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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.

 

Friday, September 8, 2017

August's comics orders can't compare to 2016's Rebirth boom; Dark Nights: Metal, Paper Girls top charts

by John Jackson Miller

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Full-line relaunches of the scale DC engineered in 2016 with "Rebirth" and 2011 with the "New 52" are colossal market-distorting moments, making a hash of the comparative statistics both when their sales are reported, and when any future month's sales are later compared with them. It takes a while for a revamped line to find its new equilibrium—sales levels that are achievable regardless of variants or the issue number on the cover—and only then are month-to-month or year-over-year comparisons of much use.

So when I warned a few weeks ago that August 2017 would not be the month to look to for any kind of revival in the comic shop market's fortunes, there was good reason: August 2016 was the epicenter of the Rebirth sales earthquake, with more than 10 million comic books shipping. It was the first time that mark had been seen in two decades, thanks in part to the Rebirth titles being returnable. Consequently, sales for last month were way off the previous year's pace, according to this morning’s report from Diamond Comic Distributors.

 See current listings for this issue on eBayShipments were down 26% in new comic book units, and overall retail dollars spent on comics, graphic novels, and magazines dropped by nearly 21%. Comichron calculates that $45.7 million in product shipped, down from the previous August’s 21st century record of $57.7 million; we also have revised our July figure down slightly here on the site, to $40.76 million. (Both Augusts had five shipping weeks, so that's not a factor.) Overall sales stand at $347.67 million, down about $41 year to date, or about 10.5%.

These are, in historic terms, significant drops. The period from June to August was down 20.5% against those Rebirth/Civil War II months a year ago, the worst three-month year-over-year comparison since… well, we have to go back 20 years to September 1997 though November 1997, the first set of year-to-year comparatives I ever calculated. Marvel’s “Heroes Reborn” event in September 1996 and the wedding of Superman had been succeeded in 1997 by “Heroes Return,” which didn’t fare as well. Top 300 unit sales in that three-month stretch in 1997 were off 21.9%, and graphic novels, while growing, weren’t yet much of a factor. There are certainly worse year-over-year drops in the 1990s before that.

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But while the 2017 drops are up there on the list, “Heroes Reborn” only rebooted four titles; a bigger explanation for the 1997 collapse, even beyond reboot fatigue, was the number of comics shop failures. Absent that in 2017 and given that DC relaunched so many more books, the scope of 2017’s comparatives may say more about Rebirth’s strength last year they do about conditions today.

So once you catch your breath after reading those numbers, it’s worth looking at some things going on under the surface. It’s no surprise that DC’s August sales weren’t able to come remotely near comparing with its performance last year; the company had been tracking ahead of its 2016 performance earlier in the spring, but now accounts for about a third of the industry’s 2017 shortfall in the Direct Market.

On the other hand, August wasn't a bad month for DC, volume-wise, when compared with more normal recent months; its sales were actually higher than the last five-week pre-Rebirth month in 2016. DC had the top seller in Scott Snyder and Greg Capello’s Dark Nights: Metal #1, the launching point for DC’s fall event; the second printing of the issue went on sale this past Wednesday. Priced at $4.99, it stands a chance at being the publisher’s release of the year in dollar terms, given how the cheaper lenticular and non-lenticular Batman issues added up.  The first issue of Rebirth was priced at $2.99; once we see the full numbers on Monday, we’ll have a better notion of the scope of what might be coming in September as the Metal event gets more fully underway.

 Paper Girls Vol. 3
Marvel’s position is also interesting. Secret Empire came to an end with three releases; #10, the finale, outranked the previous two issues. Again, through the spring, Marvel had been responsible for 100% of the industry’s shortfall for the year, but as of August that’s down to only around half, now that DC’s facing its toughest comparatives from last year. Further, while Marvel’s shipments continued to be down, it’s pared back its losses — only off around 10% this month as compared with the 21% drop the whole market suffered. With "Legacy" launching, there’s a chance for some ground to be made up.

It should also be noted that after everything else that’s happened in 2017, Image, Dark Horse, and Dynamite remain ahead of where they were this time last year in terms of retail dollars ordered. Pockets of strength are good to see, because true recessionary times in comics tend to pull everything down. Image continues to be bolstered by strong graphic novel performances: Paper Girls Vol. 3 was the top-seller this month, and one of five Image GNs in the top 10.

The comparative statistics:


DollarsUnits
August 2017 vs. July 2017
Comics+9.56%+9.30%
Graphic Novels+18.34%+20.46%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels+12.16%+10.12%
Toys+52.54%+32.90%
August 2017 vs. August 2016
Comics-25.72%-25.91%
Graphic Novels-6.89%-10.02%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-20.71%-24.84%
Toys-33.47%-42.90%
Year-To-Date 2017 vs. Year-To-Date 2016
Comics-9.94%-6.23%
Graphic Novels-11.68%-12.77%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-10.47%-6.76%
Toys-10.99%-16.38%

The market shares:

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Marvel35.01%39.52%
DC28.18%31.09%
Image10.06%9.23%
IDW4.81%3.69%
Dark Horse3.16%2.18%
Dynamite2.50%3.58%
Boom2.19%1.88%
Titan1.48%1.25%
Viz1.42%0.52%
Oni1.28%0.82%

The top-selling comics:

COMIC BOOK
PRICEPUBLISHER
1Dark Nights: Metal #14.99DC
2Batman #28$2.99DC
3Batman #29$2.99DC
4Secret Empire #10$4.99Marvel
5Generations: All-New Wolverine/Wolverine #1$4.99Marvel
6Secret Empire #8$4.99Marvel
7Secret Empire #9$4.99Marvel
8Generations: The Mighty Thor/Unworthy Thor #1$4.99Marvel
9Star Wars #34$3.99Marvel
10Star Wars #35$3.99Marvel

The top-selling graphic novels:

GRAPHIC NOVEL
PRICEPUBLISHER
1Paper Girls Volume 312.99Image
2Batman Volume 3: I Am Bane$16.99DC
3God Country$16.99Image
4Kill Or Be Killed Volume 2$16.99Image
5Wonder Woman Volume 3: The Truth$16.99DC
6X-Men Gold Volume 1: Back To Basics$15.99Marvel
7Reborn HC$24.99Image
8Superman Volume 3: Multiplicity$16.99DC
9Old Guard Book 1: Opening Fire$16.99Image
10X-Men Blue Volume 1: Strangest$15.99Marvel

The number of new releases is below. It may look like a lot of new comic books came out, but it's actually slightly down from the other two five-week months of 2017. It's the graphic novel count that spiked, up to its highest level since November:

PublisherComics
shipped
Graphic
Novels
shipped
MagazinesTotal
shipped
Marvel
106
40
1
147
DC
78
29
1
108
Image
62
18
0
80
IDW
56
22
0
78
Dark Horse
20
16
0
36
Dynamite
30
6
0
36
Boom
25
10
0
35
Titan
20
13
1
34
Viz
0
26
0
26
Oni
8
7
0
15
Others
119
182
32
333
TOTAL SHIPPED
524
369
35
928

The full estimates will be published here Monday morning. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to be alerted when they go online.

Lastly, we've added search and sorting mechanisms to all our end-of-year charts, beginning with 1991. Be sure to take a look.

Comichron founder 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 novels including Star Wars: KenobiOverdraft: The Orion OffensiveStar Wars: A New Dawn, and the Star Trek: Prey trilogy. He has a new story in the 40th anniversary compendium, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, releasing October 3. Read more about that and other stories at his fiction site.
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