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March 2014 data: Comics market soldiers through winter with only slight loss

Friday, April 4, 2014

by John Jackson Miller

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier releasing today, comic shops have managed to soldier through one of the more wretched winters for weather in recent memory without too many negative effects. Diamond Comic Distributors released its preliminary data for orders from the comics ship market for March 2014—and the month in overall dollars came in at approximately $40.7 million, just 1.48% behind the same month last year. (Last March was also a four ship-week month.) That puts the first quarter at $116.6 million, off 4.4% from last year.

Led by the new Walking Dead Vol. 20: All Out War Part 1, graphic novels were the high point of the month, up more than 18% over last March. With close to a two-to-one ratio between comics dollars and graphic novel dollars in the Direct Market, that nearly offset the more than 9% drop in new comics dollars. Batman #29, at $4.99 this month, was the #1 comic book in an soft market for periodicals, but sales reports indicate that April's Amazing Spider-Man #1 may shake up that picture quite a bit. (It's the third issue by that name, if I recall, not counting the one that came with the record album; the first one, from 1963, can be had for a mere $2,125 in CGC 2.5, whereas the second one from 1998 runs for under $5.)

The aggregate statistics are below. Don't sweat the First Quarter 2014 versus Fourth Quarter 2013 change figures—fall always beats winter in a blowout:
 
COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS
March 2014 vs. February 2014 DOLLARS UNITS
Comics 4.11% 6.32%
Graphic Novels 24.00% 25.00%
Total Comics/GN 10.22% 7.93%
March 2014 vs. March 2013
Comics -9.47% -11.83%
Graphic Novels 18.31% 22.85%
Total Comics/GN -1.48% -9.28%
First Quarter 2014 vs. Fourth Quarter 2013
Comics -14.30% -13.77%
Graphic Novels -11.59% -1.59%
Total Comics/GN -13.45% -12.82%
First Quarter 2014 vs. First Quarter 2013
Comics -6.89% -11.40%
Graphic Novels 1.39% 10.06%
Total Comics/GN -4.40% -9.85%
Year-To-Date 2014 vs. Year-To-Date 2013
Comics -6.89% -11.40%
Graphic Novels 1.39% 10.06%
Total Comics/GN -4.40% -9.85%
 
Marvel led the market shares in both units and dollars, in a month in which Image's market share reached a 13-year peak:

Publisher Dollar share Unit share
Marvel Comics 34.31% 38.17%
DC Comics 25.94% 29.02%
Image Comics 11.38% 11.04%
Dark Horse Comics 6.19% 5.72%
IDW Publishing 5.29% 4.51%
Dynamic Forces 2.61% 2.56%
Boom Studios 1.99% 1.84%
Eaglemoss Publications 1.59% 0.35%
Avatar Press 1.14% 0.94%
Random House 1.04% 0.26%
Other 8.53% 5.59%
 
The number of new products on the market rebounded. Ten fewer new comics were released, while 23 more graphic novels came out. (A fact that may have contributed to the fortunes of those two categories this month.

PUBLISHER COMICS SHIPPED GRAPHIC NOVELS SHIPPED MAGAZINES SHIPPED TOTAL SHIPPED
DC 84 28 1 113
Marvel 75 34 0 109
Image 54 13 0 67
IDW 42 22 0 64
Dark Horse 42 15 0 57
Dynamic Forces 34 5 0 39
Boom 28 7 0 35
Avatar 11 4 0 15
Random House 0 15 0 15
Eaglemoss 0 0 12 12
Other 63 104 16 183
Total 433 247 29 709
  The Top 10 comic books:

Title  Price  Publisher
1 Batman #29  $4.99 DC
2 Superman Unchained #6  $3.99 DC
3 Forever Evil #6  $3.99 DC
4 Sandman Overture #2  $3.99 DC
5 Superior Spider-Man #29  $3.99 Marvel
6 Daredevil #1  $3.99 Marvel
7 Superior Spider-Man #30  $3.99 Marvel
8 Silver Surfer #1  $3.99 Marvel
9 The Walking Dead #124  $2.99 Image
10 Uncanny X-Men #19.Now  $3.99 Marvel

And the Top 10 graphic novels:

Title  Price  Publisher
1 The Walking Dead Vol. 20: All Out War Part 1  $14.99 Image
2 Saga Volume 3  $14.99 Image
3 Nemo: Roses of Berlin HC  $14.95 Top Shelf
4 Avatar: The Last Airbender Vol. 7: Rift Part 1  $10.99 Dark Horse
5 Chew Volume 8: Family Recipes  $12.99 Image
6 Justice League: Trinity War HC  $29.99 DC
7 Harley Quinn: Welcome to Metropolis  $19.99 DC
8 Adventure Time Vol. 3: Seeing Red  $11.99 Boom
9 Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1  $24.99 Marvel
10 Stray Bullets Uber Alles Edition  $59.99 Image

Last, a word about first quarters in comics in general. January and February's data set off some hand-wringing in various internet circles—in part, because they were the first back-to-back negative months the market had seen in some time. But it's worth noting that since less of the industry's annual volume is sold in the first quarter—just 21.45% of 2012's sales came in the first quarter—both upside and downside changes simply mean less than at other times in the year. Last year's first quarter was up 20% but the year was only up 9%.

As the biggest indicator (beyond the number of accounts) in what a comic book sells this month is what it sold last month, certainly any slowdown is meaningful. But history is replete with strong Aprils wiping out winter losses. The picture of a year seldom is really clear until June—and in years like 2011, with the DC relaunch, it was September before we really knew how things would go.

The final tallies for March should appear here next week.
 
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