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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
Graphic Novels-26.09%-25.43%
Total Comics/GNs-22.71%-18.65%
February 2019 Vs. February 2018DollarsUnits
Graphic Novels-3.16%-8.47%
Total Comics/GNs-5.27%-8.47%
Year-To-Date 2019 Vs. Year-To-Date 2018DollarsUnits
Graphic Novels+5.00%-2.56%
Total Comics/GNs4.87%-1.59%

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
Dark Horse3.25%2.58%
St. Martins0.60%0.16%

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

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:

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:

1Mister Miracle$24.99DC
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:

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
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:

Dark Horse2413037
Seven Seas021021
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.

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