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


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.

So while there's the appearance that Marvel's slate in April was the same size as in the previous year, there's less money in play; even if ordering levels were completely static (which they aren't) topping the earlier total would still be a harder climb. While it's not an easy matter to parse what true order levels are in an era of overships and repackaging services — this month's top periodical, Secret Empire #0, was in the May Marvel Collector Corps box — the computation method described above suggests April saw one of the publisher's larger historical year-over-year drops in percentage terms when it comes to the number of dollars worth of books shipped.

As noted here on Friday, however, the sales season for 2017 is only really now getting underway; Free Comic Book Day, with its coincident Marvel movie release, has evolved into the start of the summer/fall for comics, traditionally comics' highest volume period. There is another very strong comparative month coming up in June, which faces off against June 2016, both Marvel's and the overall market's best month in the 21st Century in dollars worth of product shipped — and this June will have one less shipping week. But combining May and June will cancel out the calendar's effects, so by midyear we should have a clear picture of how the year is trending.

It's worth noting as well that a significant headwind is coming from the graphic novel sector, and it's unclear whether it's attributable to any single publisher. The Top 300 Graphic Novel sales for the year, while still down, look a lot better than Diamond's reported figure for the overall — but that doesn't necessarily mean the fault lies in the titles in the "long tail." As noted here many times, Top 300 sales numbers are regularly inflated by deep discounting. If there's been more deep discounting this year versus last year, retailers could receiving the same number of books or more and the wholesale dollar value could still be down.

Specific to April's charts, Marvel's Secret Empire #0 was the nominal leader with more than 162,700 copies shipped in North America — although readers will note that there are two entries which have their orders divided: Batman #21 and Flash #21. The two issues each have a lenticular-cover version priced at a dollar more, and Diamond's practice is to merge all variants except for those with different cover prices. (We saw this with the Combo Packs DC used to do.) Merging the entries would put Batman in first place with more than 219,000 copies, and Flash second with more than 174,000 copies. It appears Marvel's issue would still be the #1 book in dollar terms.

Comichron's policy is to leave Diamond's rankings intact on the monthly pages, but we tend to merge Combo Pack and similar entries when it comes to our various historical records pages.

The month in capsule:

April 2017 6.52 million copies
1 Year Ago 6.69 million copies -3%
5 Years Ago 6.1 million copies +7%
10 Years Ago 7.13 million copies -9%
15 Years Ago 5.7 million copies -9%
20 Years Ago 9.34 million copies -30%
ALL Comics Shipped in Month (Units) 7.08 million copies -5%
Year To Date 26.52 million copies
1 Year Ago 25.14 million copies  5.0
5 Years Ago 23.99 million copies 11
10 Years Ago 27.43 million copies -3
15 Years Ago 21.88 million copies 21
ALL Comics Shipped Year to Date (Units) 30.34 million copies +7%
April 2017 $24.72 million
1 Year Ago $27.57 million -10%
5 Years Ago $21.34 million +16%
10 Years Ago $21.82 million +13%
15 Years Ago $16.27 million +52%
20 Years Ago $20.62 million +20%
ALL Comics Shipped during Month (Dollars) -11%
Year To Date $100.09 million
1 Year Ago $100.37 million 0%
5 Years Ago $82.94 million +21%
10 Years Ago $85.96 million +16%
15 Years Ago $62.08 million +61%
ALL Comics Shipped Year to Date (Dollars) -3%
April 2017 (Top 300 GNs) $6.45 million
April 2017 (Top 100 GNs) $4.18 million
April 2017 (Top 50 GNs) $2.55 million
April 2017 (Top 25 GNs) $1.8 million
Versus 1 Year Ago $8.2 million -21%
Versus 5 Years Ago (Top 300) $6.76 million -5%
Versus 10 Years Ago (Top 100) $5.11 million -18%
Versus 15 Years Ago (Top 50) $2.23 million +14%
ALL Graphic Novel Shipped in Month (Dollars) -17%
Year To Date $30.66 million
1 Year Ago $32.69 million -6%
ALL Graphic Novel Dollars Shipped Year to Date (Dollars) -12%
April 2017 (including Top 300 GNs) $31.17 million
April 2017 (including Top 300 GNs) $28.9 million
April 2017 (including Top 100 GNs) $27.27 million
April 2017 (including Top 25 GNs) $26.52 million
Versus 1 Year Ago $35.77 million -13%
Versus 5 Years Ago (Top 300) $28.1 million +3%
Versus 10 Years Ago (Top 50) $26.93 million -8%
Versus 15 Years Ago (Top 50) $18.5 million +52%
All Comics & GNs Shipped in Month (Dollars) -13%
Year To Date $130.79 million
1 Year Ago $132.44 million -1%
ALL Comics & GNs Shipped Year to Date (Dollars) -6%
April 2017 $41,269,100.00
Versus 1 Year Ago $47.54 million -13%
Versus 5 Years Ago $35.98 million +15%
Versus 10 Years Ago $34.8 million +19%
Year To Date $166.94 million
1 Year Ago $177.11 million -6%
Secret Empire#0  162,718 copies at  $4.99
Magdalena #2  4,244 copies at  $3.99
New Comics Released 479
New Graphic Novels Released 286
New Magazines Released 34
Total New Print Items Released 799
Average Cover Price of Comics in the Top 300 $3.84
Average Cover Price of Comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders $3.79
Average Cover Price of Comics in the Top 25 $3.83
Median Cover Price of Comics in the Top 300 $3.99
Most Common Cover Price of Comics in the Top 300 $3.99

Again, there is a lot going on inside the numbers in 2017 in the Direct Market that makes diagnostic efforts difficult, so beware of simple-answer prescriptions. We're not even sure yet what the real effect has been on the market of the dramatic change in comic-book pricing since DC's "Rebirth": the average comic book retailers ordered in April 2017 cost $3.79, versus $4.12 a year ago this time. A 33-cent swing on the periodical side is something we just don't see in so short a timeframe, and we have little idea how it impacts either retailers' or consumers' calculus.

What is clear is that, while Marvel has had a challenging start to the year, the rest of the industry is positioned such that it wouldn't take a dramatic revival on Marvel's part to turn the overall numbers back positive. As noted, even getting back to even with 2016 would result in an up year for the market.

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.

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