The Comics Chronicles December 2008, Year End Analysis

Retailer orders for comic books were up strongly in several categories across all categories in December, concluding a year very slightly ahead in overall orders while down slightly in the narrower categories, according to analysis of Diamond Comics Distributors’ top sellers lists.

First, speaking just of December: As seen in the tables, it was a record month in many categories, not for the least reason that Marvel released a very large number of items into the market, taking 119 of the Top 300 comics slots, almost all of them new items. The result was Marvel’s highest Top 300 unit count since December 1996 and the market’s highest Top 300 unit count since August 2007. Marvel’s Top 300 comics dollars were the highest observed in the Diamond exclusive era, and the market’s Top 300 comics dollars were the highest since December 1996:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES

December 2008: 7.67 million copies

Versus 1 year ago this month: +9%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +21%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +5%

4th Quarter 2008: 20.96 million copies, -1% vs. 4Q 2007

2008 FINAL: 81.34 million copies, -5% vs. 2007

Comic Monthly Sales - December 2007

Comic Monthly Sales - December 2003

Comic Monthly Sales - December 1998

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES

December 2008: $25.37 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: +12%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +40%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +37%

4th Quarter 2008: $69.59 million, +3% vs. 4Q 2007

2008 FINAL: $263 million, -3% vs. 2007

Secret Invasion #8 led the list, marking eight out of eight issues in the #1 spot at Diamond. Civil War previously had placed all seven of its issues in the top position.

December was the second month that Diamond published its sales for its Top 300 Trade Paperbacks and Graphic Novels, meaning that year-to-year comparisons require looking only at the subset Diamond was previously reporting (100 titles in 2007, 50 in 2003, and 25 in 1998). Regardless of the year, trade sales in December outdid the equivalent subset in previous years:

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

December 2008: $7.17 million

Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. just the Top 100: +11%

Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +41%

Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +100%

4th Quarter 2008, just the Top 100 TPBs: $15.72 million, +5% vs. 4Q 2007

2008 FINAL, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: $57.15 million, +4% vs. 2007

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 100 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

December 2008: $32.54 million

Versus 1 year ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +12%

Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 50 TPBs: +40%

Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +40%

4th Quarter 2008: $86.08 million, +4% vs. 4Q 2007

2008 FINAL, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: $322.87 million, -1% vs. 2007

And finally, the widest calculation that can be computed from the Diamond release, Overall Sales of Comics, Trades, and Magazines, was up 11% for the month — and 39% over the same month five years ago:

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

December 2008: $39.78 million ($43.8 million with UK)

Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +39%

4th Quarter 2008: $114.89 million, +3% vs. 4Q 2007

2008 FINAL: $436.58 million, +1.5% vs. 2007

Now, to 2008: As noted, the industry didn't so much grow or slip as move sideways. Top 300 Comics Unit and Dollar Sales were down 5% and 3% respectively, and the top 100 trades were up 4%. The overall figure is up just over 1% in my aggregated month-by month calculations, a process explained (along with the several caveats it entails) here:

That would make this the eighth straight year with an overall increase, but I am approaching this observation with some caution given statements out of Diamond that sales were off last year. Three different Diamond sources have stated sales declined slightly, with one referring to a 3% drop, and another referring to a 4% drop.

However, it is unclear whether that figure refers to Diamond’s entire sales, including toys and other products; just comic book sales; or comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines. The “Overall” estimates above refer only to the last group mentioned. Sales could be down by 4% in either one of the first two groups or both without making a 1% increase impossible in the grouping that includes trades — especially given Steve Geppi’s announcement that trade sales were up 5% last year. Comics and trade dollars are not completely at parity — comics still appear to lead trades at Diamond by at least 3-to-2 dollarwise — but figure a 5% gain in trades might barely put a 3% loss in comics dollars into positive territory overall.

Regardless, we’re dealing close to the borderline — and flat, slightly ahead, or slightly behind overall, we can say that 2008 was an exceptionally close year to 2007, particularly in light of the general economy. The year more resembles the slowdown of 2003 than any of the earlier (and more dire) examples; unit sales for the Top 300 were down that year, but price increases covered the gap. We'll see as 2009 progresses whether 2008 was a blip, as that was — or a turning point.

There will be more analysis of the year and refinements of these calculations on The Comics Chronicles in the coming days; in the meantime, updated market share and trendlines appear here and here.

Finally, it will be noted in the December charts that there is a change from Diamond this time out in what they report. It now tags the comics and trade paperbacks that are “New This Month.” I have incorporated this into the tables in two ways. In the comics tables, when something is a reorder, the word “(reorder)” appears in the issue-number field. This is done in lieu of adding a new column, partly in order to keep the tables on the site of a uniform column count. To that end, I already had a spare field in the TPB tables, so for those, the column says “(new)”. This provides the info, while preserving the number of columns so different months can be combined easily.

Comparisons to earlier months can be found here:

ONE YEAR AGO

FIVE YEARS AGO

TEN YEARS AGO

It’s interesting to see that in the December 1998 Dialogue, Diamond’s trade magazine that recently ended, trade paperbacks only accounted for 7.53% of Diamond’s dollar sales — versus 7.76% for magazines!

Further back, both Diamond and Capital City had the same #1 comic book in December 1993: Spawn #19. It’s almost a certainty that the two main X-Men titles (in second and third place) outsold it once newsstand and subscriptions are counted, as they were at #1.25 versus Spawn’s $1.95. Wolverine: Blood Hungry was rated as the top-selling trade at Diamond (though at $13.95, The Valiant Era at $13.95 was the highest seller at a TPB price point).

December 1988’s top seller was Uncanny X-Men #243, leading the pack in a month that saw DC take over distribution of Comico’s line — an apparent consequence of the contraction that followed the black-and-white glut of the mid-1980s. The top-selling trade paperback was likely Marvel’s X-Men: The Asgardian Wars, according to Capital City.

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).

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