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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.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Star Wars comics sales history: A 40th anniversary look back

by John Jackson Miller

It's the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars: A New Hope — known to those of us who saw it then as just-plain Star Wars — so here's an update of a post from a couple of years ago on what the movie meant to comics in the 1970s.

Given that much of my professional comics and fiction output has been associated with Star Wars, it's perhaps surprising that I haven't gotten around to doing a circulation spotlight on the original 1977 Marvel series — especially since I've had all the Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation postal forms from the title on hand for years. With Star Wars back in the news for some reason, it seems like a good time to remedy that. Click to see the detailed circulation history of the original 1977 Marvel Star Wars series, according to the company's postal reports.

When the first Star Wars movie was adapted by Marvel in 1977, early issues of the comic book were released before the movie came out. The first issue appeared in two different first printings, both newsstand editions for Curtis Circulation; one was a special rare (and now valuable) variant with a test-marketed price. Beginning with the second issue, first printings of #2-4 were also included in one of the bagged releases for Western Publishing's Whitman three-pack program. (Nick Pope's excellent site catalogs the bagged Whitman Star Wars configurations found in the wild.)

Star Wars bagged editionOnce the movie was released and retailers knew they had a blockbuster on their hands, multiple printings of the early issues were ordered, both by Curtis Circulation — and, most consequentially, by Whitman for use in special Star Wars three-packs. The result was that the early issues of the title were the first comics to exceed 1 million copies per issue in sales since Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics & Stories in 1960. According to Jim Shooter, later Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, "Star Wars saved Marvel" in the late 1970s.

Demand was so high for the reprints of the adaptation that Whitman only ordered Star Wars three-packs from Marvel for several months, perhaps explaining why there are no Whitman variants of other Marvel titles for a period in late 1977, corresponding to early 1978 cover dates. (That fact also helps explain why the "fat-diamond" versions of Marvel's comics in 1977-78 are better referred to as Whitman or special-market editions rather than Direct Market editions. Regardless of whether comics retailers got shipped copies from those print runs — and some reportedly did — those variant printings only existed because of the arrangement with Whitman, something Shooter confirmed to Comichron here.)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How comics sales have changed across time; new pages tracking benchmark levels added

by John Jackson Miller

For years, we've had pages on Comichron collecting not just the #1 comic books ordered each month from Diamond Comic Distributors, but also the 300th-place titles, at the far end of the charts. The latter have always been a useful indicator when it comes to evaluating how much depth there is to sales; while volumes at the very top of the list are erratic due to first issue promotions and editorial events, there's much less volatility further down the charts.

We've always had the ability to report levels at other points on the chart, of course, and so with Diamond now having just passed 20 years of being the exclusive sales agent Marvel in the Direct market, we now present our expanded collection of sortable, searchable charts for the following sales levels:

There are good reasons to look at each of the new benchmarks. At 50th place, we're generally past the larger events and bigger first issue launches, and getting into the meat-and-potatoes books, the regular stalwarts on the charts. At 100th, we're at a level that is useful historically, since in the very early days, the Top 100 lists were all you saw from the distributors. Slot 150 is, of course, dead center of the list each month (well, it's actually between 150 and 151, but never mind) — though the real middle of the list may be closer to 200th place, given the fact that Diamond's slate of comics releases regularly reaches into the 400s.

When considered together — and removing the first-place books, which hop around wildly whether there's a Loot Crate situation involved or not — we clearly see a number of trends that have been mentioned on Comichron for years:

The above graph looks at the average number of copies ordered at each level annually on the chart across the last 20 years, which is a better way to look at it than a graph that tracks orders month-by-month; that graph would be frenetic and noisy due to the fact that there's four-shipping-week and five-week month data being mixed together. The fifth week results in higher sales levels, because there are more potential bestselling titles being offered and more time for the bestselling books to rack up sales. The averages shown above aren't a perfect solution — some years had more five week months than others — but it's pretty close. (We do provide the number of shipping weeks for each month on the destination pages linked above.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why entries for some comics are split in the Diamond ranking charts

by John Jackson Miller

Comichron has had a presence on Twitter for a long time, and occasionally there I field questions about the datasets here on the site. Yesterday's sales report for April generated a number due to the fact that, as noted, Batman #21 and Flash #21 saw their sales figures divided up into two entries each, owing to the fact that both issues had a lenticular cover variant priced at a dollar higher.

Owing to the bifurcation, Batman and Flash ended up being the second-and-fifth place comics of the month in unit terms, rather than first and second, which they would have been with identical cover prices. This led to a number of articles, including the one I'm reacting to here:

...and those inclined can follow my Twitter response thread here.
In summary for the Twitter-impaired, the practice goes back a long way. In the early days of variants, each version tended to get its own line item in the charts published by Capital City Distribution and Diamond Comic Distributors; nothing was combined. The reason was simple: then, as now, the distributor chart isn't a scoreboard. The purpose isn't to say what's #1, but rather how shops ordered titles relative to other titles. So it was that in 1991, every cover of X-Men Vol. 2, #1 got its own listing in the tables. (It's hard to believe, but there was a possibility that the best-selling comic book of all time might not have topped the charts, had another of that era's blockbuster books happened along that month.) Multiple listings for titles — especially for "deluxe" versus newsstand editions offered to the Direct Market — were a common sight.

By the 2000s, however, printing advances made it easier to do micro-runs of variants, and the number of them exploded. It became impossible to break them out and still fit all the important issues into the charts in Diamond Dialogue magazine, where the tables ran until the title ceased publication at the end of 2008. Diamond chose to merge identically priced variants and second and later printings in the rankings because almost all had the same (or no) cover price, and where there was a variant price, it was often quite different, like a $9.99 "platinum edition," which really didn't belong in the same grouping of copies.

Monday, May 8, 2017

April 2017 comics sales estimates: Beyond Marvel's slow start, rest of industry growing

by John Jackson Miller

This April marked 20 years since Marvel Comics returned to Diamond Comic Distributors, ending the distribution wars and launching the Diamond Exclusive Era. While the move helped to reduce instability, the market was far from healthy, and Marvel itself was still going through Chapter 11. At the time, I remember hearing the head of a rival publisher had said "the industry needs a strong Marvel" — and that was certainly the case in that period, as the entire market remained in collapse for several more years.

Today, the comics market is far better shape than it was 20 years ago — any claims otherwise are divorced from history and reality — and Marvel's position is vastly improved. (Its Guardians of the Galaxy 2 film just passed $427 million in global box office.) Still, it remains the largest player in the market, and as such the impact of Marvel's slow start to the year can clearly be seen in Comichron's analysis of Diamond's sales to the Direct Market for April. Click to see our estimated order figures for individual titles in April.

Diamond's shipments of comics and graphic novels to comics shops in North America are off a little more than $10 million year-to-date at full retail, or 5.74% — but shipments of Marvel titles to that market so far this year are off closer to $13 million at full retail, and half of that shortfall came in April. Direct Market orders apart from Marvel are actually up 2.5% year over year; had Marvel's sales to date been flat, the market would have still been up 1.5%.

These figures are derived from multiplying Diamond's reported market shares for publishers by the overall sales of comics, graphic novels, and magazines, at full retail value, computed each month by Comichron using Diamond's percentage change statistics — and while we track these internals every month, we generally do not share the figures online as the "horse race" between publishers gets far too much attention already. As a medium, comics' race against past performance is the more relevant one — and there, Marvel had been improving over the last couple of reports; March's data found the publisher still behind, but by the smallest year-over-year percentage drop since September.

April, however, found Marvel up against a very strong comparative month in 2016. Only five times in the 21st Century has the full retail value of Diamond's shipments of Marvel products topped $20 million; last April, which included Black Panther #1, was one of them. And while around the same number of Marvel periodicals made the Top 300 in April 2016 and April 2017 — 94 versus 92 — ten of this year's issues were True Believer books, priced at one dollar. It cost $386.06 to buy one of every Marvel comic book in April 2016's Top 300; only $344.18 to do the same in April 2017.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Soft start to 2017 continues with April sales; Secret Empire #0 tops charts

by John Jackson Miller

Owing to the lower volumes the comics shop market sees in the winter, we have frequently observed here that a mildly good April is often enough to erase losses during a slow winter. In 2017, it'll have to be a different month that does it, because April was off year-to-year more than any month in the first quarter, according to Comichron's analysis of data released this morning by Diamond Comic Distributors. Comics shops ordered $41.27 million in comic books, graphic novels, and magazines in the month, a drop of more than $6 million from the same month the previous year.

For context, that drop is only the largest since December. And last April's orders were off more, 16% — only to see the year rebound and end up slightly ahead due to DC's "Rebirth" event. Of course, that April had a few things going against it — it was a four-shipping week month versus a five-shipping-week month in 2015, and 2015's sales were supercharged by Star Wars, still new at Marvel. On the other hand, April 2016 did have Black Panther #1, the first blockbuster book of that year.

Marvel's Secret Empire #0, at $4.99, was the top-seller for this April, but it seems less likely to reach the sales levels Black Panther did. Retailers ordered 7.08 million comic books in the month of April, off less than 5% from last April. Periodical dollars were off more; much of DC's line is at $2.99 and there were a number of $1 and other promotionally-priced books in the mix.

Graphic novels were off 17%, continuing the weakness in the category that we've seen all year. Batman Vol. 2: I Am Suicide was the top seller. This was a four-shipping-week month versus a four-shipping-week month, so the calendar is not in play.

The comparative sales statistics:

April 2017 Vs. March 2017
Graphic Novels-10.77%-6.00%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-9.87%-5.36%
April 2017 Vs. April 2016
Graphic Novels-17.18%-15.47%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-13.18%-5.62%
Year-To-Date 2017 Vs. Year-To-Date 2016
Graphic Novels-12.41%-14.02%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-5.74%5.04%

Image topped 10% in market share this month — and for the first time in a while, thanks perhaps to its Aliens promotion, Dark Horse reversed positions with IDW. The market shares:

Dollar ShareUnit Share
Dark Horse4.46%3.06%
Other Non-Top 108.73%5.55%

The Top 10 comic books:

1Secret Empire #0$4.99Marvel
2Batman #21 Lenticular Edition (The Button)$3.99DC
3X-Men Gold #1$4.99Marvel
4X-Men Blue #1$4.99Marvel
5The Flash #21 Lenticular Edition (The Button)$3.99DC
6Batman #20$2.99DC
7Batman #21 (The Button)$2.99DC
8Star Wars #30$3.99Marvel
9Weapon X #1$3.99Marvel
10The Walking Dead #166$2.99Image

The Top 10 Graphic Novels:

1Batman Volume 2: I Am Suicide$16.99DC
2Hellboy: Into The Silent Sea HC$14.99Dark Horse
3Saga Volume 7$14.99Image
4Superman Vol. 2: Trials Of The Super Son$16.99DC
5All-Star Batman Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy HC$24.99DC
6Saga Deluxe Edition Volume 2 HC$49.99Ima
7Batman Volume 10: Epilogue$16.99DC
8Justice League Volume 2: Outbreak$16.99DC
9Avatar The Last Airbender Vol. 15$10.99Dark Horse
10Red Hood & The Outlaws Vol. 1: Dark Trinity$16.99DC

The number of new comics releases for the major publishers was essentially unchanged from this April to last, off very slightly; the pace of new graphic novel releases slowed 6%. That's the same rate for the entire year; there are just fewer new graphic novels out there. The new release volumes:

PublisherComics shippedGraphic Novels shippedMagazinesTotal shipped
Dark Horse2021041

We stand at almost 30 million new comics shipped in 2017, up from about 28 million at this time in 2016; that's the impact of Marvel's overships and Image's 25-cent-books there, among other things.

As usual when there's a slow start to the year, it's worth looking at the long view: while people may not remember, in this decade the market has been down for the year overall by the end of April as many times as it's been up. It was down in 2010-11 and 2016-17, up in the other years. What's made this decade so successful in the Direct Market is some of the up years were really up, while both 2011 and 2016 clawed back to nearly even (or a little ahead in 2016's case) by year-end. In the case of both of those years, a DC relaunch mid-year made the difference; with Free Comic Book Day tomorrow, promotion of publishers' summer slates is well underway, so we'll see what impact those have.

(Quick programming note: For those in the Chicago area, I'll be doing an FCBD talk and event at noon on Saturday at the Algonquin Area Public Library — and heading over at 3 to do a Star Wars-themed event for the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.)

Comichron founder 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 novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Overdraft: The Orion OffensiveStar Wars: A New Dawn, and the Star Trek: Prey trilogy. Read more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Free Comic Book Day: The Origin Story

by John Jackson Miller

Saturday, May 6 is Free Comic Book Day, the sixteenth observance of the comics industry's official holiday; in recent years, many libraries have taken part, as well. I'll be doing a FCBD event in the Chicago area at noon on Saturday at the Algonquin Area Public Library — and heading over at 3 to do a Star Wars-themed event for the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. I wasn't able to make any stops last year, so this is a return to tradition...

...and in something else that's become a tradition for this site, I'm retelling here 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.

Comics sales spotlight: Complete postal sales history for Guardians of the Galaxy

by John Jackson Miller
Every so often we post a new Title Spotlight here on Comichron, listing all the postal Statement of Ownership circulation data from the 500+ titles confirmed to have run forms with numbers — and every so often some event from the outside world moves to push a title to the head of the line. With Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 releasing this week, you can now click to see the full postal sales data for the longest-running Guardians title.

The Guardians of the Galaxy first appeared in 1969 in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 as a group of 31st Century refugees from the Badoon invasion of the Solar System. Led by Vance Astro, the team (created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan) seemed to spend more time in the 20th Century than their own, appearing in various titles but never really catching on.

It wasn't until 1990 that they got a title of their own, written by Jim Valentino. It followed an interesting premise, with the Guardians (now back in their own time) traveling the stars and finding various artifacts and remnants from the Marvel Universe of the past, ranging from Captain America's shield to Iron Man's armor (which, as it turned out, had influenced an entire species calling itself The Stark).

Valentino's Guardians of the Galaxy series sold well out of the gate, releasing into the high-circulation era of the early 1990s; its sales increased considerably in its third year. Valentino left the series to join Image, then, almost exactly halfway through the series run. Sales dropped precipitously in the two years that followed and the Direct Market went into collapse.

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning created a completely different team of Guardians in 2008 in Annihilation: Conquest #6, leading to several new series — and providing the inspiration for feature films in 2014 and 2017.

Postal Statements of Ownership have only been found in the 1990-95 series, so circulation data on the Title Spotlight page is for that series. Sales for the later titles may be found in our monthly reports.

Comichron founder 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 novels including Star Wars: KenobiOverdraft: The Orion OffensiveStar Wars: A New Dawn, and the Star Trek: Prey trilogy. Read more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.
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