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When Comic-Cons and political conventions clashed

Friday, August 31, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

With the Republican National Convention just ended in Florida, it recalls a couple of trivial notes relating to comics: two previous RNCs resulted in venue and date juggling for the San Diego Comic-Con, which later evolved into Comic-Con International. And one of the political conventions ultimately wasn't even held in San Diego!

1996 saw a straightforward scheduling conflict, as the RNC booked the center during what was then the convention's mid-August dates; the show moved to July 4, instead. But the more curious happenstance involved 1972, when Richard Nixon's nominating convention caused some uncertainty beforehand for organizers.

In an ad in The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom #14 (cover-dated April 1972), the precursor to Comics Buyer's Guide, organizers of the third annual San Diego West Coast Comics Convention sounded an apologetic note. "For various reasons, one of which was the Republican convention, a definite date has yet to be established." The italics were in order because by April, the political event had become embroiled in the ITT scandal — in which a payment to defray costs for the San Diego RNC event was tied to an antitrust decision involving International Telephone and Telegraph.

Little remembered by any but the most knowledgeable politicos, the scandal — and its impact on San Diego — is described in detail in "When the Elephants Marched Out of Town," in the Journal of San Diego History. (Another point of view on it — which brings things full circle to comics — can be found in a comics story by Leonard Rifas and Peter Poplaski in the underground Corporate Crime Comics #1.)

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously on May 5, 1972 to move the convention back to Miami, where it had been in 1968; it would not return to Florida until this week. That date suggests that perhaps The Buyer's Guide issue might have shipped in May rather than April; the magazine, which would actually run a McGovern ad, of all things, later in the year, went biweekly in August.

The San Diego West Coast Comics Convention, meanwhile — today's Comic-Con — moved to August 18-21, overlapping with the RNC's Miami event from Aug. 21-23. It found digs in the El Cortez hotel, which the convention would remain to seven more times. Guests in 1972 included Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Bob Clampett, and the recently-departed Harry Harrison.

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July 2012 comics sales online; Walking Dead #100 posts 366k

Monday, August 6, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

(REVISED to reflect the separate entry for the Chromium Edition)

The full data from Diamond Comic Distributors for July is out, and The Comics Chronicles estimates that the distributor  shipped more than 335,000 $3.99 copies of Walking Dead #100 to North American comics shops in July. It's the highest one-month total for a comic book in more than four years. There are an additional nearly 31,000 copies of the $9.99 Chromium edition — which Diamond reported as a distinct item; if added, that takes the total to just over 366,000 copies. Click to see the estimates for comics sold in July.

This figure is, as expected, below the 383,612-copy figure announced by Image several weeks ago. This is perfectly normal. The Diamond total includes only comics that the distributor shipped to North American retailers in July. It does not include later reorders, nor its overseas sales — and obviously it doesn't include comics Image sold to the newsstand and through other special markets. British sales customarily add an additional 10% or so to North American sales; they could cover the difference all on their own and then some.

The largest single-month total previously posted at Diamond in the 21st Century was the 352,800-copy first-month figure for the "Barack Obama Spider-Man," Amazing Spider-Man #583, from January 2009. The comic book — which didn't have overseas copies in its total either — charted at #1 again the next month and continued to sell through the year, eventually rolling up 530,500 copies sold through Diamond in North America in calendar 2009.

Thus, a look down the one-month totals puts Walking Dead #100's $3.99 copies behind ASM #583 — and both behind Image's other multi-cover chart-topper, Darkness #11 from December 1997, which had preorders of 357,000 copies. With the Chromium cover included, Walking Dead tops them both — as the records chart reflects. As with ASM #583, Walking Dead #100 would be expected to continue having sales throughout the year; Comichron will not update the Top Comics of the 21st Century list until January.

There are several gray areas when it comes to ranking bestsellers: One — an obvious one since I missed it myself on the first posting a couple of hours ago — is the Chromium edition. At $10, Diamond could not merge its order code with the other titles. Should it, then, be a distinct item for purposes of an overall ranking?

In practice, the answer is no. Marvel had newsstand and deluxe editions in the 1990s with different prices; for purposes of determining an overall issue's reach, they've always been aggregated. In more recent practice, while the Combo editions of the DC relaunch issues have been listed separately by Diamond, I have combined them in the all-time rankings because the books are essentially the same.

A ten-dollar variant presents a somewhat unusual situation. For years, the higher-priced Dynamic Forces variants for many titles that appeared in the Diamond charts were really not considered as part of the sales story for the main book; there, we had a difference not just in cover and price, but in who was offering the title. My expectation is that, since Image is offering the variant, it probably would be counted together at the end of the year — but it might be helpful to consider an asterisk, to show that a tenth of the book's units actually accounted for a disproportionate amount of its dollars. There may have been 366,000 copies ordered this month, but they went for $1.65 million, not $1.46 million.
 
Second: should reprints count? The Obama Spider-Man's total included several variants that were actually "snap reprints," wherein the publisher had quickly gone back to press; should those be counted differently from Walking Dead's variants, which were printed and released simultaneously? Whatever your answer, it really doesn't matter in practical terms. At one time, Diamond did break out later printings separately in its rankings — but it has been aggregating them under one order code for several years now.

And as a functional matter, how is a snap reprint that appears a week or two after a comic's initial release any different from the weekly variant-cover printings of X-Men, Vol. 2 #1 from 1991? Those have always been aggregated in rankings before.  X-Men Vol. 2, #1 with its 8 million copies remains the best-selling comic book of all time (although many retailers would note that figure does not reflect the number of copies actually reaching consumers) — and there, the total includes variants published over the course of five weeks.

I think where you don't count reprints is when the package becomes substantially different, beyond changes to the cover. Star Wars #1 in 1977 went to more than 1 million copies with its reprintings — but those printings were identical but for changes to the black plate on the cover and the indicia. You wouldn't, however, count the treasury-sized or other collected edition reprintings — any more than you'd count the Marvel Must Haves version of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 with it. So aggregation of similar packages released within the same year seems to make sense. Yes, collectors still want to know how many versions of each edition exist — but as a matter of ranking the sales success of a single release, expect any total to include reprints bundled in.

Regardless: Image's placement at #1 this month is the first time that's happened since November 2002, when Masters of the Universe #1 took the top spot. (There was that 1980s revival, once upon a time.) Walking Dead #100 accounted for 1 out of every 19 comic books retailers ordered within the Top 300 in July. Elsewhere on the list, the 300th-place title had orders of 4,187 copies, the second-highest total seen for a four-week month; the records page now distinguishes between four- and five-week months for the purposes of 300th-place titles, which are much affected by the extra volume a fifth week adds.

As reported last Friday, the market overall continued to percolate, up nearly 20% over the previous year. A gap is developing between the sales of the Top 300 graphic novels and graphic novel sales overall; the Top 300s for the last seven months are up 25% over last year, whereas everything in the category is only up 14%. That suggests a list that's been top-heavy with unit volume and/or dollars. The Batman: Earth One hardcover had three-quarters of a million dollars worth of orders all on its own this month.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
July 2012: 6.9 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +17%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -10%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +14%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -16%
YEAR TO DATE: 45.22 million copies, +19% vs. 2011, -9% vs. 2007, +14% vs. 2002, -23% vs. 1997

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
July 2012 versus one year ago this month: +15.24%
YEAR TO DATE: +18.59%

---

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
July 2012: $24.9 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +23%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +46%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +23%
YEAR TO DATE: $158.48 million, +20% vs. 2011, +1% vs. 2007, +42% vs. 2002, +13% vs. 1997

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
July 2012 versus one year ago this month: +22.09%
YEAR TO DATE: +20.72%

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TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
July 2012: $7.13 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +20%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +70%
YEAR TO DATE: $47.75 million, +25% vs. 2011

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
July 2012 versus one year ago this month: +16.89%
YEAR TO DATE: +13.98%

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TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
July 2012: $32.03 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +22%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +4%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +26%
YEAR TO DATE: $206.23 million, +21% vs. 2011

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
July 2012 versus one year ago this month: +20.46%
YEAR TO DATE: +18.51%

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OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
July 2012: approximately $40.04 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +9%
YEAR TO DATE: $263.03 million, +19% vs. 2011

The cost of comic books has been sneaking up again. The average price of comics in Diamond's Top 300 was $3.61 as was the cost of the average comic book retailers ordered; this is the highest figure since December 2010, before DC began making its price cuts. The most common price for comics went back up to $3.99, a figure not seen since January 2011. The weight of the $3.99 Walking Dead played a role in affecting the weighted sales figure. Meanwhile, the overall averages may be seeing the effects of Marvel and DC, which tend to have lower cover prices than smaller publishers, releasing fewer different titles. The median price of comics offered stayed at $3.50.

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July 2012 comics sales: Steady as she goes

Friday, August 3, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

Coinciding with the release of the July jobs report in the United States, Diamond Comic Distributors released its comics sales report for the month — and again, it depicts a comics market in the midst of a robust recovery. Comic book stores ordered approximately $40 million in comic books and graphic novels in the month, slightly less than in the month of June but more than 20%, or more than $7 million, more than July 2011. Click to see the preliminary top-seller list from July.

The Walking Dead #100 is, of course, the big news in the Direct Market for the month; it looks to be the best selling comic book of the last several years, with its multiple covers. Reports from the publisher are of sales of well over 300,000 copies — but The Comics Chronicles will wait until next week's final estimates to suggest where the title might rank in the 21st century list. 

Note that the list is based on known orders from Diamond, not what the publisher said it sold — and thus the two figures will naturally differ. The Diamond figures don't include newsstand or overseas sales, and the July figure won't include any copies that have shipped so far in August. There's a reason these tables are only updated annually here: we'll have a clearer picture in January. But for now, we're likely to find that something like one out of every 25 comic books retailers ordered in July was a Walking Dead #100 variant!

The issue helped Image build a dollar market share of 9.42%, which is the highest placement for the publisher since amassing 9.95% of the market in Feburary 2003, a month in which it put 35 titles in the Top 300. IDW's 6.61% was just a shade off its previous 6.66% record, set in February.
 
Comics periodical unit sales were up 15.24% over last July. The top-selling graphic novel in this Batman: The Dark Knight Rises release month was Batman: Earth One, and that portion of the market continues to move along at nearly 17% over last year.

With July we're comparing a four-week month versus a four-week month last year, and this August will be a five-week month versus a five-week month. But the July report is the last one which compares only with figures from before the DC reboot; last August's report included sales from Justice League #1. With comics and graphic novels combined, last July was a pretty good month relative to what had come before, with orders of close to $38 million. But the Direct Market has been posting months better than that all summer. For the year of 2012, Direct Market orders are up 18.51%, or more than $40 million, to $263 million.

The below aggregate change figures are based on a revision Diamond provided after its initial release this morning, which had included year-to-date figures that were slightly lower than what is reported here:


COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
JULY 2012 VS. JUNE 2012
COMICS
0.61%
-1.96%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-4.36%
6.45%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-0.95%
-1.33%
JULY 2012 VS. JULY 2011
COMICS
22.09%
15.24%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
16.89%
18.25%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
20.46%
15.48%
YEAR-TO-DATE 2012 VS. YEAR-TO-DATE 2011
COMICS
20.72%
18.59%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
13.98%
10.80%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
18.51%
17.95%


And here are the market shares:


PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
DC COMICS
32.71%
36.55%
MARVEL COMICS
31.96%
35.45%
IMAGE COMICS
9.42%
9.39%
IDW PUBLISHING
6.61%
4.51%
DARK HORSE COMICS
4.51%
3.79%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
2.77%
2.64%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.38%
1.30%
ZENESCOPE ENTERTAINMENT
1.22%
1.04%
EAGLEMOSS PUBLICATIONS
1.20%
0.27%
VIZ MEDIA
0.95%
0.42%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
7.28%
4.65%

As described in this essay from after San Diego, there do appear to be many positive currents flowing comics' way this year. July, at least, appears to have been consistent with the trend.

The full estimates will appear next week. In the meantime, be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.

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