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


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ghosts of Januaries past (updated)

Still running more numbers on January 2009 — my process takes a few extra steps — but it is looking like the predicted losses will be reflected in the final data. Now is a good time, then, to take another look at Dead Quarters past, and what the typical January performances are.

The dropoffs from December to January I originally detailed here — but repeat now. Here's the estimated change within the Top 300 comics dollar sales from December to January from 1997 to 2007-8:

December 1996 to January 1997: -15.3%
December 1997 to January 1998: -27.7%
December 1998 to January 1999: -15.2%
December 1999 to January 2000: -18.5%
December 2000 to January 2001: -8.9%
December 2001 to January 2002: -3.6%
December 2002 to January 2003: -4.8%
December 2003 to January 2004: -19.9%
December 2004 to January 2005: -26.7%
December 2005 to January 2006: -17.0%
December 2006 to January 2007: -4.8%
December 2007 to January 2008: -7.0%

Why the consistent dropoff, even in good years? Christmas shopping. Publishers cutting back offerings due to winter. Retailers cutting back hours for the same reason. Retailers closing shop so as not to owe taxes for another year. Civil War plus trade paperbacks may helped January 2007 just nudge ahead in total dollars, but this is close to an article of faith here: all things being equal, most titles lose sales from December to January.

Now, for the addition, let's look at historic January-to-January comparisons in Top 300 Units. Each year is versus the year before:

1998: -21.2%
1999: -12.3%
2000: -9.1%
2001: -6.3%
2002: +25.2%
2003: -14.5%
2004: -8.0%
2005: -3.3%
2006: +11.8%
2007: +20.3%
2008: +0.9%

And then in Top 300 Dollars:

1998: -23.7%
1999: -5.6%
2000: -9.2%
2001: +0.8%
2002: +16.3%
2003: -7.2%
2004: -6.8%
2005: -4.2%
2006: +19.7%
2007: +25.7%
2008: +0.7%

So we see that even in 2003-2005 — years that were growth years in the end — January new-comics sales slid in dollar terms. And seven of the last eleven years saw unit sales declines in January, despite several of those years ending with increases overall. January is not destiny — all months in comics are not created equal. A strong August erases six weeks of winter!

Not saying we've been spoiled, but we've had a couple of very warm winters here recently, at least in a financial sense. January 1994 saw nearly 10% of the retailer base close. Whatever the performance this year — and however different the current conditions may be for whatever reasons — in the context of historical comics sales patterns, it is these recent years that have been the exception.

Update: Milton Griepp at ICV2 has January off 9% dollar-wise, which is close to my estimate-in-progress; that would put the month worse year-to-year than any drop in the 2000s, but better than the drops in the late 1990s. Units will come off much worse, in the double-digits as I expected. And Spider-Man will look to hit the mid-300s predicted earlier here.

Unit drops look consistent with fewer accounts, with the lowering tide moving everything at once regardless of price point. Overall comics-and-backlist figure yet to come when my estimates post; we'll make up ground there. More later...
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