Friday, May 10, 2019

April sales down in a month with no Action #1000; Marvel releases twice as many comics as DC

by John Jackson Miller

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There's a lot of things that make the aggregate numbers in the distributor sales charts swing up and down; the shipping calendar is the one we note here the most, as comparing five-shipping-week months with four-week ones always gives a distorted picture. Add to that list blockbuster anniversary issues, which, in the case of last year's Amazing Spider-Man #800 and last month's Detective Comics #1000, have dollar sales large enough to move the market on their own. (EDIT: Before the day was out, that list grew with the announcement of Marvel Comics #1000 in August.)

So, too, do we see swings later on when we compare months without such books — and that's a big part of what happened in April, as the month's $37.75 million in comics and graphic novel sales to comics shops represented a sharp drop from last April's Action Comics #1000-fortified total. The top sellers are below; the full estimates will appear here on Monday.

Action #1000 alone isn't enough to explain the difference, however, and the contributing factor there is one we've talked about a lot lately: DC just isn't publishing many comics. Back in December, DC released just 52 comic books, its lowest number in any month since 1991; the holiday-truncated month was partially the cause of that. Last month, DC matched that number with no holidays in the mix; its 52 new periodical releases were 29 fewer than April 2018. Marvel, meanwhile, took up the slack again, releasing 106 comic books, 20 more than last April and its highest number since June 2016, before the 2017 slowdown began.

That's right: Marvel released more than twice as many new comic books than DC did in April. That has never happened in the six years since Diamond's been publishing new release counts — nor does Marvel appear to have doubled DC's number of entries in the Top 300 charts at any point since at least 1996. The only time we can definitely say it happened before was in 1974, when DC's line had shrunk and Marvel was practically blowing it off the newsstands, publishing dozens more titles (including more than 20 monthly comics featuring just reprints, mostly horror).

Interestingly, it has occurred in recent memory in the other direction: when Marvel reduced the size of its line after its bankruptcy, DC more than doubled Marvel's periodical output several times; March 2000 saw DC chart 98 new comic books versus Marvel's 41. (It was also a historically bad time for sales overall, though it appears that Marvel did not simply expand its way out of that crisis: per-release sales appear to have improved before line size increases took place.)

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DC's number of new graphic novel offerings, 32, went up by two versus last April, while Marvel's remained the same; it's the other publishers whose output shrank considerably. Only 275 new graphic novels were offered to market, down 22% year-over-year. Image published 22 new graphic novels last April; 13 last month. IDW went from 19 to 9.

How do these differing strategies measure up? Marvel's overall dollar sales to the market, aided by the chart-topping War of the Realms #1, were almost exactly even year-over-year — significantly better than the overall market, but requiring more new releases to get there. DC, meanwhile, was down quite a lot, although again last year's Action #1000 accounts for a big chunk of the comparative shortfall. Excising that one title from the 2018 mix, DC is still behind year-over-year, but (as we saw before in February) not by as much as we might expect given the reduction in release slate size.

DC had announced it was going to be publishing fewer periodicals, and there's no doubt it's happened; in the last six months it's released 383 new comics, versus 517 from November 2017 to April 2018. That's a drop of more than 25%, and cannot be discounted when looking at overall unit sales; when the #2 bestselling publisher goes from releasing 20 books a week to 14 or 15 (or 13, as happened last month) that's bound to show up various places in the charts.

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There was also an Avengers movie out in April; rumor is it did some business. Its impact can be seen in the comics charts via Thanos #1, which ranked sixth in dollars and seventh in units, but the greater effect was on graphic novels, where the Infinity War Omnibus, the Infinity by Starlin and Hickman Omnibus, and the $500 Avengers Earth's Mightiest Box Set Slipcase all made the top five in dollars.

I was asked this week why movies don't seem to more obviously drive comics sales; I answered that they do, but what they seem to help most is the source-material graphic novels where retailers can more easily and lucratively focus newcomers' attention.

April's orders bring the year-to-date orders close to $161 million, just slightly better than even with the same period in 2018; May was one of the two best months of the year last year and part of a string of months topping $40 million, so the market will need to improve on its April pace to keep up. Last May saw the DC line reduction starting in earnest, so at least that publisher's comparatives should be somewhat closer.

The comparative sales statistics:

April 2019 Vs. March 2019
Graphic Novels-19.02%-27.69%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-13.26%-2.22%
April 2019 Vs. April 2018
Graphic Novels-25.37%-31.39%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-17.65%-15.24%
Year To Date 2019 Vs. Year To Date 2018
Graphic Novels-3.18%-6.11%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels+0.41%-5.40%

Note that comics units were actually up a few thousand copies over March; that's likely because Detective #1000 soaked up a lot of purchasing dollars with its $9.99 price.

The market shares:

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Dark Horse2.89%1.92%

The top-selling comics by units:

1War of the Realms #1$5.99Marvel
2Symbiote Spider-Man #1$4.99Marvel
3Batman Who Laughs #4$4.99DC
4Immortal Hulk #16$3.99Marvel
5Batman #69$3.99DC
6Batman #68$3.99DC
7Thanos #1$4.99Marvel
8Heroes In Crisis #8$3.99DC
9Web of Venom: Cult of Carnage #1$4.99Marvel
10Amazing Spider-Man #20$3.99Marvel

The top-selling comics by dollars:

1War of the Realms #1$5.99Marvel
2Symbiote Spider-Man #1$4.99Marvel
3Batman Who Laughs #4$4.99DC
4Detective Comics #1000$9.99DC
5Web of Venom: Cult of Carnage #1$4.99Marvel
6Thanos #1$4.99Marvel
7Immortal Hulk #16$3.99Marvel
8Batman #69$3.99DC
9Batman #68$3.99DC
10War of the Realms #2$4.99Marvel

The top-selling graphic novels by units:

1Magic Order Vol. 1$19.99Image
2Venom By Donny Cates Vol. 2$17.99Marvel
3Gideon Falls Vol. 2: Original Sins$16.99Image
4Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite$17.99Dark Horse
5Catwoman Vol. 1: Copycats$16.99DC
6Star Wars Vol. 10: Escape$17.99Marvel
7Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 9: Deface The Face$16.99DC
8The Umbrella Academy Vol. 2: Dallas$17.99Dark Horse
9Unnatural Vol. 2$16.99Image
10Jessica Jones: Purple Daughter$19.99Marvel

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

1Infinity War Omnibus HC$125.00Marvel
2Death & Return Of Superman Omnibus HC$150.00DC
3Magic Order Vol. 1$19.99Image
4Infinity By Starlin & Hickman Omnibus HC$125.00Marvel
5Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Box Set Slipcase$500.00Marvel
6Marvel Masterworks: Avengers Vol. 19 HC$75.00Marvel
7Venom By Donny Cates Vol. 2$17.99Marvel
8Paper Girls Deluxe Edition Vol. 2 HC$34.99Image
9Gideon Falls Vol. 2: Original Sins$16.99Image
10Batman/Superman Silver Age Omnibus Vol. 2 HC$99.99DC

Finally, the number of new items offered:

Dark Horse197026

Check in again for the full charts on Monday.

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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