The Comics Chronicles: September 2008 Report

The comics industry may not be immune to whatever is going on in the larger economy — but there are hints that it may be somewhat insulated. The Comics Chronicles (http://www.comichron.com) projects that Diamond Comic Distributors’ overall sales of comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines to retailers were up — slightly — overall for September, for the third quarter, and, importantly, for the year to date. The Comics Chronicles comic and trade paperback charts for September 2008 are here: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2008/2008-09.html

September’s orders of all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines from Diamond equaled approximately $35.11 million in September, up 7% over September 2007 and up 25% over September 2003. For the third quarter, the total reached $112.89 million, up 4% from the same period in 2007. And the monthly performance allowed the year-to-date sum to move ahead of last year: at approximately $321.69 million, a little less than $3 million more than last year’s total. At the 75% mark, barring a major collapse, the comics industry appears set for a year that’s flat or perhaps slightly better or worse than 2007 in the overall picture.

See the Overall sales chart in the first image at the right

An important phenomenon has been that the growth in the direct market this year has come in the roughly 25% of Diamond’s overall sales that are not captured in the Top 300 comics and Top 100 trade paperbacks lists. Close to two thirds of the trade paperback dollars are now outside the top-sellers list — and with the 301st-place comic book’s sales increasing as the major publishers produce more, the “bubbling under” titles (or the “long tail”) are contributing more than usual to the overall bottom line.

The resulting phenomenon finds some narrower categories still down for the quarter and year, though up for the month:

Top 300 units: 6.78 million copies, up 1%

Year to date: 60.38 million copies, down 6%

Top 300 dollars: $21.96 million, up 2%

Year to date: $193.96 million, down 5%

Top 100 trade paperbacks: $4.57 million, up 2%

Year to date: $43.08 million, up 4%

Top comics plus top trades: $26.53 million, up 2%

Year to date: $236.79 million, down 3%

So what appears to be happening is that while the 400 items we see every month on the comics and trades charts are off about $7.4 million for the year, the full backlist and unseen portion of the comics orders have contributed more than $1 million a month to make up the difference.

By comparing internal line-wide publisher order data with the reported dollar market shares, The Comics Chronicles calculates that Diamond had orders of $8.58 million in comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines that did not make the Top 300 comics and Top 100 trades charts. Most of that “missing miscellaneous” is almost certainly mostly trade paperbacks from 101st place and lower. The real trade paperback total, then, may be closer to the $12-13 million range.

Among individual issues, Marvel’s Secret Invasion #6 topped the charts with orders of nearly 164,400 copies across all order codes. Every issue of the series thus far has been #1 in its shipping month. Three titles were above the 100,000-copy mark, with 117 items over 20,000 copies and 241 items over 5,000 copies.

Average cost of comics in the Top 300: $3.34

Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: $3.24

On the trade paperback side, Watchmen led the list for the third consecutive month with more than 8,100 copies ordered. A lower total than the two previous months, it brings Diamond orders for this release to at least 70,600 copies — making $1.4 million just in the last three months!

As always, these dollar amounts are at full retail cover price. They do not reflect what Diamond realized, as retailers buy at different discounts. Nor do they represent sales to consumers — instead, they are what retailers bought to sell. Sales charts for all of these categories across time appear here:

Recent years:

http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/recentsales.html Back to 1996:

http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/alltime.html

Market Share

As previously reported when the Diamond charts for September 2008 appeared on Newsarama (http://www.newsarama.com/comics/081020-diamond-sales-charts.html), Marvel set a new mark within recent history by topping 50% in its Unit Market share. Marvel sold 50.92% of all the comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines that Diamond took orders for in the month. This does appear to be a high mark at least back to 2003, according to my earlier report here (http://blog.comichron.com/2008/10/marvels-unit-market-share-sets-modern.html). DC’s unit share stood at 28.47% — although, as has been observed elsewhere, a number of its projects did not ship in the month, with no new Final Crisis, Batman, or Justice League of America entries in the September chart. The October picture can be expected to differ considerably.

The dollar market share is generally considered more relevant to tracking the performance of publishers within the market, and here, Marvel’s lead was narrower, 45.31% to DC’s 27.29%. The contribution of Watchmen is more noticeable in the dollar count.

The Diamond overall dollar market shares, reported earlier on Newsarama, appear in the accompanying graphic, which tracks them across time.

See the Market Share chart in the second image at the right

Notable as well this month is the sheer number of entries Marvel had in the Top 300 list: 116. I have only recently begun posting the “Item Count” table on my charts site, but looking back this appears to be the highest that number has been for Marvel in many years, perhaps since the boom of the early 1990s. While orders for variant covers are combined, many of the entries on the list are for reordered August releases — giving many titles more than one slot on the list. So it is not the case that Marvel has that many titles out; some of these items are making a return appearance.

Market share charts going back to the beginning of the Diamond data appear here:

http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/marketshares.html

One-year historical comparisons

September 2007 was one of the softer months of the year, with no big launches; there were actually no first issues in the Top 20, versus three this September.

Sept. 2008 final orders versus Sept. 2007 final orders (est.)

Top 300 units: +1% (6.77 million copies vs. 6.69 million copies)

Top 300 dollars: +2% ($21.96 million vs. $21.5 million)

Top 100 trade paperbacks: +2% ($4.57 million vs. $4.49 million)

Top comics plus top trades: +2% ($26.53 million vs. $25.99 million)

Overall Diamond orders for comics, trades, and magazines: +7% ($35.11 million vs. $32.68 million)

Average cost of comics in the Top 300: +0.3% ($3.34 vs. $3.33)

Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: +1% ($3.24 vs. $3.21)

World War Hulk #4 was the #1 comic book of the month, with approximately 148,600 copies ordered. Six items were above the 100,000-copy mark, with 106 items over 20,000 copies and 225 items over 5,000 copies. So while September 2007 had a loftier peak, September 2008’s table didn’t trail off as steeply.

Image’s Walking Dead Vol. 7 had the most orders in the month among trade paperbacks, with 13,200 copies ordered; Marvel’s more expensive Marvel Zombies: Army of Darkness hardcover topped it for dollars sold.

Market shares found Marvel leading DC in dollar sales, 38.37% to 34.84%. By contrast to this September’s big unit-sales move, Marvel’s unit sales share was 42.82% versus 36.72% for DC.

The Comics Chronicles comic and trade paperback charts for September 2007 are here: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2007/2007-09.html

Five-year historical comparisons

The comics market got boosts from some big events in September 2003. In DC’s Batman, where Jim Lee was concluding a blockbuster storyline; at Marvel, where Neil Gaiman’s second issue of 1602 was out; and between the two publishers, where at long last saw the first issue of JLA/Avengers, after nearly 20 years in the discussion phase.

Sept. 2008 final orders versus Sept.  2003 preorders (est.)

Top 300 units: +4% (6.77 million copies vs. 6.59 million copies)

Top 300 dollars: +15% ($21.96 million vs. $19.06 million)

Top 50 trade paperbacks: unchanged ($2.9 million vs. $2.89 million)

Top 300 comics plus top 50 trades: +11% ($24.86 million vs. $22.49 million)

Overall Diamond orders for comics, trades, and magazines: +25% ($35.11 million vs. $28.1 million)

Average cost of comics in the Top 300: +9% ($3.34 million vs. $3.06)

Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: +11% ($3.24 vs. $2.93)

(Diamond only published reports for its Top 50 trades in 2003 — so to compare apples to apples, the 2008 numbers have been pared back to the Top 50 to show a clear comparison.)

In a normal month, you might be safe in betting that the Avengers/JLA crossover would top the list —given the long anticipation. Not this month, when top honors went to the last issue of Jim Lee’s “Hush” story in Batman #619 and its orders of 235,127 copies in this, its first month. (And it was just getting started, with reorders driving it past 300,000 copies over the next few months.) It was a phenomenon that sent many Diamond-chart watchers back to check their math: Since Batman is the title the distributor measures all other comics against in its charts, having the title’s sales drop almost in half in October’s first post-Lee issue seemed like numeric whiplash, with “order index numbers” changing wildly. But those post-Lee sales were, themselves, double what the first pre-Lee issue had posted — so the attention clearly benefited the title afterward as well.

Nine items were above the 100,000-copy mark, with 112 items over 20,000 copies and 216 items over 5,000 copies

On the graphic novel side, the Sandman Endless Nights hardcover posted monumental results: nearly 26,400 copies ordered in its first month. At $24.95, the two-thirds of a million dollars the title brought in provided a great boost to the trade market overall — enough that sales for the Top 50 in that September almost exactly equaled what they did for September of this year.

Marvel topped DC in unit and dollar market share that month, although the unit mark for Marvel — 40.7% — was much less than it was this September. Marvel led DC 35.28% to 32.27% in dollar share.

The Comics Chronicles comic and trade paperback charts for September 2003 are here: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2003/2003-09.html

Ten-year historical comparisons

Probably the most immediately noticeable thing about the comics sales charts for September 1998 (http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/1998/1998-09.html

) is that the issue numbers barely fit in the table! That’s because September was the month for DC’s “One Million” event, in which the publisher advanced all its mainstream titles for one month to #1000000, simultaneously showing readers a possible future and giving ferrets to comics tracking programs.

Sept. 2008 final orders versus Sept.  1998 preorders (est.)

Top 300 units: -9% (6.77 million copies vs. 7.44 million copies)

Top 300 dollars: +21% ($21.96 million vs. $ 18.18 million)

Top 25 trade paperbacks: +49% ($1.7 million vs. $1.14 million)

Top 300 comics plus top 25 trades: +22% ($23.66 million vs. $19.32 million)

Average cost of comics in the Top 300: % ($3.34 vs. $)

Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: % ($3.24 vs. $)

Despite the promotion, Uncanny X-Men #361 topped the charts, with preorders of approximately 138,100 copies. Only the JLA “One Million” issue topped the 100,000-preordered-copy mark, and as the issue sold better than the issues before it and after it, the event can be said to have helped the title.

Nine items were above the 100,000-copy preorder mark, with 131 items over 20,000 copies and 209 items over 5,000 copies. Titles in the midlist tended to sell more  strongly, but the chart doesn’t have nearly the depth we see today. The 300th-place item had preorders of 1,761, compared with this September’s 2,889.

Diamond was still in its first year of reporting indexed trade paperback sales in 1998 — and Dark Horse’s Star Wars: A New Hope Manga #3 led the list with 11,600 copies preordered. The first item on the list above $10 is DC’s Preacher: Dixie Fried, at more than 7,100 copies preordered.

Marvel led DC in dollar market shares, 31.47% to 28%.

15-year historical comparisons

While there were warning signs in September 1993 that the end of the speculator boom market of the early 1990s had come, it was not apparent from the number of copies ordered. One internal publisher report made available to The Comics Chronicles estimates overall direct sales of 28.8 million copies, an increase of 36% over what it estimated for the previous September. On the other hand, in absolute terms, the dollar figure had declined for the third straight month — as it would for the next five months. It wouldn’t be until March 1994 that the market would top a previous month’s sales. Diamond, in its September 1993 issue of its retailer magazine Dialogue, attributed the slowdown to the non-sport sportscard market drawing dollars away from comics.

It didn’t happen very often, but in September 1993, the two largest distributors came to a split decision on what the #1 comic book of the month was. Unusually, the #1 book at Capital City Distribution was the #3 book at Diamond, and vice-versa.

X-Men #26 topped the Capital charts, with Capital selling 150,800 copies of the issue; Capital sold 136,500 copies of Wolverine Vol. 1, #75, ranking it as #3. Diamond ranked Wolverine #75 first, selling 12% more copies of it than X-Men #26. (Spawn #16 was in second at both publishers.)

So which was the top book of the month? Possibly X-Men #26. While Diamond had a larger market share than Capital did, most issues of X-Men were selling in the 400,000s — while Wolverine had generally been selling less, with #75’s special issue getting an added boost. Wolverine was also a $3.95 book, versus $1.25 for X-Men #26 and $1.95 for Spawn #16. It’s a fair bet that X-Men #26 might have sold more units on the more price-conscious newsstand — probably enough to cover the gap at Diamond. (Still, Wolverine #75 was far and away the biggest dollar comic book for the month for both distributors.)

Capital reported sales figures for 696 items in September, reporting an average price for new items of $2.55 and an average price for new titles (removing variants) of $2.51. The median cover price for comics in 1993 was $1.95, so those figures reflect a number of pricier offerings at the lower end of its chart.

“Marvel opens big lead over competition,” trumpeted Diamond in its market-share reporting for the month. Marvel’s dollar share of all preordered merchandise through Diamond was at 33.45%, with 19.95% for DC and 14.17% for Image. The shares at Capital were similar, with Marvel accounting for 32.5%, DC 19.01%, and Image 14.30%.

Monthly projections based on Diamond and Capital City’s indexed reports for individual months in 1993 are possible and are scheduled as a future project for The Comics Chronicles.

20-year historical comparisons

Capital City reported Wolverine Vol. 1, #3 — not the Frank Miller limited series, but the ongoing series — as the #1 book of September 1998 by preorders received, edging out Uncanny X-Men #240, an issue of the “inferno” crossover. Capital sold 71,100 copies of Wolverine #3, versus 68,900 for Uncanny X-Men #240.

Here again, the price differential between the books gives us a different verdict once newsstand figures are counted. Marvel sold 353,400 copies of the $1.50 Wolverine #3 overall, including 272,800 copies to comics shops, 76,400 copies to newsstands, and another 4,200 copies through other channels (subscription sales would have been just beginning on the new title). Meanwhile, Uncanny X-Men #240 cost only a dollar — and had many years of established subscription sales, to boot. Marvel sold 415,200 copies of it, including 257,000 through the comics shops, 116,400 copies through the newsstand, and 41,800 copies through subscription and other channels.

This demonstrates the degree to which those other channels were still a factor: Wolvie was clearly the direct-market king, but it’s the newsstand and the subscribers that put Uncanny X-Men #240 over the top.

Marvel’s dollar share of Capital’s advance orders was 47.06%, followed by DC with 28.55% and First with 4.93%.

Capital had the $29.95 Marvel Masterworks Vol. 4: Avengers as its top dollar book, followed by the $100 History of the DC Universe Ltd. Edition.

The median cover price of all comics on the market in 1988 was $1.75 — though the baseline prices at the mainstream publishers were $1 or lower.

…and beyond

The Comics Chronicles is able to project likely top-sellers for individual years, tracking backward based on Statements of Ownership and Circulation. Without delving into individual issue numbers, which would require figuring out what came out in which month, here are the likely top-sellers for each year:

1983: Uncanny X-Men (averaging 336,824 copies across all channels, including newsstand and subs)

1978: Star Wars (no statement, but likely around 350,000 copies)

1973: Archie (averaging 345,087 copies)

1968: Superman (averaging 636,400 copies)

1963: Superman (no statement, but likely around 770,000 copies)

Writer of comics and books about comics, John Jackson Miller (http://www.farawaypress.com) has tracked comics sales figures for years, including for Comics & Games Retailer magazine in the 1990s and later for the Standard Catalog of Comic Books line. He’s developing an online archive for academic researchers at The Comics Chronicles (http://www.comichron.com), including a FAQ section and a forum for questions.

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