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


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How graphic novel pricing has changed

The Diamond June 2009 order estimates are still in process, as I get pieces into place — but an increase in periodical sales year-over-year seems likely, along with a coincident drop in dollar orders for Diamond's top-selling trade paperbacks. This is a combination that has occured in individual months before, and in one year overall – 2003, a year that, as previously discussed here, had some similarities to things we've seen in 2009.

With attention on increases in the costs of new comics — and the recession's possible role in reducing unit sales — it's worth looking at something rarely examined: What's happening with pricing for the trades and graphic novels retailers order most often?

While Diamond produces a Top 300 TPB list right now, we can look at Top 100 comparisons now going back five years:

AVERAGE PRICE OF TRADE PAPERBACKS within the Top 100 TPBs June 2009: $19.34
June 2008: $20.88
June 2007: $17.31
June 2006: $16.77
June 2005: $16.17
June 2004: $14.56

June 2009: $15.47
June 2008: $17.95
June 2007: $14.99
June 2006: $14.95
June 2005: $12.99
June 2004: $9.99

June 2009: $19.09
June 2008: $19.85
June 2007: $17.75
June 2006: $16.43
June 2005: $15.57
June 2004: $15.35

June 2009: $14.99
June 2008: $19.99
June 2007: $9.99
June 2006: $9.99
June 2005: $9.99
June 2004: $9.99

Which measure is most useful? The weighted price — that third statistic listed — is generally more stable from month to month, less tossed by the balance of offerings. (The reason the median price in June 2009 falls at $15.47, a price no title was at, is because we're looking at an even number of items — and the 50th and 51st items in a price ordering were priced at $14.99 and $15.95.)

From these tables, we see that June 2009 pales next to June 2008 in part not simply because of unit sales — but because the the prices of the most popular trades were simply higher that month — and much higher than in June 2007. New comics prices last month may have set a record, but the price of the typical graphic novel offered and ordered actually went down, at least in the Top 100.

A major factor is the number of hardcovers. Here's the counts from the last few years:

HARDCOVERS in the Top 100
June 2009: 18
June 2008: 20
June 2007: 13
June 2006: 8
June 2005: 4

These are minimum counts — there might be a few hardcovers I didn't identify from the title.

Another thing that's going on involves manga; when more of these lower-priced volumes make it into the Top 100, all measures above usually drop. Relatively fewer manga appear in the June 2009 list than in months earlier in the decade, and two of them are at $19.99. The $9.99 price point, the most common one on the list from 2004 to 2007, finds far fewer entries today.

Something important to remember is that the Diamond trade list is ranked by unit sales, not by dollar totals. So when you do have a phenomenon such as, say, a weakening in demand for manga in the direct market, the items replacing them in the Top 100 are more likely to be more expensive — and in the case of hardcovers, much more expensive.

These are just individual months — a rolling average might find different results. There seem to be a number of things in play in the TPB charts from month to month — the popularity of manga and the mix of publisher offerings are only two. But if the recession plays a role in shaping the chart, we might well find it in the luxury or high-end items — the hardcovers and prestige editions. If we were to see prices in one or more of these categories continue to drift downward even as new comics prices increase, that might suggest fewer big-ticket items being ordered — or offered.
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