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Comics 2012: A case for optimism

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

With San Diego in the rear-view mirror, I posted some thoughts on the Comichron Twitter feed today that I think bear repeating here.

I have seen some upbeat San Diego conventions (this was one) and some downright gloomy ones; sometimes they capture the spirit of the year and sometimes they don't. The same is true of the monthly and yearly sales reports here on the site: it's usually only in retrospect that you see whether a movement was a blip or something more substantial. Having prematurely called a market rebound in 1998, I've learned my lesson about such things — even with a year of improving numbers for the business, I've tried hard here to present these changes in a multi-year context. There's weather and there's climate, as they say; you still report the weather when it happens — like the July release of Walking Dead #100, reportedly a blockbuster with sales over 300,000 copies — but you try to be more careful when talking about the overall scheme of things.

But I do feel that we can make some general statements at this point, drawing both on the long view and what we've observed recently:

Digital comics sales are increasing, but so are print sales; it does not yet appear that one is coming at the other's expense. At least, so far. The best estimate I've seen of the digital trade for last year was $25 million; print stood at $680 million. That $25 million appears to have doubled each year since 2009; as of the halfway point of 2012, we're looking at a print year that could well be up double-digits, percentage-wise.

It'll take a lot more than a few years to show it, but digital is appearing to develop more as a parallel product — as trade paperbacks did — at least so far. This seems to make logical sense, because as with collected editions, the digital comic offers different perceived benefits from the monthly comic book; each product has its own adherents.

•  Between the Direct Market, the bookstore channel, and the emergence of digital, comics have — almost by accident! — become one of the healthiest parts of the magazine business. Perhaps the healthiest, in fact. And it has to do with both how they're sold — and the nature of the content itself.

I can tell you from many years at a consumer magazine publisher that most magazine publishers would kill to have the vast majority of their of copies pre-sold; the Direct Market has been doing that for years by buying comics non-returnably, and it is why comics shops quickly took most comics sales away from the newsstands in the 1980s and 1990s. And outright purchase is an option for us, because comics are the magazines people keep. Comics are valued as collectibles and as literature in ways other magazines aren't.

And it's the latter part that's made the greatest difference in the last few years, because while periodical comics sales are up slightly since the turn of the century, we have hundreds of millions in graphic novel and collected edition sales — $375 million in North America last year — that simply didn't exist before, because comics are the magazines that are also book chapters. It's hard to put a spine on six months of Newsweek, but comics publishers can almost immediately repurpose new material — even as they mine their libraries. After years of the comics shops taking everything over, about a third of our revenue is coming from outside again — thanks to collected editions.

So. I do try very hard to avoid being Pangloss or Pollyana; for years when I was the editor of Comics Retailer in the 1990s, the rap on me from publishers was that I was overly downbeat (when I really felt like I was just reporting what was going on). I've tried hard not to overreact in the opposite direction, and to take a skeptical eye to both the apparent upticks and downdrafts. There are shifts that appear less than positive, and one can easily imagine ways to construct a similar case for pessimism. Comics unit sales still continue to decline on most titles as their issue numbers increase; periodicals' aggregate improvements have still generally come from the offering of an ever larger number of titles and the constant replacement of gray series with new ones, rather than increases within most series. The single greatest factor influencing comics sales volume is still the number of comics shops, and there are still too many markets under-served (though Diamond announced at San Diego a new push to help open new stores).

But at the same time, it's important to note that the industry is structurally very different than it was when the industry nearly collapsed in the 1950s, the 1970s, and the 1990s. Those times, comics publishers and vendors had to innovate to keep the business going; super-hero comics, the Direct Market, and the trade paperback were the tools that led the way out. We have no way of knowing whether the combination of the nonreturnable market, collected editions, and the addition of digital will be enough to shield the industry through another major crisis. But it's possible. And it's also just possible that they already have.

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Full June 2012 comics sales estimates online

Monday, July 9, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

All eyes in the comics industry are turning to California and Comic-Con International, which is starting in a little more than 48 hours; I'll be heading there myself. (My own signing schedule is here). But first, some important business, as Diamond Comic Distributors has released the full data for comics-shop sales for June 2012. The Comics Chronicles first reported on the monthly, second-quarter, and first-half of 2012 figures on Friday, and much of that information is recapped below. But the full charts are now available; click to see the full Comichron comics sales estimates for June 2012.

As mentioned previously, orders by Direct Market comics shops in North America are up more than 18% year-to-date through June, by contrast with last year, when they were down by 8%. Retailers have already ordered more material through June — nearly $223 million in retail dollars— than they did in last year through July. Click to see a summation of 2012 so far.

Retailers are estimated to have ordered $40.5 million in comic books and trade paperbacks from Diamond in the month, a sum that brings the second quarter orders to more than $20 million higher than the same three-month period last year. For the year to date, all Direct Market sales are more than $34 million ahead of the first half of 2011.

But as discussed on Friday, the comparison observers may be more interested in isn't between the first six months of this year and the first six months of 2011. Rather, how has the Direct Market fared compared with the last six months of 2011, which included the DC reboot? Direct Market orders were $224.92 million from July 2011 to December 2011 — so even with the reboot titles reaching double-digit issue numbers, the market is down less than 1% from that blockbuster six-month period. The reasons are several: Marvel has Avengers Vs. X-Men on the playing field, and graphic novels are rebounding with the DC hardcovers and Walking Dead. But the fact we can compare at all is significant, because the second half of the year has outperformed the previous first half every year for the last 10 years — and by an average of 10%. 

Comic book unit sales are up significantly; with June's orders, retailers have bought 38.32 million copies of the Top 300 periodicals this year. That's more than 6 million copies more than the first six months of 2011. Again, Marvel's Avengers Vs. X-Men #6 led the charts; sell-in numbers on the title continue to increase from month to month. (Click to see a list of all monthly top sellers across time.) The four DC Before Watchmen debut issues landed in fifth through eight place.

June 2011 was a five-week month versus four shipping weeks for June 2012, and the beats were a little smaller than we've seen — the 300th-place issue sold just over 3,300 copies, a bit of a dip from the last four-week month in April. But periodical units and dollars were still up double-digits. On the trade paperback side, the release of Walking Dead Vol. 16: A Larger World topped the charts. Both the Top 300 comics and Top 300 graphic novel category totals are doing several percentage points better than Diamond's figures for the entire category; the real gap is with trades, where sales for the Top 300 were up 14% but the whole category was only up 2.51%. That means more of the dollar volume was in the toplist this month; the top three trades rang up nearly a million dollars on their own.

The aggregate totals:


TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
June 2012: 7.03 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +1%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +19%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -11%
Q2 2012: 20.43 million copies, +23% vs. Q2 2011
YEAR TO DATE: 38.32 million copies, +20% vs. 2011, -9% vs. 2007, +14% vs. 2002, -24% vs. 1997

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
June 2012 versus one year ago this month: +12.14%
Q2 2012 versus Q2 2011: +23.34
YEAR TO DATE: +19.21%

---


TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
June 2012: $24.92 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +21%
Versus 5 years ago this month:+13%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +48%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +32%
Q2 2012: $71.98 million, +25% vs. Q2 2011

YEAR TO DATE: $133.58 million, +20% vs. 2011, +1% vs. 2007, +41% vs. 2002, +12% vs. 1997

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
June 2012 versus one year ago this month: +14.97%
Q2 2012 versus Q2 2011: +15.81%
YEAR TO DATE: +20.47%

---

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
June 2012: $7.46 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +14%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -1%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +67%
Q2 2012: $22.49 million, +29% vs. Q2 2011

YEAR TO DATE: $40.62 million, +25% vs. 2011

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
June 2012 versus one year ago this month: +2.51%
Q2 2012 versus Q2 2011: +23.33%
YEAR TO DATE: +13.49%

---

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
June 2012: $32.37 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +19%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +10%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +26%
Q2 2012: $94.47 million, +26% vs. 2011

YEAR TO DATE: $174.2 million, +21% vs. 2011

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
June 2012 versus one year ago this month: +10.74%
Q2 2012 versus Q2 2011: +18.14%
YEAR TO DATE: +18.16%

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OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
June 2012: approximately $40.5 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +15%

Q2 2012: $121.18 million, +23% vs. 2011

YEAR TO DATE: $222.99 million, +18% vs. 2011

The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.54, with the average comic book ordered by retailers costing $3.54. $3.50 was the median price of comics, and $2.99 was the most common price.

At present, a completely flat second half of 2012 would bring the year in nearly at $450 million, or up 8%. It would also be the best year of the century so far. But again, even in our worst years, the second half of the year has always beaten the first half — at least, in the 21st Century — so a letdown in the second half of 2012 would be something new. We'll see whether Walking Dead #100, "Marvel Now," and the other new things in the mix can keep the momentum going.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook!

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Comics finish first half of 2012 well ahead

Friday, July 6, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

The Diamond Comic Distributors sales report for the middle of the comics year always hits right before Comic Con International: San Diego, which itself is about the future of the business; we see where we've been right before we see where we're going. Last year, the industry arrived in San Diego with the first half of 2011 off 8% versus the year before; this year, orders by Direct Market comics shops in North America are up more than 18% year-to-date. It's quite the turnaround. Retailers have already ordered more material through June — nearly $223 million in retail dollars— than they did in last year through July.

Marvel's Avengers Vs. X-Men #6 led the charts, with four DC Before Watchmen debut issues landing in fifth through eight place. Click to see the preliminary top sellers for June. June 2011 was a five-week month versus four shipping weeks for June 2012, and the beats were a little smaller than we've seen — but periodical units and dollars were still up double-digits. All the comics in the Top 10 were priced at $3.99.

On the trade paperback side, the release of Walking Dead Vol. 16: A Larger World both topped the charts. There was a slight year-to-year drop in graphic novel units, but not dollars — suggesting that maybe with the DC hardcovers and a new Walking Dead release priced higher than some of the earlier backlist releases, the average price for each graphic novel ordered increased some.

Retailers appear to have ordered $40.5 million in comic books and trade paperbacks from Diamond in the month, a sum that brings the second quarter orders to more than $20 million higher than the same three-month period last year. For the year to date, all Direct Market sales are more than $34 million ahead of the first half of 2011.

But the comparison observers may be more interested in isn't between the first six months of this year and the first six months of 2011 — but rather, with the last six months, which included the DC reboot. Direct Market orders were $224.92 million from July 2011 to December 2011 — so even with the reboot titles reaching double-digit issue numbers, the market is down less than 1% from that blockbuster six-month period. The reasons are several: Marvel has Avengers Vs. X-Men on the playing field, and graphic novels are rebounding with the DC hardcovers and Walking Dead. But the fact we can compare at all is significant, because the second half of the year has outperformed the previous first half every year for the last 10 years — and by an average of 10%. 

A letdown in the second half of 2012 would thus run contrary to recent history, even in our bad years. At present, a completely flat second half of 2012 would bring the year in nearly at $450 million, or up 8%. It would also be the best year of the century so far. With Walking Dead #100 and "Marvel Now" in the mix, the numbers for the second half hold the potential to be as interesting to watch as those from second half of 2011.

The aggregate change figures:


COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
JUNE 2012 VS. MAY 2012
COMICS
-6.28%
-6.50%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-15.42%
-14.72%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-9.35%
-7.16%
JUNE 2012 VS. JUNE 2011
COMICS
14.97%
12.14%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
2.51%
-3.66%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
10.74%
10.79%
YEAR-TO-DATE 2012 VS. YEAR-TO-DATE 2011
(FIRST HALF 2012 VS. FIRST HALF 2011)
COMICS
20.47%
19.21%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
13.49%
9.53%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
18.16%
18.40%
SECOND QUARTER 2012 VS. FIRST QUARTER 2012
COMICS
16.79%
14.86%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
23.81%
18.98%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
18.97%
15.18%
SECOND QUARTER 2012 VS. SECOND QUARTER 2011
COMICS
15.81%
23.34%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
23.33%
11.53%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
18.14%
22.33%


The market shares are here:

TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
33.77%
37.82%
DC ENTERTAINMENT
33.03%
38.23%
IMAGE COMICS
7.36%
6.45%
IDW PUBLISHING
6.22%
4.16%
DARK HORSE COMICS
4.51%
3.49%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
2.82%
2.35%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.25%
1.49%
EAGLEMOSS PUBLICATIONS LTD
1.21%
0.28%
AVATAR PRESS INC
0.84%
0.87%
TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS
0.83%
0.32%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
8.16%
4.55%

Diamond will release the Top 300s at the beginning of next week; I am headed to San Diego myself (where I'll be signing for Dark Horse and Del Rey) but will try to get the analysis online if at all possible. Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook!

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