When May 2007’s sales charts appeared, records fell. It was the biggest month ever seen for the items on Diamond’s top-selling trade paperbacks list. It was at the time the largest month seen since December 1996 when it came to dollar sales for the Top 300 comics. And at nearly $41 million in overall sales of comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines, it posted the highest total seen before or since in that broadest of categories since tracking of it began in 2003.
So May 2008, with its one less shipping week, had pretty steep comparatives to live up to — and it didn’t, falling behind in every category tracked by The Comics Chronicles (http://www.comichron.com). But while Diamond Comic Distributors’ overall sales of comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines to retailers are projected to have dropped 10% versus May 2007, the year-to-date is only 2% behind, not an unreachable goal. June 2007, while a strong month compared with the previous year, was also smaller than May 2008, suggesting that if the market holds its current pace (and May 2008’s overall sales were almost identical to the month before), indicators would begin tracking upward again.
The Comics Chronicles comic and trade paperback charts for May 2008 are here: http://www.comichron.com/MonthlyRankings/Diamond2008/DiamondMay2008/tabid/302/Default.aspx
The top comic book of the month was Marvel’s Secret Invasion #2, with estimated sales to retailers of 182,400 copies across all variants. DC’s Final Crisis #1 came in second, with approximately 144,800 first-month copies ordered in the direct market. Secret Invasion #2 actually sold more copies than last May’s top seller, Fallen Son: Captain America — and in dollar terms, either Secret Invasion #2 or Final Crisis #1 would have been the top item on the list last May. But last year’s list had more depth in the top tier, with 15 items selling above 100,000 copies, versus seven this time out. The aggregates:
Top 300 units: 7.06 million copies, down 9%
Year to date: 32.88 million copies, down 7%
Top 300 dollars: $23.12 million, down 6%
Year to date: $104.36 million, down 6%
An interesting comparison can be seen in how the listings square up between this May and last May. Items at rankings between 3rd place and 84th place sold less than items in those locations last year; most of the list between 20th place and 65th place is off by at least 10%. There’s an island of improvement in the midlist, between 86th and 115th place, among the titles selling in the 20,000s; then everything is off again, although less dramatically — until you reach 195th place, when the comparisons shift again in May 2008’s favor.
These aren’t month-to-month comparisons of the titles, just of the performance of whatever books are in the ordinal rankings. The toplist did worse this year, but there’s more stability in the rest of the charts. No new publishers entered the Top 300 for the month.
Both the pricing measures were near or at all time highs:
Average cost of comics in the Top 300: $3.35
Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: $3.28
The weighted figure — that’s the cost of the average comic book ordered — was its highest ever. The highest price of offerings ever was $3.36, back in February of this year.
The top-selling trade paperback was Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Vol. 2, with approximately 9,500 copies sold; by dollars, World War Hulk was the biggest dollar draw, bringing in nearly a quarter of a million dollars. That wasn’t enough to top May 2007, which had three titles selling more than 10,000 copies in their first months.
Top 100 trade paperbacks: $5.06 million, down 17%
Year to date: $21.91 million, down 5%
Top comics plus top trades: $28.18 million, down 8%
Year to date: $126.63 million, down 8%
All comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines: $36.79 million, down 10%
Year to date: $171.83 million, down 2%
The $8.61 million in “missing miscellaneous” is almost certainly mostly trade paperbacks from 101st place and lower. Magazines likely represent less than $1 million a month, and given the size of the comics orders at 300th place, it’s likely that the Top 300 chart captures the vast majority of comics orders, dollar-wise. The real trade paperback total, then, may be closer to the $12-13 million range.
View the overall sales chart by clicking on the images in the upper right
As always, these dollar amounts are at full retail cover price. They do not reflect what Diamond realized, as retailers buy at different discounts. Nor do they represent sales to consumers — instead, they are what retailers bought to sell. Sales charts for all of these categories across time appear here:
The Diamond overall dollar market shares, reported earlier on Newsarama (/177-diamond-s-may-2008-sales-charts-market-share-report.html), appear in the accompanying graphic. Marvel led DC in dollar shares by 15.55 percentage points, or a little better than three to two. It is the third largest lead Marvel has had in this measure since Diamond began reporting it in October 1997. (The largest gap was in July 2007, at 16.6 percentage points.)
But that is not the largest differential seen — larger ones still have been observed in the category in the opposite direction. DC once led Marvel by as much as 23.3 percentage points, in December 1999. Marvel only put one trade paperback in the Top 25 that month, versus eight from DC. DC also put out 94 comics that month, to Marvel’s 55 — the result being that it more than doubled Marvel’s market share then.
Dark Horse’s market share was as high as it had been since April 2005, when the sales for comics for Star Wars: Episode III were tabulated.
View the overall market share chart by clicking on the images in the upper right
Monthly rankings across all subcategories appear here (http://www.comichron.com/MonthlyRankings/Diamond2008/DiamondFebruary2008/tabid/276/Default.aspx), and market share charts going back to the beginning of the Diamond data appear here:
One-year historical comparisons
As noted, May 2007 was exceptional in many regards. Many records were broken, including orders of new trade paperbacks. Orders for the Top 100 trades through Diamond were up 67% from May 2006. It was the first time the category topped $6 million, and it remains the highest mark since Diamond began reporting the category. And Diamond's overall sales for the month, $40.93 million, were the highest since I began calculating the overall category in 2003. And Marvel had its highest unit and dollar sales since tracking of the category began in 1996; it would just barely top them again in July.
May 2008 final orders versus May 2007 final orders (est.)
Top 300 units: -9% (7.06 million copies vs. 7.77 million copies)
Top 300 dollars: -6% ($23.12 million vs. $24.51 million)
Top 100 trade paperbacks: -17% ($5.06 million vs. $6.09 million)
Top comics plus top trades: -8% ($28.18 million vs. $30.60 million)
Overall Diamond orders for comics, trades, and magazines: -10% ($36.79 million vs. $40.93 million)
Average cost of comics in the Top 300: +2% ($3.35 vs. $3.28)
Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: +4% ($3.28 vs. $3.15)
The top selling comic book for the month of May 2007 was Marvel’s Fallen Son: Captain America, with first-month orders of approximately 170,000 copies. Fifteen titles had orders in six digits.
The top-ordered trade paperback from Diamond was DC’s Y: The Last Man Vol. 9: Motherland, which had first-month orders from retailers of approximately 13,000 copies.
Five-year historical comparisons
As May 2008 was off from May 2007, so too was May 2003 a slowdown from the previous year, when Transformers had been all the rage.
May 2008 final orders versus May 2003 preorders (est.)
Top 300 units: +24% (7.06 million copies vs. 5.69 million copies)
Top 300 dollars: +47% ($23.12 million vs. $15.76 million)
Top 50 trade paperbacks: +60% ($3.86 million vs. $2.42 million)
Top 300 comics plus top 50 trades: +48% ($26.98 million vs. $18.18 million)
Overall Diamond orders for comics, trades, and magazines: +55% ($36.79 million vs. $23.7 million)
Average cost of comics in the Top 300: +8% ($3.35 vs. $3.09)
Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: +18% ($3.28 vs. $2.77)
For the first time in a while, a title overtook an issue of “Hush” in Batman — though it involved restarting a long-running series to do it. Wolverine Vol. 2 #1 was the top-ordered comic book for May 2003, at approximately 157,700 copies ordered in its first month. By contrast with May 2007, only five titles topped the 100,000-copy mark.
The top-ordered trade paperback for May 2003 was DC’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Book 1, with first-month orders of 10,500 copies in the direct market. Diamond only published reports for its Top 50 trades in 2003 — so to compare apples to apples, the 2008 numbers have been pared back to the Top 50 to show a clear comparison.
Marvel had increased its output in the intervening years since DC led the market share race; in May 2003, Marvel accounted 35.62% of dollars sold versus 21.89% for DC. There were seven comics publishers above 2.5% shares, including Viz, Dreamwave, and Crossgen with the traditional Big Four.
Ten-year historical comparisons
May 1998 looked like a major disappointment when compared to the same month in 1997 — that had been Marvel’s “Flashback” month with its “-1” issues, when the market had sold nearly a million more copies. There were worse days to come, however, as the market would lose another half-million copies in the following May.
May 2008 final orders versus May 1998 preorders (est.)
Top 300 units: +1% (7.06 million copies vs. 6.99 million copies)
Top 300 dollars: +36% ($23.12 million vs. $16.97 million)
Top 25 trade paperbacks: +140% ($2.25 million vs. $934,000)
Top 300 comics plus top 25 trades: +42% ($25.37 million vs. $17.9 million)
Average cost of comics in the Top 300: +26% ($3.35 vs. $2.66)
Average cost of comics in the Top 300, weighted by orders: +35% ($3.28 vs. $2.43)
The top-ordered comic book through Diamond in May 1998 was Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men #357, with orders of approximately 143,000 copies. Seven items had preorders above 100,000 copies. DC’s top seller was JLA #20, just shy of 100,000 copies preordered in its first month. The month also saw the return of Thor, after “Heroes Return,” with a new #1 issue.
We run into definitional challenges when looking for the top trade paperback for the month. Made Men had preorders of 13,900 copies in its first month, but at $5.99 it may well have belonged in the comic book section. The Spawn VI trade, next down the list, had first-month preorders of 7,700 copies. Even with some comics items in the trade list, it’s noteworthy how the top 25 items in the category perform now versus then, bringing in more than double the dollars.
DC’s market share topped Marvel’s slightly, with 24.22% of final orders versus Marvel’s 23.67%. The fifth-largest comics publisher was Topps, although the X-Files phenomenon in comics had nearly played out by this time.
Links to these and all previous months back to 1996 can be found here: http://www.comichron.com/MonthlyRankings/tabid/194/Default.aspx
15-year historical comparisons
The boom times well underway (and actually just a month past their peak, though few knew it), the major distributors had added stepped up their marketing of publication to retailers. With Comics Retailer magazine a year old and trade publications coming from Wizard (Entertainment Retailing) and eventually Hero Illustrated publisher Sendai (Comic Book Business), Diamond and Capital City added enhancements to their own retailer monthlies. Capital’s sales figures appeared in Internal Correspondence (the nominal progenitor to ICV2, incidentally), which had started as a small newsprint magazine several years earlier. With May 1993, Capital added a full-color art cover (the first, feting Malibu’s Ultraverse) and spot color inside. Diamond had added color already to Diamond Dialogue’s cover, and would soon take the entire magazine to glossy paper. The reporting of sales charts was only one part of those various publications’ missions, but for a time it had become a big business.
And while the Diamond and the Capital City Distribution sales charts did not always arrive at a consensus top-seller, in May 1993 — one month after the huge return-of-Superman month — they did agree on Image’s Spawn #13 as the top seller. Capital sold 207,400 copies of that issue, and the direct-market sales for the issue overall may have been in the 700,000 to 800,000 copy range.
Capital reported sales on 676 comics-related items in the month, with an average cover price of $2.70. That figure is not a weighted average, and it is distorted by the presence of trade paperbacks in the listing. But eight out of Capital’s top ten items had $2.50 price tags — all from Image — and the other two were at $3.50. So the comics of 15 years past were not so cheap as one might imagine!
Capital co-owner Milton Griepp (who today runs ICV2), writing during the market peak month of April, expressed concerns about that month’s surge in orders, which he called the biggest he had seen in 20 years. “Overall, it seems inevitable that there is going to be unsold product in the marketplace when the dust settles,” he wrote. “Conditions will have to be exactly right for all the product ordered to be absorbed in a short period of time. Although the market is growing, it is hard to believe it is growing at the rate indicated by these orders.” Griepp wrote that he hoped the slower May would allow everyone to sell out of their April product, but warned that the practices of many stores in this period were not helpful. “Encouraging speculation, bulk purchases, and touting investment value will invariably lead to long-term trouble for those retailers that use those practices.”
While certainly not the first warning in this vein, Griepp’s was unusual in that it came from a distributor. Capital ultimately became one of the firms that fell as a result of the market crash and the events that followed it.
20-year historical comparisons
The Capital City sales chart for May 1988 reported that Marvel Comics Presents #1 had taken its top slot. Marvel’s anthology series, its frequency was decided with input from retailers, who chose biweekly over weekly (which Action Comics had gone to the month before). Capital City sold 70,100 copies of the issue; Diamond did not yet publish indexed sales reports.
Statements of Ownership did not begin for the title until one published for 1989, which reported average per-issue sales across all channels of 163,525 copies. By 1990, Capital represented about a quarter of Marvel Comics Presents’ direct-market sales each month, which suggests direct-market sales of #1 may have been in the 280,000-copy range. At $1.25, it was one of the more expensive Marvel titles.
By this second full month of Action Comics Weekly, the individual issues of that title had dropped to the 40s in Capital’s rankings, selling a little less than third at that distributor of the copies that Marvel Comics Presents was selling. But DC’s sales at Capital were also disproportionately lower than they were at other distributors, by many reports. DC’s third-best-selling comic book for the month, according to Capital, was V for Vendetta #1, which placed 25th.
Capital reported 375 comics items that it had sales on, with an average cover price of $2.13. However, this figure was not weighted by orders, and the list included a handful of larger collections and even some posters. It’s not easy to pick out what would have been the top-selling collection, but it might have been Gladstone’s Disney Album #9.
The Comics Chronicles is able to project likely top-sellers for individual years, tracking backward based on Statements of Ownership and Circulation. Without delving into individual issue numbers, which would require figuring out what came out in which month, here are the likely top-sellers for each year:
1983: Uncanny X-Men (averaging 336,824 copies across all channels, including newsstand and subs)
1978: Star Wars (no statement, but likely around 350,000 copies)
1973: Archie (averaging 345,087 copies)
1968: Superman (averaging 636,400 copies)
1963: Superman (no statement, but likely around 770,000 copies)
Writer of comics and books about comics, John Jackson Miller (http://www.farawaypress.com) has tracked comics sales figures for years, including for Comics & Games Retailer magazine in the 1990s and later for the Standard Catalog of Comic Books line. He’s developing an online archive for academic researchers at The Comics Chronicles (http://www.comichron.com), including a FAQ section and a forum for questions.