JULY '09 Comichron Report: Summer Sales Looking Sunny

July 2009 COMICHRON REPORT

Special to Newsarama by John Jackson Miller

http://www.comichron.com

The summer seems to be breathing some life back into comics sales figures in several categories, according to analysis of July 2009 comics ordered from Diamond Comic Distributors. The charts for the month <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2009/2009-07.html>appear here</a>.

The decline in Top 300 comics unit sales has slowed, and the direct market picked up a few points in Top 300 comics dollars, thanks to six comics above the 100,000-copy mark. There was a generally stronger slate of event comics for July than in previous months, and it was our best month of the year for both Top 300 comics units and dollars so far.

Dollar sales of the Top 300 trade paperbacks continued their June pace, off 9%. Between frontlist comics and trades, the gap narrowed to 4% — and the overall figure, including backlist trades and magazines, appeared to be even or just slightly ahead of last year, by less than 1%.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES

July 2009: 6.91 million copies

Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +13%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +3%

YEAR TO DATE: 42.4 million copies, -9% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES

July 2009: $24.18 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: +3%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +36%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +42%

YEAR TO DATE: $144.46 million, -3% vs. 2008

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

July 2009: $7.35 million

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

Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +34%

Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +70%

YEAR TO DATE: $46.44 million; down 9% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

July 2009: $31.53 million

Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: up less than 1%

Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +35%

Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +43%

YEAR TO DATE: $190.87 million; down 4% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

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

July 2009: $41.59 million ($44.3 million with UK)

Versus 1 year ago this month: up less than 1%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +49%

YEAR TO DATE: $247.5 million, -1% vs. 2008, +35% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.43; the average comic ordered cost $3.50. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $2.99. $2.99 was also the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300. The 300th place comic book is again above 4,000 units sold.

While the overall figure for the month is flat or narrowly ahead, a caveat mentioned a few months ago returns this month, because of the heavy degree of promotional discounting done on softcover and hardcovers sold to retailers in the month. While some deep discounting happens in every month, July 2009 saw substantially more than July 2008 — well over than $1 million more books going into stores this month at less than half what the publisher usually receives. This has introduced some error into the “overall” statistic, as there is a wider than usual gap between wholesale and retail sales this month. I have adjusted to remove items that retailers basically got for free so as to keep the year-to-year comparisons valid — but I think the upshot at the end of 2009 will be that retailers wound up with more dollars worth of stock in their stores than the overall sales figures reflect — hopefully, they can turn those books into something close to their cover value.

Again, it looks a decent summer, compared to what it might have been. We’re coming up against comparisons with some strong 2008 months later in the fall, but the direct market’s performance during the general recession has been strong enough to date that we might only be looking at a single-digit slowdown percentage-wise, in the aggregate. That’s something most industries would consider a relief, if not a victory.

Looking back at earlier times:

July 2008's top seller was Marvel's Secret Invasion #4, with first-month orders of approximately 175,400 copies in the direct market, just slightly less than the previous issue. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2008/2008-07.html>here</a>.

July 2004's top-seller was Superman/Batman #11, eclipsing other strong contenders including Avengers #500 and Identity Crisis #2. Superman/Batman had final orders through Diamond in July of 143,720 copies. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2004/2004-07.html>here</a>.

July 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #372, with preorders of approximately 123,200 copies in the direct market. It was another disappointing summer month for the direct market, hoping to claw back from its worst slump then or now. It says something about the relative health of the industry today that comics shops ordered more copies of the Top 300 comics last month than ten years ago — at a dollar value 42% greater! Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/1999/1999-07.html>here</a>.

Although it's not the title that topped the charts in July 1994, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time was the most memorable phenomenon of the month. DC's five weekly issues of Zero Hour took sixth through tenth place at Diamond. What was the #1 book of the month? There was a split decision between the two major distributors, with X-Men #36 topping the charts at Capital City Distribution and Spawn #23 edging it out at Diamond. With its enhanced cover, the "Phalanx Covenant" X-Men #36 sold for $2.95, a dollar more than the Spawn issue — and it's certainly likely that when newsstand and subscriptions are figured in, X-Men had more copies in circulation. Capital City alone sold 125,550 copies of the issue, and total sales across all channels were probably closer to half a million copies.

But July 1994 was a "lackluster" month overall, to use the term in Capital's report. "Internal Correspondence", speculating on why sales were off in what was supposed to be the peak order month for the year, put the blame on proliferation of titles, lack of quality titles, and cover prices. "Have comics simply priced themselves out of competition with other forms of entertainment?" asked Capital co-owner John Davis. "In the past, fans could afford to buy all of a publisher's releases each month. Given the current $2 to $2.50 price of most comics, that is no longer possible." (Demonstrating it's not a new debate at all — though to be exact, while Capital did figure a $2.51 average price for products in July 1994, that's not a weighted average. The top 50 comics had an average price of $1.90.)

July 1989's top seller at Capital City was Batman #439, concluding Marv Wolfman's "Batman Year Three." It was all Batman all the time in that first full month after the release of Tim Burton film; the top four were another issue of Batman and two issues of Detective Comics. Capital City's preorders on the issue were 108,800 copies, and the true total is at least in the neighborhood of half a million.

Finally, July 1984's top comic book, both at Capital and most probably everywhere else, was Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #7, continuing the year-long mega-cross-over. Next month would come the new Spider-costume...

Market share and other historical sales graphics can be found <a href=http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics.html>here</a>.

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