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:

March 2020 Vs. February 2020
Graphic Novels+1.76%-15.12%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-0.65%-1.35%
March 2020 Vs. March 2019
Graphic Novels-13.05%-26.54%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-14.90%-8.21%
Year-To-Date 2020 Vs. Year-To-Date 2019
Graphic Novels-1.51%-5.43%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels-4.39%-4.55%

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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.

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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.

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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
Dark Horse2.97%1.94%

The top-selling comics by units:

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:

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:

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:

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:

Dark Horse1925044
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.

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