here Friday, January comics sales performed the rare feat of beating December's sales; now, with the release of new data from Diamond Comic Distributors, we can see the numbers behind the headline. Click to see Comichron's comics sales estimates for January 2013.
As also noted Friday, despite the calendar, January is a four shipping week month, just like January 2012 was. As a result of Diamond taking Christmas week off, most 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. But Direct Market comics and graphic novel orders, led by Superior Spider-Man #1 and Fables Vol. 18, were still up nearly $9 million over last January to $41 million, and unit sales of comics within the Top 300 were up nearly a million copies to 6.72 million.
Another interesting fact is that total retail orders in dollars have almost doubled the level they were at ten years ago. Diamond began reporting Final Orders in February 2003, permitting me to calculate the Overall Comics and Graphic Novel sales for the entire Direct Market; with this month's data, we finally have a full ten years. I was able to make an educated guess at January 2003 to complete that year's data, and it looks like this January's total is up 96%, or more than $20 million, over that same month ten years ago. (Look for the ten-year overall comparison on this site now with each monthly report.)
That shows some significant progress, as according to the U.S. government's inflation calculator, inflation rose 25% from 2003 to 2012. That means about three quarters of the gain comes from two sources: new material, and however much comics have increased in price faster than inflation. There's definitely new material involved. This January saw 20% more individual comics sold than in January 2003 just in the Top 300. More importantly, though, the graphic novel backlist is much larger. The material below the bottom of the comics and graphic novel charts in January 2003 accounted for only $3.5 million. If you shorten this January's charts to be the same length (they only went to the Top 50 graphic novels back then) then the "off-the-charts" material today accounts for $14.5 million, an increase of $11 million!
Another explanation for January's growth over time can be found in the fact publishers are more aggressive in the winter than they once were. Retailer Brian Hibbs of Comics Experience in San Francisco, long a columnist when I was editing Comics & Games Retailer, noted after that piece ran that there never really was a "Dead Quarter" as far as retailers were concerned; that it was all a matter of publishers holding high-profile titles back. I do believe there are some demand-driven effects on the retailers' side: few people get to comics shops in snowstorms, and I've heard over the years that accounts tend to close more frequently at the end of the year, for tax or whatever reasons. But I agree that the vast majority of the issue is publishers not taking the field with high-profile titles or even their full regular slates.
In years past, I've noted many times here that January is the time that small publishers "bubbling under" the main charts are most likely to break into the Top 300. What's remarkable is the extent to which that trend has reversed. January 2013 saw only fourteen publishers in the Top 300, the lowest number in the Diamond Exclusive Era. Take a look at the record:
IN THE TOP 300 IN JANUARY
That's right: In 2013, January has gone from being a month where the major publishers tended not to take the field to a month that resembles any other. In addition to the 85 and 84 entries in the list that Marvel and DC respectively had, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, and Dynamic Forces (Dynamite) combined to chart 100 titles in January. Last month, the four combined for 118 entries, which may be a record high. (Our unit count across time page needs updating, but you can see some general trends.)
And where January consequently used to have some incredibly low totals for the titles at the bottom of the charts — as low as 660 copies for the 300th place title in January 2001 — this January's total was 4,257 copies for the 300th place book. That's up from 2,606 copies last January, a month that was pretty darn good on its own. It looks like there are at least 440 comic books above the 1,000-copy level at Diamond in January 2013. Click to see the 300th place issues over time.
Publisher willingness to bring larger slates to market in the winter would appear to be a good indicator of increased confidence in the Direct Market. So as long as publishers continue to feel that way, the Dead Quarter may be declared dead — for now. The aggregate data:
Versus 1 year ago this month: +16%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -1%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +20%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -4%
YEAR TO DATE: 6.72 million copies, +16% vs. 2012, -1% vs. 2008, +20% vs. 2003, -4% vs. 1998
ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2013 versus one year ago this month: +19.86%
YEAR TO DATE: +19.86%
Versus 1 year ago this month: +21%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +14%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +54%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +44%
YEAR TO DATE: $23.95 million, +21% vs. 2012, +14% vs. 2008, +54% vs. 2003, +44% vs. 1998
ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2013 versus one year ago this month: +22.32%
YEAR TO DATE: +22.32%
Versus 1 year ago this month: +22%
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: +36%
YEAR TO DATE: $7.31 million, +22% vs. 2012
ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
January 2013 versus one year ago this month: +37.89%
YEAR TO DATE: +37.89%
Versus 1 year ago this month: +21%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +12%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +36%
YEAR TO DATE: $31.26 million, +21% vs. 2012
ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
January 2013 versus one year ago this month: +27.16%
YEAR TO DATE: +27.16%
Versus 1 year ago this month: +27%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +19%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +96%
YEAR TO DATE: $41.06 million, +27% vs. 2012
The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.57, with the average comic book ordered by retailers costing $3.56. The average comic book in the Top 25 cost $3.63. $3.50 was the median price of comics, and $3.99 was the most common price. Click to see monthly comics prices over time and median comics prices since 1961.
Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook!