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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.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Restarts and reboots: DC's plan and some historic precursors

by John Jackson Miller

I've been asked about DC's announcement that it was planning to relaunch 52 titles with new continuity and new #1s — and while my time is short today, I can make a few observations about the historical record. After so many months of talking about prices, it's a change of pace to talk about a different number on the cover.

First there are differing experiences when it comes to new numbering, and new continuity. Sometimes we have them both at once; sometimes, we only have one or the other. John Byrne's Superman: The Man of Steel in 1986 represented a continuity reboot, under a new title; the new continuity was eventually reflected in the other Superman titles which were not renumbered. (The existing Superman title was later renamed Adventures of Superman to permit a new Byrne Superman series — but the original series continued its numbering, and in fact, changed back to Superman with #650.) When Amazing Spider-Man renumbered in the late 1990s, it was began as a partial continuity reboot, drawing elements from Byrne's Spider-Man: Chapter One; the continuity changes later were eliminated, and but the new numbering continued for several years. There are many examples of simple series renumberings, without continuity restarts; most every publisher has done them, including Archie. (Note: The previous passage has been amended to reflect the undone-continuity that did appear in ASM Vol. 2; thanks to Mike Partyka for reminding me of it.)

The numbers historically tend to suggest that renumbering alone, for its own sake, doesn't do an awful lot beyond the first-issue effect sales boost unless associated with other elements, such as new creative teams, a new over-arching storyline, or other enhancements that impact a series across time. Kevin Smith's Daredevil received a new #1 in 1998 and had major sales benefits that stuck for years; others tailed off more quickly. Amazing Spider-Man had preorders in the 60,000s up until its cancellation and replacement with Vol. 2, #1 in late 1998; sales indeed spiked, but even with Byrne, were back to the 60,000s within a year. The 1999 Incredible Hulk numbering restart, again with Byrne added, returned to the 40,000s where it had been by #6.

No change in the titling and numbering of a series can be evaluated without regard to creator and story factors — and as we've seen, every case is different. In general, however, we do know that renumbering can be a double-edged sword. The first-issue boost is almost always there, and is often substantial. But we also know that higher numbering on a comics title tends to be associated, on average, with slower issue-by-issue deterioration in sales. Retailers ordering in advance cut orders from #1 to #2 far more deeply than they would from a #101 to a #102, where they have established readerships. Now, in the case of a renumbering of an existing series, the new series retains most of the longevity benefits of its connection with the precursor title — but not all, as some long-time collectors decide to call it a complete set and stop buying. So you're looking for a really big boost from the new #1 — substantial enough so that you're not right back where you were in a few months.

One big renumbering and new continuity test case we have is "Heroes Reborn" from September 1996 and "Heroes Return," from November 1997, when The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America both rebooted continuity and started with new #1s. We don't have numbers as to how  "Heroes Reborn" changed Marvel's sales, because of the Heroes World pause in sales reports — but they did move the needle substantially. But with "Heroes Return," when Marvel renumbered the books a second time a year later, the effects of new #1s vanished from the preorder numbers on several of the titles inside three months. Perhaps it was because it was the second restart in a year, perhaps it was what was going on in the books; again, all restarts are not created equal. The restarts also came in a declining market, and across time, no single factor has more effect on the number of copies ordered than the number of comics shops. (Update: See all the figures for Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return.)

I wrote much more about this topic in "The Incredible Shrinking Legacy," my column in Comics Buyer's Guide #1614, March 2006 — in which I advocated long-running titles with continuous numbering to be a good thing, connecting readers with the hobby's past. They also make it easier for collectors to engage in the hobby: repeated renumberings of Punisher have made it pretty hard for collectors to know what books they're talking about. That said, while I saw the renumbering wave of the late 1990s as mostly a marketing move, I also felt that these things came in waves; Marvel worked in the 2000s to re-establish continuous numbering on many of its titles, and DC reunified Adventures of Superman with Superman.

I tend to feel this way today, and, having observed some more publishing efforts, am somewhat less concerned by the number on the cover. There are some good reasons to renumber: surely, there are few better ways to psychologically signal a break from the past. The Silver Age Green Lantern didn't pick up the Golden Age series' numbering, which it very easily could have. The successful changes stick; if they don't, numbering can be restored unless it's too far gone. Captain America was very hard to knit back together numerically — it's like half-a-dozen series plus Tales of Suspense — but it was accomplished.

I also think that there are cases where avoiding a #1 has led to a net benefit. Frank Miller and Jim Lee on Batman provide good examples. "Year One" and "Hush" could easily have been their own miniseries, with their own #1s — but by placing those stories in the ongoing runs of the regular series, DC boosted sales on the title long after they were done. Again, established series generally see smaller issue-to-issue drops. Would sales have been better on the imaginary Batman: Hush #1 than they were on the Batman #608 that actually came out? Probably — #608 was under-ordered relative to later issues in the storyline when readers knew where to look for it. I, myself, accidentally ordered Detective rather than Batman in late 1986, mistakenly thinking that's where "Year One" was. But orders of the post-Miller and post-Lee issues of Batman were better for their having been part of the series, and perhaps that's more valuable long-term.

DC's move is the largest renumbering we've seen — Valiant/Acclaim did it in the mid-1990s, which I think is the previous record-holder. It'll be interesting to see what the impact is. And whatever's going on in continuity, if, at some point, an Action Comics #1000 looks more worth having than an Action Comics Vol. 2 #98 (or whatever it'd be), I suspect we'll see it.

"Shadow numbering"
(Click to enlarge)
Addendum: Prior to restoring the original numbering to its long-running titles, Marvel instituted "shadow numbers" on some of its titles, which, while not the official numbering as far as collectors are concerned (that's found in the indicia), were intended to be  helpful to readers who chose to consider the numbering as consecutive. (An example appears on the issue at right: The official number is at left, with the whole "shadow number" at right. Click to enlarge.)

That numbering paved the way for the eventual return to the original numbering — which coincided, not surprisingly, with anniversary issues such as Fantastic Four #500. No word if DC plans this. Such a move might convey the message that the new numbering was never intended to be permanent, which probably isn't the message of choice.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

April 2011 comics sales slip slightly, but noncomic categories surge

by John Jackson Miller

Comics orders slipped slightly in April, according to Diamond Comic Distributors, but the drop is less than those seen earlier in the year, and the year-to-date gap in dollar sales for comic books and trade paperbacks closed to 6.5%. Marvel's Fear Itself topped the charts and is likely the only title in six figures (the 125,000 range looks likely). Click to see the rankings for the Top 100 comics and graphic novels for April 2011.

The month-to-month change in the figures below looks to be very much in line with a five-week to four-week comparison: some titles around the 100th place mark in March jumped 10 to 20 slots in April, indicating that there just weren't as many releases in the pipeline. That will likely change in May, as many Marvel titles go biweekly.

Back-of-the-envelope projections find about 3.75 million comics sold in the top 100, about 100,000 fewer copies than last month. The aggregate comparatives, according to Diamond:

APRIL 2011 VS. MARCH 2011
COMICS -10.53% -13.80%
GRAPHIC NOVELS -7.95% -10.99%
TOTAL COMICS/GN -9.71% -13.58%
APRIL 2011 VS. APRIL 2010
COMICS -1.75% -3.73%
GRAPHIC NOVELS -0.84% -6.03%
TOTAL COMICS/GN -1.46% -3.92%
COMICS -6.90% -6.99%
GRAPHIC NOVELS -5.67% -11.53%
TOTAL COMICS/GN -6.50% -7.38%

Fables Vol. 15: Rose RedFables Vol. 15: Rose Red was the top-selling trade paperback or graphic novel.

Diamond added an additional category in its news release: merchandise. "Year to-date-merchandise sales are up 20.98% over last year, with Apparel (+17.22%), Games (+19.57%), Toys (+44.47%) and Video (+20%) leading the way.” I have received clarification from Diamond that the "merchandise" figure is just non-comics material — while comics are merchandise, this is basically everything else that went up 20.98%. The figure does have a bearing on the health of the industry, in that it all adds to comics shops' bottom lines. Comics shops were greatly benefited in 1994 from sales of Magic the Gathering, and in 1999 from the Pokemon card game; diversification is known to have kept many shops afloat in the collapse of 1994. 

The average price of all comic books offered in the Top 100 was $3.51; the average price of all comic books ordered in that grouping was $3.55. The median and most common price of comics in the Top 100 was $2.99. The market shares appear below:

Marvel 40.14% 37.95%
DC 27.09% 26.89%
IDW 5.17% 4.06%
Image 5.15% 4.60%
Dark Horse 4.89% 4.52%
Dynamic Forces 3.05% 1.92%
Boom 1.94% 2.61%
Eaglemoss 1.21% 0.23%
Viz 0.93% 0.33%
Archie 0.78% 2.64%
Other 9.66% 14.26%

The full charts will be released next week.

A side note: The search engine on the site is undergoing some work. It is functioning on the main page of the site for all browsers but Internet Explorer; we're working on a fix.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Saturday is Free Comic Book Day: The Tenth Edition!

by John Jackson Miller

Saturday is the tenth Free Comic Book Day, and the event which began with a suggestion by a retailer in the pages of a trade magazine has now become a major happening in stores around the world; increasingly, it's the kickoff not just for the summer but most of the comic book year for many publishers. A couple of years ago here, I detailed the genesis of the event: now, on the tenth Free Comic Book Day, it is probably good to repeat that tale.

There had been earlier hopes for an equivalent to the milk marketing board in comics — some kind of advertising council — over the years, including a publisher-and-distributor attempt in the mid-1990s that met several times but never generated much of anything before it vanished in the industry's collapse that decade. The idea for Free Comic Book Day, by contrast, came from the retail sector — or, rather, from a retailer: Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in California.

I had signed Joe on in the late 1990s as a monthly columnist for Comics & Games Retailer magazine, a trade publication that went for free each month to most of the comics shops in North America. Like the other columnists, Joe's contributions ranged from commentary on retail issues to practical advice — and in June 2001, just as the comics industry was beginning to emerge from the disaster of the 1990s, Joe advised us he had a special column on the way, along with something unusual: an instantaneous response from the Powers That Be being addressed.

In "The Power of Free," Joe spoke of how Baskin-Robbins had held its annual Free Scoop Night on May 2, 2001. The event resulted, he wrote, in the ice cream store near his shop moving 1,300 scoops in four hours, meaning that's how many patrons came through the door. Joe wrote that he'd suggested a national comics "open house" event to Diamond Comic Distributors in 1997; now, he thought, the key element to add would be giveaway comics.

Giveaway comics were a major source of new readers for the comics industry over its history, from the March of Comics issues given away at shoe stores to the Big Boy comics still distributed in restaurants. I've done a lot of research into those and several other giveaway lines over the years — and it's plain that many of the people who learned to read comics (and, odd as it sounds, the storytelling language of comics is something one does have to learn to read) learned it from ones they got for free. Most of those comics went completely away in the 1980s and 1990s. Joe's suggestion in the article was that publishers could create sampler comics for their different lines — "just as Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream... a selection of samplers available from different publishers would allow stores to better cover the disparate tastes of those who'll show up."

Joe suggested a variety of steps that could be taken by publishers, retailers, and creators; I've posted the original article pages here, which I hope he doesn't mind. Click the pages to see them larger. It shows that many of those ideas, relating to the production and distribution of the samplers, were pretty close to what was eventually adopted. It also shows the sidebar response from Diamond's Roger Fletcher, embracing the idea and promising to solicit retailer interest in the idea.

And it happened. The first Free Comic Book Day was on May 4 of the following year — right after the release of Spider-Man, and a year and two days after the Baskin-Robbins event that Joe said provided the partial inspiration. The magazine followed the progress of the event, and was happy to be associated — our Maggie Thompson attended many of the FCBD board meetings as an advisor. But it all came from Joe — and Diamond and the major publishers' evident agreement that, as he had written, 2001 was the beginning of a turnaround for comics, a new opportunity. "There's a strong sense among many retailers with whom I've spoken that we're definitely experiencing a resurgence of sales and customers," he wrote. "A promotion like this could be the calling card we need to give our market strong forward momentum."

And it did. A few years later, both the sportscard and gaming hobbies put together similar events, organizers citing the FCBD experience as a positive reason to go forward. And FCBD still goes forward.

Lots of free comics and a special Heroclix figure are on offer this year: you can find the full list of titles here. Signing schedules can also be found on their website. There's also a handy FAQ page on the site. If your local comic shop is not listed, give them a call for a complete list of events and signings.

I'll be signing my Star Wars and Mass Effect comics at Chimera Hobby Shop, 808 W. Wisconsin Ave., Appleton, Wis. from 11:00AM to 1:00PM, and again from 3:00PM to 6:00PM. Be sure to drop by if you're in the area!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Million more comics ordered in March 2011 than March 2001

by John Jackson Miller

Apologies for the delay in getting the estimated orders for March 2011 comics online here — website maintenance gave way last month to home maintenance, as Wisconsin's water table decided to come to the surface to take a look around. (Fortunately, your Comichron curator had already learned the lesson of many collectors before him: store all comics on the second floor!)

At any rate, there is not a lot to add to the preliminary report for March 2011, which noted that DC's price rollbacks were impacting the charts in several ways. We now can see that $3.43 was the average price of Diamond's Top 300 comics titles — as well as the average price weighted by orders. The median price for comics in the Top 300 was $2.99, and the most common price was, as well.

One consequence of the presence of so many comics below $3 in the top of the charts is that the Top 300 represented a smaller portion of Diamond's overall sales than it usually does. Diamond's Top 300 titles saw a dollar sales drop of 4%, but that went down to 2.43% when the rest of the list was included. (Items after 300th place are typically more expensive than those higher up.) And in units, the fact that volume is being distributed more evenly meant that the Top 300's 2% loss became a 0.81% gain once the lower-ranked titles were included. The 300th place comic book, Ardden's Grim Ghost #1, had orders of 4,499 copies in March — the fourth-highest total for a comic book in that ranking in the Diamond Exclusive Era.

One interesting sidelight of that is that we're getting into some really impressive unit-sales comparatives against a decade past, now: the Direct Market sold a full million fewer copies of the Top 300 comics in March 2001. Comparing the two lists is interesting, because we see how volume has shifted:

#1 comic book in March 2001: 105,248 copies
#1 comic book in March 2011: 114,472 copies

#10 comic book in March 2001: 67,382 copies
#10 comic book in March 2011: 62,714 copies

#100 comic book in March 2001: 18,840 copies
#100 comic book in March 2011: 20,768 copies

#200 comic book in March 2001: 3,329 copies
#200 comic book in March 2011: 9,525 copies

#300 comic book in March 2001: 787 copies
#300 comic book in March 2011: 4,499 copies

Granted, the March 2001 figures do not include reorders from that month; they'd shrink the million-copy difference by perhaps a third. But still, the volume in the lower part of the list really has grown. The 300th place title in March 2011 would have placed 189th in March 2001!

Why? Again, more prolific major publishers, and more mid-range publishers, period. Marvel had a puny 39 titles in the Top 300 in March 2001 (heading toward a modern-era low of 33 titles in May); this March, it placed 114 titles. Dynamic Forces went from placing three titles in March 2001 to placing 16 — and IDW, with 20 titles on the 2011 list, wasn't there at all ten years earlier.

More of the same ongoing transformation, but once we get fully into Marvel's biweekly shipping this summer, things could really get interesting.

The aggregate figures:

March 2011: 5.94 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -15%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +21%
YEAR TO DATE: 15.51 million copies, -9% vs. 2010, -17% vs. 2006, +2% vs. 2001

March 2011 versus one year ago this month: +0.81%
YEAR TO DATE: -8.05%


March 2011: $20.38 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +50%
YEAR TO DATE: $53.8 million, -9% vs. 2010, -4% vs. 2006, +30% vs. 2001

March 2011 versus one year ago this month: -2.43%
YEAR TO DATE: -8.57%


March 2011: $5.17 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -26%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: -28%
YEAR TO DATE: $14.92 million, -11% vs. 2010

March 2011 versus one year ago this month: -10.01%
YEAR TO DATE: -7.24%


March 2011: $25.55 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -8%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +42%
YEAR TO DATE: $68.71 million, -10% vs. 2010

March 2011 versus one year ago this month: -4.98%
YEAR TO DATE: -8.14%


OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2011: approximately $33.56 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -5%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -4%
YEAR TO DATE: $89.75 million, -8% vs. 2010

Again, sorry for the delay. April 2011 reporting should be starting later this week.
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