AUGUST '09 Comichron Report: Comics Sales Remain Steady

Steady overall numbers continue to be the order of the summer for the direct market, according to The Comics Chronicles analysis of August 2009 comics ordered from Diamond Comic Distributors. The charts for the month appear <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2009/2009-08.html>here</a>.

August with its four ship weeks managed to look a lot like July with its five. The dollar value of all Marvels ordered in the Top 300 Comics and Top 300 Trades was, in fact, almost identical to July’s figure — within a couple of hundred dollars! DC’s performance was very close, as well, slightly beating its July total thanks to the performance of Blackest Night. DC took four of the top 10 slots on the periodical charts.

While sales of a number of ongoing titles are finding new lows, in aggregate, unit sales for the Top 300 comics are comfortably ahead of where they were five years ago — and far ahead in dollar terms.

Dollar sales of the Top 300 trade paperbacks slipped again year-over-year, off 16% against a very hard comparative month: Watchmen’s re-release moved more than 43,000 copies in August 2008. But combined Top 300 comics and Top 300 trades were up by 1%. Basically, the Top 300 comics made up the million dollars the Top 300 Trades lost, a reversal of how  we’ve often seen it. The overall figure is close to flat versus last year for the third month in a row.

There continue to many more heavily-discounted trades moving through the system this year than last; as in previous recent months, adjustments have been made to the overall estimate to retain as much of an apples-versus-apples comparison as is possible. Slightly more merchandise value at cover price entered the direct market than the $36.15 million figure indicates.

The figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES

August 2009: 6.77 million copies

Versus 1 year ago this month: -1%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +8%

Versus 10 years ago this month: unchanged

YEAR TO DATE: 49.17 million copies, -8% vs. 2008

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES

August 2009: $23.3 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: +5%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +30%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +31%

YEAR TO DATE: $167.76 million, -2% vs. 2008

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

August 2009: $6.73 million

Versus 1 year ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -16%

Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +18%

Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +54%

YEAR TO DATE: $53.17 million; down 10% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

August 2009: $30.03 million

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

Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +28%

Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +33%

YEAR TO DATE: $220.9 million; down 4% when just comparing just the Top 100 each month

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

August 2009: $36.15 million ($39.9 million with UK)

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

Versus 5 years ago this month: +31%

YEAR TO DATE: $283.65 million, -1% vs. 2008, +35% vs. 2004

The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.45; the average comic ordered cost $3.44. 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.

Notable this month is one of the highest rankings of Archie in the direct market age, with its landmark 600th issue (and marriage storyline) landing in 35th place. Archie's overall sales are always understated by the Diamond tables, since it has significant newsstand sales; it's unclear what impact the anniversary issue will have on its newsstand draws, so it's difficult to say how many copies will be in circulation. Of course, we need only go back forty years this year to find Archie as the #1 title in comics, as seen <a href=http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/1960s/1969.html>here</a>.

Looking at what came before August 2009, we find some interesting landmarks...

August 2008's top seller was Marvel's Secret Invasion #5, with first-month orders of approximately 165,900 copies in the direct market, a few thousands copies less than the previous issue. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2008/2008-08.html>here</a>.

August 2004's top-seller was Astonishing X-Men #4, beating out the third issue of Identity Crisis with final orders through Diamond in August of 145,600 copies. It was a very strong month overall, with double-digit increases year-over-year across several categories. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2004/2004-08.html>here</a>.

August 1999's top-seller was Uncanny X-Men #373, with preorders of approximately 116,300 copies in the direct market. It just got worse and worse for the direct market in the summer of 1999, with percentage drops in all categories. Interestingly, the number of copies of the Top 300 comics preordered that month, 6.77 million, is identical to the figure for ten years later, August 2009. However, the August 2009 comics had a retail value 31% higher, showing clearly the effect of cover prices. Check out the sales chart <a href=http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/1999/1999-08.html>here</a>.

August 1994 was "Zero Month" in the DC Universe, with titles publishing #0 issues in the wake of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time the month before. The top "zero issue" took fifth place at Diamond, Batman #0. The top seller for the month was another split decision between the two distributors, with X-Men #37 on top at Capital City Distribution and Spawn #24 leading the list at Diamond. The top seller between the two is likely the X-Men issue, given its stronger newsstand presence and its subscription base; notably, as well, this is the period when Marvel was producing both $2.95 "deluxe" editions and $1.50 regular versions of its X-titles. It's the enhanced version that's ranked #1: Capital City alone sold 106,800 copies of the issue, bringing total sales across all channels were probably closer to half a million copies.

August 1989's top seller at Capital City was Batman #440, the first part of "A Lonely Place of Dying," the storyline notable for introducing Tim Drake as a replacement Robin. "Lonely Place" gave DC an opportunity to really capitalize on the attention following the release of Tim Burton's Batman film, which was still in theaters in August; Capital City's preorders on the issue were 122,550 copies, putting the true total in the 500-600,000-copy range.

Finally, August 1984's top comic book was one of the most famous comic books of the 1980s, Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #8. Many of the changes in Secret Wars didn't last for very long. The change to the black Spider-Man costume introduced in this issue lasted longer than some, making the first issue of the regular series with the costume a modest collectible in its day.

And while that change, too, was reversed, the costume's real legacy involves the character Venom, spawned years later.

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

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