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


Friday, January 10, 2020

Comic book, graphic novel sales to comics shops up 2% in 2019; Detective #1000, Watchmen top charts

by John Jackson Miller

The decade of the 2010s ended on a note of growth for the Direct Market when it comes to retailer orders from Diamond Comic Distributors. According to our analysis of a report released today by the firm, comics shops bought $528.1 million in comic books, graphic novels, and magazines from it in 2019, an increase of 2.23% or $11.5 million over 2018's total of $516.6 million. We expect to have the full charts for 2019 from Diamond early next week. (UPDATE: They're online, and can be found here.)

Implicit in the report is that December 2019's performance was, as predicted here, an improvement over the moribund and holiday-shortened December 2018 showing. December 2019's orders appear to have been around $39.5 million, up around 5% and finishing a strong quarter year-over-year. Three out of four quarters in 2019 showed improvement; that hasn't happened since 2015, a year partially fueled by Star Wars' move to Marvel. The last time every quarter was up was 2013, a year supercharged by significant line growth at the middle-tier publishers; only one month that year was down.

The performance for 2019 represents a return to growth for this subset of the comics shop market, joining 13 other positive years this century including 2001-2008 and 2012-2016; two of the down years, 2011 and 2018, were off by just a single percentage point. Last year eclipsed not just last year, but the year before; this century only 2014, 2015, and 2016 have seen more dollars worth of merchandise ordered. Orders in 2019 were 25% above those of 2010, 8% higher when adjusted for inflation.

Aided by Detective Comics #1000 — a rare case, along with 2015's Star Wars #1, of a first quarter release leading the year, dollar sales of periodical comic books were up nearly 4% in 2019. Graphic novel sales were down 2%. Both figures represent significant improvements over 2018, which saw comics up 2% and graphic novels down 8%. Comics shops order significant quantities of graphic novels from channels outside Diamond — and as we know the book channel was booming in 2019, it's a near-certainty that the overall market, which we track in our annual industry-wide report, will find print sales above $1 billion at full retail for the first time ever. Look for that report later in 2019.

Market shares: DC, Image line reductions make impact

The market shares finished the year very close to what we'd predicted, with Marvel topping 40% in dollar share, an upward move of nearly two percentage points. Its unit sales increased by nearly four points. The unit gains came partially at the expense of DC, which had pared back its line in the first half of the year; its unit share dropped a little more than three points. But its dollar share suffered much less, down only three-quarters of a point, indicating that the products it did put our earned more on average.

Image, which also cut back its offerings significantly in 2019, saw both its unit and dollar shares each drop by a couple of points. Dark Horse, Boom, Dynamite, and Viz saw their dollar shares increase. The only change in the order of the Top 10 in the dollar rankings came at ninth and tenth place, where Oni and Titan reversed positions.

The market shares:

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Dark Horse3.19%2.33%

Comics: First issues and anniversaries take the entire Top 10

Comichron's tracking all year had predicted Detective Comics #1000 would be the top-selling comic book — it's the second best-seller of the decade, after all, with more than half a million copies shipped — but we also saw that the Top 10 comics through November remained the Top 10 after December, with only one change in position. X-Men #1 edged past Black Cat #1 for third place, on the strength of December reorders.

DC's other entry in the Top 10, DCeased #1, was the only comic book in the top ten regularly priced at $3.99.

House of X #1 and Powers of X #1 held steady at eighth and ninth places. That they are no higher, despite their buzz, testifies to the surprise popularity of the event (and likely also the availability of reprints).

The top-selling comics by units:

1Detective Comics #1000$9.99DC
2Spawn #300$7.99Image
3X-Men #1$4.99Marvel
4Black Cat #1$4.99Marvel
5DCeased #1$3.99DC
6Absolute Carnage #1$7.99Marvel
7Marvel Comics #1000$9.99Marvel
8House of X #1$5.99Marvel
9Powers of X #1$5.99Marvel
10War of the Realms #1$5.99Marvel

It's clear that nothing from December made the Top 10 for the year overall, which means there's an upper limit on whatever that month's top seller is at 191,000 copies or so. We'll find out soon enough.

Graphic novels: "As Seen On TV"

 Find this book at TFAWOver on the bookshelves, Watchmen  fueled by its HBO series and a new trade paperback edition that makes good and sure you know about it — leapt past newer entries to become the #1 graphic novel for the year. It is the third time since 1991, when Diamond began reporting annual graphic novel sales, that it has placed #1; the other two times were 2008 and 2009, aided by the movie.

If you've been following our sales-to-date charts throughout 2019, its final showing may be a bit of a surprise; our table listed the $19.99 previous edition and the $24.99 new edition as separate entries, while Diamond followed its usual form for the end-of-year graphic novel charts by merging different prices. (Walking Dead Vol. 1 has editions at several different price points in Diamond's system; they've been merged in year-end charts for a long time.)

Watchmen's combined sales through November would have placed it #2 by units among graphic novels, so clearly the TV show fueled a late surge that pushed it past Saga Vol. 1. Television programming also played a role in Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite placing third — and of course, the performance of the final Walking Dead volume.

Die Vol. 1, in sixth, was the highest-ranking graphic novel not previously released in graphic novel form before 2019.

The top-selling graphic novels by units:

2Saga Volume 1$9.99Image
3Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite$17.99Dark Horse
4Monstress Volume 1$9.99Image
5Mister Miracle$24.99DC
6Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker$9.99Image
7Batman: White Knight$19.99DC
8Walking Dead Vol. 31$16.99Image
9Batman: The Killing Joke HC$17.99DC
10Batman: Damned HC$29.99DC

As noted above, the full estimates will be along next week, and if Diamond follows past practice, we'll see December's full data along some time after that. Look for it on our December page.

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 Star Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War. Read more about them at his fiction site.

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