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February 2015 comics sales estimates online: Of "Asterisk Eras" and sales charts

Monday, March 16, 2015

by John Jackson Miller

In baseball, many of the statistics of the 1990s must be viewed with caution, as they're part of the "Steroid Era." Comics had its own Steroid Era in the early 1990s, in the sense that orders were inflated by an unprecedented number of retail accounts that had been opened on easy credit terms by the many competing distributors that existed then. Many issues in that speculation-fueled time sold into the millions, but the number of actual readers was smaller. And yet the distributors' charts were accurate: they did what they were supposed to do, reporting the number of copies they shipped.

Diamond Comic Distributors is doing exactly the same today with the charts it publishes: reporting what it shipped. Unlike the early 1990s, when nearly everything deserved an asterisk, we're fairly sure the number of comics sold is more representative of the number of active readers — but since the charts are "number-shipped" lists, there are occasions where what we see on them might not represent what we see happening in stores. We have another this month. According to Comichron's sales estimates for comics ordered in February 2015. based on data Diamond released today, in February a comic book has once again topped the monthly sales charts because of vast quantities by a single retailer, the repackager Loot Crate

With nearly half a million copies shipped, IDW's Orphan Black #1 would, in fact, rank as the fourth best-selling comic book of the Diamond Exclusive Era, behind January's Star Wars #1, last year's Amazing Spider-Man #1, and Amazing Spider-Man #583 from 2009. It is the third time a comic book has topped the charts likely due to the massive size of Loot Crate's order.

The rankings are, again, consistent with Diamond's practices — and a handful of books with sales supercharged by Loot Crate, Nerd Block, and similar firms do not an era make, whatever adjective we choose to label them with. But they do present irregularities for market-watchers and statisticians to cope with. Because while orders from mail-order comics retailers have always been counted in the charts — and while those retailers do work with publishers to offer their own store-specific variant copies of specific titles — the Loot Crate numbers in particular are now on a huge scale. The Orphan Black total makes it possible for Loot Crate's order to account for as many as 400,000 copies — more than double what they were a year ago.

So we're encountering months in which not just some, but large majorities of the copies the bestselling titles weren't ordered by comic shops. Since the gigantic purchases are one-time, we've been using asterisks (or, rather, daggers) here at Comichron, because readers a decade hence will definitely wonder why, for example, Walking Dead #132's sales spiked so amazingly in October. But there are other statistical curiosities that come from these kinds of large purchases, which are worth noting.

For example, note the Top 5, as Diamond reported it on Friday, plus Comichron's order estimates. You can see Diamond shipped nearly twice as many copies of Orphan Black #1 as its nearest competitor:

 Titles ranked by many copies Diamond shipped
Title Issue Price Publisher  Copies shipped 
1 Orphan Black 1* $3.99 IDW  497,002
2 Darth Vader 1 $4.99 Marvel  264,399
3 Spider-Gwen 1 $3.99 Marvel  254,074
4 Star Wars 2 $3.99 Marvel  162,042
5 Batman 39 $3.99 DC  118,106

Now, take a look at Diamond's "retail rankings," which it also released today. We don't look at these very often, but they're ranked in order of how much money Diamond received for the comics it shipped: the wholesale value. It is this wholesale value that Diamond's market shares are based upon, not the full cover price (though we have computed it in the column at right). And we can see that despite what we might expect from the numbers, Orphan Black #1 comes in not first, but third:

Titles ranked by how much retailers paid Diamond
Title Issue Price Publisher  Copies shipped 
1 Darth Vader 1 $4.99 Marvel  264,399
2 Spider-Gwen 1 $3.99 Marvel  254,074
3 Orphan Black 1* $3.99 IDW  497,002
4 Star Wars 2 $3.99 Marvel  162,042
5 Batman 39 $3.99 DC  118,106

Diamond does not reveal the wholesale amount it received for the books it shipped, but in providing the rankings, we can see that, while Diamond shipped nearly twice as many Orphan Black issues as it shipped Spider-Gwens (another comic book with a $3.99 cover price), it realized more revenue overall on Spider-Gwen than on Orphan Black. Put another way, Diamond took in about half as much for every Orphan Black copy it shipped as it did for every Spider-Gwen. This suggests a lot of books moving at a steep discount, which makes sense when dealing with a reseller willing to buy hundreds of thousands of copies.

Since Comichron and everyone else uses full retail dollars to track the market, though, we now wind up with a situation in which all the statistics for this month's performance include between $1-2 million in "Loot Crate copies." That — and the several hundred thousand units Loot Crate's purchase added to the total number of comics sold — might make you wonder whether the Direct Market, apart from Loot Crate, really was up in February or not.

The answer: yes, in all categories. Nearly 1.3 million more comics were shipped this February versus last February, probably three times what Loot Crate added. Subtracting out all the Orphan Black sales (including copies ordered by comic shops), we still get a Top 300 and an overall market that's up nearly $4 million. We actually see larger anomalies on a regular basis on the graphic novel sales chart, where we've often seen a lot of deep-discounting: some months as much as $4 million in full retail has been added to the overall totals when, in fact, those books moved at a fraction of their normally discounted prices. It's just part of the hazard in reporting sales based on retail prices rather than wholesale ones. Retail prices are easier to understand, but there can be complications.

http://bit.ly/CCMarvSW1So Loot Crate is making a splash, but its impact, at least so far, is limited to the sales rankings. Were its subscriber numbers to double or triple, or were the phenomenon to spread, then we'd begin to worry about how well the Diamond charts report Direct Market performance. Diamond's charts report what Diamond shipped, of course, and for many years now that has tracked Direct Market performance very well. But as new kinds of outlets offer comics, we shouldn't expect that any charts will always be a perfect mirror.

Darth Vader #1, with at least 21 variant covers, had orders of approximately 264,400 copies and would have been the top title of the month were it not for Orphan Black's Loot Crate edition. Marvel's relaunch issue from January, Star Wars #1, placed 53rd with more than 33,100 copies reordered. That brings the total number of Diamond-shipped copies to 1.019 million, clearing the million mark (which it had cleared anyway with British sales). The second issue had orders of more than 162,000 copies.

The aggregate changes are as follows:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
February 2015: 7.19 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +22%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +34%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +23%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +32%
YEAR TO DATE: 16 million copies, +16% vs. 2014, +27% vs. 2010, +29% vs. 2005, +27% vs. 2000

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
February 2015 versus one year ago this month: +22.14%
YEAR TO DATE: +15.76%

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
February 2015: $27.56 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +27%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +48%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +65%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +91%
YEAR TO DATE: $54.46 million, +21% vs. 2014, +43% vs. 2010, +78% vs. 2005, +90% vs. 2000

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
February 2015 versus one year ago this month: +20.42%
YEAR TO DATE: +15.20%

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
February 2015: $5.96 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -24%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +3%
Versus 15 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +40%
YEAR TO DATE: $12.59 million, +5% vs. 2014

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
February 2015 versus one year ago this month: +0.08%
YEAR TO DATE: +14.17%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
February 2015: $33.5 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +32%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +43%
Versus 15 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +103%
YEAR TO DATE: $67.02 million, +18% vs. 2014

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
February 2015 versus one year ago this month: +14.17%
YEAR TO DATE: +13.2%

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
February 2015: approximately $42.19 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +14%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +42%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +59%
YEAR TO DATE: $85.94 million, +13% vs. 2014

RELEASES
New comic books released: 458
New graphic novels released: 221
New magazines released: 38
All new releases: 717

The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.75; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.83. The median and most common price for comics offered was $3.99. Click to see comics prices across time.

That's it for the February report. I'll be on several panels this weekend at Midsouthcon in Memphis; be sure to drop by if you're in the area.


http://bit.ly/STTakedownJohn Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 20 years, including a decade editing the industry's retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises. He is the author of several novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Dawn, and the upcoming Star Trek: The Next Generation - Takedown, now available. Visit his fiction site at http://www.farawaypress.com.

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