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Welcome to Comichron, a resource for comic book circulation data and other information gathered by
John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.

 

Monday, March 16, 2015

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

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.

And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Loot Crate-charged Orphan Black gives IDW its first top-seller in strong February market


by John Jackson Miller

http://bit.ly/CCOrphan1In the strangest turn yet in what has turned into the Mail-Order Grab-Bag Era of comics sales, a comic book has topped the Diamond Comic Distributors charts in February 2015 based in large degree on the sales of a mail-order variant that has not, as of this writing, been shipped to its customers.

IDW's Orphan Black #1 appeared atop the preliminary Diamond sales charts for February released today, giving the publisher its first #1 book and making IDW only the fifth publisher in the Diamond Exclusive Era to have a book top the charts. (It joins Marvel, DC, Image, and Dreamwave, which was the last new publisher to top the list in April 2002.) And while we won't know until the mail-order boxes arrive, it very much appears that the comic book may be in the Loot Crate for March, which doesn't reach subscribers' mailboxes until later this month.

The Top Ten list:

Top 10 Comics for March
  Description Price Vendor
1 Orphan Black #1 $3.99 IDW
2 Darth Vader #1 $4.99 Marvel
3 Spider-Gwen #1 $3.99 Marvel
4 Star Wars #2 $3.99 Marvel
5 Batman #39 $3.99 DC
6 Amazing Spider-Man #14 $3.99 Marvel
7 Darth Vader #2 $3.99 Marvel
8 Amazing Spider-Man #15 $3.99 Marvel
9 Silk #1 $3.99 Marvel
10 Justice League #39 $3.99 DC

While IDW's unit sales share went up, its dollar share did not — and as Diamond's market shares are based on dollars received, it appears that something was ordered in very large numbers and at a much deeper discount than average. That would tend, too, to suggest that Orphan Black #1 was helped out significantly by Loot Crate:

Market shares
Publisher Dollar Share Unit Share
Marvel 38.44% 39.33%
DC 25.91% 28.15%
Image 10.51% 10.61%
IDW 5.57% 8.06%
Dark Horse 3.48% 2.66%
Dynamite 2.63% 2.38%
Boom 2.12% 2.12%
Eaglemoss 0.95% 0.18%
Viz 0.89% 0.32%
Avatar 0.85% 0.64%
Other 8.64% 5.54%

So, taking nothing away from IDW or Orphan Black #1 — the chart appearance of which is perfectly in line with Diamond's practices, since Diamond did sell Loot Crate, a reseller, the copies in February — it appears likely this is another comic book, like Marvel's Rocket Raccoon #1 and Image's Walking Dead #132 before it, that would not have been the #1 book in the comic shop market alone. Loot Crate's orders recently appear to have been over a quarter of a million copies — and while that sum was only gravy for Marvel's Star Wars #1 in January, any other month, it easily creates a #1 in the comics market most months.

There was a different paradoxical situation created in December, when the Loot Crate included Batman #36, but that book saw no spike on the Diamond chart because Diamond evidently wasn't the intermediary. And Star Wars #1 appeared in the February Nerd Block, but we have no way of knowing whether those copies were counted with February or already reported in January.

Grab bags are nothing new in comics: three-packs were a major delivery system for Whitman in the 1970s. The scale of the sales relative to the rest of the market is what's different. I have from the start flagged comics with these large outside sales with asterisks (or rather, daggers) in the sales charts; it is important for readers ten and twenty years down the road to know why a particular book spiked so high. I've included the full figures, though, because there's no way to know how many copies came from Loot Crate, or Nerd Block, or whomever.

I tend to be skeptical that a grab-bag comic book sale is of equal "weight" with a purchase at a comic shop — while money changes hands for these boxes, no one took the affirmative step to purchase a specific comic book, and usually grab bags generate a lot of unwanted copies. (The three-packs of old always seemed to include that middle comic book no one wanted!) But the books are in circulation, and theoretically could increase the sales of later issues as introductions to the series. It's really the sheer volume of copies being ordered that's complicating the charts. Three hundred copies, no one would notice. Three hundred thousand copies makes an impact!

Diamond's position is even more complicated. It's selling the comics to the reseller Loot Crate — although it's unclear whether the same terms are in effect, if Diamond's making significantly less per copy than on its usual comics. It is also performing services for both the publishers of the books and the retail outlet buying them; it probably cannot either remove the Loot Crate sales from its list, which would under-report both Diamond and the publisher's performance — or segregate them into a separate listing, which would reveal how much Loot Crate was buying.

www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=401281?AffID=874007P01I think the best route would probably be if the books these firms bought were treated as special items, not included in the Top 300s but still counting toward the market shares for each publisher. Diamond did that after April 2002 (that month again!) which was the month the first Free Comic Book Day issues shipped; Diamond initially put them in the Top 300 list, where the low-cost books easily topped the charts. In years since, however, it has removed them — as well as stunt-pricing products, in the years after the mini-wave started by Batman: The Ten-Cent Adventure.

We will see for sure on Monday where Orphan Black #1 is in the scheme of things: if its dollar ranking is beneath any of the $3.99 issues also on the list, we can presume most of its sales came from Loot Crate or elsewhere. (And when the Loot Crate for March reaches subscribers, we'll know either way.)

Okay, back to February in general. Retailers (storefront and otherwise) bought more than $42 million in comics and graphic novels from Diamond in the month, just a little less than January. The market was up 14% over last February, and it's up 13% for the year:

Comparative Sales Performance
  DOLLARS UNITS
FEBRUARY 2015 VS. JANUARY 2014    
Comics 3.22% 6.42%
Graphic Novels -18.17% -17.23%
Total Comics & GNs -3.56% 4.53%
     
FEBRUARY 2015 VS. FEBRUARY 2014    
Comics 20.42% 22.14%
Graphic Novels 0.08% -12.28%
Total Comics & GNs 14.17% 19.18%
     
YEAR-TO-DATE 2015 VS. YEAR-TO-DATE 2014    
Comics 15.20% 15.76%
Graphic Novels 8.64% -0.34%
Total Comics & GNs 13.20% 14.43%

For readers wanting to know how much Loot Crate is impacting sales overall: the answer is that while it's clearly causing some impact at the top of the charts each month, in the overall figures, it tends to wash out. At Loot Crate's current sales levels it's kicking in about a million a month to the overall retail figure when a comic book is included; but Diamond is currently ahead by $10 million this year. So its contribution is considerable, but probably not determinative of whether the market is up or down.

Superman: Earth One Vol. 3 led the top-selling graphic novels:

Top Graphic Novels and Trade Paperbacks
  Description Price Vendor
1 Superman: Earth One Vol. 3 HC $22.99 DC
2 Sex Criminals Vol. 2: Two Worlds One Cop $14.99 Image
3 The Fade-Out Vol. 1 $9.99 Image
4 Saga Vol. 4 $14.99 Image
5 Chew Vol. 9: Chicken Tenders $14.99 Image
6 Trees Vol. 1 $14.99 Image
7 The Walking Dead Vol. 11 HC $34.99 Image
8 Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal $15.99 Marvel
9 Saga Vol. 1 $9.99 Image
10 Kick-Ass 3 $24.99 Marvel

And, finally, we see that there weren't a whole lot of new releases this month, which is par for February. There were 25 more new releases this February than last February. IDW was actually seventh in the new-release volume list, lower than it often is; this again underscores the amount that Orphan Black's sales added.

New release volume
  Comics shipped Graphic Novels shipped Magazines shipped Total shipped
DC 94 26 1 121
Marvel 79 28 0 107
Image 61 15 0 76
Dynamite 34 6 0 40
Boom 33 6 0 39
Dark Horse 27 9 0 36
IDW 23 8 0 31
Viz 0 25 0 25
Avatar 8 2 1 11
Eaglemoss 0 0 10 10
Other 99 96 26 221
Total 458 221 38 717

That's it. Back here Monday for the full estimates.

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.

And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook!
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