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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.


Thursday, December 31, 2009

Marvel Age of stock reports ends; Disney buyout approved

by John Jackson Miller

And now, here at the end of the year, a last little bit of comics history: Disney shareholders approved the purchase of Marvel Entertainment for $4.3 billion. The Associated Press reports that Marvel shareholders will receive $30 per share in cash, plus 0.745 Disney shares for every Marvel share they own. Given Disney's value, the AP calculates that values Marvel shares at $54.25. The final settle, for the record, was $54.08.

Up fast in the early 1990s; down to destruction in the second half, and right back up again. The old ticker symbol, MRV, is since retired. I suspect the charts and data will be offline eventually; in the meantime, here's Yahoo Finance's look at the history just ended:

And that's about it for our ability to track comics industry companies based on stock market filings. In its two publicly traded incarnations — separated by bankruptcy — Marvel's reports were themselves collectibles, and showed detail on its publishing operations that will likely be harder to come by in Disney filings.

Comic Wars: Marvel's Battle For SurvivalMotley Fool, which has provided heaping gobs of Marvel analysis over the years, says goodbye to the stock with a look back and also suggested ways Disney could use Marvel's properties to get ahead. "Pixar can render Marvel properly," suggests Rick Munarriz. "Animated treatments of some of Marvel's more obscure franchises will help Marvel, in turn, reach younger audiences, ideally without alienating its fan base." (Is Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy around the corner?)

Anyway, it's been a long ride since that first public offering in 1991: Our own Marvel timeline has just been updated. For more about Marvel's stock history, check out Dan Raviv's detailed tome, Comic Wars: Marvel's Battle For Survival.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Comichron Presents: Top 300 Comics of the Decade in comics shops

by John Jackson Miller

The Barack Obama commemorative issue of Amazing Spider-Man was the comic book ordered most by comics shops in North America in the decade of the 2000s, according to analysis by The Comics Chronicles.

Comichron looked back at 119 months of comic-book orders reported by Diamond Comic Distributors, the exclusive retail agent for the largest publishers in the industry. Sales from these months are posted individually at the site (except for a few remaining to be posted from the early years of the decade); it's not 120 months because the December 2009 figures have not been released yet by Diamond. The tables report Diamond's Top 300 comics from each month, as well as the number of copies ordered by its approximately 3,000 retail accounts; the figures represent final orders beginning in February 2003, and preorders before that. Since many comics reappear on the list several times due to reorders; all reorders for the same comics were combined to form a listing of the 300 comic books most ordered by retailers in the 2000s.

The ten comic books with the most comics shop orders in the decade are as follows:

1) Amazing Spider-Man #583
    Jan-09 • Marvel • at least 524,914 copies ordered

2) Civil War #2
    Jun-06 • Marvel • at least 341,856 copies ordered

3) Civil War #3
    Jul-06 • Marvel • at least 337,025 copies ordered

4) Civil War #1
    May-06 • Marvel • at least 328,524 copies ordered

5) Captain America #25
    Mar-07 • Marvel • at least 317,713 copies ordered

6) Civil War #4
    Sep-06 • Marvel • at least 290,994 copies ordered

7) Civil War #5
    Nov-06 • Marvel • at least 283,863 copies ordered

8) All Star Batman & Robin #1
    Jul-05 • DC • at least 276,017 copies ordered

9) Civil War #7
    Feb-07 • Marvel • at least 274,451 copies ordered

10) Infinite Crisis #1
    Oct-05 • DC • at least 269,991 copies ordered

These figures are for the comic book direct market only — the network of comic book stores that sell the lion's share of comic books in periodical form in North America. Sales of these comics on newsstands or by subscription are not included. But quite a lot of information is revealed in this data. All the Top 10 comics of the decade topped the quarter-million copy mark, and all the Top 300 of the decade topped the 100,000-copy mark. Notably, all ten top comic books come from the second half of the decade, underlining the degree to which the industry recovered from its turn-of-the-century nadir.

Apart from the inauguration day commemorative issue of Spider-Man which set off a collecble frenzy early in 2009 with its multiple variants and reprintings (you can see some of the versions, and what they're going for, here), the top of the list is dominated by Marvel's Civil War, a limited series that served as the anchor for the decade's most popular linewide cross-over event. (Civil War #6 is the only issue not to make the Top 10, and that placed 11th.) Civil War #2 and #3 nudged past Civil War #1, reflecting that retailers had seen demand on the series' first issue and had time to boost their orders for later issues. Reorders and reprintings of Civil War #1 continued to sell throughout the year, however, and the issue made Diamond's Top 300 chart in seven consecutive months. The same thing happened with DC's Infinite Crisis #1.

It's possible that Civil War #1 did indeed surpass the later issues, because the figures cited above only account for the sales of issues in the months in which they made Diamond's Top 300 list. The bottom item on the list varied throughout the decade, as seen here, so sometimes it took several thousand copies sold for an item to reappear on the list. As noted, much of Civil War #1's sales life cycle is represented on the table, but there are bound to be months for all titles where reorders for them were "bubbling under" the Top 300 and thus out of sight for tracking purposes.

Only five publishers are represented in the Top 300 list for the decade. Marvel had the most entries, 186; DC had 102 comics on the list. Dreamwave had seven entries, all Transformers issues from that company's brief time on the shelves. Transformers: Armada #1 placed highest, at 128th. Dark Horse had three issues on the list, all from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season 8. #1 was Dark Horse's top performer on the chart, at 111th place. Image had two issue on the chart, led by Spawn #100 in 137th place. No other publisher pops up until Dynamite, with Red Sonja #1 landing around the 1,200th place mark. Archie shows up with its 600th issue landing around 3,000th place, and IDW also makes its first appearance in the 3,000s.

Note that since December 2009 isn't in yet, these rankings could change slightly; certainly, Blackest Night issues will move further up the list. The first issue is already up to 29th with reorders reported by Diamond to date. Looking at what we have, though, we can easily see where the strength is in the decade by looking at the number of Decade Top 300 entries by year:

2000: 5
2001: 22
2002: 16
2003: 23
2004: 40
2005: 41
2006: 63
2007: 58
2008: 19
2009: 13

Not unexpectedly, the hits cluster right around the Big Event heyday, the period that gave us Civil War and Infinite Crisis. There was also the weekly 52 phenomenon, which added many entries.

One reason comics from the early decade are less represented is that before January 2003, Diamond did not report reorders, so those issues are at a disadvantage. However, looking at known reorder rates from when Diamond did begin publishing the data, reorders are unlikely to shuffle the list dramatically. The industry was still coming out of the seven-year recession of the 1990s, and few titles were selling over 100,000 copies.

Items on the table are listed in the months in which they first made the Diamond chart — following the links to the individual months' pages shows what those comics sold initially, since later reorders pop up in the months that follow. It's interesting to see what months had the most hits:

January: 20
February: 17
March: 20
April: 23
May: 36
June: 34
July: 34
August: 29
September: 25
October: 17
November: 20
December: 25

Comic books have historically been a summer-dominated business, and while that is reflected here, there's a more even distribution than we might have found in previous decades. Hits, increasingly, can happen in any season, providing strong enough material is slated for it.

A few more words about what's on the list — and what isn't. Orders for variant editions and reprintings of comic books were combined if those versions were essentially the same product — that is, same physical configuration, same interior, and same cover price. This rolls up most of the snap-reprintings into the same entry, but disallows items like "Director's Cuts" or the Marvel Must-Have editions, which are in many respects distinct products.

And, importantly, the list above focuses on comic books sold at full, and not promotional, prices. The Diamond lists have, in the past, included a number of comic books offered below publisher cost: Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #60, priced at 9¢, had preorders of 752,700 copies in August 2002. There are many such examples of free or promotionally priced comics; Diamond made the decision a few years ago to no longer list low-priced comics, and that move has been followed with this list to guarantee comparisons of like items.

Since comics shops are the focus of this list, it also does not include a number of other highly circulated comics. Gears of War #1 didn't make the Top 10,000 comics of the decade in comics shops, but it garnered attention for its strong circulation through game stores in 2008. Unfortunately, as with newsstand sales, not a lot of specific numbers are available from the video game trade; and much circulation in outside channels is promotional, rather than sold. (In the Gears case, Gamestop managers reported offering it as a giveaway to customers preordering video games, but it's unclear what portion of circulation free or "bonus" copies represented.) The game market is a new channel with comics circulating in a number of different manners (for disclosure purposes, I note my own Mass Effect: Redemption #1 has a variant in January's Mass Effect 2 Collector's Edition) but it is as yet unclear how to integrate this sector's information for purposes of comparison, were it to become available.

Again, this is only for the comics shops — and because not all reorders make the list every month, any decade ranking released by Diamond would differ somewhat. And as this is a periodical ranking, it doesn't get into the sector that brought the most new money into the business in the 2000s, bound collected editions and graphic novels. But it's an interesting snapshot. How do the 2000s compare with other decades for comics? Probably not spectacularly — only a handful of the charting issues would make a similar chart for the speculator-mad 1990s. But, as just noted, comics are not just about periodical sales any more, with stories reaching readers in more ways than ever.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Flashbacks to the Past: November 2009

by John Jackson Miller

Following the report on comics orders for November 2009, here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...

November 2008's top seller was Marvel's Ultimatum #1, with first-month orders through Diamond Comic Distributors of approximately 114,200 copies. It was the slowest month of the year, unit-sales wise; Marvel's Secret Invasion had ended the month before. Perhaps bigger news was that comics were more expensive in November 2008 than in any month in history to that point. The average comic book offered in Diamond’s Top 300 comics had a cover price of $3.50, beating the previous record (itself only a month old) by 12 cents.

November marked a number of changes from Diamond in its reporting, as the company began releasing Top 10 lists several days before the larger data rollout; it also began listing the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks for the first time, bringing that list into parity with the comics list. Check out the detailed analysis of the month's sales here — and sales chart here.

November 2004's top-seller was DC's Superman/Batman #13, another of the new Supergirl issues, with first-month orders of nearly 158,000 copies. With Identity Crisis and "Avengers Disassembled" still running, aggregate periodical sales were slightly up over the previous year; trade paperbacks, however, were significantly down (much like November 2009). Check out the sales chart here.

November 1999's top-seller was Image's Tomb Raider #1, ending the ten-month run of Uncanny X-Men in the top slot. Lara Croft's comics debut had first-month preorders through Diamond of more than 189,400 copies.

A different video game, however, was driving most of the new traffic to specialty stores: The Pokémon Trading Card game fad was near its absolute peak. (Personal note: In the middle of the month, Krause Publications, recognizing the craze, purchased Scrye magazine, naming me editor.) Retailer Garrett Anderson, manager of A-F Books of Tinley Park, Illinois, told Comics Retailer magazine that questions about the game had worn him out. "I long for the days when the typical question was something like, 'Who would win in a fight, Flash or The Hulk?" he said. "Still, it's better than 'What's a good comic book to buy that will one day be valuable enough to pay for my kids' college bills?'"

Check out the November 1999 sales chart here.

November 1994 had a consensus top-seller at Diamond and at Capital City Distribution: the deluxe version of Marvel's X-Men #40. Capital's orders were 95,575 copies; overall sales of the issue, including newsstand and subscription copies, were in the mid-300,000s.

Again, the big news story in most comics shops wasn't comics, but Pokémon's trading-card game precursor Magic: The Gathering. The beginning of the end of the initial craze had begun, with the November release of the Fallen Empires expansion — a bomb with most players, and, as the first set with widespread mass-market distribution, the first where supply was sufficient to fill all orders. Retailers who had over-ordered speculating they would only get a small allocation found themselves buried under product. (One, accustomed to receiving only 10% of his Magic orders, ordered 550 display boxes, ten times what he needed — only to receive them all, at a loss to him of tens of thousands of dollars.)

November 1989's top seller was Legends of the Dark Knight #3, with orders of 126,900 copies at Capital City. Overall orders were likely over half a million copies. The buzz had faded somewhat from the speculator summer (first of a series); Capital reported in its magazine that "the fall of 1989 seems to be developing as a period of a 'soft fall landing' for the comics market after extremely robust growth.'"

While Legends had the numbers, more money was definitely brought in by the first Elseworlds title, Gotham by Gaslight. At $3.95, the squarebound title with art by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell had orders of nearly 100,000 copies at Capital alone.

Finally, November 1984's top comic book was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #11, marking eleven straight months with the limited series in the top slot.

November 2009 comics sales help market close gap with 2008

by John Jackson Miller

Comic book orders in direct market gained some ground in November, led by strength in the periodical market, according to The Comics Chronicles analysis of data released by Diamond Comic Distributors. The estimates appear here.

This is the first month for we can do year-to-year comparisons on the full Top 300 Trade Paperbacks, which Diamond began reporting last November, and we see from them that trade paperback orders  were down considerably — but the periodical market made up for it. Last November was the weakest month of the year in Top 300 Unit Sales — many important titles being delayed until December — so this year’s performance looked that much better by comparison. This November also included DC’s rings promotion for Blackest Night, tying ring purchases to orders on specific titles.

Overall, the direct market to date in 2009 is running just slightly behind 2008 — we’re down $3 million for the entire year, or less than 1%. The gap was more than $5 million last month, so ground has been closed. However, as noted, December 2008 was a blockbuster, with many delayed titles shipping along with regular monthly issues, so it seems unlikely that the industry will close much ahead.

The aggregate figures:

November 2009: 6.15 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +7%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -8%
YEAR TO DATE: 68.57 million copies, -7% vs. 2008, +1% vs. 2004, -4% vs. 1999

November 2009: $21.56 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +12%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +16%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +23%
YEAR TO DATE: $213.81 million, -1% vs. 2008, +21% vs. 2004, +27% vs. 1999

November 2009: $6.12 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -29%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +10%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +54%
YEAR TO DATE: $72.4 million; -17% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

November 2009: $27.68 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: unchanged
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +15%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +25%
YEAR TO DATE: $295.11 million; -4% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
November 2009: $34.95 million ($38.9 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +21%
YEAR TO DATE: $393.8 million, -1% vs. 2008, +32% vs. 2004

Chew Volume 1: Taster's ChoiceChew Vol. 1 was the top-selling trade paperback.

Diamond also released a Top 50 Small Publisher list that added a number of data points, down to Archie in 359th place. The inclusion of 21 additional comics adds 39,000 units to the list, selling for $136,000. These have been included in my charts, but not counted toward Top 300 sales for comparison purposes. However, it does give us a good look at what portion of comics sales are "bubbling under" the Top 300 list, a topic explored previously here.

The 359th place title had direct market orders of around 1,260 comics, less than half that of the 300th place title. These extra data points show a sales slope that drops fairly sharply beneath 300th place — and we can infer that if Diamond’s list were 20% longer, going to 360th place, this month it would have added around 117,500 comics sold, for around $410,000. That’s slightly less than 2% of the value of the Top 300 — so unless the “long tail” for comics is incredibly long (something Diamond’s changed stocking practices would seem to make less likely) the Top 300 really does seem to capture the vast majority of new comics orders. Interestingly, these 21 comics past 300th place are right at the average price for all comics Diamond sells, something we wouldn’t have expected a few years ago. Many of the issues are lower-priced Archies — and only one of the issues is priced higher than $3.99 (Archaia’s Secret History Book 6).

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.51; the average comic ordered cost $3.50. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $3.25. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300.

While the direct market is close to flat for the year versus 2008, it is up 32% versus 2004. What’s the role of inflation? The Consumer Price Index has increased 14.5% since 2004, meaning that either we’re selling more units in aggregate, or the average item sold is more expensive by a rate far exceeding inflation. Top 300 Comics unit sales are, as noted above, up 1% year to date versus the same period in 2004, whereas the dollar value of those comics is up 21%. The price of the average comic book retailers sold in 2009 is $3.42, as compared with $2.86 in 2004. That’s an increase of 19.5%. So it’s true that inflation is contributing to part of that increase — but not all. Increased trade paperback sales account for the rest of the jump versus 2004.

Note also that the selection of years for comparison is important in looking at inflation; there are stretches in which price increases in comics have not kept up with the change in CPI, and so sometimes what appears to be an outpacing of inflation is actually the product catching up with other categories. Starting from 1999 prices, CPI predicts a comics price today of $3.36 — much closer to the actual average. Comics pricing increased slower than the pace of inflation in the stretch from 1999-2004.

The monthly Flashbacks column will follow shortly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Comics in serial form: Necessary and vital

by John Jackson Miller

Tilting at WindmillsIt's been a long time since the days when I was editing Brian Hibbs' Tilting at Windmills column every month for Comics Retailer magazine, but I wanted to direct readers to this month's internet installment, which includes an analysis of the reasons why the comic book periodical is and remains a necessary component to the North American comics publishing industry.

Some of these are points that have been raised here and elsewhere for a long time, having to do with how comics are produced, and the limitations of a graphic-novel only strategy; Brian compiles them in a compelling analysis that also takes in the manga comparison. Were this 1999, this'd get a cover blurb!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Diamond releases Top 300 lists for November 2009

by John Jackson Miller
Diamond Comic Distributors has released the Top 300 Comics and Trade Paperback lists for November 2009, as well as the full Market Shares; they can be found now on Comichron pending our calculations of our estimates. As discussed here earlier, the full range of data required to calculate Overall Sales and other statistics is not usually available until midmonth.

Still, the lists give us some details to work with, including a larger-than-usual number of entries after the Top 300. Diamond released a table with the Top 50 comics for publishers with market shares less than 1%; that resulted in some additional data points.

The average price of comics offered in the Top 300 was $3.51; the average weighted price (that is, the average comic book that retailers ordered) in the Top 300 was $3.50. The average comic book in the top 25 cost $3.55. The median comics price in the Top 300 was $3.50; the most common cover price of comics in the Top 300 was $2.99.

Estimates coming soon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

November 2009: DC takes seven of Top 10 slots

Diamond Comic Distributors appears to have shaved a full week off of its process when it comes to starting the rollout of sales information; as with last month, we have the actual order rankings almost immediately. Diamond is also back to rolling out just the Top 10 Comics and Trade Paperbacks this time with the full list to follow; click to see the charts for November 2009.

Blackest Night #5 helped DC again dominate the highest part of the top-sellers list for comics; only Captain America Reborn #4 in third from Marvel kept DC from repeating last month's feat of taking the top six slots. Five of the Top 10 comics ordered by retailers were priced at $2.99, five at $3.99. (They very nearly alternate!)

The unit shares and dollar shares show the same companies in the top seven slots: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Dynamic Forces (Dynamite) and Boom.

Image's Chew, a $9.99 collection, led the trade paperbacks list. It seems likely that one of the $20 volumes below it on the list will have a higher dollar contribution, but that determination will have to wait for the order index numbers.

Probably the most interesting thing about November 2009's data release, when it all becomes available, is in that trade paperbacks list. It was in November 2008 that Diamond first began publishing its Top 300 Trades, rather than its Top 100. Until now, this year, all year-to-year comparisons have been for the truncated Top 100 lists, but now we'll be able to see a one-to-one (or, rather, a 300-to-300) comparison. My guess, given what we've seen in the Overall estimates, is that the Top 300s for this year have tended to come in slightly below last year dollar-wise, but we'll have to see.

Diamond will release its full Top 300s with its order index numbers next — probably early next week if the pattern holds. As explained here before, because of the earlier release, it is not possible to obtain all the needed corroborating data immediately to generate the sales estimates and aggregated overall estimates that we do here on The Comics Chronicles; those tend to become available mid-month, as the individual publishers get their final actual sales reports.

However, as always, we'll publish the estimate-less rankings when they become available and update as we have more information. Be sure to get our RSS feed and sign up for updates on Twitter.
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