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


Thursday, January 12, 2017

2016 comics shop orders beat 2015 -- barely -- after icy December

by John Jackson Miller

As projected here a ways back, comics shop orders of comic books, graphic novels, and magazines finished up for the year, just barely, after a fourth quarter that lost much of the momentum gained in a strong summer. That's according to my preliminary analysis of retailer orders just released by Diamond Comic Distributors, which found Direct Market orders at $580.9 million for last year, up just three tenths of a percent — or $1.7 million — over 2015.

That said, it's the fifth straight growth year, and the comics and graphic novel market overall is doing quite well, thanks to continued strength in the book channel and its reported 12% increase over 2015. And while there will be more analysis here in the coming days, 2016 looks a lot less disappointing when you consider that our year-by-year comparisons are with a black swan (or is that black wampa?) event, the monumental return of Star Wars to Marvel's comics line in 2015.

Starting right at the beginning of the year with a million-copy first issue, Star Wars alone accounted for about 6% of Direct Market sales in 2015, or an addition of more than $31 million just when you count comics and graphic novels that made the Top 300 lists that year. That's a tenfold increase over 2014, when Dark Horse was winding down with the license and published very little new material — a lot of dollars added to the marketplace. The Star Wars line continued to contribute in 2016, at about two-thirds 2015's super-heated pace — and other comics and graphic novels made up the difference to keep 2016 just barely ahead of the year before. But a repeat of 2015's 7% increase overall wasn't something market-watchers expected.

In fact, if you look at the growth figures following 2011's DC relaunch, you can see a pattern: the Direct Market finding its way to a slower-growth equilibrium following that major event, with a brief blip from Star Wars:
2012: +15%
2013: +6%
2014: +4%
2015: +7%
2016: +0.3%

As you can see, 2012 was huge, coming off one of the market's lower points in recent memory. Without the tens of millions of dollars added in 2015 and 2016 by Star Wars comics, we'd actually be looking at 2015 being the slowdown year, at +1% — and 2016 would have been an improvement, up 3%.

So part of the story is that, thanks in part to DC's Rebirth, the overall market was able to hang in there after a large burst of attention in 2015; the first quarter of 2016 was even able to eke out a slight gain versus the same quarter the year before, which was when the Star Wars launch began. New comics unit sales overall topped 99 million copies, just missing the nine-digit level. The letdown this year has really more been the fourth quarter, just ended: it was off 6%.

The aggregate changes:

December 2016 Vs. November 2016
Graphic Novels-11.19%1.10%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-9.69%-1.56%
December 2016 Vs. December 2015
Graphic Novels-4.24%18.44%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-14.84%-6.66%
Fourth Quarter 2016 Vs. Third Quarter 2016
Graphic Novels0.07%1.88%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-5.36%-5.42%
Fourth Quarter 2016 Vs. Fourth Quarter 2015
Graphic Novels1.53%12.21%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-6.11%0.30%
Year 2016 Vs. Year 2015
Graphic Novels1.24%2.10%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels0.30%1.10%

The market shares for December follow. Note that these are not the market shares for 2016 overall; those will be along later.

Dollar ShareUnit Share
Dark Horse3.17%2.43%

An important note here: remember that the  category to care more about is dollar sales, and not unit sales, when it comes to market share. As we've seen with Loot Crate and when graphic novels are sold at deep discount, a publisher can get a lot of unit share without actually bringing in a commensurate portion of market share. In the above chart, for example, Dynamite got a five-point unit share bump thanks to the 25-cent copies of Red Sonja #0 it shipped to market. Diamond no longer includes promotionally priced items in the Top 300 chart —books below $1, generally — so this unit share area is the only place you'll see it.

This is important to remember going forward, as it'll be happening again with the Image 25-cent comics releasing next month — and, in a different way, unit share is impacted by the Marvel overship program. Overshipped copies have been and will continue to appear in the Diamond Top 300 charts with no reduction; the books were shipped to market with a cover price above $1, and at least some of them were paid for. But overshipped copies will only impact the unit market shares, and not the dollar ones.

Diamond does provide the information to be able to tell what books are impacted by this; we just haven't published it. That changes with the current redesign, which you may have noticed is slowly rolling out here: Comichron will be including the retail or dollar rankings with all its comics and graphic novel charts in the future, and you can sort by dollar ranking if desired. We are also retroactively adding dollar rankings where available as we retrofit the earlier pages; you can try it out on the 2015 end-of-year page or the November 2016 page.

On to the top sellers. On the comics side, Justice League/Suicide Squad #1 led the pack:

Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad #1
Inhumans Vs. X-Men #1
Dark Knight III: The Master Race #7
Batman #12
Batman #13
6Civil War II #8$4.99Marvel
7Star Wars #26$3.99Marvel
8Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #1$4.99Marvel
9Hulk #1$3.99Marvel
10All-Star Batman #5$4.99DC

And on the graphic novel side, Love is Love from IDW was the top seller:

1Love Is Love$9.99IDW
2Batman Volume 9: Bloom$16.99DC
3Descender Volume 3: Singularities$14.99Image
4Wolverine: Old Man Logan$29.99Marvel
5I Hate Fairyland Volume 2: Fluff My Life$14.99Image
6Invincible Iron Man Volume 1: Reboot$17.99Marvel
7Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron$19.99Marvel
8Doctor Strange Volume 1: Way Of Weird$19.99Marvel
9Batman Volume 10: Epilogue HC$22.99DC
10Black Science Vol. 5: True Atonement$14.99Image

There were about 14% fewer new comics released in December, which is about what you'd expect for a five-week-versus-four-week comparison; there were only 4% fewer new graphic novels, which is why that category fared a little better relative to comics.

Novels shipped
Dark Horse2610036

Diamond shipped 5,812 different new comics in 2016; that compares to 5,689 in 2015. It shipped 3,768 new graphic novels in the year, up from 3,362.

The full December estimates will be posted Friday morning; Diamond will release the 2016 year-end tables later on. We'll update the 2016 landing page when that happens, and add some more analysis.

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. All three volumes of his novel trilogy for 2016, Star Trek: Prey, are now on sale.

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