year ago this month: +22.26%
YEAR TO DATE: +26.71%

---

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
February 2012: $5.72 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -11%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: -53%
YEAR TO DATE: $11.69 million, +20% vs. 2011

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
February 2012 versus one year ago this month: +15.65%
YEAR TO DATE: +16.93%

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TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
February 2012: $26.7 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +15%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -1%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +26%
YEAR TO DATE: $52.5 million, +22% vs. 2011

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
February 2012 versus one year ago this month: +20.11%
YEAR TO DATE: +23.49%

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OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
February 2012: approximately $36.5 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +21%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +13%
YEAR TO DATE: $69.04 million, +25% vs. 2010, +5% vs. 2007

This is the last month that the ten-year comparisons will be limited to the Top 25 trade paperbacks; Diamond moved to reporting the Top 50 in March 2002.

A couple of observations on the aggregates: the Direct Market has now banked $14 million over the first nine weeks of 2012 versus the year before; this will come in handy as the comparatives for the second half of the year will be more challenging, as we get into comparisons with the early DC relaunch months.

Also, it's interesting to see that the dollar value of all the Top 300 comics ordered in 2012 to date is identical with the figure for the first two months of 1997. That was a period with much lower prices, of course, but the larger unit sales then was driven largely by there being many more shops. That's the big mission should our nascent virtuous cycle continue; comics sales improved in the 2000s but the number of shops didn't swell very much in response. Will retailers farther removed from the calamity of the late 1990s be more willing to expand, especially as the general economy improves? That's one of many big questions, but it's a nice one to be able to ask at all.

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Leap day propels comics to best February in years

Friday, March 9, 2012

by John Jackson Miller


As you might expect from a site with a name like The Comics Chronicles,  we pay special attention to the calendar — and thus took special note of the fact that last month was one of those one-in-28-year Februaries with five Wednesdays. This is why, last month, we cautioned that just as this January was up against an abnormal January (given Diamond Comic Distributors' shipping changes in January 2011), this February wouldn't be a simple comparison either. As our volatility primer notes, retailers order on average 11% more comics by units in five-week months than they do in four-week months.


Still, with each passing week, the case for great improvement in the comics market becomes stronger. Diamond reported combined comics and trade paperback dollar sales were up 20.11% for the month, and the 19.63% bump in periodical units is more than what we would expect to gain from a fifth week. Plus, many of the comics that missed their shipments in January 2011 made it out in February 2011, making last February artificially stronger. So this Feburary's gains look real — and combined with January, we're getting a clearer picture. Click to see the preliminary rankings from February 2012.

Working from my early estimate of between $36 and $37 million for Diamond's sales of all comics and trade paperbacks in February, we are seeing the best two-month percentage start to the year since Diamond began reporting final orders in 2003. The 23.49% year-to-date increase is likely the best since at least 2002, when Wolverine: The Origin and The Dark Knight Strikes Again were wrapping up. The increase actually appears slightly stronger than that year, although there's not enough data from 2002 to say for sure; if so, then this could be the best start of the year in percentage terms since the market peak year of 1993, after which it was mostly all downhill. (I'd have to look into it more, but I'm not sure the bumps from "Age of Apocalypse" and "Marvel Versus DC" in 1995-96 were enough to overcome the loss of shops.)

And 2012's two-month dollar total is higher that any of the years of the mid-2000s boomlet, partially due to inflation: comparing without inflation, the $69 million start to the year is the largest since probably those years of 1995 or 1996, when there were many more comics shops than there are now.

DC again took all top 10 slots in the charts, led by Justice League #6. Marvel took the dollar and unit share titles for the month; Diamond referred to the build-up to the "Avengers Versus X-Men" event in its news release.

The top-selling trade paperback or graphic novel was the Batman: Gates of Gotham collection.

Here are the aggregate change figures from Diamond:


COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
FEBRUARY 2012 VS. JANUARY 2012
COMICS
10.84%
8.36%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
11.45%
11.07%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
11.03%
8.55%
FEBRUARY 2012 VS. FEBRUARY 2011
COMICS
22.26%
19.63%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
15.65%
11.24%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
20.11%
18.97%
YEAR-TO-DATE 2011 VS. YEAR-TO-DATE 2010
COMICS
26.71%
25.94%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
16.93%
9.90%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
23.49%
24.61%


And here are the market shares:


TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
35.92%
38.61%
DC ENTERTAINMENT
29.47%
35.26%
IDW PUBLISHING
6.66%
5.62%
IMAGE COMICS
5.53%
4.88%
DARK HORSE COMICS
4.98%
4.06%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
4.20%
3.82%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.61%
1.40%
VIZ MEDIA
1.10%
0.49%
EAGLEMOSS PUBLICATIONS LTD
1.08%
0.25%
ARCHIE COMIC PUBLICATIONS
1.03%
1.11%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
8.43%
4.50%

IDW's dollar share appears to be a new record for the publisher, besting its old one by more than a full percentage point. It is partially attributable to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1 collection, which broke the top 10.

Barring a collapse in March, this will be a year without a Dead Quarter. Enjoy. Full estimates are expected next week.

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