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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Loot Crate-charged Orphan Black gives IDW its first top-seller in strong February market

by John Jackson Miller the strangest turn yet in what has turned into the Mail-Order Grab-Bag Era of comics sales, a comic book has topped the Diamond Comic Distributors charts in February 2015 based in large degree on the sales of a mail-order variant that has not, as of this writing, been shipped to its customers.

IDW's Orphan Black #1 appeared atop the preliminary Diamond sales charts for February released today, giving the publisher its first #1 book and making IDW only the fifth publisher in the Diamond Exclusive Era to have a book top the charts. (It joins Marvel, DC, Image, and Dreamwave, which was the last new publisher to top the list in April 2002.) And while we won't know until the mail-order boxes arrive, it very much appears that the comic book may be in the Loot Crate for March, which doesn't reach subscribers' mailboxes until later this month.

The Top Ten list:

Top 10 Comics for March
  Description Price Vendor
1 Orphan Black #1 $3.99 IDW
2 Darth Vader #1 $4.99 Marvel
3 Spider-Gwen #1 $3.99 Marvel
4 Star Wars #2 $3.99 Marvel
5 Batman #39 $3.99 DC
6 Amazing Spider-Man #14 $3.99 Marvel
7 Darth Vader #2 $3.99 Marvel
8 Amazing Spider-Man #15 $3.99 Marvel
9 Silk #1 $3.99 Marvel
10 Justice League #39 $3.99 DC

While IDW's unit sales share went up, its dollar share did not — and as Diamond's market shares are based on dollars received, it appears that something was ordered in very large numbers and at a much deeper discount than average. That would tend, too, to suggest that Orphan Black #1 was helped out significantly by Loot Crate:

Market shares
Publisher Dollar Share Unit Share
Marvel 38.44% 39.33%
DC 25.91% 28.15%
Image 10.51% 10.61%
IDW 5.57% 8.06%
Dark Horse 3.48% 2.66%
Dynamite 2.63% 2.38%
Boom 2.12% 2.12%
Eaglemoss 0.95% 0.18%
Viz 0.89% 0.32%
Avatar 0.85% 0.64%
Other 8.64% 5.54%

So, taking nothing away from IDW or Orphan Black #1 — the chart appearance of which is perfectly in line with Diamond's practices, since Diamond did sell Loot Crate, a reseller, the copies in February — it appears likely this is another comic book, like Marvel's Rocket Raccoon #1 and Image's Walking Dead #132 before it, that would not have been the #1 book in the comic shop market alone. Loot Crate's orders recently appear to have been over a quarter of a million copies — and while that sum was only gravy for Marvel's Star Wars #1 in January, any other month, it easily creates a #1 in the comics market most months.

There was a different paradoxical situation created in December, when the Loot Crate included Batman #36, but that book saw no spike on the Diamond chart because Diamond evidently wasn't the intermediary. And Star Wars #1 appeared in the February Nerd Block, but we have no way of knowing whether those copies were counted with February or already reported in January.

Grab bags are nothing new in comics: three-packs were a major delivery system for Whitman in the 1970s. The scale of the sales relative to the rest of the market is what's different. I have from the start flagged comics with these large outside sales with asterisks (or rather, daggers) in the sales charts; it is important for readers ten and twenty years down the road to know why a particular book spiked so high. I've included the full figures, though, because there's no way to know how many copies came from Loot Crate, or Nerd Block, or whomever.

I tend to be skeptical that a grab-bag comic book sale is of equal "weight" with a purchase at a comic shop — while money changes hands for these boxes, no one took the affirmative step to purchase a specific comic book, and usually grab bags generate a lot of unwanted copies. (The three-packs of old always seemed to include that middle comic book no one wanted!) But the books are in circulation, and theoretically could increase the sales of later issues as introductions to the series. It's really the sheer volume of copies being ordered that's complicating the charts. Three hundred copies, no one would notice. Three hundred thousand copies makes an impact!

Diamond's position is even more complicated. It's selling the comics to the reseller Loot Crate — although it's unclear whether the same terms are in effect, if Diamond's making significantly less per copy than on its usual comics. It is also performing services for both the publishers of the books and the retail outlet buying them; it probably cannot either remove the Loot Crate sales from its list, which would under-report both Diamond and the publisher's performance — or segregate them into a separate listing, which would reveal how much Loot Crate was buying. think the best route would probably be if the books these firms bought were treated as special items, not included in the Top 300s but still counting toward the market shares for each publisher. Diamond did that after April 2002 (that month again!) which was the month the first Free Comic Book Day issues shipped; Diamond initially put them in the Top 300 list, where the low-cost books easily topped the charts. In years since, however, it has removed them — as well as stunt-pricing products, in the years after the mini-wave started by Batman: The Ten-Cent Adventure.

We will see for sure on Monday where Orphan Black #1 is in the scheme of things: if its dollar ranking is beneath any of the $3.99 issues also on the list, we can presume most of its sales came from Loot Crate or elsewhere. (And when the Loot Crate for March reaches subscribers, we'll know either way.)

Okay, back to February in general. Retailers (storefront and otherwise) bought more than $42 million in comics and graphic novels from Diamond in the month, just a little less than January. The market was up 14% over last February, and it's up 13% for the year:

Comparative Sales Performance
FEBRUARY 2015 VS. JANUARY 2014    
Comics 3.22% 6.42%
Graphic Novels -18.17% -17.23%
Total Comics & GNs -3.56% 4.53%
Comics 20.42% 22.14%
Graphic Novels 0.08% -12.28%
Total Comics & GNs 14.17% 19.18%
Comics 15.20% 15.76%
Graphic Novels 8.64% -0.34%
Total Comics & GNs 13.20% 14.43%

For readers wanting to know how much Loot Crate is impacting sales overall: the answer is that while it's clearly causing some impact at the top of the charts each month, in the overall figures, it tends to wash out. At Loot Crate's current sales levels it's kicking in about a million a month to the overall retail figure when a comic book is included; but Diamond is currently ahead by $10 million this year. So its contribution is considerable, but probably not determinative of whether the market is up or down.

Superman: Earth One Vol. 3 led the top-selling graphic novels:

Top Graphic Novels and Trade Paperbacks
  Description Price Vendor
1 Superman: Earth One Vol. 3 HC $22.99 DC
2 Sex Criminals Vol. 2: Two Worlds One Cop $14.99 Image
3 The Fade-Out Vol. 1 $9.99 Image
4 Saga Vol. 4 $14.99 Image
5 Chew Vol. 9: Chicken Tenders $14.99 Image
6 Trees Vol. 1 $14.99 Image
7 The Walking Dead Vol. 11 HC $34.99 Image
8 Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal $15.99 Marvel
9 Saga Vol. 1 $9.99 Image
10 Kick-Ass 3 $24.99 Marvel

And, finally, we see that there weren't a whole lot of new releases this month, which is par for February. There were 25 more new releases this February than last February. IDW was actually seventh in the new-release volume list, lower than it often is; this again underscores the amount that Orphan Black's sales added.

New release volume
  Comics shipped Graphic Novels shipped Magazines shipped Total shipped
DC 94 26 1 121
Marvel 79 28 0 107
Image 61 15 0 76
Dynamite 34 6 0 40
Boom 33 6 0 39
Dark Horse 27 9 0 36
IDW 23 8 0 31
Viz 0 25 0 25
Avatar 8 2 1 11
Eaglemoss 0 0 10 10
Other 99 96 26 221
Total 458 221 38 717

That's it. Back here Monday for the full estimates. Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 20 years, including a decade editing the industry's retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises. He is the author of several novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Dawn, and the upcoming Star Trek: The Next Generation - Takedown, now available. Visit his fiction site at

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