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


Friday, July 12, 2019

June comics sales slightly up, led by Black Cat #1; DC released 24% fewer new comics in first half of 2019

by John Jackson Miller

We can say two things for sure about the first half of 2019: DC released a lot fewer comic books, and Marvel came close to taking every shelf space its rival vacated. The result was that Marvel beat its own dollar sales performance from the first half of 2018, though not by as much as all those new releases would suggest — whereas DC's total dollar volume slipped during that period, but not by as much as its fewer new releases would suggest.

The upshot? A Direct Market almost completely flat at midyear, down less than one-half of one percent in dollars. It's a slight improvement from the trajectory seen in 2018, which was down a whole percentage point; that year's sales wound up being strongly up once channels outside comics shops were included. 

June's comics orders, as reported today by Diamond Comic Distributors, were slightly up; retailers ordered $42.3 million dollars of comics, graphic novels, and magazines in the month, an increase of 0.4%. The year-to-date total, $250.2 million, is down a little over a million dollars. The quarterly breakdowns this year are near inverses of one another, with the first quarter up year-over-year and the second quarter down. This is in some measure an anomaly: If Detective Comics #1000 had come out just a week later to land in the same quarter that Action Comics #1000 shipped in, both quarters' performance would be close to even with 2018.

Comics had a better month of June relative to 2018 than graphic novels did, with dollar sales for comics up 3.6%. Nearly 40 million comic books shipped to retailers in the first half of 2019, down about 2 million copies — but there's little doubt that DC's slimmer-offerings approach under AT&T's ownership was a contributor. Because while Marvel, on paper, replaced many of the missing DC releases, many of those books were reprints priced at a dollar, which neither sell as many copies nor for anywhere near the value of a regular Big Two release..

Comparing the release slates. DC's 374 new comics in the first half of 2019 was down 24%, or 115 comics, from the same period in 2018. Marvel's 615 new comics in the first half of the year represent a 20% increase, up 102 releases — not quite enough to cover DC's shortfall. Image published 301 new comics in the first half of the year, down from 376. The total number of new issues in the first half of the year stood at 2,704, down 3%.

See eBay listings for this issue
The new-title austerity accelerated for DC in June, as it published just 50 new comic books in the month, a new 28-year low for the publisher. Marvel more than doubled its total, with 104. Marvel also more than doubled DC's total output of new graphic novels in the month, 43 to DC's 20. June also saw DC's smallest new graphic novel slate since March 2015, and that could be an echo of the smaller new comics slate: when there are fewer new titles out, logically there are fewer issues to collect into squarebound editions.

But, as mentioned above, there's a difference in what each of the titles published contributed to retailers' bottom lines. DC may have released 24% fewer new comics in the first half of the year, but retailers orders of DC publications in dollar terms were only down 5%, or about $4 million. It helps when there's a Detective #1000 in the mix; if there had been two, it'd be up for the year.

Meanwhile, Marvel — which saw its June dollar sales up 13%, aided by the top-selling Black Cat #1 — has moved 7% more dollars worth of material into comics shops in the first half of 2019, an increase of about $7 million over the same period in 2018. Why isn't it larger, given Marvel's increase in releases? Again, it's what many of them are. Marvel appears to have released 59 different True Believer comics in the first six months of 2019; they account for more than half of Marvel's slate increase, even though their $1 price tag means they don't add a lot to the dollar totals. (Update: Marvel also had True Believer titles in the first half of 2018, so the added number of True Believer books for 2019 is probably closer to 30.) 

That's something to remember when looking at the stats below: not all releases are created equal.

The comparative sales statistics:

June 2019 Vs. May 2019
Graphic Novels-18.39%-15.92%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-10.09%-7.26%
June 2019 Vs. June 2018
Graphic Novels-7.11%-13.13%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels+0.36%-5.27%
Year To Date 2019 Vs. Year To Date 2018
Graphic Novels-2.25%-7.19%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-0.49%-5.19%
Second Quarter 2019 Vs. First Quarter 2019
Graphic Novels+3.01%-3.86%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels+3.11%+5.72%
Second Quarter 2019 Vs. Second Quarter 2018
Graphic Novels-8.72%-16.49%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-7.28%-8.29%

We don't track the toy market here, but it's clear it's done very well for Diamond this year.

The market shares:

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Dark Horse3.23%2.16%

Dark Horse's sales  saw significant improvement in the first half of the year, up $2 million year-to-date. Umbrella Academy and Stranger Things are both factors.

The top-selling comics by units:

1Black Cat #1$4.99Marvel
2DCeased #2$3.99DC
3Silver Surfer: Black #1$3.99Marvel
4Batman: Damned #3$6.99DC
5Batman Who Laughs #6$4.99DC
6Amazing Spider-Man #24$3.99Marvel
7Immortal Hulk #19$3.99Marvel
8Walking Dead #192$3.99Image
9Batman #73$3.99DC
10Batman #72$3.99DC

The top-selling comics by dollars:

1Black Cat #1$4.99Marvel
2Batman: Damned #3$6.99DC
3Superman: Year One #1*$7.99DC
4Dceased #2$3.99DC
5Silver Surfer: Black #1$3.99Marvel
6Batman Who Laughs #6$4.99DC
7War of the Realms #6$5.99Marvel
8Immortal Hulk #19$3.99Marvel
9Amazing Spider-Man #24$3.99Marvel
10Walking Dead #192$3.99Image

The asterisk means that Superman: Year One #1 is returnable; its unit sales numbers would have been reduced slightly for purposes of the charts.

Image, which lately has a sizable portion of its line going to series with either "Die" or "Dead" in the title, saw Die Vol. 1 become the top graphic novel. The top-selling graphic novels by units:

1Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker$9.99Image
2Detective Comics #1000 Deluxe Edition HC$19.99DC
3DC Poster Portfolio: Stanley "Artgerm" Lau$24.99DC
4DC Super Hero Girls: Search For Atlantis Tp$9.99DC
5Disney Descendants: Evie's Wicked Runway Vol. 2$15.99Tokyopop
6Disney Descendants: Evie's Wicked Runway Vol. 1$15.99Tokyopop
7Teen Titans: Raven$16.99DC
8Batman/The Flash: The Button$14.99DC
9Miraculous Tales: Ladybug and Cat Noir Season 2 Vol. 4$8.99Action Lab
10My Hero Academia Vol. 19$9.99Viz

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

1Blackest Night Omnibus: 10th Anniversary Edition HC$150.00DC
2Dc Poster Portfolio: Stanley "Artgerm" Lau$24.99DC
3Batman By Grant Morrison Omnibus Vol. 2 HC$75.00DC
4Detective Comics #1000 Deluxe Edition HC$19.99DC
5Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 7 HC$125.00DC
6Disney Descendants: Evie's Wicked Runway Vol. 2$15.99Tokyopop
7Marvel Masterworks: Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2 HC$75.00Marvel
8Berserk Deluxe Edition Vol. 2 HC$49.99Dark Horse
9Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker$9.99Image
10Hulk By Loeb & Mcguinness Omnibus HC$100.00Marvel

Finally, the chart discussed so much this year, the number of new items offered:

Dark Horse1922041
TOTAL SHIPPED42434519788

July 2019 is going to present one of the more peculiar chart comparisons we've seen in a while. It has an extra New Comic Book Day (which we give back in August), so you'd expect it to be up — but last July had Batman #50 and Amazing Spider-Man #1.

 See eBay listings for this issue
But then on top of that, there's Walking Dead #193, the surprise of the year; unannounced as the final issue, it went on sale July 3. It's already been running above $20 in back issue sales (see eBay listings for the issue here), but since aftermarket sales aren't captured in Diamond's charts, that part of the dollar impact of the issue isn't likely to be seen. The snap reprint, landing July 31, will be counted in July's sales, and has already appeared in last week's advance reorder charts in second place, behind only Power of X #1.

For those who've asked what impact the end of the series would have on Image's market shares, it's important to remember that the monthly comic book was an increasingly smaller portion of both the franchise's revenue and the publisher's business as more and more graphic novel collections came out. Image has more than tripled — sometimes quadrupled — its Direct Market dollar share from a dozen years ago, largely on the building of its graphic novel library.

The estimated sales data will appear on this page early next week. In the meantime, check out the comparative months' data from five, 10, 20, and 30 years ago.

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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