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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, November 15, 2011

Shooter posts 1985 internal newsstand estimates

by John Jackson Miller

The Direct Market saved Superman's world.
Jim Shooter, former editor in chief at Marvel, has embarked on his blog on a discussion of the history of the distribution business for comics, delving into such fun buts of minutiae as affadavit returns. (See Chuck Rozanski's piece on the Mile High II collection, a batch of millions of comics in perfect shape that had been fraudulently reported as affidavit returns, here.) And as in past installments of Jim's must-read blog, he's included some internal documents.

This time, he's included a Marvel analysis of DC's sales through the newsstands, based on Warner Publisher Services projections. Follow the link above to see the document, but it posits figures for the November 1985 cover-dated issues.

Now, we know a number of things already about, for example, the November 1985 issue of Superman — issue #413. The average paid annual circulation for the year was 96,787 copies, from a print run of 270,577. Cut out subscription sales, and the figure is 96,686 copies. The average issue that year saw returns of 168,906 copies. These figures all come from the Statement of Ownership. We also know that Capital City sold 9,000 copies of that issue to comics shops, from my own copies of Cap City's records.

Shooter's document adds more facts. The internal analysis Marvel had from Warner projects that Superman #413 would have sent 186,800 copies to the newsstand, for which 59,900 copies were sold. If that figure is correct, the direct market sales would have been around 36,800 copies — making the Capital City share of the issue's sales in the direct market about 24%.

This all presumes that the 1985 Statement is the right one to look at. It might not be, because #413, on sale in August and early September, would have been right on the cusp of being in the next year's Statement. The sales figures for 1986 are just about the same — but the difference is on the print run. DC printed 30,000 fewer copies of Superman (or actually, as it became, Adventures of Superman) on average in the 1986 reporting period. That, interestingly, matches up with the cover letter in the Marvel memo, which states that DC's newsstand draws had dropped by an average of 20,000 copies per title in 1985. You would see that reflected in the 1986 print runs — and Supes, having a larger print run than most, would see a larger cut. The 1986 Statement seems to square up better with the number of copies returned, too.

I have nearly 3,000 Statements of Ownership in my database, and hope to get more online soon. The numbers for the 1960s are here, and I also have a number of titles up, as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Records abound in October sales; reboot titles held sales levels

by John Jackson Miller

The estimates for October 2011 comics orders by comics shops in North America are now online here at The Comics Chronicles, and as speculated upon last week when Diamond Comic Distributors provided the first taste of data for this second full month of the DC relaunch, it was a record-setting time in many ways:

Highest dollar sales for the Top 300 comics. Retailers ordered comics in the Top 300 worth $25.36 million in October, the highest total for that figure since the Diamond Exclusive Era began in the mid-1990s. The previous record was held by October 2008, with $24.9 million in orders. The totals in the early 1990s were likely higher, even given inflation.

Number of titles from each publisher in the Top 300, 1997-present.
Most titles in the Top 300 by a publisher. DC placed more titles in the Top 300 than any publisher since the Diamond Exclusive Era began in 1996: 129. (Update: See the item-count tracks for the five largest publishers over time, here.) All but one of the "New 52" titles that launched in the previous month reappeared in the Top 300. The previous high-water mark was set by Marvel, which had 119 entries on the charts in December 2008 and June 2009. I do not have exact counts from the charts from before 1996, and reorders would not have been included on any charts before 2003. DC's previous high-water mark was 107 entries in October 2007.

Largest number of issues reappearing in the Top 300. I haven't really kept this statistic before, but there always a few titles from the previous month that reappear on the list. As mentioned, this month dwarfed any previous experiences, as 51 out of the 52 DC reboot titles that appeared on the charts in September 2011 reappeared. (The only which didn't make the Top 300 again is Men of War, but that is not necessarily because of a lack of demand — if most of its print run was reported by Diamond as sold in September, it might not have charted again.)

Usually, when titles reappear, it's because of reorders; in the DC case, 41 titles from September were made returnable, with their reported sales levels reduced. Squaring up September and October finds that Diamond reported sales of 670,000 copies of those September #1s in October; that's an addition of 19.5% on top of the 3.43 million copies those comics sold when they first came out. It's not clear whether those are all reorders being reported, or Diamond logging the returnable over-run copies as sold. But the reappearance of so many DC titles on the charts directly led to the next record...

Fewest publishers with titles in the Top 300. Often when the major publishers are prolific or producing many blockbusters with reorder activity, the number of publishers who make up the Top 300 shrinks. This month, only 13 publishers made the Top 300, the lowest level since the folding of Heroes World Distribution in 1997. The previous low, 15 publishers, had been seen in June of the last two years. And the large number of major publisher titles in the Top 300 led to the next record...

Highest orders for the 300th place title. I've talked here before about the 300th place title as a benchmark for how comics are performing at the farther end of the sales spectrum. This month, Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #3 from Dark Horse set a record for the highest number of copies ordered at that position, 5,167 copies. It beats a nearly 15-year-old record, Archie's Cheryl Blossom Goes Hollywood from November 1996.

As a consequence of there being so few publishers in the Top 300, Diamond's supplemental tables listing top independent and small press performers dug especially deep, as readers will see here; the table has 45 entries below 300th place, going all the way down to 425th place. We see again the strength of the long tail in periodicals from this, as the next 125 comics after 300th place add 400,000 copies worth nearly $1.5 million to overall sales, or between 5-6% again what the Top 300 sold.

There are some superlatives that don't rise to the level of records, but are noteworthy nonetheless. Trades were off this month, but the Top 300 comics plus the Top 300 trades posted their highest dollar sales since July 2009. Unit sales within the Top 300 comics were no record, but at 7.59 million copies was at the highest level since December 2008. It was, in fact, the best the best October for periodical units since 1997. And with them, the unit sales total for the Top 300 turned positive for the year.

Finally, something Comichron doesn't normally track is worth mentioning. Many have expressed interest in how the DC reboot titles would fare across time. I have described here in the past how the month-to-month sales reports that Diamond provides aren't a perfect measure of any title's individual, ongoing performance; there's too much statistical noise. If any title shipped in Week 3 of September and shipped in Week 4 of October, those titles would appear from the charts to have sold less in October even if the eventual sales are identical. (We already know that a fifth week adds 11% in unit sales to the market.) Since I’m not prepared to go digging around in the shipping files to add a column for weeks-on-sale, I don't tend to make those comparisons here very much.

But anyone can compare the numbers from the two months, and this is what they'll find in aggregate: Diamond reported orders for the 52 DC reboot titles of 3.43 million copies in September (this includes the copies of Justice League shipped in August). The October orders for those 52 titles were 3.22 million copies, a second-issue drop of only 6%, line-wide. That is a much lower figure than most new series see, and, in fact, we find that a number of titles — from Catwoman to Detective to Red Hood — had higher first-month orders for #2 than they had for #1.

Now, there are again caveats, in addition to those already mentioned: the September #1s had additional sales in October, as well, to the tune of 19.5% of their September totals. But to compare apples to apples, at this point we have to look at initial, first-month demand — and here, it looks like, by the time retailers were ordering for October, they approached the market with a certain amount of additional confidence and cash.

The aggregate totals:

October 2011: 7.59 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +31%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +24%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +18%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -27%
YEAR TO DATE: 58.96 million copies, +1% vs. 2010, -12% vs. 2006, +8% vs. 2001

October 2011 versus one year ago this month: +32.12%
YEAR TO DATE: +1.86%


October 2011: $25.36 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +22%
Versus 5 years ago this month:+33%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +40%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +1%
YEAR TO DATE: $202.85 million, -1% vs. 2010, -1% vs. 2006, +34% vs. 2001

October 2011 versus one year ago this month: +24.37%
YEAR TO DATE: -0.23%


October 2011: $5.78 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -19%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -28%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +32%
YEAR TO DATE: $56.84 million, -9% vs. 2010

October 2011 versus one year ago this month: -12.9%
YEAR TO DATE: -5.39%


October 2011: $31.14 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +20%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +35%
YEAR TO DATE: $259.69 million, -11% vs. 2010

October 2011 versus one year ago this month: +11.93%
YEAR TO DATE: -1.93%


OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
October 2011: approximately $40.8 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +33%
YEAR TO DATE: $339.4 million, -2% vs. 2010
The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.41, with the average comic book ordered by retailers costing $3.34. $2.99 was the median and most common price of comics.

As mentioned here earlier, 2011 now has at least a shot at matching or beating last year's $418.6 million total; November 2011 has those five shipping weeks, and the hurdles for beating November and December 2010 are lower. We'd need to get year-over-year improvements in the 10% range again to hit the break-even point. But it's reachable, especially if trade paperbacks pick up. Trade paperback sales tend to echo the popularity of whatever comics were coming out six months earlier, for obvious reasons; we're getting out of the weak winter and more into the stronger summer season for reprint fare.

Finally some quick housekeeping notes: Comichron now has a Facebook page — and you can also follow us on Twitter.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Direct market dollar orders up double digits in October 2011

by John Jackson Miller

Diamond Comic Distributors released its initial report on October 2011 comics orders today, and the numbers reflect a continuing improvement in the Direct Market. Overall, comics retailers in North America spent 11.93% more ordering comic books and trade paperbacks than they did in the previous October. Orders were also up 2.67% over September, which was the first full month of the DC relaunch. Click to see the preliminary rankings for October 2011.

That would suggest a month in which overall dollar orders for comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines were in the neighborhood of $40.6 million, the first time that figure has topped $40 million since September 2009, a month in which Blackest Night was continuing to build momentum. That would put the year to date at just under $340 million.

The eye-popping number is the rise in comic-book unit orders of 32.12% over October 2010. Orders rose 6.9% over September, when all the first issues of the DC relaunch were out. While that may sound counter-intuitive, it isn't when you consider that all those first issues continued to have reorders selling through October. Retailers with an eye on the aftermarket may also have some sense that second issues are historically under-ordered — something which goes at least back to the experience of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #2 in the 1980s, which wound up being much more valuable than its first issue.

So retailers ordered at least a million more comic books in October 2011 than they did in the previous October, and my back-of-the-envelope calculations say the month may edge out December 2008 to be the best month for unit orders since May 2007. It'll depend on what happens at the bottom of the charts. And remember, a large number of DC titles still have orders under-reported by Diamond by 10-20%, owing to DC's returnability offer. The upshot is that comic book unit sales went positive for the year this month, and dollar sales are within a hair's breadth of doing the same.

The comparisons:



Trade paperbacks were off again. The Flashpoint hardcover was the top seller, with a Walking Dead hardcover in second and the Batman: Arkham City hardcover in third. When the charts are dominated by hardcovers, the unit sales go down quite a lot, as you see above. But the dollar picture is better.

On to the market shares, and a new record set by DC. DC's market-leading dollar share was 42.47%, which beats its old Diamond Exclusive Era dollar share record of 40.88%, set in December 1999. That was the JLA Earth 2 month, and DC had 39 more comics than Marvel in the Top 300 that month — giving DC more than double Marvel's market share. The 42.47%-to-29.10% gap between DC and Marvel this month is thus by no means the largest seen — and in fact, with the growth of the market this month, it's not necessarily the case that all of DC's increase comes at the expense of others' final order totals. (Marvel's top dollar share in the Diamond Exclusive Era was 45.31%, set in September 2008.) The chart:

It's a common misconception that Marvel always leads in dollar market share: DC led Marvel in Final Order Dollars in December 2010 and eight other times in the last 10 years. And DC led Marvel in that largest category every month from January 1999 to October 2001, much because of the comparative size of its offerings and trade paperback backlist in those days. You can see it visually here.

DC and Marvel's combined market shares total 71.57%; the record is June 2006, the Civil War #2 month, where the combined total reached 76.23%.

DC published more than half of all units sold, and had a 20-point lead in that category. I do not have historic tracks on that, because unit sales comparisons are not as clean when comics and trade paperbacks are in the same category. (That December 1999 month when DC had double Marvel's dollar sales, for example, Marvel was nearly even with DC in Top 300 units.) But Marvel had a 50.92%-to-28.47% unit share lead in September 2008, so there are earlier gaps of similar size in the Diamond Exclusive era.

DC's Justice League #2 led the market, and DC had 19 of the top 25 comics titles ordered. This is a remarkable figure, but, believe it or not, it is not a record. Marvel had 23 out of the Top 25 spots in March 2005.

October gives us a cleaner comparison in one regard: For the first time in the DC relaunch, we're comparing a four-week-month versus a four-week-month in the year-to-year totals; part of why the October gains look so much better than the September gains is that September 2010 was a five-week month. Since 2004, final unit orders for Top 300 comics are 11% higher in five-week months; that factor was not in play in October. However, it will be in November 2011, which I believe is a five ship-week month despite Thanksgiving.

2011 now has at least a shot at matching or beating last year's $418.6 million total; November 2011 has those five shipping weeks, and the hurdles for beating November and December 2010 are lower. We'd need to get year-over-year improvements in the 10% range again to hit the break-even point. But it's reachable, especially if trade paperbacks pick up.
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