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Friday, May 13, 2016

Black Panther #1 leads April 2016 comics market; middle-tier publisher release slate cuts impact sales

by John Jackson Miller

April 2016's comics and graphic novel sales, announced today by Diamond Comic Distributors, were down significantly from the same month a year ago — a month that had an additional shipping week and a lot more going for it. With the launch of Convergence's weekly series and higher volumes on Star Wars titles, April 2015 was, in fact, the best month in overall dollar terms in the Diamond Exclusive Era.

By comparison, April 2016's comics shop sales of comics an graphic novels, estimated by Comichron at $47.54 million, were down nearly $9 million, with comics dollars falling more than graphic novel dollars.

The 16.19% overall drop is larger than we would expect when comparing a five-week month to a four-week month, but there's something else at work here. First, let's have a look at the aggregate sales changes:

Dollars Units
April 2016 vs. March 2016
Comics 8.18% 8.19%
Graphic Novels -8.81% -8.22%
Total Comics/GNs 2.06% 6.50%
April 2016 vs. April 2015
Comics -18.05% -22.28%
Graphic Novels -11.99% -12.42%
Total Comics/GNs -16.19% -21.49%
Year-to-date 2016 vs. Year-to-date 2015
Comics -7.84% -13.05%
Graphic Novels 4.87% 5.23%
Total Comics/GNs -4.06% -11.69%

Now examine the number of new releases in each category for the month. We see that 420 new comics were offered in April, down from 545 in April 2015:

Comics shipped Graphic novels shipped Magazines shipped Total shipped
Marvel 92 35 1 128
DC 80 31 1 112
Image 56 17 1 73
IDW 43 21 0 64
Dark Horse 27 19 0 46
Boom 27 8 0 35
Titan 22 3 1 26
Dynamite 19 6 0 25
Viz 0 21 0 21
Oni 8 4 0 12
Other 46 139 26 211
TOTAL 420 304 30 753

That is a steep drop: 23% fewer new comic books were released in April 2016 versus the year before. That figure is higher than the actual 18% drop in new comics dollar sales year-over-year, and much higher than we would expect from the usual four-to-five-week month difference. (The number of graphic novel releases was about the same.) Put another way, publishers released 30% more new comic books in April 2015 than in the following April.

You might think that the addition of a fifth week would result in an increase of 25% in new material -- and a decrease of 20% when that fifth week is gone -- but the numbers are usually much lower. Comics are monthlies, not every-four-weeks; publishers don't always increase their slates just to accommodate the extra week. Offerings tend to spread out a little more. This drop in the number of comics offered is significantly higher, and points to reduced offerings by publisher design.

What's the source of the drop? The middle-tier publishers, whose increased offerings in recent years helped bulk up the market. IDW is the biggest source of the drop, offering 43 periodicals this April versus 63 last April. Image is down from 74 to 56 titles, Dynamite 35 to 19, Boom down from 39 to 27. The middle-tier publishers are playing it more conservatively in 2016, and one result is lower overall volume.

This also shows up in the market shares:

Dollar share Unit share
Marvel 42.98% 47.87%
DC 25.82% 25.13%
Image 8.72% 8.95%
IDW 4.41% 3.67%
Dark Horse 3.07% 2.42%
Boom 2.39% 2.45%
Dynamite 1.53% 1.45%
Titan 1.10% 1.09%
Viz 0.97% 0.38%
Oni 0.87% 0.63%
Other 8.12% 5.96%

The collective dollar share of Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Boom, and Dynamite dropped from to 24.1% last April to 20.12% this April. So while there is likely some market softening in 2016, the declining size of publishers' release slates is clearly playing a role. They're releasing fewer books.

The growth of the industry in recent years has been bolstered by the growing slates of the middle-tier publishers; the present adjustment checks that growth somewhat, but may improve per-title profits and make publishing more sustainable.

Among the books that were released, Marvel's Black Panther #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze led a top ten that had many first issues:

Title Price Publisher
1 Black Panther #1 $4.99 Marvel
2 Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 $4.99 Marvel
3 Dark Knight III: The Master Race #4 $5.99 DC
4 Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1 $4.99 Marvel
5 Batman #51 $3.99 DC
6 Gwenpool #1 $4.99 Marvel
7 Star Wars #18 $3.99 Marvel
8 Darth Vader #19 $3.99 Marvel
9 Harley Quinn & Suicide Squad April Fool's Special #1 $4.99 DC
10 Amazing Spider-Man #10 $3.99 Marvel

And on the graphic novel side, DC had the top book with the Wonder Woman Earth One hardcover:

Title Price Publisher
1 Wonder Woman: Earth One Book 1 HC $22.99 DC
2 Star Wars: Vader Down $19.99 Marvel
3 Rat Queens Volume 3: Demons $14.99 Image
4 I Hate Fairyland Vol. 1: Madly Ever After $9.99 Image
5 Thanos: The Infinity Finale HC $24.99 Marvel
6 Civil War $24.99 Marvel
7 Deadpool: World's Greatest Volume 1: A Millionaire With Mouth $15.99 Marvel
8 Black Magick Vol. 1: Awakening Part One $9.99 Image
9 Batman: The Killing Joke Special Edition HC $17.99 DC
10 Rick & Morty Volume 2 $19.99 Oni

The final estimates will be along next week.
John 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, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive, and Star Wars: A New Dawn, now available in paperback. His trilogy for 2016, Star Trek: Prey, ships in consecutive months in September, October, and November.

Visit his fiction site at And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.
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