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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.


Monday, April 9, 2012

March 2012 comics sales estimates now online

by John Jackson Miller

UPDATED to reflect new information

Diamond Comic Distributors has released the full lists for March 2012, and as reported here last week, while March itself was against a five-week month and slightly off, it nonetheless contributed to the first time in the 21st century the direct market has ordered more than $100 million in the first quarter of the year. The Comics Chronicles estimates retailer orders of $33.7 million for the month; that brings the quarter to $101.9 million. (Click to see the charts for the month.)

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 just barely topped 200,000 copies ordered, its numbers boosted by various special offers to retailers, about which more further down. It marks a return to the top of the charts for Marvel, after several months of DC leadership during its relaunch. The 300th place title was off by more a thousand copies; that benchmark is very sensitive to fifth weeks for obvious reasons, however, and it's worth noting that the figure is higher than the four-week months on either side of last March.

It was, as mentioned last week, the first month since 1994 that five publishers — Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and IDW — had dollar market shares higher than 5%. The percentage captured by the Top 20 publishers was the highest in years: just 1.55% of the items and 3.18% of the dollars were sold by publishers outside the Top 20. The list of the Top 300 Comics and the Top 300 Trade Paperback and Graphic Novels included only familiar names, which rarely happens.

There is, in fact, a disconnect this month when it comes to the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks and Graphic Novels. While the comparative sales statistics that Diamond released find graphic novel dollars off by 5.67%, the actual numbers behind the Top 300 show a different picture, up 25%, or more than $1 million, over the same grouping from last year. Now, occasionally strength in the top-sellers is offset by weakness below 300th place — but a 30-point gap requires more explanation.

Updated: I've confirmed with the distributor that the aggregate change figures are correct, and that what I considered to be the most likely explanation for the gap is probably also correct. The Top 300 list contains a large number of trade paperbacks discounted greater than the usual amount, and since Diamond's market shares and percentage-change figures are based on wholesale and not retail dollars, it becomes possible that the retail dollar value of trades stores ordered went up, while the amount of money they paid (the total wholesale dollars) went down. 

It is possible to sort the lists Diamond provides by wholesale dollars; the publisher provides a dollar ranking when it lists titles on its site. Looking at the Wholesale Dollar rankings reported by Diamond, we see evident discounting on a lot of Marvel items this month. The Secret Invasion trade paperback, ranked 32nd in unit orders and 7th in full retail dollars, is ranked by Diamond at 136th place in wholesale dollars. So even if we didn't know there was a sale – the numbers contain plenty of evidence of a sale!

The information is there — and from it, you can often ferret out what titles were discounted more heavily, as was done in the Secret Invasion example above. (But note that it is not necessarily the case that two titles with equal unit sales rankings and different dollar sales rankings mean that one of the books had a special discount. Different retailers order at different discounts, and what's paid for a given product varies from item to item by who's doing the ordering.)

There are often special discounts figured into sales of not just graphic novels, but comics themselves; as noted above, Marvel offered a significant promotional discount on Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 this month. Diamond includes these unit sales in its rankings, but, again, because of the wholesale/retail distinction, the publisher doesn't get the same amount of credit in dollar market shares that it would if the titles had been offered at the regular discount.

Promotionally-cover-priced comics do get trimmed off the lists at the Diamond level — nothing below $1 usually appears any more. But it's tough to say what should be done about regularly priced books retailers didn’t pay the usual rate for. The Comics Chronicles' interest is how many comics are in circulation, period, so it wouldn't be good to see the numbers of comics actually sold trimmed just for ranking purposes, as happened in the DC returnable situation. (Those unreturned DC copies do end up on the charts eventually — though we may only see them reflected in the aggregate totals until the end-of-year rankings.)

Separate dollar rankings used to be provided by Capital City Distribution in its trade magazine, but the lists were never referred to as much as the unit-sales lists. The reason goes back to the purpose of the lists to begin with in the 1980s: retailers wanted to know how titles sell relative to each other, unit-wise. I suspect today's internet readers still do. The feeling at Comichron is that the item-rankings horserace in 2012 isn’t going to matter as much to people looking at the site in 2022 — readers are just going to want to know how many copies of a given book were in circulation.

As always, every figure on Comichron is subject to change as more information comes in. The aggregate figures:

March 2012: 6.02 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -14%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +18%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -30%
YEAR TO DATE: 17.89 million copies, +15% vs. 2011, -12% vs. 2007, +11% vs. 2002, -30% vs. 1997

March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -2.45%
YEAR TO DATE: +14.74%


March 2011: $20.8 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +48%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +4%
YEAR TO DATE: $61.6 million, +14% vs. 2011, -4% vs. 2007, +34% vs. 2002, +1% vs. 1997

March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -1.18%
YEAR TO DATE: +15.85%


March 2012: $6.44 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +25%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: -10%
YEAR TO DATE: $18.13 million, +22% vs. 2011

March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -5.67%
YEAR TO DATE: +13.42%


March 2012: $27.23 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +7%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: $79.73 million, +16% vs. 2011

March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -2.61%
YEAR TO DATE: +13.42%


OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2012: approximately $33.72 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +1%
YEAR TO DATE: $101.81 million, +13% vs. 2010, +3% vs. 2007

One notable change is that the ten-year comparisons now extend out to the Top 50 trade paperbacks; Diamond moved to reporting the Top 50 in March 2002.

The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.48; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.46. The median and most common price for comics offered was $2.99.

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Anonymous said...

I'm curious, this is all physical print. How much did they sell with digital sales included? I remember with the I-Pad and Nooks all the electronics, the top selling apps were those from DC and other comic book publishers, and it remained in the top spot for like several weeks last year. So I'm thinking if all those people are now getting comics that way, shouldn't you start include those on here? I mean it would give a more accurate circulation for each comic and graphic novel. Just a thought.


John Jackson Miller said...

There is no unified source for information on digital downloads that provides transparent, trackable information with exact dollars and numbers of downloads. As has been mentioned a few times here on the site, that impedes any kind of aggregated tracking.

It has been generally believed that the sum derived from paid downloads is still very small -- dental floss as compared to a sheet of paper, to use one publisher's analogy. That may not continue to be true, but it still has a long way to go to reach the scale of some of the other contributors to the business:

The mission of The Comics Chronicles is in large part a print mission, supplying collectors with information about how many physical copies existed of individual comic books. It's why there's no attempt to follow, monthly, the sales of trade paperbacks through bookstores, which as the link above shows, add far more to the reach of comics than digital does yet.

The "reach" of the comics stories themselves is worthwhile information -- but in some sense, it's just another stage in the tracking of "pass-along" readership, which publishers of print copies have been guessing at for decades. Publishers would tell advertisers that each comic book was read by four or five people -- it was always a total guess -- and the information was significant for advertisers, but less so for the bottom line. Similarly, any discussion about digital "reach" would have to bring in the doubtlessly large grouping that unauthorized downloads contribute, and, as with pass-along, we'd be mostly guessing about that.

I'm more interested in hard numbers here, so I guess the upshot is that digital has some way to go before it can be tracked. And then, it'd need to be discussed separately, just as we parse comic books and trade paperbacks, before being aggregated.

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