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January 2013 comics sales beat December by largest margin in decade

Friday, February 8, 2013

by John Jackson Miller

In a move that sent me back to the archives to examine its scale, comics shop orders of comic books and collected editions from Diamond Comic Distributors jumped more than 27%, or nearly $9 million, year-over-year in January. And this January even beat December's total by 3%, the largest margin for January over December in at least a decade. And it did it with one shipping week tied behind its back.

This is important, because the first thing we look at in moves of this scale is whether we're comparing a five-ship-week month to a four-ship-week month. But despite the calendar, January is a four shipping week month, just like January 2012 (which itself was a huge month for sales). That's because, as noted last month, possibly to adjust for Diamond taking Christmas week off, material that left its warehouses during the week after Christmas was counted as part of December, even though it had an on-sale date of January 2.

That was the first thing I looked at when I saw this change, but Dan Manser, Diamond's director of marketing, confirmed to me that "Jan. 2 items were invoiced in December, so they were part of December's numbers." The January figures are really for the for weeks that followed, and they beat December by more than a million dollars overall. Orders are estimated to have topped $41 million for the first time in any January since probably 1994 or 1995.

The aggregate changes:
 
COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
JANUARY 2013 VS. DECEMBER 2012
COMICS
-4.44%
-3.34%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
21.64%
16.63%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
3.01%
-2.03%
JANUARY 2013 VS. JANUARY 2012
COMICS
22.32%
19.86%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
37.89%
30.73%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
27.16%
20.65%

Comics unit and dollar sales were slightly off December's totals, but walloped those of January 2012. The top title for the month was Marvel's Superior Spider-Man #1 — a title whose first printing is going for $10 on the aftermarket — and several other titles of recent Marvel vintage made the top 10. DC's relaunch titles were in the list, too:


RANK
DESCRIPTION
PRICE

VENDOR
1
Superior Spider-Man #1
$3.99

Marvel
2
Batman #16
$3.99

DC
3
Justice League #16
$3.99

DC
4
New Avengers #1
$3.99

Marvel
5
Superior Spider-Man #2
$3.99

Marvel
6
Savage Wolverine #1
$3.99

Marvel
7
Uncanny Avengers #3
$3.99

Marvel
8
Detective Comics #16
$3.99

DC
9
Avengers #3
$3.99

Marvel
10
Uncanny X-Force #1
$3.99

Marvel

The thing that made the difference in beating December overall, however, was the graphic novel and collected edition category. Fables Vol. 18 led the list, which was up nearly 22% over last month's GN sales, and an incredible 38% over last January's:


RANK
DESCRIPTION
PRICE

VENDOR
1
Fables Volume 18: Cubs In Toyland
$16.99

DC
2
Saga Volume 1
$9.99

Image
3
The Walking Dead Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye
$9.99

Image
4
Silver Surfer By Stan Lee And Moebius
$7.99

Marvel
5
The Walking Dead Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us
$14.99

Image
6
Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey Hc
$24.99

DC
7
Justice League Vol. 1: Origin
$16.99

DC
8
The Walking Dead Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars
$14.99

Image
9
The Walking Dead Vol. 17: Something To Fear
$14.99

Image
10
Animal Man Vol. 2: Animal Vs. Man
$16.99

DC

Finally, the market shares:

TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
34.82%
40.23%
DC ENTERTAINMENT
31.61%
35.41%
IMAGE COMICS
8.19%
7.45%
IDW PUBLISHING
6.30%
3.92%
DARK HORSE COMICS
4.55%
3.62%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
2.20%
2.13%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.45%
1.55%
EAGLEMOSS PUBLICATIONS
1.22%
0.26%
AVATAR PRESS
0.87%
0.73%
VALIANT ENTERTAINMENT
0.86%
0.93%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
7.92%
3.76%

Now, let's look again at the issue of January. As has been written here in much detail, wintry January has been for the comics industry in the 2000s what back-to-school September was for comics in the 1980s — a time when momentum ends and sales drop. Publishers tended to launch fewer major initiatives in "the Dead Quarter." But there were a number of launches this January, including Dark Horse's new sub-title-less Star Wars #1, already onto a third printing. So there doesn't seem to be much reluctance associated with this time of year any more.

How new is this? With January, we now have a full 10 years of Final Order data from Diamond, and we can see how past Januaries did. First, here's how they Overall Sales did versus the Januaries of the year before:

January 2004: $21.9 million, +4.29%
January 2005: $23.2 million, +6.39%
January 2006: $25.56 million, +9.7%
January 2007: $33.71 million, +31.89%
January 2008: $34.56 million, +2.52%
January 2009: $31.31 million, -9.4%
January 2010: $32.01 million, +2.23%
January 2011: $25.31 million, -20.91%
January 2012: $32.27 million, +27.47%
January 2013: $41.06 million, +27.16%

So we see that January beats always happened during the growth years of the mid-1990s, with the largest being in 2007, when Civil War #6 came out. Over the last two years, January sales have increased by more than $15 million.

Now, let's compare these figures with Decembers past:

December 2003 to January 2004: -23.69%
December 2004 to January 2005: -23.33%
December 2005 to January 2006: -19.19%
December 2006 to January 2007: +0.27%
December 2007 to January 2008: -3.68%
December 2008 to January 2009: -21.29%
December 2009 to January 2010: -10.27%
December 2010 to January 2011: -29.95%
December 2011 to January 2012: -6.73%
December 2012 to January 2013: +3.01%

So January beat December for the first time since that Civil War month — and the margin was the best in a decade.

If we look at just comic-book sales, excepting collected editions, we can see further back. Here's the estimated change within the Top 300 comics dollar sales from December to January from 1997 to present:

December 1996 to January 1997: -15.3%
December 1997 to January 1998: -27.7%
December 1998 to January 1999: -15.2%
December 1999 to January 2000: -18.5%
December 2000 to January 2001: -8.9%
December 2001 to January 2002: -3.6%
December 2002 to January 2003: -4.8%
December 2003 to January 2004: -19.9%
December 2004 to January 2005: -26.7%
December 2005 to January 2006: -17.0%
December 2006 to January 2007: -4.8%
December 2007 to January 2008: -7.0%
December 2008 to January 2009: -24.36%
December 2009 to January 2010: -13.96%
December 2010 to January 2011: -22.68%
December 2011 to January 2012: -6.73%
December 2012 to January 2013 (all comics): -4.44%

We won't know what the Top 300 portion will look like until next week, but I'm willing to bet that the Top 300 percentage comes in a little better than the overall percentage. It'll probably still be a drop, but it only has to go a little ways to beat the December 2001 to January 2002 change to become the best January for top-selling comics relative to the previous month since at least 1996.

The absence of a Dead Quarter is a sure sign of continued health in the market. We'll see if this can continue into the spring.

The full estimates will be along next week. Find out about them right away by following the site on Twitter and Facebook.

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