With San Diego past, we return to the regularly scheduled comics industry, already in progress — and as we left it, the market had been through a bumpy first half of the year, including a very rough month of May. But analysis of reports of comics retailers ordered from Diamond Comic Distributors in the month of June by The Comics Chronicles reveals an industry that is in better shape at midyear than many would have imagined.
The charts for the month appear here:
A nice rebound in aggregate Top 300 comics sales helped overall orders for comics, trades, and magazines nudge slightly ahead of June 2008 — very slightly, a difference of $60,000 or so. The numbers for the second quarter were ahead 4%, not quite recovering the ground lost in the first quarter. Overall estimated dollar orders in the direct market at midyear stand at nearly $206 million, off about 1% (or less than $3 million), from the same period last year. The "long tail" of trades is where the difference is being made up; Top 300 Comics units, Top 300 Comics dollars, and Top 300 Trade Paperback dollars are all off for the year to date by a larger amount — but not a much larger amount. They’re all off 10% or less.
TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
June 2009: 6.56 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: down 2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: unchanged
Versus 10 years ago this month: +1%
Q2 2009: 18.92 million copies, -7% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: 35.49 million copies, -10% vs. 2008
TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
June 2009: $22.7 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +23%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +36%
Q2 2009: $64.06 million, -3% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: $120.28 million, -4% vs. 2008
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
June 2009: $6.04 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -35%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +15%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +35%
Q2 2009: $20.76 million, -17% vs. 2008 when comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
YEAR TO DATE: $39.09 million; down 9% when just comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
June 2009: $28.74 million
Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -3%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +31%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +36%
Q2 2009: $76.88 million, -6% vs. 2008 when comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
YEAR TO DATE: $159.34 million; down 5% when just comparing just the Top 100 TPBs each month
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
June 2009: $37.03 million ($40.57 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: up less than 1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +25%
Q2 2009: $114.79 million, +4% vs. 2008
YEAR TO DATE: $205.91 million, -1% vs. 2008, +33% vs. 2004
Right off, we see an interesting thing: When we look at the month of June in the direct market across time, the Top 300 comics are generating unit sales within a very narrow range: 6.56 million copies now, 6.66 million last year, 6.53 million 5 years ago, and 6.52 million 10 years ago. That’s a 100,000-copy range, scarcely one hit title. Yet roughly the same number of units is generating 6% more dollars than last year, 23% more than five years ago, and 36% more than 10 years ago. Such is the impact of the change in pricing!
The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.50; the average comic ordered cost $3.46. These are both records, and as noted here $2.99 is still the most common cover price. for comics in Diamond’s Top 300, although that balance has changed a lot this year and $3.99 is catching up.
The gradual changeover to $3.99 for many publishers is having amplified effects on the charts, relative to some of benchmark pricing changes in previous years; few publishers are stopping at the intermediate $3.50 step, and $2.99 to $3.99 matches the previous record jumps by percentage, from 15¢ to 20¢ in the mid-1970s and 75¢ to $1 in the late 1980s. The problem is that we really can’t look at the 75¢ to $1 records to see how it affected unit sales, because it was right at the beginning of that boom, where numbers on everything were going up because of the explosion in the number of comics outlets. There may be clearer effects visible in the 15-to-20¢ example, but I don’t know how useful info from a largely newsstand model will be.
In any event, the month of June, at least, shows unit orders holding relatively firm, despite the pricing trends.
The Top 100 Trades were off a great deal against June 2008; as described in this analysis on how graphic novel pricing has changed over time, last June's list had more hardcovers and more higher-priced products than June did this year. Still, as much as we hunt for the effects of price resistance in new comics sales, it's not unreasonable to expect that a recession might hit the big-ticket items to a more pronounced degree. We'll see as the summer progresses whether this is part of a larger trend.
Looking back at earlier times:
June 2004's top-seller was Identity Crisis #1, which stands just before the most recent wave of free-standing limited series, rather than ongoing series, serving as the hubs for events impacting entire comics universes. Issues of such series topped the charts five times in 2005 (Infinite Crisis, House of M), eight times in 2006 (Infinite Crisis, Civil War), six times in 2007 (Civil War, World War Hulk), eight times in 2008 (all Secret Invasion). Despite the "Crisis" name, Identity Crisis is probably not properly considered as part of that wave — being more of an independent story without the kinds of tie-in issues we saw for some of those later, more purely cross-over events — but it appears to have set the stage for later success this decade. The first issue had first-month orders of 163,100 copies in the direct market. It was boosted considerably by later reorders — 5,900 copies in July, 4,400 in August. Check out the sales chart here.
June 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #371, with preorders of approximately 125,600 copies in the direct market. 1999 was, by contrast, a year where not much at all was happening with major events, and Uncanny topped the charts ten months in a row. Check out the sales chart here:
June 1994's top seller was another X-Men issue — X-Men #35, from "adjectiveless" version of the series. It was the consensus leader at both Diamond and Capital City Distribution, outselling the original X-title by nearly 10%. Capital City alone sold 108,650 copies. While the Statement of Ownership reported overall sales of 614,075 copies, that's deceptive, as it's an average of months going back into the second half of the blockbuster year 1993; X-Men sales for the second half of 1994 were far lower, as evidenced by the next Statement that appeared, reporting average sales of 332,889 copies per issue.
June 1989's top seller at Capital City was Batman #436, beginning Marv Wolfman's "Batman Year Three." It was the first of two issues of Batman that sold that month, #437 coming in second place. The first Tim Burton Batman film was released on June 23rd (the sneak preview was June 22) — and it had a significant impact on the direct market, with Batman titles topping the charts for the entire rest of 1989, including the multi-cover Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, regarded by many (including this commentator) as the title launching the 1990s comics boom in earnest. Capital City's preorders on the issue were 118,650 copies, and the true total is at least in the neighborhood of half a million. Read more about the Batman film and comics sales .
Finally, June 1984's top comic book, both at Capital and likely everywhere else, was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #6, continuing the year-long mega-cross-over. As free-standing cross-over series go, this is one of the granddaddies!
Market share and other historical sales graphics can be found here.
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).