The Comichron Report: November 2008

The Comichron Report: November 2008

Diamond Comic Distributors began reporting indexed sales figures of trade paperbacks in January 1998, with only ten titles listed. Now, in its release for November 2008 — estimates online at The Comics Chronicles — Diamond has brought the trade list into parity with the comics list: Both now report the Top 300 items.

Getting the Top 300 trades does really show us a lot more of the picture — just the Top 100 brought in $6 million, whereas the next 200 added $2.3 million. The “overall” total minus the combined comics and TPB totes leaves only $5.4 million, much of which is more trades — but now, we can say that the Diamond Top TPB list accounts for more than half of direct market initial orders. (Bookstore sales are another matter.)

However, there may be some bugs to work out, as I and a number of other observers detected some discrepancies. Particularly, it appears that the same Order Index Number key (equal to 1% of Batman unit sales) was not used for both the Top 300 Comics and the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks list. Looking at correlations with the actual publisher reports that we compare the Diamond charts with, it appears that the correct “magic number” for the trade paperback table is 999 copies, whereas the magic number that fits the actual periodical data best is 1,031. There are a number of ways this could occur — particularly if the reports were prepared at two different times, which seems likely. Order codes for Batman were also combined this month, so they may have been aggregated for one purpose and not for the other.

While there may be corrections coming from Diamond, in looking harder at the data, I think we can make a best-guess from the numbers at hand. There is significant matching on the two lists as long as two different Order Index Numbers are used, and revised Order Index figures would not be likely to vary much (or they wouldn't fit the known data we have now as well). So what appears here is my best guess; again, should corrections come, I'll take another pass through the data.

In any event, several things about the month are known. Importantly, comics were more expensive in November 2008 than in any month in history.  The average comic book offered in Diamond’s Top 300 comics had a cover price of $3.50, beating the previous record last month by 12 cents. The median price is still $2.99, and $2.99 is still the most common price within the chart. The weighted average price — comics dollars divided by comics units — was $3.35, another record. The average price of comics in the Top 25 was $3.43.

And if the current calculations hold, overall comics, magazine, and trade paperback sales at $33.06 million, off 9% for the month; for the year, we’re still up, but by only half a percent. Diamond's Roger Fletcher said on ICV2 that Diamond’s sales to shops were off about 3% for the year (http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/13946.html); I’m not certain what’s covered under that umbrella, but it’s possible the reference may include Diamond’s other lines. (The overall calculation is based on applying actual known overall publisher sales to the market share charts; there’s evidence that it’s been very close in the past, but it might not be reading the same thing.)

The narrower categories were off badly on the periodical side. The Top 300 Comics were off 17% in units, posting the worst monthly performance since January 2006 and the worst November performance since 2000. The Top 300 were off 11% in dollars; it was only the slowest month for Top 200 dollars since February 2008 though, and the slowest November since November 2004.

The vital stats for the month, subject to change:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES

November 2008: 5.76 million copies

Versus 1 year ago this month: -17%

Versus 5 years ago this month: -5%

Versus 10 years ago this month: -11%

YEAR TO DATE: 73.67 million copies, -6% vs. 2007

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES

November 2008: $19.32 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: -11%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +9%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +15%

YEAR TO DATE: $237.57, -4% vs. 2007

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

November 2008: $8.31 million

Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: unchanged

Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +27%

Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 30 vs. the Top 30: -6%

YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100: $54.87 million, +4% vs. 2007

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

November 2008: $27.63 million

Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -9%

Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +12%

Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 30 TPBs: +11%

YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100 TPBs: $292.44 million, -3% vs. 2007

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)

November 2008: $33.06 million ($37 million with UK)

Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +41%

YEAR TO DATE: $396.8 million, +0.5% vs. 2007

With one month left to go in the year, it looks like there is a chance for the “overall” category to come in above 2007 — but the narrower categories are less likely to go positive, and Top 300 Units are trailing by 5 million copies, so that category is definitely off for the year. While that mark suggest the first down year for comics in a long time, it would be exceptional indeed for the medium to outperform 2007 in an economy where very little else is. That the drops are likely to be single digits is a sign of strength, to some degree — although the full effect of price increases in comics (particularly in a period of stagnant inflation) is yet to be understood.

Again, when and if Diamond issues revisions, I’ll take another look under the hood — but my guess is things won’t change much. You can see comparison charts for the following months here:

ONE YEAR AGO

FIVE YEARS AGO 

TEN YEARS AGO

November 1998 was notable for the release of the oversized Superman: Peace on Earth, which Diamond classified as a comic book; at $9.99 and a permanent-stock item, I shifted it to the trade paperbacks column (where it led the list by far) when I initially ran the numbers.

Further back, November 1993’s #1 comic book was another split decision. Diamond had Uncanny X-Men #308 as its top seller, less than 1% ahead of X-Men #28, the top seller at Capital. Newsstand and subscription copies would likely give the nod to Uncanny.

And November 1988’s top seller was likely Uncanny X-Men #242, continuing of the “Inferno” cross-over.

Charts tracking comics sales and market shares across time can be found here:

COMICS ORDERS

MARKET SHARES

Writer of comics and books about comics, John Jackson Miller (http://www.farawaypress.com) has tracked comics sales figures for years. 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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