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More than 192,500 comic book and graphic novel circulation figures online!
Welcome to Comichron, a resource for comic book circulation data and other information gathered by
John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.

 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

25 years ago this week: The DC/Diamond distribution deal announced

by John Jackson Miller

Described to the world in great detail by a leaked memo published by Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics in The Comics Journal, news of Diamond Comic Distributors' exclusive deal with DC Comics was officially announced on Friday,  April 28, 1995 — which brought reaction immediately from Diamond's rival Capital City in the form of a lawsuit.

Capital City's trade show in Chicago, which I attended, was about to get under way when the announcement was released. It had already sued in Wisconsin court under the state's Fair Dealership Law to keep Marvel from taking its sales exclusive with Heroes World. (That case resulted in Marvel settling with Capital for undisclosed terms; the DC suit would result in Capital getting two extra months' worth of DC comics.) Capital's cofounder Milton Griepp made the news the focus of his "State of the Industry" speech two days after the announcement (and 25 years ago today) at the trade show.

My below piece from Comics Retailer #40 (July 1995) covers that event, and summarizes some of the events surrounding the move in the month that followed. We'd used a "The Old Order Changeth" logo the month before for the news of Marvel going exclusive with Heroes World; we quickly made a new one for the latest events. Click to enlarge:




With DC adding alternate distributors to its mix in response to the Coronavirus epidemic and its impact on distribution, the passage of the 25th anniversary does recall of those days.

It was clear to most in the industry even at the time that DC had been forced by its corporate leadership into a countermove by Marvel going exclusive with Heroes World, earlier in the spring. It was something we could tell would be immediately disruptive to the business — though as time went on, we realized that DC's Paul Levitz had lobbied for the Diamond solution in order to prevent parent company Warner from going with a solution outside the comics industry: most likely, shifting comics distribution to Warner Publishing Services, which it used to send magazines to newsstands. It's a safe bet that no outside firm would have been able to quickly adapt to the intricacies of the comics business. (WPS is now long gone.) The year that followed was extremely eventful, with stability only returning in April 1997 after all the business had consolidated behind Diamond.

On Tuesday,  the anniversary of the DC/Diamond announcement, in a very informative colloquium with Diamond founder Steve Geppi, hosted by Dan Shahin. And note one of the questioners was Brian Hibbs, whose column on the original pact ran later in that same Comics Retailer issue, along with one by Bruce Costa, who's also turned up in Facebook discussions of those events. Reynolds, who published the original 1995 memo, has also weighed in online.


Definitely brings back memories; likely more to be written here of those past events in the months to follow!


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!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

March 2020 comics sales online: Spider-Woman #1 orders top 142,000 copies

by John Jackson Miller



Our March 2020 comics sales estimates are now online, giving us the clearest picture we've gotten yet of the weeks leading into the commercial shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Click to read more about the state of the market during this historic period.

Spider-Woman
 #1
 was the bestseller with more than 142,000 copies moved in North America, whereas Batman #91 and #90 moved into second and third places respectively once the cardstock variants were included. We've set up our 2020 so far page to reflect merged totals on all such issues; we've now set those pages to default to the fused versions, but you can still click the other columns to sort the pages the original way.

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Comics orders in March 2020 down 15%; Spider-Woman #1 led market as shutdown began

by John Jackson Miller


March saw the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down commerce across much of North America, and impacting the comics industry at several levels. DC's printer closed during the month, the major comics distributor saw warehouses closed by law, and hundreds of stores were likewise forced to shutter. Nonetheless, significant business was transacted during the month, and Diamond Comic Distributors is out today with its sales charts detailing the market as it was during the beginning of the shutdown.

We've thought all along that the situation would result in peculiarities for the data, and that seems to be the case. Orders are one thing; what shipped is another, and what retailers were open to sell is something else again. (UPDATE 4/29: And now the final estimates are up for individual issues here.)

Today's release, as captured in the tables below, is based on retailers' orders with Diamond — and it presents a picture some may find surprisingly normal. The charts:


DollarsUnits
March 2020 Vs. February 2020
Comics-1.54%-0.21%
Graphic Novels+1.76%-15.12%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-0.65%-1.35%
Toys-15.00%+26.16%
March 2020 Vs. March 2019
Comics-15.59%-6.56%
Graphic Novels-13.05%-26.54%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-14.90%-8.21%
Toys-6.43%19.43%
Year-To-Date 2020 Vs. Year-To-Date 2019
Comics-5.51%-4.48%
Graphic Novels-1.51%-5.43%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-4.39%-4.55%
Toys-0.02%-6.56%

See eBay listings for this issue
Retailers bought $37.03 million in comics, graphic novels, and magazines from Diamond, which is almost exactly what they bought in February; Marvel's Spider-Woman #1 led both unit and dollar orders for comic books.

That $37.03 million is a drop of 15% year-over-year versus last March, which the market was going to have a tough time competing with anyway as it included more than $5 million in sales for Detective Comics #1000. Indeed, the 5.92 million comics ordered for March 2020 means that if you throw out Detective #1000, unit sales of comics to retailers were actually up year-over-year. That suggests it was probably on the way to being a pretty good month, before things happened.

But things did happen, of course — and while the full estimates will provide a more detailed picture of what went to market, the effects of the pandemic are not absent from the charts released today. They are definitely part of the 15% drop.

 Find this issue at TFAW
Reorders, for example, are always a significant part of sales and are counted in the monthly orders; as stores faced closure, those reorders almost certainly trailed off. Graphic novel sales are disproportionately special-order in nature; they're a chunk of the decline.

There are a few other things complicating the charts this month. Note that comic book units were down nearly 7%, while the dollars they represented were down nearly 16%. Two possible reasons for that. One is that Marvel enacted emergency deep discounts for its comics with on-sale dates of March 18 and afterward, which has the effect of depressing dollar sales relative to units. In Marvel's case, it resulted in a nearly 6-point spread between its unit and dollar market shares.

Then you've got a number of titles which are returnable, which means they'll have had a 10% penalty applied to their unit-sales numbers. Publishers' figures below, however, are based on actual sales without that penalty, so there's going to be a gap.

 See eBay listings for this series
And throughout it all, of course, we had fewer and fewer stores open each week in March, such that — while the number of new comics and graphic novel releases below was actually up from March 2019, sales on each successive week's books might be expected to be lower. That's something we'll be able to track: how much of the business was likely open in each week of the month.

There are enough such things in play that we may well temporarily suspend running our sidebar comparatives apart from the ones below; they simply won't be reliable apples-to-apples meausrements.

There are also some dynamics which aren't fully clear: graphic novel unit orders, led by Boom's Once and Future Vol. 1, were down by nearly 27%, while dollars were only down 13%. There was a pricier slate of books in the mix in March — X-Men: Children of the Atom hardcover box set, at $500, was the top graphic novel product by dollars — but that doesn't seem like enough to cause that split. We'll know more when the full charts are out.

The market shares:

PublisherDollar ShareUnit Share
Marvel40.98%46.76%
DC27.34%27.58%
Image6.40%6.17%
IDW4.51%3.87%
Boom3.25%3.21%
Dark Horse2.97%1.94%
Dynamite2.38%2.05%
Viz1.61%0.59%
Oni0.80%0.60%
Valiant0.67%0.75%
Other9.11%6.47%

The top-selling comics by units:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by units)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Spider-Woman #1 $4.99Marvel
2Flash #750 $7.99DC
3Thor #4 $3.99Marvel
4X-Men #8 $3.99Marvel
5Wolverine #2 $3.99Marvel
6Strange Academy #1 $4.99Marvel
7Batman #90 $3.99DC
8X-Men #9 $3.99Marvel
9The Immortal Hulk #33 $5.99Marvel
10Batman #91 $3.99DC

The top-selling comics by dollars find second- and third-place finishes by last month's 80th anniversary celebrations for Flash and Robin. The asterisk for Strange Adventures means it was returnable, and subject to the 10% downward adjustment prior to its listing below:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by dollars)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Spider-Woman #1 $4.99Marvel
2Flash #750 $7.99DC
3Robin 80th-Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 $9.99DC
4Immortal Hulk #33 $5.99Marvel
5Strange Academy #1 $4.99Marvel
6Strange Adventures #1* $4.99DC
7X-Men #8 $3.99Marvel
8Wolverine #2 $3.99Marvel
9Hellions #1 $4.99Marvel
10X-Men #9 $3.99Marvel

The top-selling graphic novels by units:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by units)PRICEPUBLISHER
1Once & Future Vol. 1: The King Is Undead$16.99Boom
2Something Is Killing Children Vol. 1$14.99Boom
3The Immortal Hulk Vol. 6$15.99Marvel
4DC Super Hero Girls: Powerless$9.99DC
5History of the Marvel Universe Treasury Edition$29.99Marvel
6New Mutants By Hickman Vol. 1$15.99Marvel
7King Thor$15.99Marvel
8The Oracle Code$16.99DC
9Star Wars Vol. 13: Rogues And Rebels$17.99Marvel
10Rick And Morty Vs. Dungeons & Dragons II: Painscape$19.99Oni

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by dollars)PRICEPUBLISHER
1X-Men: Children of the Atom HC Box Set$500.00Marvel
2Uncanny X-Force By Remender Omnibus HC$100.00Marvel
3Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus Volume 4 Hc$150.00DC
4History of the Marvel Universe Treasury Edition$29.99Marvel
5Batman: White Knight Deluxe Edition HC$49.99DC
6Once & Future Vol. 1: The King Is Undead$16.99Boom
7Marvel Masterworks: Dazzler Vol. 1 HC$75.00Marvel
8Power Pack Classic Omnibus Vol. 1 HC$125.00Marvel
9The Wicked & The Divine Volume 4 HC$64.99Image
10Something Is Killing Children Vol. 1$14.99Boom

Finally, the number of new items offered. As noted above, this is not an extraordinary looking chart. New comics releases were down by just four issues from February, and indeed up 19% over last March; graphic novels saw a pullback, with 30 fewer on the market. But remember that as the weeks went on, each book noted as releasing below was shipped to fewer and fewer stores that were open to sell them:

PublisherComics
shipped
Graphic
Novels
shipped
Magazines
shipped
TOTAL
shipped
Marvel99380137
DC83240107
IDW3616052
Image3911050
Dark Horse1925044
Boom229031
Dynamite211022
Oni65011
Viz010010
Valiant6208
Other14015616312
TOTAL SHIPPED47129716784

This is the latest in the calendar month Diamond has released its sales charts in the twenty-three and a half years I've been analyzing them for publication, but there are indeed charts — making it a full 29 years since the last month we went without any. (If there's a chart for March 1991, we haven't been able to find it — it appears to have been dropped, inadverently or otherwise, due to a shift in Diamond's publishing slate. As you'll see at the link, we took a stab at guessing the top sellers anyway.)

While we've heard no word, it doesn't seem likely we'll see charts for April, as nothing new released and Diamond paused its reorder charts at the end of March. But anything's possible. Here's what's certain: our estimates for March will be here later this week.

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!

Friday, April 17, 2020

DC stopgap distribution move during COVID-19 has echo in 1997 UPS strike

by John Jackson Miller

With Diamond Comic Distributors ending shipments of new comics temporarily at the start of April due to the COVID-19 crisis, it's been a much different kind of month. The last sales reports to come out of the company were the reorder and advance reorder charts for the week ending March 29, and it's unclear when further data publication will resume.

We do know, as of an announcement today, that Diamond intends to begin shipping comics again in mid-May; we also know that DC has arranged for a small slate of comics to begin shipping April 28 through two new partners — Lunar Distribution and UCS Comics Distributors — whom I determined after a little research were likely existing customers of Diamond's, DCBS (Discount Comic Book Service) and Midtown Comics, respectively.

New York's Midtown already handles subscription fulfillment for Marvel and DC, and both companies have systems designed to handle periodicals. It's also likely, given the tremendous physical plant demands involved in serving the entire comics market, that what we're looking at here is a temporary solution for DC to get a limited slate into the limited number of shops that are open. Not a long-term transformation, but a stopgap to deal with what everyone hopes — and which Diamond now promises — will be a temporary disruption.

New York UPS local leader Ron Carey,
with Jesse Jackson at a strike event
(source: Labornotes.org)
I was asked by David Harper of Sktchd about the duration of past disruptions, and possible comparisons — and realizing today was the 17th of April made me think back to the UPS strike of 1997, in which 185,000 Teamsters shut down the shipping giant, resulting in what was later regarded to be a victory for the union. (Read a labor account of the events here.) The strike ran seventeen days, in all — and it caught the comics industry at a fairly tricky time.

In the boom years of the early 1990s, leading distributors  Diamond and Capital City Distribution had vast networks of warehouses across North America; they also ran their own trucks in many locations. Regional distributors were also in the mix, resulting in retailers receiving their comics in a variety of methods.

That competition contributed to the conditions that caused both the market's boom and downfall in that decade, as far more stores — and non-store accounts — opened than the market could bear, leaving the distributors with costly infrastructure once the market began its decline in late 1993 — accelerating when Marvel briefly went exclusive with Heroes World Distribution in 1995. By the time the "Distributor Wars" ended in April 1997, only Diamond was left, acting as a broker for the major publishers — and it had downsized much of its network, relying instead on UPS for a large portion of its shipping.

Marvel had just returned to Diamond in April 1997, so the business had only seen a few months of relative quiet and stability when the strike happened in August. As we covered it in Comics Retailer #67 (October 1997), however, Diamond was able to take steps to ameliorate the problem.


The company established pick-up sites in approximately two dozen metro areas, at the cost of $40,000 per week; it estimated that 85% of its customers were within 150 miles of a pickup site. In one case, a publisher, Chaos Comics, opened a regional drop-off point.

Diamond wasn't able to handle direct-ship reorders during the crisis, and many retailers had to drive hours to get their books. But after three weeks, the strike had ended. Preorders had made August 1997 the third best month of the year; industry efforts during the strike made sure that most of those orders made it to stores.

"This has been a very difficult and challenging time for all of us," said Diamond owner Steve Geppi, "but together we have found a way to persevere. Our distribution center and customer service staffs worked long and hard, and retailers cooperated, rather than competed, to get product out as quickly as possible. Times like this make me very proud to be a member of our industry, and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts."

There are many differences between the 1997 situation and now, of course — today, the work stoppages have been at multiple levels of the supply chain, from printer to warehouse to store, with individual customer mobility impacted, as well. The 1997 solution won't serve. But the DC move appears to motivated by the same factors as Diamond's response to the 1997 UPS incident; extraordinary — and likely temporary — measures to deal with a disruption. How temporary — or successful, especially given how some retailers view mail-order operations — those measures will be is a question we'll all have occasion to look at again.

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!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A look at the market, 35 years ago: It's Secret Wars II versus Crisis

by John Jackson Miller


March comics sales are out... from 35 years ago! March 1985 charts for Capital City Distribution are now on Comichron, our oldest Direct Market charts yet. Secret Wars II #1 launched as one the biggest sellers to date in comic shops. Find the charts here.

The unit sales reported are the actual preorders Capital received. Co-owner John Davis kept index card records with all sales starting in January 1985. He provided them to me in 1996 when the company folded; from them, I've harvested data for nearly 24,000 comics and graphic novels.

 Find this issue on eBayNote that in early 1985, Capital still only represented a fraction of the sales of publishers that still had a lot of newsstand and subscriber activity. On Amazing Spider-Man #266, its sales are about 8% of the overall. On Direct-only titles like Marvel Fanfare #21, it's more like 20%.

While Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 nearly outsold Uncanny X-Men #195 (and did beat it in dollar sales), DC sales were still fairly weak at Capital; the Superman titles selling in the 4,000s is no misprint. DC's discounts through the distributor weren't yet competitive, but that'd change.

A sign of how much the Direct Market was growing can be seen in orders for Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe #1, which got postponed from 1985 to 1989 and had its page count reduced 33%. Capital's orders for the book increased by 66% over 1985's in the 1989 solicitation!

More charts from yesteryear to come over the next few weeks on Comichron. No need for sales chart withdrawal with dozens of years to catch up on!

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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