The March 2009 Direct Market sales figures are online at — and a month notable for having the first top-seller to fall below the 100k-copy mark nonetheless kept pace in overall dollars with the previous March, once all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines sold to retailers are counted. Only about $12,000 at full retail separated the two months, or less than one percent.
However, the unit orders in the Top 300 for the month were the lowest since January 2005, and you have to go back to the first two quarters of 2001 to find lower unit sales for a quarter in the direct market. Click to see the <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2009/2009-03.html>sales charts for March</a>.
In overall terms, the direct market is off 7% for the quarter, which is better than might be expected from the general economic conditions. In overall dollar sales, this quarter was still up 22% over the first quarter of 2004. Comic book retailers ordered $16 million more in comics and trades this quarter than in 2004; inflation plays some role, but not the primary one. The backlist is larger, for one thing — and comics in the low end of the Top 300 are selling more units.
Again, this month marked the first time that the top-seller at Diamond — Dark Avengers #3 — sold fewer than 100,000 copies. While a psychological marker and one for the <a href=http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/diamondrecords.html >records page</a>, we should recall that with this month's newsstand sales and next month's reorders, the circulation number is indeed in the six figures. There have been multiple months since 2000 where the top book at Diamond was just a smidge above 100k — although, previously, there had been only two months with just a single title above 100k — January and February 2001.
It is also worth noting that the of the Top 300 has changed in recent years. While looking at what the top-seller is doing is interesting, we learn more by making comparisons across the entire Top 300. A <a href=http://blog.comichron.com/2009/04/changing-shape-of-top-300.html>thumbnail comparison here</a> finds that offerings much deeper on the list (in the 200s) are selling many more copies than in earlier years. The arcing slope of the Top 300 appears to be a much more regular line once we get past 150th place. This could be attributable to line expansion at the major publishers, which gives them entries in a section of the list where they hadn’t been in the early 2000s.
The historical comparisons for the month:
TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
March 2009: 5.32 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -13%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -16%
Versus 10 years ago this month: -18%
YEAR TO DATE: 16.57 million copies, -13% vs. 2008
TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
March 2009: $17.8 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -7%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -4%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +10%
YEAR TO DATE: $56.22 million, -6% vs. 2008
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2009: $7.09 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +32
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +35%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100: $12.69 million, up 2% vs. 2008
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2009: $24.88 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -5%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +1%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +12%
YEAR TO DATE, comparing just the Top 100 TPBs: $68.91 million, -5% vs. 2008
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2009: $31.09 million ($34.15 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: unchanged (down less than 1%)
Versus 5 years ago this month: +4%
YEAR TO DATE: $91.12 million, -7% vs. 2008, +22% vs. 2004
The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.45; the average comic ordered cost $3.34.
The theory about some Diamond trade orders not making it into February by the warehouse move might be substantiated by the increase in trade paperback sales reported this month — although Watchmen and the "After Watchmen" promotion surely figure into things as well.
Looking at the top-selling comic books in the past:
March 2008's top seller was Dark Tower: The Long Road Home #1, with orders of approximately 123,800 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2008/2008-03.html >here</a>.
March 2004's top-seller was Superman/Batman #8, featuring the new Supergirl. It had first-month orders of 146,900 copies in the direct market, and was boosted considerably by later reorders. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2004/2004-03.html>here</a>.
March 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #368, with preorders of approximately 131,400 copies in the direct market. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/1999/1999-03.html>here</a>.
March 1994's top seller was another Batman team-up — this one Spawn/Batman, the Image-published cross-over by Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane. It was the consensus leader at both Diamond and Capital City Distribution. Capital City alone sold 141,550 copies, and total sales were likely in the 400-500,000 copy range. Notably, the issue cost $3.95 — the same as the top seller in March 2009!
March 1989's top seller at Capital City was Batman #433, the first issue of John Byrne's "Many Deaths of the Batman." Sales appear to have at least doubled for the title with this issue: Capital City sold 75,650 copies of the issue, and overall sales were likely in the 300-400,000 copy range.
Finally, March 1984's top comic book, both at Capital and likely everywhere else, was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #3, continuing the year-long mega-cross-over.
Market share and other historical sales graphics can be found <a href=http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics.html >here</a>.