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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.

 

Friday, March 15, 2019

February sales dip on lean new comics slate, but per-title sales improve; Marvel sees growth

by John Jackson Miller


 Find this book at TFAW
For decades in the comics industry, the winter has often earned the monicker "Dead Quarter" — not so much for sales, which have often been strong, but because publishers, anticipating bad weather,  simply don't release much into the market. That dynamic, combined with DC's stated plans to reduce its new comics offerings by 10-15% over the past year, has seriously reduced new offerings in three of the last four months. November had the smallest new release slate for comic books since before DC's Rebirth; December, truncated by the holidays, had even fewer new releases, and the smallest DC periodical slate since 1991.

After a rebound in January, February 2019 returned to the trend, with the smallest number of new comics releases since Diamond Comic Distributors began reporting overall figures in July 2013. There were no first issues in the Top 9 at all, indicating few publishers were interested in launching big projects into the month. Sixty fewer new comics were released versus the same month in 2018, a drop of 13%; new comics unit sales were consequently off 8.47% to 5.77 million copies, the lowest figure since May 2011. Dollars were down just 6.06%. Retailers ordered $34.73 million in comics and graphic novels overall, down 5% and the lowest figure since March 2012. Click to visit our page for February 2019 comics sales estimates; the figures will be posted next week.

DC was responsible for nearly half of the drop in the number of new comics periodical offerings: its slate was chopped a full third, from 88 comics last February to 59 this February. Graphic novel new release volume was less severely cut, from 318 new releases last February to 304 this February; there, DC only shipped five fewer graphic novels than in the year before.

 Find this book at TFAW
DC's stated goal in cutting back its offerings was to improve the performances of individual titles; it was at least partially successful in this, with the publisher's overall dollar sales of comics and graphic novels down 15% in a month when the number of new offerings had been cut by twice as much. (The market-leading Batman Who Laughs #3 helped that cause.) Image likewise offered many fewer new comics, dropping from 70 last February to 47 last month; its year-to-year drop was similar to DC's. Marvel, meanwhile, grew its slate, with five more comic books and nine more graphic novels released than in the previous February — and it appears to have benefited from it, selling 9% more dollars worth of material versus its performance then.

We thus see competing strategies at work: attempting to maximize the benefits from a smaller number of titles versus business-as-usual. The net impact on the charts this month was a low-single digit loss, but there is some evidence that leaner may be working. The number of new offerings in the past year has dropped, and average sales per title — the number of comics bought divided by the number of new titles offered — has increased eight of the last 12 months versus the previous year. Regard the chart, which looks at year-over-year changes to sales of the average comic book offered:


The average new release in February 2019 had orders of 14,830 copies, up from 14,038 in February 2018. That's an increase of 6% in copies ordered per new release; the fact that there were 60 fewer releases is what pulled the market lower overall. There's a "sweet spot" between the number of new releases and sales-per-title for each publisher; finding that is always the trick.

So we'll see if there's additional fine-tuning to new-release totals as we head out of what was, for much of North America, a particularly harsh winter. And no matter what else happens, the presence of Detective Comics #1000 in March seems pretty likely to improve DC's average-title sales considerably, just as Action #1000 did last April.

The comparative sales statistics are up first. Comics and graphic novel units were off by exactly the same amount, something we have never seen before:


February 2019 Vs. January 2019
DollarsUnits
Comics-21.31%-18.10%
Graphic Novels-26.09%-25.43%
Total Comics/GNs-22.71%-18.65%
Toys-19.93%-35.10%
February 2019 Vs. February 2018DollarsUnits
Comics-6.06%-8.47%
Graphic Novels-3.16%-8.47%
Total Comics/GNs-5.27%-8.47%
Toys+20.34%+18.44%
Year-To-Date 2019 Vs. Year-To-Date 2018DollarsUnits
Comics+4.82%-1.51%
Graphic Novels+5.00%-2.56%
Total Comics/GNs4.87%-1.59%
Toys+27.83%+39.44%

The market shares reflect the very lean offerings by the major publishers; the mainstream book channel publisher St. Martin's Press has never made the Top 10 before.

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Marvel40.20%44.48%
DC28.69%30.64%
Image9.49%9.30%
Dark Horse3.25%2.58%
Dynamite2.58%2.35%
IDW2.55%2.20%
Boom2.38%2.26%
Viz1.78%0.67%
St. Martins0.60%0.16%
Oni0.56%0.39%
Other7.91%4.96%

Batman Who Laughs continued its run atop the charts, for the third issue in a row. The top-selling comics by units:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by units)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Batman Who Laughs #3$4.99DC
2Batman #64$3.99DC
3Batman #65$3.99DC
4Venom #11$3.99Marvel
5Heroes In Crisis #6$3.99DC
6Amazing Spider-Man #15$3.99Marvel
7Uncanny X-Men #12$3.99Marvel
8Flash #64$3.99DC
9Uncanny X-Men #11$7.99Marvel
10Avengers No Road Home #1$4.99Marvel

The $7.99 Uncanny X-Men #11 bounds up the charts when we look at the top-selling comics by dollars:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by dollars)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Batman Who Laughs #3$4.99DC
2Uncanny X-Men #11$7.99Marvel
3Batman #64$3.99DC
4Batman #65$3.99DC
5Venom #11$3.99Marvel
6Amazing Spider-Man #16$4.99Marvel
7Heroes In Crisis #6$3.99DC
8Return of Wolverine #5$4.99Marvel
9Amazing Spider-Man #15$3.99Marvel
10Uncanny X-Men #12$3.99Marvel

Mister Miracle performed well in reorders all month, and led the top-selling graphic novels by units:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by units)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Mister Miracle$24.99DC
2Spider-Geddon$24.99Marvel
3Infinity Wars$34.99Marvel
4Immortal Hulk Vol. 2 Green Door$15.99Marvel
5My Hero Academia Vol 17$9.99Viz
6Deadpool Secret Agent Deadpool$14.99Marvel
7Man-Eaters Vol. 1$12.99Image
8Infinity Gauntlet Deluxe Edition$34.99Marvel
9Captain America Vol. 1 Winter In America$17.99Marvel
10Amazing Spider-Man By Nick Spencer Vol. 2$15.99Marvel

The book also led the top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by dollars)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Mister Miracle$24.99DC
2He Man & The Masters Of The Universe Omnibus HC$150.00DC
3Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel A Hero Is Born Omnibus HC$100.00Marvel
4Venomnibus HC Vol. 2$125.00Marvel
5Infinity Wars$34.99Marvel
6Infinity Gauntlet Deluxe Edition$34.99Marvel
7Spider-Geddon$24.99Marvel
8Star Wars By Jason Aaron Omnibus HC$125.00Marvel
9Mmw Luke Cage Power Man HC Vol. 3$75.00Marvel
10Wonder Woman By Phil Jiminez Omnibus HC$75.00DC

Finally, the aforementioned number of new items offered. Again, this is a six-year low, at least:

Publisher
Comics
shipped
Graphic
Novels
shipped
Magazines
shipped
Total
shipped
Marvel86400126
DC5928188
Image4719066
Dark Horse2413037
IDW2211033
Boom2110031
Viz027027
Dynamite201021
Seven Seas021021
Oni4307
Other10613122259
TOTAL SHIPPED38930423716

We'll have the full estimates along next week. In the meantime, you can find me this weekend appearing at Midsouthcon in Memphis, where I'm toastmaster this year.

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: KenobiStar Wars: A New Dawn, and the Star Trek: Prey trilogy — and, releasing on July 30, Star Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War. Read more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

25 years ago: Marvel tries to launch a mail-order store -- and ignites the Distributor Wars

by John Jackson Miller

 Find listings for this this catalog on eBayTwenty-five years ago today, shoplifters struck a comic shop. Spider-Man entered, foiling the crooks — and declaring, after it was all over, "This shopping thing is way too dangerous!"

It was a silly bit of advertising copy, included in an eight-page catalog insert that appeared on March 7, 1994 (or March 8, in some stores) in arriving copies of X-Men Adventures Vol. 2, #4, a Marvel comic book that tied in with the Fox TV cartoon. It wasn't unusual for a comic book to include a catalog insert; Gold Key had run them in its comics decades before, and Mark Jewelers insert variants are something many collectors of 1970s Marvel comics prize.

The difference was that this catalog, appearing in a small percentage of Marvel's March-shipping copies, was for its own merchandise outlet, called "Marvel Mart." And with the bubble comics market of the early 1990s just beginning to deflate (as described in my retrospective series here), it immediately became the focus of retailers' anxieties — and, in many cases, fury.

Retailers in the period had been fearful of many different kinds of storefront competitors, including Blockbuster Video, which had been rumored to be interested in comics. (Coincidental timing: as of today, that chain is finally down to one location.) Retailer worries surrounding Marvel had often centered on the possibility of Marvel getting into retail itself, with its own chain stores. But Marvel launching its own mail-order merchandise outlet was seen as no less a threat. The internet wasn't a retail competitor, yet, but catalogs were booming, as were TV home shopping channels. Mail-order was a big deal.

The Marvel Mart catalog that appeared first in certain copies of X-Men Adventures and later in Amazing Spider-Man #389, possibly among others — included (as my article at left, from Comics Retailer #26, described) offers for individual comics, trade paperbacks, and back issue runs, including Marvels #1-4 and Daredevil: Man Without Fear #1-5. (At least two versions of the catalog are said to exist; several loose copies are available on eBay.)

Retailers objected immediately and vehemently to the whole idea of the mail-order outlet — not to mention Spider-Man declaring that shopping in a comics store was dangerous. But that wasn't all. The inclusion of the catalog in comics they had bought to resell had many retailers feeling that they were being made instruments of their own demise — the catalogs increased the weight of the comics, even, which made shipping more expensive for the distributors. One retailer shipped his Marvel neon sign back to the company with an angry note. Another reported sending (rather melodramatically) a nail, "dipped in the 'blood' of the Direct Market."

Diamond Comic Distributors faxed a bulletin to its accounts warning them of the presence of the catalog. "We are extremely disappointed at Marvel's apparent lack of concern for its most viable market: the direct market retailers and distributors who provide a solid financial base for their current business operations." While praising Marvel's other outreach efforts, Diamond said the Marvel Mart program had "serious implications for retailers, distributors, and the entire direct market distributing system."

With criticisms mounting, Marvel soon reacted, apologizing for what it called a test-marketed effort from its Corporate Marketing Department. "We did a lot of things badly," said Matt Ragone, Marvel's VP for the Direct Market on March 18. Marvel canceled inclusion of the catalog in further copies. "Marvel takes seriously its mission  to bring as many people into the circle of comics and comics merchandise buyers as humanly possible," he said, and the catalog effort was in that spirit — but Marvel put the kibosh on the whole thing.

The episode had raised retailer ire, but its longest term effects may have come instead from the anger expressed by another distributor. Comics Unlimited, a regional distribution operation, opened its April 1994 newsletter to retailers (part of which is seen at right) with a broadside against Marvel by owner Walter Wang, calling the inclusion of the catalog "at best insensitive, and at worst deliberately insulting" — and while he did not call for a boycott, he advised retailers "to try to reduce the importance of Marvel comics sales in your store" in a number of ways, including promoting other publishers and doing less co-op advertising with Marvel.

Marvel strongly objected to such advice coming from a distributor, whose job, ostensibly, was to represent its products favorably. After a series of communications, Marvel discontinued selling comics to Comics Unlimited on May 18, saying later that the fundamental distributor relationship "was severely damaged." Unable to continue without Marvel, Wang sold his company to Diamond on May 29.

Marvel would leave its relationships with all distributors following its Dec. 28, 1994 purchase of Heroes World Distribution — an event that led to either the collapse or exit of all comics distributors but Diamond from the market. And while that purchase may have been prompted more by other factors — including investor Ronald Perelman's acquisition spree and the speed with which the Direct Market distributors made possible the rise of Image — buzz from behind the scenes has long suggested to me that this first break with a distributor may have set the stage for all the later ones.

If Comics Unlimited was the first casualty in the Distributor Wars — and in some measure, it was — then Marvel Mart's part in comics history thus looms a bit larger than a simple side-business gone awry. Recriminations were flying at all levels in the crashing comics market of 1994; for a publisher, buying a distributor and going exclusive had the effect of removing one of those levels entirely. In Marvel's case, it worked for exactly 21 months; by the time it returned to open distribution, Diamond was the only player left.

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: KenobiStar Wars: A New Dawn, and the Star Trek: Prey trilogy — and, releasing on July 30, Star Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War. Read more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Star Wars, War of the Realms lead reorders as March begins

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Last week's reorders were led by the Jason Aaron Star Wars Omnibus, followed by the Mister Miracle trade — with Batman #65 the top reordered comic book. Umbrella Academy trades ranked highly thanks to the TV show. Click to see reorder activity for February 2019.

Martian Manhunter #4 was the top advance-reordered March issue. Click to see reorder activity for March 2019.

Advance reorders were led by April-shipping War of the Realms #1 and its variants, with the J. Scott Campbell one the most popular. Click to see reorder activity so far for April 2019.
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