JUNE'10 COMICHRON Report: Trades Make a Comeback

Comics shop orders were essentially unchanged overall in June versus the same month last year, producing a similar result for the first half of 2010, according to analysis by The Comics Chronicles of data released by Diamond Comic Distributors. Marvel's New Avengers  relaunch led the market, just as the "adjectiveless" Avengers reboot did in May. Click to see the estimates of June 2010 comics orders.

Retailers ordered slightly fewer dollars worth of comic books and substantially more dollars worth of trade paperbacks this June versus last June, reversing a trend seen most of this year. The trade paperback list likewise saw heavier volumes distributed further down the chart, with the 100th place trade paperback selling more than 1,250 copies versus 1,000 copies last June, a month that had one less shipping week.

Higher volumes in the midlist and lower-list titles are also noticeable in the comics list. The volume of the 300th place title was the second-highest it's been in a decade, at 4,528 copies. Only December 2008 saw higher sales at the bottom of the list; the full record of 300th-place comics sales can be seen here.

And one of the main reasons is another first: Only 15 publishers had titles in the Top 300, the lowest number in the Diamond Exclusive Era. Add up the seven publishers with the most comics in the Top 300 — Marvel, DC, IDW, Image, Dynamite, Dark Horse, and Boom, in that order — and you've got 277 spots on the list. (The top 10 publishers took 291!)

The result is that many familiar publisher names wound up peaking below 300th place — and Diamond again reported sales for a number of these publishers in a supplementary report: 40 titles, ranging all the way down to 460th place. These can be found at the bottom of the Comichron listing, (although, as usual, our Top 300 market shares take in only the Top 300).

These addditional titles added almost exactly 100,000 copies to the Top 300 comics, bringing total unit sales close to 6.22 million copies. As that 460th place title, the "nude" edition of Cavewoman Prehistoric Pinups #7, had orders of 926 copies — so totaling all the comics Diamond sold at least 1,000 copies of  probably yields somewhere around 6.5 million copies. The "next 150" after the Top 300 is thus maybe 5% to 6% of the new-issue market by units.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES

June 2010: 6.11 million copies

Versus 1 year ago this month: -7%

Versus 5 years ago this month: -14%

Versus 10 years ago this month: -1%

Second quarter 2010: 17.84 million copies, -6% vs. 2009

YEAR TO DATE: 35.49 million copies, -2% vs. 2009, -5% vs. 2005, unchanged vs. 2000

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES

June 2010: $21.8 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +23%

Second quarter 2010: $62.67 million, -2% vs. 2009

YEAR TO DATE: $122.02 million, +1% vs. 2009, +16% vs. 2005, +30% vs. 2000

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

June 2010: $7.32 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: +21%

Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +21%

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

Second quarter 2010: $18.86 million, -9% vs. 2009

YEAR TO DATE: $35.57 million, -9% vs. 2009

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 100 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

June 2010: $29.11 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: +1%

Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +7%

Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +23%

Second quarter 2010: $81.45 million, -4% vs. 2009

YEAR TO DATE: $157.52 million, -1% vs. 2009

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

June 2010: $37 million (figure approximate)

Versus 1 year ago this month: unchanged

Versus 5 years ago this month: +13%

Second quarter 2010: $104.02 million, -9%

YEAR TO DATE: $201.29 million, -2% vs. 2009, +20% vs. 2005

The average comic book in Diamond’s Top 300 cost $3.47 The average Top 300 comic book that retailers ordered from Diamond cost $3.56. The median comic book price in Diamond’s Top 300 was $3.50, and the most common cover price on Diamond’s list dropped back to $2.99 after three months at $3.99.

The overall figures for June are subject to change as supplementary data comes in, but the upshot for the first half of 2010 is that comics unit sales are still keeping right around the same 35-40 million copy range they've been in for much of the last 10 years. Unit sales for the first six months are, in fact, identical to those in 2000 — a positive result when one considers that most of the trade paperback business we have now didn't exist then. (The market did grow: it just grew a new sector.) Trade paperbacks, meanwhile, are still struggling versus 2009, although, again, June turned back in the right direction.

It continues to be the expectation of this observer that trade paperbacks are more sensitive to external financial conditions than periodicals, where comics shops are concerned. Ordering non-returnably, comics shops are in a different position from other bookstores; as general economic conditions improve, we would expect to see comics retailers replenishing their graphic novel inventories.

Here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...

June 2009's top seller was DC's Batman and Robin #1, with estimated first-month Diamond orders of 168,500 copies. It would ultimately be the fourth best-selling comic book of 2009, with reorders bringing it to 190,300 copies. June 2009 was notable for increasing prices, which set new records in the month with the average comic book offered in Diamond's top-sellers list selling for $3.50. Check out the sales chart here.

June 2005's top-seller was Marvel's House of M #1, with Diamond first-month orders of over 233,700 copies. Final orders including reorders brought the summer event issue to 248,200 copies, making it the 14th best-selling comic book of the 2000s. Check out the sales chart for June 2005 here.

June 2000's top-seller was Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #383, with Diamond preorders of 120,600 copies, barely making the Top 300 list for the decade; such were the low volumes in 2000 compared to later in the decade. June was X-Men month, with the first movie prompting the release of several prequel issues at Marvel; yet retailer orders remained light following many down years in the direct market. (The coincidence of a popular movie with poor cash flow at retail is one of the case studies examined in this piece relating comics and movie sales.)

Still, overall figures for June 2000 were up, a step in the right direction. Check out the sales chart here.

June 1995's top seller at Diamond was Spawn: Blood Feud #1; at Capital City Distribution, the top-seller was Marvel's X-Men #43. With newsstand and subscription sales, the X-Men issue almost certainly was the better seller overall; Capital's orders were 90,800 copies, with average annual sales for the title that year at nearly 333,000 copies.

It was the last month in the year all distributors would have Marvel and DC comics: on March 3, 1995, the publisher announced it would shift all Marvel's products to its recently purchased Heroes World Distribution company as of July-shipping products. (A not-insignificant detail in all this: Heroes World stopped selling other publishers' products at the same time, cutting out sales from what was then the third-largest distributor.) On April 28, DC announced it was going with Diamond exclusively with its July-shipping products. Dark Horse did the same for November items, and Image for December items. Capital City did get two additional months of DC products by filing a lawsuit against DC and Diamond, but for practical purposes, June 1995 was the end of the multi-distributor direct market the industry had known for more than a decade.

The average price of comics in Diamond's Top 300 was $2.48, and the average comic book ordered within Diamond's Top 300 cost $2.43. The most common cost of comics was $2.50.

June 1990 's top seller at Diamond and Capital City was a blockbuster: Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man #1. The issue went on sale in comics shops June 21, 1990: 1.2 million copies of a silver-ink cover edition and 125,000 copies of a "bagged" silver-ink version. (In theory, removing the bag meant the book was no longer "mint.") There followed 800,000 green unbagged and 125,000 bagged newsstand editions — and several reprints. Golden Apple Comics  in California staged a "Midnight Madness" sale for the release, complete with searchlights and radio news crews; hundreds of people showed up, and the chain sold out of its initial shipment of 3,000 copies withing 36 hours, with sales restricted to one per customer after the first day. (I bought my own copy in a comics shop set up in, all places, a doctor's office complex — a sign of how easily shops were opening in the multi-distributor world.)

Reported same-day prices on the bagged silver editions ranged from $15 to $30 in many places, and hit $80 in at least one. It was a watershed moment in the commoditization of new comics, decried by many at the time; Moondog's owner Gary Colabuono, declaring that the bagged editions were "the dumbest thing to come along in some time," announced his stores would no longer carry them. "It serves no purpose but to stimulate greed and speculation."

Indeed, even the former Marvel executive who came up with the idea of the limited-edition Platinum Spider-Man #1 reprint wrote of his second thoughts in Comics Retailer magazine, years later: "I was taking advantage of the desires of the market and fueling speculator greed."

While Spider-Man #1 was not the best-selling comic book of the wave — that would be the following year's adjectiveless X-Men #1, with its five covers — it did have a long-lasting effect in solidifying McFarlane as the most popular creator working in comics. McFarlane would parlay that popularity into the launch of Image Comics. Readers interested in the inner workings of the publisher in those days should check out Maggie Thompson's in-depth coverage of the 2010 hearings in the McFarlane/Neil Gaiman laswuit: http://www.maggiethompson.com/2010/06/june-15-in-madison-with-neil-gaiman.html

June 1985's top seller at Capital City was Marvel's Secret Wars II #4. Capital's orders were approximately 63,200 copies, suggesting overall sales in the 300,000-to-400,000-copy range. A Barry Windsor-Smith issue of Uncanny X-Men, #198, came in second.

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). Follow research updates on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/comichron

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