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


Friday, January 12, 2018

Weak December puts 2017 comic shop orders down 10%; big drop, but from a lofty perch

by John Jackson Miller

In the 21st Century, growth — and sometimes rapid growth — in the comics Direct Market has often been the rule. Following the complete collapse of the mid- and late-1990s, retailer orders for comic books and graphic novels increased in 2001-2008 and from 2012-2016, broken up with a three-year recessionary period turned around in mid-2011 by DC's "New 52." 

That's 13 "up" years out of 16, and 2011 just barely missed. (Click to see all our yearly results.) Looking more closely, however, some of those growth years were, themselves, close-run things; it was the case in most of the first decade of the 2000s that whenever periodicals saw temporary downturns, the monumental growth of graphic novels saved the day.

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That did not happen in 2017, with graphic novels and periodicals down about equally. The absence of that moderating factor — plus the lofty level the market was at from all those growth years — combined with a weak December to send comics shop orders of comics, graphic novels, and magazines down 10% for the year, according to the December report released today by Diamond Comic Distributors. The tables are below. (Click also to see our December charts page, which will be updated as more information is processed. We also have a 2017 page with the projected best-sellers through November; our final tallies will go there.) Comichron estimates the total yearly orders to be worth $522.25 million at full retail, a $58.65 million decline. That’s the loss of more than a month’s worth of sales at the previous heated pace.

That heated pace, as mentioned above, is relevant: Diamond reports that the year was still its fourth best for sales to retailers, and my estimates corroborate that: 2014 through 2016 had orders of $540 million, $579 million, and $581 million respectively. 2017 is still up 26% from 2011, nearly $109 million. The altitude’s such that even a significant pullback — and a 10% drop is likely the worst since 1998 — still keeps the market at a higher level than it’s been at for most of the 21st Century. Comichron calculates the number of comic books ordered in 2017 to be 89.44 million, a figure confirmed in Diamond’s release; that number, while off, is better than anything from the first dozen years of the century. Add to that the likely prospects for at least a slight increase in graphic novel sales in 2017 outside the Direct Market, and the long-term positive prospects for the medium likely remain unaltered.

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It’s the current year-to-year and month-to-month that concerns the businesses involved most, of course — and there, again, the picture was not improved by December. December 2016, as I’d noted before, had been off 15%, near the start of the market’s downturn; December 2017 matched that figure. Its $38.48 million in comics and graphic novels ordered by retailers was the lowest monthly total since February 2014, and the 6.23 million comics ordered was the lowest sum since January 2012. The aggravating factor was a much decreased number of new comics offered to market: 447 new comics was the lightest new release slate since April 2016. Graphic novel releases were up, though Image only offered 10 new ones, half its July pace. Publishers appear to have shifted into their winter crouch early.

Earlier in the year, Marvel had been responsible for the full loss in 2017; as reported here when it happened, that shifted when the comparatives began to include DC’s Rebirth months from 2016. The result is that the rest of the market was down 8% for the year, and DC 9%; we still have Image up slightly for the year, and Dynamite by close to 10%, but those were the bright spots.

That said, even with the state of play, DC managed to beat its December 2016 sales, thanks to Doomsday Clock #2, Dark Nights, and the other current chart toppers that helped it to take the market share lead for the month. DC entered 2018, then, with some momentum.

The comparatives:

December 2017 Vs. November 2017
Graphic Novels-21.95%-10.88%
TOTAL COMICS/GNs-18.11%-13.77%
December 2017 Vs. December 2016
Graphic Novels-10.17%-13.37%
TOTAL COMICS/GNs-14.57%-23.23%
Fourth Quarter 2017 Vs. Third Quarter 2017
Graphic Novels8.49%7.61%
TOTAL COMICS/GNs0.82%-4.24%
Fourth Quarter 2017 Vs. Fourth Quarter 2016
Graphic Novels-1.77%-7.71%
TOTAL COMICS/GNs-10.37%-18.66%
Year 2017 Vs. Year 2016
Graphic Novels-9.38%-11.86%
TOTAL COMICS/GNs-10.09%-9.86%

It's notable that not only are comics and graphic novels off about the same, but toys were, too. Remember, also, in looking at graphic novels, that retailers can and do order a sizable amount from distributors other than Diamond, so there's activity not being captured there.

The market shares for December:

Dollar ShareUnit Share
Dark Horse2.69%2.06%

Based on the figures to date, we project Marvel's end of year market share to be just over 36%, followed by DC at 30%, Image at nearly 10%, IDW at 4.5%, Dark Horse at around 3%, and Boom and Dynamite clustered next around 2%.

The new shipment data for December:

PublisherComics shippedGraphic Novels shippedMagazinesTotal shipped
Dark Horse199028
TOTAL SHIPPED44732928804

That puts us at 5,919 new comics for 2017, up from 5,812 — and 4,002 new graphic novels, up from 3,768. Almost the entire increase in new graphic novels in 2017 comes from publishers in that "other" column above.

Finally, the charts for December's top-selling comics...

1Doomsday Clock #24.99DC
2Dark Nights: Metal #4$3.99DC
3Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1$4.99Marvel
4Batman #36$2.99DC
5Batman #37$2.99DC
6Batman: White Knight #3$3.99DC
7Amazing Spider-Man/Venom: Venom Inc. Alpha #1$4.99Marvel
8Marvel Two-In-One #1$3.99Marvel
9Hawkman Found #1$3.99DC
10Amazing Spider-Man #792$3.99Marvel

...and graphic novels:

1Saga Volume 814.99Image
2Batman Vol. 4: The War of Jokes & Riddles$19.99DC
3Star Wars Vol. 6: Out Among The Stars$19.99Marvel
4Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Deus Ex Machina$16.99DC
5Black Hammer Vol. 2: The Event$19.99Dark Horse
6Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad$24.99DC
7Shirtless Bear-Fighter$16.99Image
8Deadly Class Volume 6$16.99Image
10Rick And Morty Volume 6$19.99Oni

As the 2017 data rollout continues,  this page may be updated. Either way, the December estimates should be along next week.

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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