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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.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Digital comics: 40 million paid downloads a year?

by John Jackson Miller

Comichron specializes in the print comics business, not digital — and as I've noted many times before, the amount and quality of data about digital sales lags far behind what we know about print. Diamond releases a monthly report which can be converted into unit count estimates for print comics in the Direct Market; and there are other resources we can tap to guess at comics orders outside comics shops.

Meanwhile, apart from top-seller lists that appear without numbers attached, we don't see much from the digital side — apart from the odd leak now and again from within the trade. In a response to a Comicsbeat post about one of my pieces here on Comichro, Torsten Adair contributes a nugget that went past in a Wired interview with DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson: "Just three years ago, we weren't in the business of digital publishing at all, or not meaningfully... Now there are a million downloads a month of DC stories from our digital publishing. It's not an insignificant business anymore."

This is a significant revelation, because it puts a unit sales number to something we've only been talking about in dollar terms. And while market shares between print comics and digital comics are certainly going to be different, it allows us to make some guesses about the size of the (authorized!) digital market as a whole.

Torsten, in his response, notes that the one million figure is about half the number of DC comics in the Top 300 sold to comics shops, as seen each month in the Diamond chart. If that comparison holds — and if the print and digital market shares were identical — you'd arrive at something like 40 million downloads annually industrywide.

Now, the data point we had received last year was that digital might have been at least a $75 million business in 2012. That figure and the 40 million copy figure for 2013 seem to coexist comfortably. Digital comics pricing varies from the Diamond's sales of print in that there are specials, subscriptions, and other kinds of package deals for older comics; we can't just multiply the 40 million copies by $3.64 (this month's average weighted price of new comics) to find a $145 million digital market. It is likely quite a bit less. And as retailer Brian Hibbs comments in the Comicsbeat thread, "I wouldn’t inherently assume that all of those “downloads” are paid downloads. Far, far from it." So we can't make a one-to-one dollar comparison, but now, at least, possible range begins to take shape. We have a dollar ceiling to discount from. We just don't know how deeply we need to cut.

It is important to make another point: before the 2-to-1 comparison accidentally morphs in anyone's mind into "one in three copies of a new comic is sold digitally," consider that Nelson's digital figure may include DC's entire digital backlist, however deep that is. It could instead be that "the rate of all digital copies sold is half the unit sales rate of brand new print comics in the Direct Market." Then, we're not comparing digital sales of the current Superman with print sales of the current Superman — but digital sales of all Superman comics put together with print sales of the current issue.

This is relevant because Diamond only floors copies of physical comic books for a short while after their initial month (and the Top 300 only captures first month releases in most circumstances) -- so the periodical list on the print side is a very limited subset of offerings. The data point about units finally gives us apples and apples, but I would expect the 2-to-1 thing is comparing a sack of selected just-from-the-tree apples versus a giant barrel including those apples and a whole bunch more. And add to that total things like DC's digital-only releases, that aren't yet available in print.

This is all back-of-the-envelope analysis, and requires some study by someone who's looked more deeply into digital market shares and prices paid. But while I suspect it will never be possible to draw an exact comparison between digital and print sales, but it does appear that digital is continuing to grow, and not, as far as we can tell, at the expense of print.

Update 6/17: As was pointed out to me, Comixology released two data points in a different Comicsbeat post (one that actually mentions me, which shows how infrequently I ego-surf, as I completely missed it). Comixology cited having reached its 50 millionth download in January 2012 and its 100 millionth in October 2012— which would put that service alone in the 60-70 million download range for last year, or five to six million a month by the end of the year.

The problem this introduces is that it makes a million downloads a month in 2013 from DC improbably low, given what we'd expect from its market share and the existence of other services. There are a couple of possible explanations: the million-a-month could have been a general figure, understating the case; or if the Comixology figure was a mix of paid and unpaid downloads, Nelson could have been referring to paid downloads only. I tend to think the reference was probably to paid downloads, but it'd help to have more specifics from all parties.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

May 2013 comics estimates: Dollar orders nearly double what they were 10 years ago

by John Jackson Miller

There may not have been as many blockbuster titles selling into the six figures in the month of May — just two, versus five last year — but the Direct Market still managed to eke out a slight increase against what was a very hard comparative to beat. Click to see the estimated comics sales for May 2013.
X-Men #1, the top seller at nearly 178,000 copies, is the second title by that nomenclature in just three years, readers will recall; this year's version outsold the 2010 version by more than 30,000 copies. (Though it still lagged behind the 1963 version — which likely sold more than 200,000 copies — and, of course, the 1991 version, which at 8 million copies ordered was the best-selling comic book in history. Or, at least, the most-ordered one!)

An Adventure Time original graphic novel led the collected edition charts. In a change from what was the case for much of last year, graphic novel sales beneath 300th place performed significantly better than the top of the list; the Top 300 were off 5%, but the entire graphic novel category was up 1% overall.

As noted on Friday, a greater variety of publishers than usual appears to have contributed to sales this month. There were also some new publishers in the Top 300 comics list for the first time in a while: Black Mask and Storm King.

It's worth noting that this month's $45.12 million in comics and graphic novel orders represents an increase of 90% over the $23.7 million ordered for the same month in 2003. I think we can all reasonably agree that inflation has not doubled over the course of ten years, so there has definitely been substantial growth in the market.

The aggregate sales:

May 2013: 6.97 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -5%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -1%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +22%
Versus 15 years ago this month: unchanged
YEAR TO DATE: 34.69 million copies, +11% vs. 2012, +6% vs. 2008, +21% vs. 2003, unchanged vs. 1998

May 2013 versus one year ago this month: -2.62%
YEAR TO DATE: +12.25%


May 2013: $25.4 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +10%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +61%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +50%
YEAR TO DATE: $124.88 million, +15% vs. 2012, +20% vs. 2008, +56% vs. 2003, +48% vs. 1998

May 2013 versus one year ago this month: +0.97%
YEAR TO DATE: +15.04%


May 2013: $7.83 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -5%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -11%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +14%
YEAR TO DATE: $39.38 million, +19% vs. 2012

May 2013 versus one year ago this month: +1%
YEAR TO DATE: +12.01%


May 2013: $33.24 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -2%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +6%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +40%
YEAR TO DATE: $169.26 million, +16% vs. 2012

May 2013 versus one year ago this month: +0.98%
YEAR TO DATE: +14.07%


OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
May 2013: approximately $45.12 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +23%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +90%
YEAR TO DATE: $208.17 million, +14% vs. 2012

The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.59; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.64. The median and most common price for comics offered was $3.99. Click to see comics prices across time.

You can see what was selling in comparative months of the past in our May Flashbacks column, which is now online. May was the 25th anniversary of the publication of V for Vendetta #1 by DC, among other notables.

We're in a slower stretch for Comichron posts as I've been busy with my own fiction projects (Overdraft: The Orion Offensive and Star Wars: Kenobi, which ships Aug. 27), but I have some interesting research that should be coming along later in the summer. Stay tuned!

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Wide range of publishers help May 2013 comics orders top $45 million

by John Jackson Miller

Last May was, as the just-posted Flashback column reminds us, a blockbuster — using attention from the Avengers film release and the first of the DC relaunch hardcovers to post the largest bottom line number, unadjusted for inflation, since at least 1994.

That figure would be only eclipsed in October 2012 — and again by 1% now, one year later. Direct Market orders for comics and trade paperbacks topped $45 million for only the second time in the Diamond Exclusive Era, according to Comichron's interpretation of data released today by Diamond Comic Distributors.

October 2012, at $47.2 million, still is the best mark, but the $45.1 million of this May seems built upon orders from a wide variety of publishers.

The total market share of the Top 5 producers — Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, and Dark Horse, just topped 80%, the lowest sum for that grouping since November 2005, when IDW was still around 1% of the market. It's not that the larger publishers sold less merchandise: remember, the pie is larger, so all five are in the middle to high end of their historic ranges. But nearly $9 million came from publishers outside the top five, and that is a figure we have not seen since the 1990s, when we had a "Big Six" (with Valiant and Malibu in the IDW slot). Some of the help came from Boom, which topped the trade paperback market with its Adventure Time graphic novels.

The aggregate change figures are as follows:

MAY 2013 VS. APRIL 2013
Comics 6.95% 5.42%
Graphic Novels 15.79% 5.88%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels 9.76% 5.46%
MAY 2013 VS. MAY 2012
Comics 0.97% -2.62%
Graphic Novels 1.00% 3.17%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels 0.98% -2.15%
Comics 15.04% 12.25%
Graphic Novels 12.01% 11.45%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels 14.07% 12.19%

The market shares:

Dark Horse
Dynamic Forces/Dynamite

Marvel's relaunched X-Men #1 — the fourth title by that name, by my count — led the market, with six Marvel and four DC titles in the Top 10. The top comics:

1 X-Men #1 $3.99 Marvel
2 Batman #20 $3.99 DC
3 Justice League #20 $3.99 DC
4 Age of Ultron #7 $3.99 Marvel
5 Age of Ultron #8 $3.99 Marvel
6 Superior Spider-Man #9 $3.99 Marvel
7 Superior Spider-Man #10 $3.99 Marvel
8 Justice League of America #3 $3.99 DC
9 All New X-Men #11 $3.99 Marvel
10 Detective Comics #20 $3.99 DC

The top graphic novels:

1 Adventure Time Vol. 1 Playing Fire $11.99 Boom
2 Saga Vol. 1 $9.99 Image
3 Walking Dead Vol. 1 Days Gone Bye $14.99 Image
4 Superman Earth One Vol. 1 $12.99 DC
5 Adventure Time Marceline & The Screamqueen Vol. 1 $19.99 Boom
6 Deadpool Vol. 1 Dead Presidents $15.99 Marvel
7 My Little Pony Friendship is Magic Vol. 1 $17.99 IDW
8 Superior Spider-Man Vol. 1 My Own Worst Enemy $17.99 Marvel
9 Superman Action Vol. 1 Superman Men of Steel $16.99 DC
10 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo HC Vol. 2 $19.99 DC

The final estimates will be along next week.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

May 2013 Comics Flashbacks: V for Vendetta at 25

by John Jackson Miller

With May 2013 comics sales data forthcoming, let's take a look at comics sales in previous Mays. Again, I've added a snapshot of what one major retailer is charging for the top-sellers; Comichron isn't a price guide site, but it's interesting to see how once-popular titles held up.

As always, this reflects what Diamond Comic Distributors (and, in earlier times, other distributors) sold to retailers, not what the retailers themselves sold. In recent times, retail inventory is much more tightly controlled, so the numbers are more representative of actual sales. In the distant past, not so much.

1 YEAR AGO 2012 had Free Comic Book Day, the Avengers movie, Marvel's Avengers Vs. X-Men event, DC's release of its first hardcover collections of its relaunch issues, and continued strong sales from Images Walking Dead trades. The result was a $44.7 million month for comics shop orders of comics and graphic novels — which made it the single largest month to that point in non-inflation-adjusted dollar terms since Diamond began reporting Final Order data in 2003.

It was also, regardless of the overall estimate, the largest year-over-year increase for any month seen since Diamond began reporting Final Order data in 2003. Retailers spent 43.76% more on comics and graphic novels in May 2012 versus May 2011. That percentage year-over-year increase appeared at the time to have been the largest to date since 1993.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #4 led the market with 178,330 copies sold in its first month. By the end of the year, that figure would be 187,500 copies, and the issue would be the ninth best-seller of the year.

As of this posting, the main version of Avengers vs. X-Men #4 had an aftermarket price of $4 in Near Mint at

Trade paperbacks and hardcovers were exceptionally strong, too, with the DC reboot volumes topping the charts. 

Click to read the original Comichron analysis for the month. And check out the sales chart for the month here.


May 2008 was led by Secret Invasion #2, with 182,390 copies sold to the direct market in its first month. Later sales in the year would bring it up to at least 198,800 copies. It was Diamond's second-best selling issue of the year — and the 30th best-seller of the decade of the 2000s. (See the whole list here.)

As of this posting, the main version of Secret Invasion #2 had an aftermarket price of $2 in Near Mint at 

The month also included Final Crisis #1, Diamond's ninth-best seller of the year.

The top graphic novel for the month was Dark Horse's Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Vol. 2, with first-month orders of nearly 9,500 copies.

Find the sales chart for the month here.


May 2003 was a slowdown overall from the previous year, when Transformers had been all the rage. For the first time in a while, a title overtook an issue of “Hush” in Batman — though it involved restarting a long-running series to do it. Wolverine Vol. 2 #1 was the top-ordered comic book for May 2003, at approximately 157,700 copies ordered in its first month. By contrast with May 2007, only five titles topped the 100,000-copy mark.

At the time of this posting, Wolverine Vol. 2 #1 had an aftermarket price of $2.30 in Near Mint at

The top-ordered trade paperback for May 2003 was DC’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Book 1, with first-month orders of 10,500 copies in the direct market.

Marvel had increased its output in the intervening years since DC led the market share race; in May 2003, Marvel accounted 35.62% of dollars sold versus 21.89% for DC. There were seven comics publishers above 2.5% shares, including Viz, Dreamwave, and Crossgen with the traditional Big Four.

Check out the sales chart for the month here.


The month of May 1998 looked like a major disappointment when compared to the same month in 1997 — that had been Marvel’s “Flashback” month with its “-1” issues, when the market had sold nearly a million more copies. There were worse days to come, however, as the market would lose another half-million copies in the following May.

The top-ordered comic book through Diamond in May 1998 was Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men #357, with orders of approximately 143,000 copies. Seven items had preorders above 100,000 copies. DC’s top seller was JLA #20, just shy of 100,000 copies preordered in its first month. The month also saw the return of Thor, after “Heroes Return,” with a new #1 issue.
At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #258 had an aftermarket price of $2.60 in Very Fine at

We run into definitional challenges when looking for the top trade paperback for the month. Made Men had preorders of 13,900 copies in its first month, but at $5.99 it may well have belonged in the comic book section. The Spawn VI trade, next down the list, had first-month preorders of 7,700 copies. Even with some comics items in the trade list, it’s noteworthy how the top 25 items in the category perform now versus then, bringing in more than double the dollars.

DC’s market share topped Marvel’s slightly, with 24.22% of final orders versus Marvel’s 23.67%. The fifth-largest comics publisher was Topps, although the X-Files phenomenon in comics had nearly played out by this time.

Check out the sales chart for the month here.


Twenty years ago, May 1993 was a month after the peak of the boom times — but few yet knew it. Marketing to comics shops was big business. With Comics Retailer magazine a year old and trade publications coming from Wizard (Entertainment Retailing) and eventually Hero Illustrated publisher Sendai (Comic Book Business), distributors Diamond and Capital City added enhancements to their own retailer monthlies.

Capital City Distribution’s sales figures appeared in Internal Correspondence (the nominal progenitor to ICV2, incidentally), which had started as a small newsprint magazine several years earlier. With May 1993, Capital added a full-color art cover (the first, feting Malibu’s Ultraverse) and spot color inside. Diamond had added color already to Diamond Dialogue’s cover, and would soon take the entire magazine to glossy paper. The reporting of sales charts was only one part of those various publications’ missions, but for a time it had become a big business.

And while the Diamond and the Capital City sales charts did not always arrive at a consensus top-seller, in May 1993 — one month after the huge return-of-Superman month — they did agree on Image’s Spawn #13 as the market-leader. Capital sold 207,400 copies of that issue, and the direct-market sales for the issue overall may have been in the 700,000 to 800,000 copy range.

At the time of this posting, Spawn #13 had an aftermarket price of $1.49 in Near Mint at
Capital reported sales on 676 comics-related items in the month, with an average cover price of $2.70. That figure is not a weighted average, and it is distorted by the presence of trade paperbacks in the listing. But eight out of Capital’s top ten items had $2.50 price tags — all from Image — and the other two were at $3.50. So the comics of 15 years past were not so cheap as one might imagine!
Capital co-owner Milton Griepp (who today runs ICV2), writing during the market peak month of April, expressed concerns about that month’s surge in orders, which he called the biggest he had seen in 20 years. “Overall, it seems inevitable that there is going to be unsold product in the marketplace when the dust settles,” he wrote. “Conditions will have to be exactly right for all the product ordered to be absorbed in a short period of time. Although the market is growing, it is hard to believe it is growing at the rate indicated by these orders.”

Griepp wrote that he hoped the slower May would allow everyone to sell out of their April product, but warned that the practices of many stores in this period were not helpful. “Encouraging speculation, bulk purchases, and touting investment value will invariably lead to long-term trouble for those retailers that use those practices."

While certainly not the first warning in this vein, Griepp’s was unusual in that it came from a distributor. Capital ultimately became one of the firms that fell as a result of the market crash and the events that followed it.

Check out the sales rankings for the the overall year here.

The Capital City sales chart for May 1988 reported that Marvel Comics Presents #1 had taken its top slot. Marvel’s anthology series, its frequency was decided with input from retailers, who chose biweekly over weekly (which Action Comics had gone to the month before). Capital City sold 70,100 copies of the issue; Diamond did not yet publish indexed sales reports.

Statements of Ownership did not begin for the title until one published for 1989, which reported average per-issue sales across all channels of 163,525 copies. By 1990, Capital represented about a quarter of Marvel Comics Presents’ direct-market sales each month, which suggests direct-market sales of #1 may have been in the 280,000-copy range. At $1.25, it was one of the more expensive Marvel titles.

At the time of this posting, Marvel Comics Presents #1 had an aftermarket price of $2.40 in Very Fine at

By this second full month of Action Comics Weekly, the individual issues of that title had dropped to the 40s in Capital’s rankings, selling a little less than third at that distributor of the copies that Marvel Comics Presents was selling. But DC’s sales at Capital were also disproportionately lower than they were at other distributors, by many reports. DC’s third-best-selling comic book for the month, according to Capital, was V for Vendetta #1, which placed 25th.

Capital reported 375 comics items that it had sales on, with an average cover price of $2.13. However, this figure was not weighted by orders, and the list included a handful of larger collections and even some posters. It’s not easy to pick out what would have been the top-selling collection, but it might have been Gladstone’s Disney Album #9.

30 YEARS AGO ... and more

We're back before the Direct Market distributor charts — the ones I have from Capital start running data in 1984 — but May 1983's leader was Uncanny X-Men #173. Statements of Ownership put that as the likely top-seller for the month, averaging 336,824 copies across all channels for the year, including newsstand and subs.

At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #173 had an aftermarket price of $5.60 in Very Fine at

Once we get to 35 years ago, the data is incomplete, and it becomes trickier to judge what items came out in the same month. (I'm not looking at cover dates here, but likely ship dates, to keep things squared up with present practice.) The known information is incomplete enough that most of what follows is conjecture. A good guess for March 1978 would be Marvel's Star Wars #14, which between newsstand and Whitman bagged editions would have likely sold between 350,000 and 400,000 copies. The issue has an aftermarket price of $1.20 in Fine at

Back 40 years ago, the top-selling issue was likely Archie #227. The title's average monthly issue that year sold 345,087 copies.

And again, relying on the Postal Statements, for 45 years ago we're likely looking at Superman #208 (636,000 copies average in the year).

And 50 years ago we don't have DC data, because the publisher didn't publish any. The best-seller would likely have been Superman #162, which was selling in excess of 750,000 copies. The issue has an aftermarket price of $35.10 in Fine+ at

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