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More than 192,500 comic book and graphic novel circulation figures online!
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.

 

Friday, June 5, 2020

DC ends distribution relationship with Diamond: Historical notes and future prospects

by John Jackson Miller

As announced to the general public in a report from Hollywood ReporterDC has cut ties with Diamond Comic Distributors and will not solicit any titles after the June 1 Final Order Cut-off. This ends not just a 23-year period in which Diamond was the only source for comics periodicals from all major publishers, but also a sales relationship with Diamond owner Steve Geppi that precedes Diamond's Feb 1, 1982 founding. (Read more about the start of the DC/Diamond exclusive relationship.)

The report quotes an e-mail to retailers, saying that retailers who want new DC product must order graphic novels from its bookstore distributor, Random House. Periodicals must be obtained from Lunar Distribution and UCS Distributors, sister companies to two retail operations, DBCS and Midtown Comics, which it granted distributor status to in April during Diamond's Coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

It's not clear as yet whether retailers would be ordering Random House's books nonreturnably; it doesn't seem like there would be any reason for Random House to set up such an option, even though the nonreturnable system favors publishers by allowing them to control print runs.

DC's e-mail to retailers, according to THR (and depicted at right, as seen on UCS's website), said “We recognize that, to many of you, this may seem like a momentous decision. However, we can assure you that this change in DC's distribution plans has not been made lightly and follows a long period of thought and consideration. The change of direction is in line with DC's overall strategic vision intended to improve the health of, and strengthen, the Direct Market as well as grow the number of fans who read comics worldwide.”

One tip-off that something was coming was that this week's reorder and advance reorder charts were not released by Diamond on Wednesday; we expected that was an oversight or restart-related, but in fact it might well have simply been the case that any DC comics that were on the advance reorder charts — and it has had many there this month due to the fact that all its orders were canceled and resolicited — would not be coming out from Diamond.

The market share involved: DC in 2019 represented 30.74% of Diamond's comics and graphic novel units and 29.23% of its dollars. On the dollar side, that amounts to almost exactly $155 million at full retail. DC's share of that would have been in the $60 million neighborhood, with Diamond's fee — which Geppi has said hasn't changed in years — being considerably lower.

Comics and graphic novels are, it should be noted, only a portion of Diamond's sales, though certainly the largest portion. It's unclear what happens with regards to physical merchandise that might have been DC-branded.

For comparison, the DC share of Diamond's comics units and dollars is higher than Marvel's was when Marvel left Diamond in July 1995, but retailers had been either cutting their Marvel orders or moving to Heroes World Distribution in advance of that. The Marvel share of Diamond's print business in December 1994 — when the Heroes World news broke — was 30.9% of units, and 33.6% of dollars. Fairly close to the DC shares — though recall that Image had a much larger share in that era, 16% of the dollar market.

An interesting possible wrinkle: Nonreturnable comics = back issues. Another interesting matter is that Geppi had spoken in video podcasts — including one by Dan Shahin's Comic Book News — of Diamond possibly starting up a back-issue division that would serve only retailers. Diamond has always had older comics on its shelves, of course; unsold comics are shelved for months and months and sold by Diamond as new.

But a nonreturnable comic book becomes a back issue the second it reaches a retailer's store. There's nothing stopping Diamond from obtaining DC comics on the secondary market in bulk and making them available to other retailers; that's exactly the business DCBS and Midtown are in, only they sell to consumers as well. Diamond already carries collectible comics that have gone through the hands of a third party before — think the Dynamic Forces signed editions — so there would be little in the way of Diamond launching a category making comics DC has already sold to retailers available to its own shops as back issues.

That's speculation, but make no mistake — there is eighty years of history behind the idea that once a comic book has been purchased, it can be resold anywhere and to anyone. A seller doesn't even have to put it in a bag and board. You can't start a store or print something on bagged multipacks that violates a publisher's trademarks, but comics are absolutely tradable commodities.

And, as you'll see below, UCS's own charts demonstrate that no distribution agreement is required for a distributor to sell back issues to retailers.
The sales charts: As to the sales charts, we're back to July 1995, when Marvel shifted its sales to Heroes World, its own distributor, and DC moved its titles just to Diamond (though Capital did keep them for two extra months as a settlement to a lawsuit). For a year, it wasn't possible to see at a glance what all comics in the business were selling relative to one another. It should be noted that within a year, Marvel realized that not having unified charts was detrimental to the company — hence their agreement to provide sales charts from Heroes World to me beginning in September 1996, restoring a single sales chart to the business.

UCS launched its own bestsellers page in May, as seen here; we archived the earliest UCS chart when it appeared. It's a dynamically updated Top 10 mixing released and new material, and it now includes categories for MarvelDark Horse, Image, IDWand Dynamite.

It is not apparent that those companies have made sales agreements with UCS: all the books on the list for those companies are from 2019 and before — I was surprised to see a comic book I wrote in 2018 making the Dynamite charts (seen at left). This material would appear to be back issue stock from the Midtown Comics retail arm — purchased from Diamond — being reoffered to retailers, in exactly the manner I've described may happen with Diamond with regard to DC's comics.
For Comichron's purposes, there isn't really any information in this kind of chart that would be of use to readers collectors years down the line, nor is there any way to combine it with Diamond's information. Should UCS or Lunar — or even DC, as in the Marvel 1996 case — make available more specific data in a manner that accounts for all copies sold in specific time periods, Comichron will certainly add it to the archives.

So we've returned to the mid-1990s era, at least for the time being, when it comes to the charts. I've spent the last week researching DC's sales in the 1960s, and can say that the one thing that's constant about the business is that there are long periods where nothing seems to change — followed by big bursts where everything does. How big a burst this one will seem years from now may become more evident as the summer progresses.

Update, 5 p.m. CDT: UCS Distributors has acknowledged DC's break with Diamond, and notes that no new DC comics will ship the week of June 30 "to allow additional time for retailers to get approved for an account." Brian Hibbs points out that's already a skip week for Marvel, so there's no new Marvels or DCs in advance of the holiday week.

Update, 7 p.m. CDT: And now Diamond has responded, with Steve Geppi implying that DC's move was made on very short notice indeed.

Update, 10:30 p.m. CDT: And before this long day is through, a couple of charts for your perusal.
The first one suggests that DC's growth, while not exactly "stagnant" as its e-mail to retailers suggests, was not as robust during the mid 2010s boomlet as the other publishers'.




The other highlights that there were still an average of 375 non-DC comic books a month coming out from Diamond last year (variants not included) — and that while DC cut back something like a tenth of its line in 2019, Marvel absorbed all those rack spaces and more.



Note that 86 DC cardstock variants have been removed from the 2019 calculations. A small number of similar items could probably be culled, mostly from the "other" category, in a detailed accounting, but the fact remains that somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 unique non-DC comics hit the stands last year.
Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 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: KenobiStar Wars: A New DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!



Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Circulating American Magazines Project: Best practices for use of its comics data

by John Jackson Miller

Marvel's ABC Statement for the first half of 1962
Over the last two decades, Russ Maheras, Jonathan Hoyle, and I have visited the offices of the Audit Bureau of Circulation at various times, using the old microfilm viewer to capture comics sales data. It's provided a glimpse into a time in comics history when advertising sales were so important that publishers were willing to join an agency that would certify its sales figures to advertisers.

In the time since my trips to the ABC's successor firm, the Alliance for Audited Media, I've worked a lot more of the data I collected there into my own databases, squaring it up with known information and sussing out the distinctions between what publisher information was in each different kind of report. Quite a lot of that work has come during the pandemic shutdown — and, coincidentally, a new resource has become available for all at the beginning of May.

An academic group funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities has gone into the various places where records are kept and indexed the publisher ABC statements for a slew of North American magazines, comics included, for its Circulating American Magazines Project. Led by Brooks Hefner, associate professor of English at James Madison University, and Ed Timke, Instructor in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, the findings now appear on a website that includes cross-time visualizations of the data points collected. (There's a podcast with Hefner describing it here.)

The AAM's microfilm viewer in its Illinois offices
Publishers included (at the moment) on the site include Marvel, DC (as National), and Archie, as well as older franchises like ACG and 4-Most Comics. It's not all the comics ABC has records on — no Harvey, that I can tell — although that might yet be to come. (Dell was never audited after 1942, so its market-dominating years aren't covered, and E.C. never was.)

Some notes about the project as it relates to comics, as I have been indexing this material in parallel for several years. Audit bureau data has, as I've noted, been referred to in many places over the years; a lot of historical references to sales figures usually come in some manner either from ABC's statements or its audits. Often, as the project managers note, ABC data was stored in cryptic fashion; it isn't always easy in ABC's files to know what's where. 

Further, the reports themselves require some understanding for proper use, because they don't all report the same things and in the same way. Publishers would file Publisher Statements of their sales with the ABC every six months — but then the ABC would come back, usually once a year, to do an Audit — in which they consulted records both at the publisher's office and, the ABC claimed, at distributors' and printers' offices, to confirm whether the Statements were true. They never were exactly true; most all the audits say at least some over-reporting happened. In the case of Harvey, the gap between the number of copies it claimed to advertisers as its rate base in the 1970s and its actual sales was so enormous the ABC suspended the publisher for a time.

One of the ABC film rolls
The CAM Project site appears, from my early comparisons, to just be using the Statements and not the Audits, so be aware if you see slightly different numbers in other literature, it might not be in error — indeed, the audits are more accurate. It's just data from two different sources at two different times.

The larger publishers split their title groupings into one, two, and sometimes three groups over the years; CAM appears to be using the overall Statement report from each year. For smaller groups, like Archie, the visualization does name the comics (but not the issue numbers) being reported; for the larger groups — Marvel, DC — its visualization does not report the component issues. (I have captured those in my own research, to a large degree.)

A major thing to be aware of is that statement figures aggregate one month's worth of sales in the case of some publishers at certain times; sometimes it's two months. It's vital to note which is the case when referring to any grouping: if you're talking about the August-September grouping of Marvel overall, you're looking at two months of sales combined (a tracking method that made sense given that the publisher had so many bimonthlies). Take care, because, the CAM visualization pegs its data points to the first day of the month; as the fine print explains — and my cross-checking confirms — the August 1, 1961 data point for Marvel, 3,498,778 copies, is actually for all the comics in the sales group for August-September 1961. (Update after working with the CAM site some more: To underscore, do be careful when you see a sudden spike — especially associated with what may appear to be a missing month of reports. As the CAM notes on Marvel acknowledge, it often submitted for two-month periods, and went back and forth between monthly and bimonthly. For instance, in the example below, the big bump in the early 1950s isn't really there: it's that the reports went temporarily from counting one month's sales to two month's.)

A look at the Marvel visualization page
The dates are another thing to be aware of, because the ABC groupings appears to rely for the most part on cover dates, but cover dates in comics, of course, are postdated — so our mapping of those Marvel issues actually finds them having released some time before. Citing "1961 sales" will be different depending on whether you're talking about what shipped, or what appeared in the Statements.

Finally, a large source of confusion in past comics history pieces using ABC data is likely to remain because of one of the distinctions mentioned above: the Audits broke out quarterly sales figures across time, which the Statements did not do. But in one of those nuances that you only pick up by putting yourself in the past as one of the consumers of that data, you soon realize that "quarters" for ABC refer not to the calendar when it comes to the publishers with bimonthly break-outs, but to groupings of data that may not be of the same length.


In many years, December-January and February-March were considered the First Quarter for some publishers, with April-May the Second, June-July and August-September the third, and October-November the Fourth. It changes even for the same publisher from year to year in the audits; the breakdown generally seems to have been trying to create even groupings for the sales of comics, which were highly seasonal.

The CAM project also provides a look at something that's in the middle of the reports, and something that has been so complicated nobody has messed with it until now in comics research: it reports on the state-by-state breakdowns reported by the publishers. Fascinating stuff, if the results can sometimes appear a bit surprising. Once the data got to a certain level of granularity, reporting errors — or at least lags in the data — seem to have had more chances to occur.

What the CAM Project has done is amazing and has been greatly needed; my last visit to the ABC in 2017 left me worried about how long the microfilm would remain of use (and some of it, as CAM notes here and there in the reports, is of poor quality). It's a great resource for comics researchers, but it's also one that has to be used with extreme care — I strongly suggest anyone who has questions about what the data points are referring to submit their questions to me at jjm [at] comichron.com.

Work has been continuing here on the 1960s for some time, and I've learned fascinating things about how ABC's data relates to my near-complete collection of Statements of Ownership and other sales data I've collected; there will be more coming along these lines here in the future.

Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 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: KenobiStar Wars: A New DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

25 years ago this week: The DC/Diamond distribution deal announced

by John Jackson Miller

Described to the world in great detail by a leaked memo published by Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics in The Comics Journal, news of Diamond Comic Distributors' exclusive deal with DC Comics was officially announced on Friday,  April 28, 1995 — which brought reaction immediately from Diamond's rival Capital City in the form of a lawsuit.

Capital City's trade show in Chicago, which I attended, was about to get under way when the announcement was released. It had already sued in Wisconsin court under the state's Fair Dealership Law to keep Marvel from taking its sales exclusive with Heroes World. (That case resulted in Marvel settling with Capital for undisclosed terms; the DC suit would result in Capital getting two extra months' worth of DC comics.) Capital's cofounder Milton Griepp made the news the focus of his "State of the Industry" speech two days after the announcement (and 25 years ago today) at the trade show.

My below piece from Comics Retailer #40 (July 1995) covers that event, and summarizes some of the events surrounding the move in the month that followed. We'd used a "The Old Order Changeth" logo the month before for the news of Marvel going exclusive with Heroes World; we quickly made a new one for the latest events. Click to enlarge:




With DC adding alternate distributors to its mix in response to the Coronavirus epidemic and its impact on distribution, the passage of the 25th anniversary does recall of those days.

It was clear to most in the industry even at the time that DC had been forced by its corporate leadership into a countermove by Marvel going exclusive with Heroes World, earlier in the spring. It was something we could tell would be immediately disruptive to the business — though as time went on, we realized that DC's Paul Levitz had lobbied for the Diamond solution in order to prevent parent company Warner from going with a solution outside the comics industry: most likely, shifting comics distribution to Warner Publishing Services, which it used to send magazines to newsstands. It's a safe bet that no outside firm would have been able to quickly adapt to the intricacies of the comics business. (WPS is now long gone.) The year that followed was extremely eventful, with stability only returning in April 1997 after all the business had consolidated behind Diamond.

On Tuesday,  the anniversary of the DC/Diamond announcement, in a very informative colloquium with Diamond founder Steve Geppi, hosted by Dan Shahin. And note one of the questioners was Brian Hibbs, whose column on the original pact ran later in that same Comics Retailer issue, along with one by Bruce Costa, who's also turned up in Facebook discussions of those events. Reynolds, who published the original 1995 memo, has also weighed in online.


Definitely brings back memories; likely more to be written here of those past events in the months to follow!


Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 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: KenobiStar Wars: A New DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

March 2020 comics sales online: Spider-Woman #1 orders top 142,000 copies

by John Jackson Miller



Our March 2020 comics sales estimates are now online, giving us the clearest picture we've gotten yet of the weeks leading into the commercial shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Click to read more about the state of the market during this historic period.

Spider-Woman
 #1
 was the bestseller with more than 142,000 copies moved in North America, whereas Batman #91 and #90 moved into second and third places respectively once the cardstock variants were included. We've set up our 2020 so far page to reflect merged totals on all such issues; we've now set those pages to default to the fused versions, but you can still click the other columns to sort the pages the original way.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Comics orders in March 2020 down 15%; Spider-Woman #1 led market as shutdown began

by John Jackson Miller


March saw the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down commerce across much of North America, and impacting the comics industry at several levels. DC's printer closed during the month, the major comics distributor saw warehouses closed by law, and hundreds of stores were likewise forced to shutter. Nonetheless, significant business was transacted during the month, and Diamond Comic Distributors is out today with its sales charts detailing the market as it was during the beginning of the shutdown.

We've thought all along that the situation would result in peculiarities for the data, and that seems to be the case. Orders are one thing; what shipped is another, and what retailers were open to sell is something else again. (UPDATE 4/29: And now the final estimates are up for individual issues here.)

Today's release, as captured in the tables below, is based on retailers' orders with Diamond — and it presents a picture some may find surprisingly normal. The charts:


DollarsUnits
March 2020 Vs. February 2020
Comics-1.54%-0.21%
Graphic Novels+1.76%-15.12%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-0.65%-1.35%
Toys-15.00%+26.16%
March 2020 Vs. March 2019
Comics-15.59%-6.56%
Graphic Novels-13.05%-26.54%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-14.90%-8.21%
Toys-6.43%19.43%
Year-To-Date 2020 Vs. Year-To-Date 2019
Comics-5.51%-4.48%
Graphic Novels-1.51%-5.43%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-4.39%-4.55%
Toys-0.02%-6.56%

See eBay listings for this issue
Retailers bought $37.03 million in comics, graphic novels, and magazines from Diamond, which is almost exactly what they bought in February; Marvel's Spider-Woman #1 led both unit and dollar orders for comic books.

That $37.03 million is a drop of 15% year-over-year versus last March, which the market was going to have a tough time competing with anyway as it included more than $5 million in sales for Detective Comics #1000. Indeed, the 5.92 million comics ordered for March 2020 means that if you throw out Detective #1000, unit sales of comics to retailers were actually up year-over-year. That suggests it was probably on the way to being a pretty good month, before things happened.

But things did happen, of course — and while the full estimates will provide a more detailed picture of what went to market, the effects of the pandemic are not absent from the charts released today. They are definitely part of the 15% drop.

 Find this issue at TFAW
Reorders, for example, are always a significant part of sales and are counted in the monthly orders; as stores faced closure, those reorders almost certainly trailed off. Graphic novel sales are disproportionately special-order in nature; they're a chunk of the decline.

There are a few other things complicating the charts this month. Note that comic book units were down nearly 7%, while the dollars they represented were down nearly 16%. Two possible reasons for that. One is that Marvel enacted emergency deep discounts for its comics with on-sale dates of March 18 and afterward, which has the effect of depressing dollar sales relative to units. In Marvel's case, it resulted in a nearly 6-point spread between its unit and dollar market shares.

Then you've got a number of titles which are returnable, which means they'll have had a 10% penalty applied to their unit-sales numbers. Publishers' figures below, however, are based on actual sales without that penalty, so there's going to be a gap.

 See eBay listings for this series
And throughout it all, of course, we had fewer and fewer stores open each week in March, such that — while the number of new comics and graphic novel releases below was actually up from March 2019, sales on each successive week's books might be expected to be lower. That's something we'll be able to track: how much of the business was likely open in each week of the month.

There are enough such things in play that we may well temporarily suspend running our sidebar comparatives apart from the ones below; they simply won't be reliable apples-to-apples meausrements.

There are also some dynamics which aren't fully clear: graphic novel unit orders, led by Boom's Once and Future Vol. 1, were down by nearly 27%, while dollars were only down 13%. There was a pricier slate of books in the mix in March — X-Men: Children of the Atom hardcover box set, at $500, was the top graphic novel product by dollars — but that doesn't seem like enough to cause that split. We'll know more when the full charts are out.

The market shares:

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Marvel40.98%46.76%
DC27.34%27.58%
Image6.40%6.17%
IDW4.51%3.87%
Boom3.25%3.21%
Dark Horse2.97%1.94%
Dynamite2.38%2.05%
Viz1.61%0.59%
Oni0.80%0.60%
Valiant0.67%0.75%
Other9.11%6.47%

The top-selling comics by units:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by units)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Spider-Woman #1 $4.99Marvel
2Flash #750 $7.99DC
3Thor #4 $3.99Marvel
4X-Men #8 $3.99Marvel
5Wolverine #2 $3.99Marvel
6Strange Academy #1 $4.99Marvel
7Batman #90 $3.99DC
8X-Men #9 $3.99Marvel
9The Immortal Hulk #33 $5.99Marvel
10Batman #91 $3.99DC

The top-selling comics by dollars find second- and third-place finishes by last month's 80th anniversary celebrations for Flash and Robin. The asterisk for Strange Adventures means it was returnable, and subject to the 10% downward adjustment prior to its listing below:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by dollars)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Spider-Woman #1 $4.99Marvel
2Flash #750 $7.99DC
3Robin 80th-Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 $9.99DC
4Immortal Hulk #33 $5.99Marvel
5Strange Academy #1 $4.99Marvel
6Strange Adventures #1* $4.99DC
7X-Men #8 $3.99Marvel
8Wolverine #2 $3.99Marvel
9Hellions #1 $4.99Marvel
10X-Men #9 $3.99Marvel

The top-selling graphic novels by units:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by units)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Once & Future Vol. 1: The King Is Undead$16.99Boom
2Something Is Killing Children Vol. 1$14.99Boom
3The Immortal Hulk Vol. 6$15.99Marvel
4DC Super Hero Girls: Powerless$9.99DC
5History of the Marvel Universe Treasury Edition$29.99Marvel
6New Mutants By Hickman Vol. 1$15.99Marvel
7King Thor$15.99Marvel
8The Oracle Code$16.99DC
9Star Wars Vol. 13: Rogues And Rebels$17.99Marvel
10Rick And Morty Vs. Dungeons & Dragons II: Painscape$19.99Oni

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by dollars)PRICEPUBLISHER
1X-Men: Children of the Atom HC Box Set$500.00Marvel
2Uncanny X-Force By Remender Omnibus HC$100.00Marvel
3Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus Volume 4 Hc$150.00DC
4History of the Marvel Universe Treasury Edition$29.99Marvel
5Batman: White Knight Deluxe Edition HC$49.99DC
6Once & Future Vol. 1: The King Is Undead$16.99Boom
7Marvel Masterworks: Dazzler Vol. 1 HC$75.00Marvel
8Power Pack Classic Omnibus Vol. 1 HC$125.00Marvel
9The Wicked & The Divine Volume 4 HC$64.99Image
10Something Is Killing Children Vol. 1$14.99Boom

Finally, the number of new items offered. As noted above, this is not an extraordinary looking chart. New comics releases were down by just four issues from February, and indeed up 19% over last March; graphic novels saw a pullback, with 30 fewer on the market. But remember that as the weeks went on, each book noted as releasing below was shipped to fewer and fewer stores that were open to sell them:

PublisherComics
shipped
Graphic
Novels
shipped
Magazines
shipped
TOTAL
shipped
Marvel99380137
DC83240107
IDW3616052
Image3911050
Dark Horse1925044
Boom229031
Dynamite211022
Oni65011
Viz010010
Valiant6208
Other14015616312
TOTAL SHIPPED47129716784

This is the latest in the calendar month Diamond has released its sales charts in the twenty-three and a half years I've been analyzing them for publication, but there are indeed charts — making it a full 29 years since the last month we went without any. (If there's a chart for March 1991, we haven't been able to find it — it appears to have been dropped, inadverently or otherwise, due to a shift in Diamond's publishing slate. As you'll see at the link, we took a stab at guessing the top sellers anyway.)

While we've heard no word, it doesn't seem likely we'll see charts for April, as nothing new released and Diamond paused its reorder charts at the end of March. But anything's possible. Here's what's certain: our estimates for March will be here later this week.

Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 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: KenobiStar Wars: A New DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!

Friday, April 17, 2020

DC stopgap distribution move during COVID-19 has echo in 1997 UPS strike

by John Jackson Miller

With Diamond Comic Distributors ending shipments of new comics temporarily at the start of April due to the COVID-19 crisis, it's been a much different kind of month. The last sales reports to come out of the company were the reorder and advance reorder charts for the week ending March 29, and it's unclear when further data publication will resume.

We do know, as of an announcement today, that Diamond intends to begin shipping comics again in mid-May; we also know that DC has arranged for a small slate of comics to begin shipping April 28 through two new partners — Lunar Distribution and UCS Comics Distributors — whom I determined after a little research were likely existing customers of Diamond's, DCBS (Discount Comic Book Service) and Midtown Comics, respectively.

New York's Midtown already handles subscription fulfillment for Marvel and DC, and both companies have systems designed to handle periodicals. It's also likely, given the tremendous physical plant demands involved in serving the entire comics market, that what we're looking at here is a temporary solution for DC to get a limited slate into the limited number of shops that are open. Not a long-term transformation, but a stopgap to deal with what everyone hopes — and which Diamond now promises — will be a temporary disruption.

New York UPS local leader Ron Carey,
with Jesse Jackson at a strike event
(source: Labornotes.org)
I was asked by David Harper of Sktchd about the duration of past disruptions, and possible comparisons — and realizing today was the 17th of April made me think back to the UPS strike of 1997, in which 185,000 Teamsters shut down the shipping giant, resulting in what was later regarded to be a victory for the union. (Read a labor account of the events here.) The strike ran seventeen days, in all — and it caught the comics industry at a fairly tricky time.

In the boom years of the early 1990s, leading distributors  Diamond and Capital City Distribution had vast networks of warehouses across North America; they also ran their own trucks in many locations. Regional distributors were also in the mix, resulting in retailers receiving their comics in a variety of methods.

That competition contributed to the conditions that caused both the market's boom and downfall in that decade, as far more stores — and non-store accounts — opened than the market could bear, leaving the distributors with costly infrastructure once the market began its decline in late 1993 — accelerating when Marvel briefly went exclusive with Heroes World Distribution in 1995. By the time the "Distributor Wars" ended in April 1997, only Diamond was left, acting as a broker for the major publishers — and it had downsized much of its network, relying instead on UPS for a large portion of its shipping.

Marvel had just returned to Diamond in April 1997, so the business had only seen a few months of relative quiet and stability when the strike happened in August. As we covered it in Comics Retailer #67 (October 1997), however, Diamond was able to take steps to ameliorate the problem.


The company established pick-up sites in approximately two dozen metro areas, at the cost of $40,000 per week; it estimated that 85% of its customers were within 150 miles of a pickup site. In one case, a publisher, Chaos Comics, opened a regional drop-off point.

Diamond wasn't able to handle direct-ship reorders during the crisis, and many retailers had to drive hours to get their books. But after three weeks, the strike had ended. Preorders had made August 1997 the third best month of the year; industry efforts during the strike made sure that most of those orders made it to stores.

"This has been a very difficult and challenging time for all of us," said Diamond owner Steve Geppi, "but together we have found a way to persevere. Our distribution center and customer service staffs worked long and hard, and retailers cooperated, rather than competed, to get product out as quickly as possible. Times like this make me very proud to be a member of our industry, and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts."

There are many differences between the 1997 situation and now, of course — today, the work stoppages have been at multiple levels of the supply chain, from printer to warehouse to store, with individual customer mobility impacted, as well. The 1997 solution won't serve. But the DC move appears to motivated by the same factors as Diamond's response to the 1997 UPS incident; extraordinary — and likely temporary — measures to deal with a disruption. How temporary — or successful, especially given how some retailers view mail-order operations — those measures will be is a question we'll all have occasion to look at again.

Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 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: KenobiStar Wars: A New DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A look at the market, 35 years ago: It's Secret Wars II versus Crisis

by John Jackson Miller


March comics sales are out... from 35 years ago! March 1985 charts for Capital City Distribution are now on Comichron, our oldest Direct Market charts yet. Secret Wars II #1 launched as one the biggest sellers to date in comic shops. Find the charts here.

The unit sales reported are the actual preorders Capital received. Co-owner John Davis kept index card records with all sales starting in January 1985. He provided them to me in 1996 when the company folded; from them, I've harvested data for nearly 24,000 comics and graphic novels.

 Find this issue on eBayNote that in early 1985, Capital still only represented a fraction of the sales of publishers that still had a lot of newsstand and subscriber activity. On Amazing Spider-Man #266, its sales are about 8% of the overall. On Direct-only titles like Marvel Fanfare #21, it's more like 20%.

While Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 nearly outsold Uncanny X-Men #195 (and did beat it in dollar sales), DC sales were still fairly weak at Capital; the Superman titles selling in the 4,000s is no misprint. DC's discounts through the distributor weren't yet competitive, but that'd change.

A sign of how much the Direct Market was growing can be seen in orders for Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe #1, which got postponed from 1985 to 1989 and had its page count reduced 33%. Capital's orders for the book increased by 66% over 1985's in the 1989 solicitation!

More charts from yesteryear to come over the next few weeks on Comichron. No need for sales chart withdrawal with dozens of years to catch up on!

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hope and comics at 2 a.m.: The historical case for optimism

by John Jackson Miller


A good friend in the comics industry wrote me just before 2 a.m. last night. Earlier that day, Diamond Comic Distributors, its supply chain pushed to the brink by closures associated with the COVID-19 Coronavirus, had called a time out for a large portion of the business: while orders would still be fulfilled, no new comics scheduled to go on sale April 1 or later would ship until further notice, since it wasn't clear that said books would be printed, shipped, shelved, or bought with large swaths of the world on lockdown.

My friend asked, in the simplest terms, "What's to become of us?"

Comics would, of course, survive as a medium, my correspondent said, but the enormity of what had just happened had hit home. Not even World War II had stopped the circulation of periodicals — but then, printers were still operating, trucks were still running, stores were still open, and kids could get to them. The virus attacks both mobility and people's wallets; it's a challenge we've never confronted. My friend asked if I had any ideas about the future.

At Comichron, I'm in the history business, not the future business — but I have seen a lot. For those reading here for the first time, I've been a comics collector for 45 years and followed the industry's news for most of that time. Twenty-seven years ago I began writing that news, covering the chaos that was the comics industry in the 1990s as editor of Comics Retailer magazine, working alongside Maggie and (all too briefly) Don Thompson, who taught me plenty about the shape of the industry back to its beginnings in the 1930s. I've been a working comics writer and author for the past 17 years, and running Comichron for 13. I have collected what is likely to be the largest agglomeration of historical comics sales data outside the publishing industry — far more than the monthly Diamond charts you find here.

But none of that imbues one with psychic powers or a crystal ball — and certainly not with the ability to predict what may happen in a world where it's impossible to guess about anything even three days from now without resorting to charts. The future may be my bailiwick in my fiction, but not here; "this didn't age well" is a real thing. So I approach prognostication with humility — and the further knowledge that nobody really knows exactly what the current state of the retail base is in every location.

What I can apply, first, is all that history I was talking about...

THE GREAT ESCAPES

Will Eisner, friend to comics stores
“I’ve seen this business die three times. I’m standing here at the edge of the cave waiting for the resurrection.” 
— Will Eisner, 
Comic-Con International: San Diego, 1997

I once asked Denis Kitchen what Will Eisner was talking about in that famous quote from 1997: he speculated he meant the birth of the Comics Code in 1954, the collapse that followed in the late 1950s before Marvel "joined" the Silver Age, and the underground comics crash.

As Kitchen said of Will's quote: "It boiled down to 'Don't worry, kid. It'll be all right.'"

It says something about the course of the business that we have to ask which three times he might have meant, because there have been several. Yet each time, we've emerged  — almost always, by innovating our way out of it.

The challenge of the 1930s was simple viability. Would people buy this stuff? Early comic books were just reprints of comic strips, and right from the earliest circulation reports available in comics, for Famous Funnies, we see sales going down. So creators and their publishers answered with new material. And through Action and Detective and the others, we got a Golden Age.

The challenge of the 1950s was a double whammy: the collapse in readership across all demographics due to the expanded availability of television, even as opportunistic politicians targeted comics over their content. Many publishers fled rather than fight. So creators and their publishers answered by making super-hero comics interesting and circling the wagons around the most reliable demographic, adolescent males. We got a Silver Age — and while it made narrower an audience that was once broader, we lived to fight another day.

The challenge of the 1970s was in part a consequence of that narrowing, but also — somewhat similar to today — a result of an external shock: the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, and runaway inflation that made comic books so expensive, so quickly, that an already inefficient newsstand distribution system began to collapse. Marvel needed Star Wars to keep the doors open; DC had an implosion. This time, it was fans who came to the industry's rescue, setting themselves up as retailers and distributors and working with publishers to create the Direct Market, the most successful model in all of magazine publishing.

The challenge of the 1990s came when excesses in that model created a credit bubble, ballooning the number of comics shops far beyond what the audience could support — and the concomitant glut of more low-quality, gimmick-laden material than any store could shelve. By the time that bubble burst into the Distribution Wars, the crisis became where new customers would come from, as the newsstand had by then ceased to function as a channel for new readers. Innovation was again the way out, with the graphic novel allowing creators and publishers to repurpose content from periodicals in a way that would be profitable not just for comics retailers, but attractive to mainstream booksellers as well. Within 20 years, book channel dollar sales were nearly as large as the Direct Market.

We managed to make it through the 2010s without our regularly scheduled collapse; 2017 was part of a six-quarter stretch where the quality of releases just couldn't keep up with the blistering sales pace of the mid 2010s, but the comics shop market has been recovering from that, and indeed the decade was up 8% in that market, even after being adjusted for inflation. 2019 was an up year in the Direct Market, and a colossal one in the book trade.

As it turns out, the great test of the 2010s appears to have shown up just a bit late.

A POSSIBLE FUTURE


Which brings us to now, and what I told my friend. Again, I approach this with trepidation: I am often tagged with being too positive, because until now, none of the gyrations of the comics market in the 2000s have been even close to those earlier hair-raising close calls of the 20th Century. But if you were to ask me what a better-than-average outcome would look like...

…let’s visualize a spring of 2020 in which there is some international governmental recognition that all commerce has to be made whole, where enough cheap or free money floods the market where the clock is turned back, Christopher Reeve style. Let's assume that a number of debts and immediate obligations either are forgiven or postponed due to governmental decree or industry action. (Publishers and Diamond are working now on methods to reduce retailers' burdens; ComicsBeat is a great source for following those in-industry efforts.)

It will be too late for the shops like Lee’s Comics that moved to shutter right away, but given that new comics weren’t the majority product in a large number of stores anyway, the damage might not be utter and complete. Retailers have been diversifying since the tumult of the 1990s, and there’s an insulating layer of other product in a lot of stores. And while some of it is likewise suffering — no in-store gaming anywhere for a good while — a shop with a lot of merchandise has assets that will still be worth something whenever commerce revs up again.

And that merchandise includes the new periodicals shipping now, during this last week of March. Remember, unlike most other magazines, many comic books have a potentially unlimited sales life. They’re the magazines people keep — and the aftermarket, much derided, becomes everyone’s friend in a world in which we have a large number of titles in artificially limited supply. The “key comics” collectors can be counted on to soak up a certain amount of that product, presuming that they themselves are funded, and that the retailers who have those comics are willing and able to get them into the national marketplace. Back issues used to always be part of the standard comics shop not because they were ordering mistakes, but as a service; a lot of that activity has moved to the back room off the main floor, but it's still out there.

Now, to the other side of this — and the "after times" we know least about. Let's again visualize that we go through however many weeks it takes, and the word is given that the printers can operate and that the supply chain is running again. Cash flow, at this point, is the whole game. In 2000, the first X-Men movie was a major and much-needed hit — and yet it did retailers no good at all, as they were so cash-poor from seven years of bad sales that there were barely any extra X-Men comics on shelves.

See eBay listings for this book
So rather than rev up piecemeal, there’s a chance for the industry to recapitalize quickly by doing something it does really well: comics events. The biggest single day in comics history was in 1992 when Superman's death brought $30 million into stores; of late, we've been having colossal success with Free Comic Book Day, which was able to begin successfully in 2002 because retailers had cash from a decent 2001.

This time, the big event is New Comic Book Day — that is, the first "really" new one after the hiatus. Rather than bringing parts of the system online one at a time, publishers and Diamond would be well served to make sure that day is a big event — and since it's likely that not all parts of the country would be able to participate in it at once, supporting materials would be provided to stores for whenever their particular reopening day comes.

See listings for this book on eBay
With all of this, bonus material. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks hit just six days after the release of Wolverine: The Origin #1, the comic book generally marking the end of the 1990s malaise — and instead of stunting that revival, the event became a rallying cry for the business, with multiple charitable relief and tribute issues heading quickly to shelves. Obviously, Coronavirus relief books could both help the afflicted, while also helping afflicted stores.

We'd have no illusions about what we're coming back to; we'll be looking at partial numbers when it comes to the retail base and publisher capacity for some time. People have dropped $10 million a week, more or less, in comics shops for the entire last decade; just getting near that would be a big victory. The key is to get cash in shops again — and then, once the train is running, Diamond slates Free Comic Book Day when everyone can take advantage of it. Spring starts, perhaps, in summer.

But again, all that depends on curing the virus first — and a world economy that hasn’t gone completely sideways.

A REASON FOR HOPE

As a science fiction and comics author, I imagine plenty of dark futures; as a parent, I truck in better ones. The above was one possible future, a happier one; it could go another way.

But in looking at any range of futures, we need to stick to facts. And there is one particular one that's heartening: COVID-19 has struck individuals and the economy — but the comics market was healthy before this. The book channel was doing crazily well — and the winter in the Direct Market was pretty good, as winters go. Conventions were packed in multiple cities the last weekend in February, including the one I was at in Richmond (where my bookseller sold out of my books by 1 p.m. Saturday). That's in February, smack in the middle of the quarter when the comics industry used to go to sleep.

The market wants to go back to that, almost as if it’s a living thing. It is a living thing — a machine made up of all of us. The obstacle is a virus, a plague; confronting it while protecting the vulnerable is the business of all, now. For our actual business, comics, it’s like we were in a car accident. A multi-car pile-up in the ice, where things are still moving and it's still too dangerous to help. We need time to judge the damage, time to pull everything apart and take stock, time to heal.

But there’s no need to reinvent something that wasn’t broken. The market was healthy before this.

What’s to become of us? That depends on doctors and the decisions of others who, hopefully, will be drawing on wise advice. But once our fate’s more fully in our hands again? I wouldn't bet against us.  Because as Will Eisner— such a great friend to comics shops that the retail industry's awards program was named for him — said, we've beaten the odds before. He's somewhere out there now, waiting to see what we do.

Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 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: KenobiStar Wars: A New DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Diamond suspends shipments of new releases beginning with April 1 on-sale comics

by John Jackson Miller

In response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, Diamond Comic Distributors has hit pause on new comic book releases. Product set with an April 1 on-sale date or later will not be shipped until after the crisis is over. Read the full release here.

Diamond founder and owner Steve Geppi wrote, "We are hearing from thousands of retailers that they can no longer service their customers as they have in the past, many of them forced to close by government action or resort to in-person or curbside delivery. Even those still open are seeing reduced foot traffic in most cases, a situation that seems likely to worsen with time."

"Our publishing partners are also faced with numerous issues in their supply chain, working with creators, printers, and increasing uncertainty when it comes to the production and delivery of products for us to distribute. Our freight networks are feeling the strain and are already experiencing delays, while our distribution centers in New York, California, and Pennsylvania were all closed late last week. Our own home office in Maryland instituted a work from home policy, and experts say that we can expect further closures. Therefore, my only logical conclusion is to cease the distribution of new weekly product until there is greater clarity on the progress made toward stemming the spread of this disease."

Geppi wrote that distribution would continue from the Olive Branch, Miss., center to safely continue fulfillment of direct ship reorders for the retailers who are able to receive new product and need it to service their customers. But today, Memphis, Tenn. — of which Olive Branch is a suburb — instituted shelter-in-place rules for residents and businesses, and while that is across the state line and doesn't impact distribution, it surely affects many of Diamond's employees. Memphis's case count has dramatically grown in recent days; I have family there and was supposed to be there this past weekend for MidSouthCon (now rescheduled to 2021) so I've been checking the data regularly.

The situation is unprecedented in comics history — the presses still ran and comics shipped even during World War II. The issues didn't survive long due to paper drives, but the number of new releases increased annually throughout the war. But the stores were all open and people could get to them. (And printers were still printing them, which seems not to be the case given reports of at least one significant imminent closure.) There's never been a case in the last 80 years where the mobility and buying power of almost the entire general public has been curtailed in the way they have been this month.

Comics are, as I've said many times, quite resilient as a business; sales absolutely exploded after World War II was over, with the number of new releases ballooning. It took TV and the juvenile delinquency scare to bring it back down to Earth... yet it would rebound from that — twice. This time, it will be far from the only industry looking for ways to bounce back.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!
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