February 2011 Comichron Report: Yes, January was a Blip

February 2011 Comichron Report

I always strongly caution readers not to read too much into the fluctuations of a single month's comics orders, and the opening of 2011 has shown us why. As I noted early on and in my final report for January 2011, the first month of this year was one of the noisiest months in sales tracking since Marvel returned to Diamond in April 1997. Diamond Comic Distributors' switch to Tuesday shipping reportedly resulted in several publishers missing their windows for many products at the beginning of the year, and the lightest weekly shipments of new products ever seen by several retailers I spoke with.

That combined with an artificially larger comparison month in 2010 and the usual "dead quarter" publisher cutbacks to produce a major drop — a drop which February 2011, a more normal month in many respects, has gone a good distance toward erasing, according to figures released this week by the distributor. The result is that comics and trade paperback orders were up slightly year-over-year, cutting 2011's deficits basically in half. Click to see the comics sales estimates for February 2011:

http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2011/2011-02.html

We can see the effects of a larger supply of new titles all over the list. Marvel and DC combined to place 19 more titles in the Top 300 in February. There were 130 titles selling more than 10,000 copies in January; that figure swelled to 173 in February. The 300th place title more than doubled in orders from January, rising to 2,860 copies. Trade paperback depth improved as well, up 1% year-over-year in just the Top 300 and 7% when the entire backlist was included. January does appear to be an outlier.

On the other hand, February also saw the record lowest number of copies ordered for a top-selling title. DC's Green Lantern #62 had orders of just over 71,500 copies, more than 18,400 copies less than the previous record-holder — a record only two months old! For the first time, we probably cannot say that when all reorders and newsstand sales are added, the total will be above 100,000 — although we certainly would expect its eventual readership to go above that mark given reprint editions (to say nothing of digital).

It's a moment worthy of some note, and the mark can be compared to all sorts of past sales figures. For example, it's the third comic book known as Green Lantern #62. The July 1968 edition had sales of around 211,750 copies on the newsstand, while the one that came out in March 1995 likely had sales through all channels north of 100,000 copies. (The 1940s series ended at #38.) Five years ago this month, the current top-seller would have only been the 18th-place title. See all the top-sellers across time here:

http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/topcomics.html

But as mentioned here before, lower unit sales at the top of the list are being offset by higher unit sales further down. In February, retailers ordered 3% more copies of the Top 300 titles than they did in the same month 10 years ago, a month when the 300th-place title had preorders of only 1,081 copies (versus 2,860 today). And while we may have had 173 titles over 10,000 copies this February, ten years ago, that total was only 153.

It's something I've written about for a long time: volume is more evenly distributed across titles than it once was. When there are few blockbusters, titles are more equal.

The return worth noting is that cover prices returned to an old friend in February: $2.99 was the most common cover price for comic books in the Top 300. We haven't seen that figure since last June. DC's historically unusual move back to $2.99 from $3.99 made it possible. Green Lantern #62 was notable for something else: it was only the third top-seller in three years to be priced below $3. The average cover price for comics in the Top 300 was $3.56, a big drop from November's high of $3.78; the average price of all comics ordered, or weighted price, fell to $3.48. The median price is $3.50. Read about how unusual a price fallback in comics is, here:

http://blog.comichron.com/2010/10/have-cover-prices-ever-gone-down.html

So we have an interesting mix of things going on. A month without blockbusters like there were a year ago this time, when Blackest Night was wrapping up — and yet the market held steady. And it's not clear what impact the price decreases have had on unit sales at this early stage. The spring should definitely be interesting.

The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES

February 2011: 5.17 million copies

Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%

Versus 5 years ago this month: -15%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +3%

YEAR TO DATE: 9.57 million copies, -13% vs. 2010, -18% vs. 2006, -7% vs. 2001

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES

January 2011 versus one year ago this month: -2.31%

YEAR TO DATE: -13.03%

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TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES

February 2011: $18 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: -4%

Versus 5 years ago this month: -1%

Versus 10 years ago this month: +33%

YEAR TO DATE: $33.42 million, -1% vs. 2010, -4% vs. 2006, +20% vs. 2001

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES

February 2011 versus one year ago this month: -1.7%

YEAR TO DATE: -12.1%

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TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

February 2011: $5.15 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: +1%

Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -8%

Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +1%

YEAR TO DATE: $9.75 million, -6% vs. 2010

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES

February 2011 versus one year ago this month: +6.92%

YEAR TO DATE: -5.48%

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TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

February 2011: $23.14 million

Versus 1 year ago this month: -3%

Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -2%

Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +30%

YEAR TO DATE: $43.16 million, -11% vs. 2010

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES

February 2011 versus one year ago this month: +0.94%

YEAR TO DATE: -10.03%

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

February 2011: approximately $30.4 million (subject to revision)

Versus 1 year ago this month: +1%

Versus 5 years ago this month: +6%

YEAR TO DATE: $56.19 million, -9% vs. 2010

You can see the past months here:

1 Year Ago: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2010/2010-02.html

5 Years Ago: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2006/2006-02.html

10 Years Ago: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2001/2001-02.html

15 Years Ago: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/1996/1996-02Diamond.html

See more months here: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales.html

Writer of fiction, 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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