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


Friday, March 13, 2020

Comics market strong prior to COVID-19 impact, with February sales up 7%; Wolverine #1 dominates

by John Jackson Miller

Over the last 80+ years, the comics industry has been subject to a variety of shocks that were external in nature. The ones that had the greatest lasting effects were the ones that struck directly at how publishers did business: the juvenile delinquency panic of the 1950s winnowed out their numbers, while the inflation crises of the 1970s made the newsstand untenable as a delivery system.

Meanwhile, some external shocks that related more generally to the U.S. economy have had less impact. The comics industry didn't slow down until well after 2008 financial crisis was past, for example, and the 1990-91 recession ended up being no impediment to the record early 1990s comics market at all. The month of 9/11 was, in fact, a turning point in the industry's fortunes, as the comic book that kickstarted the post-1990s recovery, Wolverine: The Origin #1, had already hit shelves on Sept. 5, 2001.

Historians always want to look at the "before" and "after" situation in the market to see how things were doing just before the shock took place. When it comes to the COVID-19 or Coronavirus pandemic, we can say that the "before" situation in comics looked excellent in the book channel, and relatively strong (as winters go) in the Direct Market, according to data just released by Diamond Comic Distributors. Retailers bought $37.27 million in comic books, graphic novels, and magazines from Diamond in February 2020, an increase of $2.4 million or 7% over the same month the year before. Every subcategory was positive. Look for our estimated sales charts here next week.

 Find this comic at TFAWMarvel and DC's dollar sales were both up for the month, year-over-year, and both by more than the market was overall, 12% and 8% respectively. February 2020 marks the seventh growth month in nine, and is the best February performance in three years. With these results, the Direct Market's first two months are up 1.35% in dollars over the same period in 2019.

Orders of individual comic books were also up: orders rose year-over-year by 3%, or around 167,000 copies, to 5.94 million units. Wolverine #1, a $7.99 comic, led the periodical charts. Marvel had eight of the Top 10 comics, including the top seven. Gwen Stacy #1 debuted in fourth.

A major part of the difference in sales is that February 2019 saw DC still amid its new-title austerity initiative; it only released 59 new comic books that month. This February, Diamond says DC released 102, which is probably more like 86 when the cardstock covers are merged. Publishers outside the Top 10 also significantly boosted their offerings, leading to a slate that was about 18% larger.

 Find this book at TFAW
The greatest jump, however, was in the number of graphic novel units sold: that's because Marvel had a major sale on Star Wars collected editions in February, resulting in the unusual situation that no less than six titles from 2015 and 2016 made the Top 10 Graphic Novels list.

There have been many other months over the years where discounted titles impacted the charts, but never have so many made the Top 10. The dollar rankings chart is thus probably worth more attention this time around. Both charts were led by the Harleen hardcover. It doesn't appear that the sale added overmuch to Marvel's market share — dollars are computed against what retailers paid in, and individual graphic novels sell many fewer copies than comic books do.

Batman #88 and #89 both had cardstock variants; look for them to possibly move from their eighth- and tenth-place showings when the cardstock and regular variants are merged.

The comparative sales statistics are here:

February 2020 vs. January 2020
Graphic Novels-27.16%-13.89%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-14.25%-8.26%
February 2020 vs. February 2019
Graphic Novels+3.56%+15.46%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels+7.32%+3.77%
Year-To-Date 2020 vs. Year-To-Date 2019
Graphic Novels+4.44%+6.60%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels+1.35%-2.72%

The February-to-January slide is not worth too much attention, as January had one more New Comic Book Day, if only one with a partial release schedule.

The market shares:

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Dark Horse2.93%2.06%
Random House0.62%0.18%

The top-selling comics by units:

1Wolverine #1$7.99Marvel
2X-Men #6$3.99Marvel
3X-Men #7$4.99Marvel
4Gwen Stacy #1$4.99Marvel
5Giant Size X-Men: Jean Grey & Emma Frost #1$4.99Marvel
6Amazing Spider-Man #39$3.99Marvel
7Star Wars: Darth Vader #1$4.99Marvel
8Batman #88$3.99DC
9X-Men/Fantastic Four #1$4.99Marvel
10Batman #89$3.99DC

The top-selling comics by dollars:

1Wolverine #1$7.99Marvel
2X-Men #7$4.99Marvel
3X-Men #6$3.99Marvel
4Gwen Stacy #1$4.99Marvel
5Giant Size X-Men: Jean Grey & Emma Frost #1$4.99Marvel
6Star Wars: Darth Vader #1$4.99Marvel
7X-Men/Fantastic Four #1$4.99Marvel
8Batman: Curse of the White Knight #7$4.99DC
9The Joker: Killer Smile #3$5.99DC
10DC Crimes of Passion #1$9.99DC

The top-selling graphic novels by units. Fourth through ninth are all older editions which sold big in Marvel's sale:

1Harleen HC$29.99 DC
2Die Vol. 2: Split The Party$16.99Image
3Batman Tales: Once Upon A Crime$9.99DC
4Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 4: End Of Games$19.99Marvel
5Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire HC$24.99Marvel
6Star Wars: Vader Down$19.99Marvel
7Star Wars: Chewbacca$16.99Marvel
8Star Wars Volume 2: Showdown on the Smuggler's Moon$19.99Marvel
9Star Wars Volume 3: Rebel Jail$19.99Marvel
10My Hero Academia Vol. 23$9.99Viz

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

1Harleen HC$29.99DC
2X-Men Vs. Apocalypse: The Twelve Omnibus HC$125.00Marvel
3Spider-Man: Miles Morales Omnibus HC$100.00Marvel
4Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 12 HC$100.00Marvel
5Daredevil By Bendis & Maleev Omnibus Vol. 2 HC$100.00Marvel
6Die Vol. 2: Split The Party$16.99Image
7Marvel Masters Of Suspense: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 2 HC$100.00Marvel
8Ultimates By Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch Omnibus HC$100.00Marvel
9Berserk Deluxe Edition Volume 4 HC$49.99Dark Horse
10Metabarons Box Set HC$149.95Humanoids

Finally, the number of new items offered:

Dark Horse2017037
TOTAL SHIPPED47531727819

With this data, we can say that the comics shop market's year had begun on a positive note, prior to the widening of the outbreak in North America in March. Many conventions have been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic as of this writing, and Diamond has cancelled its retailer summit, originally slated for April.

We of course don't know what the ultimate impact of the virus will be, but it's difficult to find a historical equivalent even if we limit the question just to what has happened so far. Many years have seen winter weather disrupt shipments and store visits to parts of North America, but this crisis affects more areas and comes with an additional economic component in the roiled financial markets. The mechanism of the Direct Market itself tends toward stability — because of subscription files, one month's orders usually look a lot like the previous month's. But it's unclear how that functions if customer visit frequency is disrupted.

Remember, too, that since orders are already placed, it could be some time before the charts reflect any external events. Reorders for March and April are already charting. Follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook and support our Patreon to be alerted as more data comes in.

Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 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 DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

Be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our Youtube channel. You can also support us on Patreon!
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