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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.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Secret origins of Free Comic Book Day

by John Jackson Miller

Saturday, May 3 is Free Comic Book Day, the thirteenth observance of the comics industry' official holiday — and for the first time in many years, I won't be appearing at a comic shop, but rather will be signing at Comicfest in Denver. (Conventions are important to comics, too!) Appearing places to talk about my comics and other work that weekend has been a tradition for me, and in something else that's become a tradition for this site, I'm retelling the story of how an event which began with a suggestion by a retailer in the pages of a trade magazine has  become a major happening in stores around the world, and the kickoff not just for the summer but most of the comic book year for many publishers.

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 are on offer this year: you can find the full list of titles here. Participating stores and their events 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.

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(Programming note: Should the Diamond April sales reports release while I'm at Starfest, expect to see the analysis here after I return.) 

Monday, April 7, 2014

March 2014 comics sales estimates: Image posts highest market share since 2000

by John Jackson Miller
Comics sales months in the mirror may be smaller than they appear. That's one of the lessons of the data released today by Diamond Comic Distributors about comics sales in March 2014, as analyzed by Comichron. Click to see the comics sales estimates for March 2014.

March's sales to comics shops overall only represented a slight cooldown from March a year ago — and as reported here on Friday, the big action was in the graphic novel sector. Walking Dead Vol. 20 led the graphic novel charts — and with Saga Vol. 3 and an expensive Stray Bullets volume in the Top 10, Image posted its highest market share since November 2000, with an 11.38% dollar share. (November 2000's mark was 12.54%.) But while March 2013's numbers posed a difficult comparative to beat — I called it a "blockbuster for this time of year" — going inside the numbers shows that last year's totals were a bit of a mirage.

The Top 300 graphic novels this March, for example, were actually down 4% versus March 2013—even though the graphic novel category overall last month was up 18.31%. Why such a discrepancy? Because as Comichron noted at the time, March 2013's graphic novel charts were artificially inflated by Marvel's deep-discounting of several million dollars' worth of hardcovers. So March 2013's Top 300 graphic novels had a total retail value of $8.97 million versus $8.65 million this March —but the publishers and Diamond realized far less money from them.

The overall graphic novel percentage changes that Diamond reports, meanwhile, are calculated based on wholesale value — how much money retailers paid — and there, it's clear that while more dollars worth of material moved through the system in March 2013, discounts weren't as deep on what Diamond sold this year, and it and publishers realized more from the sales.

If we take the analysis down to units, we see that this March's 300th-place graphic novel sold 490 copies, whereas last March's book in that spot sold only 413. So we're really looking at a comparison with a March 2013 chart that was seriously distorted by a lot of high-dollar value books sold at very high discounts.

The 300th-place comic book sold 4,940 copies this March versus 4,077 last March — almost exactly ten times the number of graphic novels sold in that spot in each month we're comparing.

Meanwhile, on the five-year comparison tracks, we're finally comparing against recessionary months in the Direct Market — the boost lent by the Obama Spider-Man issue in January and February 2009 was no longer in the picture. The market may have sold a million fewer comics in the Top 300 in March 2014 versus March 2013, but it sold a million more than in March 2009.

The aggregate change figures:

March 2014: 6.22 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -14%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +17%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -2%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -4%
YEAR TO DATE: 20.93 million copies, -13% vs. 2013, +10% vs. 2009, +8% vs. 2004, -1% vs. 1999

March 2014 versus one year ago this month: -11.83%
YEAR TO DATE: -11.40%


March 2014: $22.98 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +29%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +23%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +42%
YEAR TO DATE: $68 million, -10% vs. 2013, +21% vs. 2009, +41% vs. 2004, +44% vs. 1999

March 2014 versus one year ago this month: -9.47%
YEAR TO DATE: -6.89%


March 2014: $8.65 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -26%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +1
Versus 15 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +51
YEAR TO DATE: $20.63 million, -9% vs. 2013

March 2014 versus one year ago this month: +18.31%
YEAR TO DATE: +1.39%


March 2014: $31.64 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this months: +13%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +15%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +56%
YEAR TO DATE: $88.64 million, -10% vs. 2013

March 2014 versus one year ago this month: -1.48%


OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2014: approximately $40.73 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +31%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +36%
YEAR TO DATE: $116.59 million, -4% vs. 2013
The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.64; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.70. The median price for comics offered was $3.99, and the most common price for comics offered was also $3.99. Click to see comics prices across time.

So the market ends the quarter about $5 million off the pace of 2013, a not-unexpected place for it to be given the winter weather, the lack of major event titles, and the degree to which 2013's volume was impacted by heavy discounting.

A reminder: Free Comic Book Day is May 3. And check the Comic Shop Locator Service to find a comic shop near you.  

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, April 4, 2014

March 2014 data: Comics market soldiers through winter with only slight loss

by John Jackson Miller

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier releasing today, comic shops have managed to soldier through one of the more wretched winters for weather in recent memory without too many negative effects. Diamond Comic Distributors released its preliminary data for orders from the comics ship market for March 2014—and the month in overall dollars came in at approximately $40.7 million, just 1.48% behind the same month last year. (Last March was also a four ship-week month.) That puts the first quarter at $116.6 million, off 4.4% from last year.

Led by the new Walking Dead Vol. 20: All Out War Part 1, graphic novels were the high point of the month, up more than 18% over last March. With close to a two-to-one ratio between comics dollars and graphic novel dollars in the Direct Market, that nearly offset the more than 9% drop in new comics dollars. Batman #29, at $4.99 this month, was the #1 comic book in an soft market for periodicals, but sales reports indicate that April's Amazing Spider-Man #1 may shake up that picture quite a bit. (It's the third issue by that name, if I recall, not counting the one that came with the record album; the first one, from 1963, can be had for a mere $2,125 in CGC 2.5, whereas the second one from 1998 runs for under $5.)

The aggregate statistics are below. Don't sweat the First Quarter 2014 versus Fourth Quarter 2013 change figures—fall always beats winter in a blowout:
March 2014 vs. February 2014 DOLLARS UNITS
Comics 4.11% 6.32%
Graphic Novels 24.00% 25.00%
Total Comics/GN 10.22% 7.93%
March 2014 vs. March 2013
Comics -9.47% -11.83%
Graphic Novels 18.31% 22.85%
Total Comics/GN -1.48% -9.28%
First Quarter 2014 vs. Fourth Quarter 2013
Comics -14.30% -13.77%
Graphic Novels -11.59% -1.59%
Total Comics/GN -13.45% -12.82%
First Quarter 2014 vs. First Quarter 2013
Comics -6.89% -11.40%
Graphic Novels 1.39% 10.06%
Total Comics/GN -4.40% -9.85%
Year-To-Date 2014 vs. Year-To-Date 2013
Comics -6.89% -11.40%
Graphic Novels 1.39% 10.06%
Total Comics/GN -4.40% -9.85%
Marvel led the market shares in both units and dollars, in a month in which Image's market share reached a 13-year peak:

Publisher Dollar share Unit share
Marvel Comics 34.31% 38.17%
DC Comics 25.94% 29.02%
Image Comics 11.38% 11.04%
Dark Horse Comics 6.19% 5.72%
IDW Publishing 5.29% 4.51%
Dynamic Forces 2.61% 2.56%
Boom Studios 1.99% 1.84%
Eaglemoss Publications 1.59% 0.35%
Avatar Press 1.14% 0.94%
Random House 1.04% 0.26%
Other 8.53% 5.59%
The number of new products on the market rebounded. Ten fewer new comics were released, while 23 more graphic novels came out. (A fact that may have contributed to the fortunes of those two categories this month.

DC 84 28 1 113
Marvel 75 34 0 109
Image 54 13 0 67
IDW 42 22 0 64
Dark Horse 42 15 0 57
Dynamic Forces 34 5 0 39
Boom 28 7 0 35
Avatar 11 4 0 15
Random House 0 15 0 15
Eaglemoss 0 0 12 12
Other 63 104 16 183
Total 433 247 29 709
  The Top 10 comic books:

Title  Price  Publisher
1 Batman #29  $4.99 DC
2 Superman Unchained #6  $3.99 DC
3 Forever Evil #6  $3.99 DC
4 Sandman Overture #2  $3.99 DC
5 Superior Spider-Man #29  $3.99 Marvel
6 Daredevil #1  $3.99 Marvel
7 Superior Spider-Man #30  $3.99 Marvel
8 Silver Surfer #1  $3.99 Marvel
9 The Walking Dead #124  $2.99 Image
10 Uncanny X-Men #19.Now  $3.99 Marvel

And the Top 10 graphic novels:

Title  Price  Publisher
1 The Walking Dead Vol. 20: All Out War Part 1  $14.99 Image
2 Saga Volume 3  $14.99 Image
3 Nemo: Roses of Berlin HC  $14.95 Top Shelf
4 Avatar: The Last Airbender Vol. 7: Rift Part 1  $10.99 Dark Horse
5 Chew Volume 8: Family Recipes  $12.99 Image
6 Justice League: Trinity War HC  $29.99 DC
7 Harley Quinn: Welcome to Metropolis  $19.99 DC
8 Adventure Time Vol. 3: Seeing Red  $11.99 Boom
9 Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1  $24.99 Marvel
10 Stray Bullets Uber Alles Edition  $59.99 Image

Last, a word about first quarters in comics in general. January and February's data set off some hand-wringing in various internet circles—in part, because they were the first back-to-back negative months the market had seen in some time. But it's worth noting that since less of the industry's annual volume is sold in the first quarter—just 21.45% of 2012's sales came in the first quarter—both upside and downside changes simply mean less than at other times in the year. Last year's first quarter was up 20% but the year was only up 9%.

As the biggest indicator (beyond the number of accounts) in what a comic book sells this month is what it sold last month, certainly any slowdown is meaningful. But history is replete with strong Aprils wiping out winter losses. The picture of a year seldom is really clear until June—and in years like 2011, with the DC relaunch, it was September before we really knew how things would go.

The final tallies for March should appear here next week.
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