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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.

 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Comics numbering, variants, and the relative security of the sky

by John Jackson Miller

I've been busy most of the last few months writing my upcoming Star Trek novel trilogy for Pocket Books, so I haven't been able to do more than the monthly wrap-ups here. Following a fascinating look at variant covers from David Harper at SKTCHD and a fun blog post from Russ Dobler using Comichron to debunk sky-is-falling internet comments, however, I made a number of tweets about the business that it might do well to repeat here.

First, as I said in response to Dobler's column, through hard experience we know very well what a failing comics industry looks like. The late 1950s, when publishers were rushing for the exits. The 1970s, when the newsstand distribution system was in a tailspin. The mid-1990s, after the retail-store bubble burst, downing all but one comic-shop distributor. We know what those looked like — and nothing we've seen this century has looked at all like that. Even the Great Recession, which really only hit the comics business in 2009-2011, appears to have been more of a slowdown than an actual collapse.

One part of the explanation for it is the same reason I'm less concerned about the focus on #1 issues and on variants: comic book periodicals are a relatively smaller piece of the overall picture than they were, and so a problem with them is less likely to lead to catastrophe. I further would observe that the fixes for a business that relies too much on #1 issues or variant covers, if those turn out to be problems, are relatively easier to make. It isn't a 1970s situation, where an entire new distribution system was required — or the 1990s, when a secondary revenue stream through trade paperbacks had to be aggressively ramped up.

To the specific concerns: I've tended to be less concerned about variants — especially now that I'm no longer running price guides where I have to index the things! — in part because I see that kind of customization as a consequence of technological advances in printing. It is simply easier to do split runs on covers than it once was; it thus becomes a bonus that isn't that hard to offer. By the same token, it becomes somewhat easier to stop offering them. If a publisher sees that a specific model of variant-cover offerings isn't working, that's something that can be tweaked on a month-to-month basis.

I've been more of a critic of renumbering, writing about it here in my piece on the genesis of comics numbering and previously in my Comics Buyer's Guide column (which I hope to reprint here someday). Long-running series are more than a tie to our industry's past — they tie into a pull-and-hold ordering system in stores that rewards the same title appearing in the catalog month after month. While there is no doubt that relaunching with a new #1 can produce a huge bump, there's evidence that sales tail off after that faster than they would have if, say, the big editorial event had been placed amid the ongoing series. In that case, a title that already had existing subscribers picks up a lot more all of a sudden — making the later dropoff seem not so steep.

A couple of good examples of this can be found in the core Batman title. The best-selling Batman issue of this century isn't the first issue of the 2011 reboot, but rather Batman #619, the final issue of Jim Lee's 2013 "Hush" storyline. Would the issues of that arc have sold better, net, had they started with Batman: Hush #1 as opposed to Batman #608? Perhaps, but the subscriber additions from Lee's run continued to assist the series after his storyline was over. I'm of the opinion that had Marvel launched "Heroes Reborn" — and then, later, "Heroes Return" — all as part of the original series numbering in 1996-97, more of the sales gains from Lee's and Rob Liefeld's issues would have been preserved. Instead, sales after the second relaunch in two years faded fairly quickly.

So I suspect long ongoing series suffer less attrition, net, than short ones — and that the net benefit of dropping, say, "Batman: Year One" into the regular Batman series, as happened in the late 1980s, probably helped the core title more than if the series had stood alone. There's certainly room enough for both approaches, given the size of publishers' lines these days.

With all that said, yes, the business's performance so far this decade has been heartening, including in 2015, where I've heard that the mass-market bookstore picture is going to come in with some very surprising results. There are definitely clouds, some darker than others, that a number of retailers have pointed to — but the sky does, in general, seem to be staying safely overhead.

[Addendum: And just after this post, DC announced it was returning both Action Comics and Detective Comics to their original legacy numbering, resuming with #957 and #934 respectively in June. Both titles will be biweekly.]

Comichron.com curator 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, Star Trek: The Next Generation - Takedown, and Star Wars: A New Dawn. New Dawn appears with a new Miller short story as part of the Rise of the Empire compendium, now available. His Star Trek: Prey trilogy is set for late 2016 release from Pocket books.
Visit his fiction site to learn more. And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, February 8, 2016

January 2016 comics sales estimates online: The difference five years makes

by John Jackson Miller

The final sales report for January is out from Diamond Comic Distributors, and as reported here on Friday, the first month of the year was slightly off versus the same month in 2015, when statistics for several categories of that month were inflated by Loot Crate sales of Star Wars #1. Click to see the sales estimates for comics ordered in January 2016.

http://bit.ly/CCWD150
While the comparatives were part of the story, looking at the internals makes this January look less impressive than at first glance. We can now see that while graphic novel wholesale dollars were off 7.77% overall, according to Diamond, the total retail value of the Top 300 was actually up 20%. That points to something we can see by looking at the dollar rankings: there was heavy discounting of graphic novels in the month.

Many Marvel graphic novels in the Top 300, for example, had dollar volume rankings far lower than their unit rankings: Diamond does dollar rankings based on money it receives from retailers. This is a common enough occurrence, but in this month these sales accounted for a disproportionate share of the market.

January often tends to have a punier release slate than other months, meaning lower-selling titles make the Top 300; this month's 300th place title sold 4,028 copies, the lowest sum since June 2012. Click to see the sales of 300th-place titles across time.

On the other hand, some perspective: Five years ago, January 2011 was the pits. The Top 300 comics sold 4.4 million copies, likely the lowest sum since the 1930s. There were a couple of reasons: it was the bottom of the comics slump pre-DC reboot, but it was also a month where publishers shipped extremely few titles to market. The market ordered more than 2 million more comics this January, and publishers are releasing more, now, too: 719 new comics and graphic novels versus 555 five years ago. That shows a market with more breadth.

And eight titles had six-figure sales this January, led by Walking Dead #150 with orders topping 156,000 copies. Compare that with one title in six figures five years ago, and that at 115,000 copies. Back then, that one book was the only one above 73,000 copies; this January, there were 11. And the 300th place book had sales of 1,291 copies — less than a third of what today's title at that level sold!

[Update: Reading one of my comments at one of my own links above, I'm reminded that January 2011 had an additional strike against it: Diamond had switched all publishers so their books would arrive on Tuesday, and a number didn't meet the logistical demands and their books slid into February. That in part led to how few titles were out. That said, the February figure was only 5.17 million copies, so it's likely the sales of a January 2011 where everything went right still would have been between 4 and 5 million.]

The aggregate changes are as follows:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2016: 6.49 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +46%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +15%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +22%
YEAR TO DATE: 6.49 million copies, -6% vs. 2015, +46% vs. 2011, +15% vs. 2006, +23% vs. 2001
ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
January 2016 versus one year ago this month: -4.09%
YEAR TO DATE: -4.09%

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2016: $24.7 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +58%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +47%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +69%
YEAR TO DATE: $24.7 million, -9% vs. 2015, +58% vs. 2011, +47% vs. 2006, +69% vs. 2001
ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
January 2016 versus one year ago this month: -3.86%
YEAR TO DATE: -3.86%

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2016: $7.96 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +73%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +19%
Versus 15 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +24%
YEAR TO DATE: $7.96 million, +20% vs. 2015
ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
January 2016 versus one year ago this month: -7.77%
YEAR TO DATE: -7.77%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
January 2016: $32.66 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +43%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +29%
Versus 15 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +81%
YEAR TO DATE: $32.66 million, -4% vs. 2015
ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
January 2016 versus one year ago this month: -5.1%
YEAR TO DATE: -5.1%

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
January 2016: approximately $41.52 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -5%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +64%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +62%
YEAR TO DATE: $41.52 million, +5% vs. 2015
RELEASES
New comic books released: 450
New graphic novels released: 269
New magazines released: 59
All new releases: 778

The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.79; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.86. The median and most common price for comics offered was $3.99. These are some of the lowest prices we've seen in a while, and that also contributed to the month looking the was it did. Click to see comics prices across time.

Comichron.com curator 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, Star Trek: The Next Generation - Takedown, and Star Wars: A New Dawn. New Dawn appears with a new Miller short story as part of the Rise of the Empire compendium, now available. His Star Trek: Prey trilogy is set for late 2016 release from Pocket books.
Visit his fiction site to learn more. And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Walking Dead #150, Star Wars trades lead traditionally light January comics sales volume

by John Jackson Miller

http://bit.ly/CCWD150Sales volumes in January tend to be lower than most months of the year, and as such, a single comic book can make a huge difference. Particularly when that comic book was the best-selling one in more than twenty years—as Star Wars #1 was, last January. Comic shop orders for comic books, graphic novels, and magazines in January 2016 were off 5% versus a year before according to Diamond Comic Distributors — but if Star Wars #1 hadn't been in the mix in January 2015, sales would have been up 7%!

In truth, the market may really be slightly down, flat, or evenslightly up this month, because Star Wars #1's sales included a lot of copies that went to Loot Crate, where Diamond was simply passing along the books; they shouldn't really have counted toward the industry's dollar sales, but there's no way to easily excise them. But we know that retailers placed orders worth approximately $41.52 million last month, off about $2.2 million — and sources suggest Loot Crate's order could have accounted for 400,000 copies or more. Figuring at $4.99 per issue, that's at least $2 million right there.

And unit sales for comic books, off 4.09% for the month, are almost certainly up if you remove the Loot Crate Star Wars copies. So accounting for the accounting, so to speak, the message of the month is somewhat more positive than the numbers below suggest:


DOLLARS UNITS
JANUARY 2016 VS. DECEMBER 2015
Comics -25.19% -21.25%
Graphic Novels -11.81% -6.73%
Total Comics/GNs -21.52% -20.31%
JANUARY 2016 VS. JANUARY 2015
Comics -3.86% -4.09%
Graphic Novels -7.77% -9.65%
Total Comics/GNs -5.10% -4.54%
  
It's also worth noting that Dark Knight III took a break in January, to return with the third issue Feb. 24. Both this January and last January had four shipping weeks, so there's at least a direct comparison there.

Regardless, remember our usual caveat: volumes in the first quarter are lower, and a modestly off January (which this one might not have really been!) can be erased by an October that's even slightly up.

Image took the top comics slot with Walking Dead #150.

Top-sellling comic books
COMIC BOOK PRICE VENDOR
1 The Walking Dead #150 $2.99 Image
2 Secret Wars #9 $4.99 Marvel
3 Spider-Man/Deadpool #1 $3.99 Marvel
4 Star Wars #14 $3.99 Marvel
5 Star Wars #15 $3.99 Marvel
6 Old Man Logan #1 $4.99 Marvel
7 Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 $3.99 Marvel
8 Batman #48 $3.99 DC
9 Darth Vader #15 $3.99 Marvel
10 Uncanny X-Men #1 $3.99 Marvel

A pair of Star Wars graphic novels topped the book charts for the month, a list dominated by Marvel:

 Top-sellling graphic novels
GRAPHIC NOVEL PRICE VENDOR
1 Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets $19.99 Marvel
2 Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smugglers' Moon $19.99 Marvel
3 Color Your Own Deadpool $9.99 Marvel
4 Death Of Wolverine $19.99 Marvel
5 Star Wars: Lando $16.99 Marvel
6 Deadpool's Secret Secret Wars $15.99 Marvel
7 Invader Zim Volume 1 $19.99 Oni
8 Thor Volume 1: Goddess of Thunder $19.99 Marvel
9 Star Wars: Darth Vader Volume 1: Vader $19.99 Marvel
10 Civil War $24.99 Marvel

The market shares found the same top five atop both charts:

DOLLAR MARKET SHARE UNIT MARKET SHARE
Marvel 44.38% Marvel 48.17%
DC 22.16% DC 24.02%
Image 9.67% Image 10.99%
IDW 4.11% IDW 3.48%
Dark Horse 3.06% Dark Horse 2.51%
Eaglemoss 2.26% Boom 1.89%
Boom 1.98% Titan 1.02%
Viz 1.18% Valiant 0.98%
Titan 1.15% Dynamite 0.92%
Dynamite 1.15% Oni 0.78%
Other 8.89% Other 5.24%

And, finally, the lower volume of new releases we always see in January. Full estimates out next week.

PUBLISHER  COMICS SHIPPED GRAPHIC NOVELS SHIPPED MAGAZINES SHIPPED TOTAL SHIPPED
Marvel 94 37 0 131
DC 77 21 0 98
Image 58 11 0 69
IDW 37 15 0 52
Dark Horse 34 12 0 46
Viz 0 40 0 40
Boom 22 12 0 34
Eaglemoss 0 0 30 30
Titan 14 6 3 23
Dynamite 10 5 0 15
Other 104 110 26 240
TOTAL 450 269 59 778

Comichron.com curator 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, Star Trek: The Next Generation - Takedown, and Star Wars: A New Dawn. New Dawn appears with a new Miller short story as part of the Rise of the Empire compendium, now available. His Star Trek: Prey trilogy is set for late 2016 release from Pocket books.
Visit his fiction site at http://www.farawaypress.com. And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.
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