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Black Panther #1 year's bestseller at 253k copies; major publishers offer 12% fewer comics in 2016

Monday, May 16, 2016

by John Jackson Miller

There have been many Black Panther series over the years from Marvel, but the title has never been one to appear near the top of the sales charts. In April, the new series from Ta-Nahisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze not only was the comic book most ordered by comics shops in North America, but with sales of more than 253,000 copies, Black Panther #1 is easily the best-selling issue of the year thus far. Click to see the sales estimates for comics ordered in April 2016.

As we mentioned here on Friday, the overall sales reported by Diamond Comic Distributors reflect a considerable drop, not all of which can be attributed to the fact that last April was the highest volume month of the year — and had one more week to boot. One of the elements playing a role, as noted there, is the fact that the pace of new comic book releases has slowed in 2016.

We can see this looking at the first four months of each year, which include an equivalent number of shipping weeks (17):

NEW COMIC BOOKS RELEASED
January through April 2015: 1,907
January through April 2016: 1,843

That's a drop of a little more than 3%, which doesn't sound that significant. Yet the fact is that the cutbacks have disproportionately come from the publishers whose titles sell better. Here's what it looks like if you just look at the Top Seven Publishers (Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Boom, and Dynamite):

NEW COMIC BOOKS RELEASED (Top 7 publishers)
January through April 2015: 1,500
January through April 2016: 1,317

That's a much larger drop, of more than 12%. The number of new releases from Diamond from non-Top 7 publishers is up 29% — but since those publishers titles sell far less on average, they don't come close to making up the difference.

Digging down, we actually see that the slowdown in new comics releases is greater with some publishers than others 

 
CHANGE in number of NEW COMICS RELEASED
in January-April 2016 by publisher:

2015 2016 Change
Marvel 325 340 +5%
DC 353 312 -12%
Image 248 221 -11%
IDW 186 171 -8%
Dark Horse 114 111 -3%
Dynamite 128 67 -48%
Boom 146 95 -35%
Other 407 526 +29%
TOTAL 1907 1843 -3%
  
While Marvel actually published about an additional comic book a week, Dynamite cut its new comics offerings nearly in half, and Boom reduced its release pace by more than a third. Every other publisher in the top seven also cut back, but by smaller numbers. Remember, this is an exactly equivalent time period: seventeen weeks.

We see in looking at graphic novels, however, that several of those publishers have in fact redirected attention towards graphic novels this year.

CHANGE in number of NEW GRAPHIC NOVELS RELEASED
in January-April 2016 by publisher:

2015 2016 Change
Marvel 131 148 +13%
DC 99 120 +21%
Image 64 60 -6%
IDW 83 90 +8%
Dark Horse 74 63 -15%
Dynamite 22 19 -14%
Boom 26 44 +69%
Other 562 675 +20%
TOTAL 1061 1219 +15%

That's right: the number of new graphic novel releases is up 15% overall year-to-date, and Boom has increased its number of releases by 69%. [Update: I was aware that the Boom shift had been announced sometime late last year — and have finally located the link. Clearly that plan has gone forward.] DC, Marvel, and the collected publishers under seventh place are up double digits. And that would seem to track with the story of the year, so far: comic book dollars are down nearly 8%, while graphic novel dollars are up close to 5%.

The problem is simply that since retailers spend two of every three dollars on comic books, a slowdown in that category erases a percentage increase of twice the size on the graphic novel side. And since it was the larger publishers that were releasing more comics last year, the absence of those issues has an outsized effect.

So supply appears to be a factor; regression analysis might find out how much (a project for another day). It should be noted that smaller release slates aren't necessarily a bad thing, if the result is that the publishers and retailers are earning more profit per title; figuring out how much the comics market will absorb is the name of the game. It does appear that in 2016, at least thus far, the six publishers after Marvel in the charts have been a little more (and in some cases, a lot more) conservative in their periodical releases.

This month's 300th place title sold 4,309 copies, which is the highest figure seen so far this year in that slot; that seems to suggest that the volumes on that smaller number of titles are hanging in there, at least this month. Click to see the sales of 300th-place titles across time.

The aggregate changes are as follows:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
April 2016: 6.69 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +25%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +7%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: 25.14 million copies, -14% vs. 2015, +21% vs. 2011, +1% vs. 2006, +26% vs. 2001
ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -22.28%
YEAR TO DATE: -13.05%

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
April 2016: $27.57 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -18%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +45%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +41%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +111%
YEAR TO DATE: $100.37 million, -11% vs. 2015, +38% vs. 2011, +32% vs. 2006, +84% vs. 2001
ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -18.05%
YEAR TO DATE: -7.84%

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
April 2016: $8.2 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +54%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +37%
Versus 15 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +34%
YEAR TO DATE: $32.69 million, +17% vs. 2015
ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -11.99%
YEAR TO DATE: +4.87%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
April 2016: $35.77 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -16%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +33%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +20%
Versus 15 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +111%
YEAR TO DATE: $132.44 million, -6% vs. 2015
ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -16.19%
YEAR TO DATE: -4.06%

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
April 2016: approximately $47.54 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -16%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +52%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +57%
YEAR TO DATE: $177.17 million, -4 vs. 2015

RELEASES
New comic books released: 420
New graphic novels released: 304
New magazines released: 30
All new releases: 754

As noted, the average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.93; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $4.12. The median and most common price for comics offered was $3.99. Click to see comics prices across time.

http://bit.ly/STPrey1
John 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, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive, and Star Wars: A New Dawn, now available in paperback. His trilogy for 2016, Star Trek: Prey, ships in consecutive months in September, October, and November.

Visit his fiction site at http://www.farawaypress.com. And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.

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