If it takes a quarter of growth to end a recession, count this one over — at least in comics. While the market notched some positive quarters in the wide overall category last year, those gains weren't always reflected in the narrower categories, like periodical unit sales. This quarter was different. Orders placed for comic books through Diamond Comic Distributors leapt in March — 14% for Top 300 Comics Units, 20% for Top 300 Comics Dollars —resulting in a first quarter that was up in all categories except for the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks grouping. And that category's sales were pumped up by the Watchmen movie.
As individual months go, March 2009 didn't put up big numbers to compare against. It was, as reported here, the first month in which the top-selling comic book did not break 100,000 copies in first-month orders through Diamond — and while the market got some mileage out of the Watchmen movie, a lot of those related sales to retailers had already taken place. But apart from the Obama Spider-Man comic book — the best-selling comic book of the 2000s — there wasn't much going on in the rest of the quarter, either. The first quarter of 2010 has had, among other things, Blackest Night, Siege, and, this month, the Twilight manga. Strong quarters in comics tend to require "tentpole" projects of one kind or another, and this quarter had them.
The aggregate totals appear below:
TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
March 2010: 6.05 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +14%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -10%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +4%
YEAR TO DATE: 17.06 million copies, +3% vs. 2009, -3% vs. 2005, +1% vs. 2000
TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
March 2010: $21.29 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +12%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: $59.35 million, +6% vs. 2009, +19% vs. 2005, +35% vs. 2000
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2010: $6.36 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -10%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +44%
YEAR TO DATE: $16.71 million; -9% versus 2009
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2010: $27.65 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +11%
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: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: $76.07 million; -2% vs. 2009
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2010: $35 million ($38.5 million with UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +13%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +11%
YEAR TO DATE: $96.99 million, +6% vs. 2009, +19% vs. 2005
As with last month, the overall figure for the month's total comic book, trade paperback, and magazine orders is preliminary and subject to later revision, but it does look to be in positive territory as well.
The average comic offered in the Top 300 cost $3.55; the average comic ordered cost $3.52. The median price — the middle price of all 300 comics — was $3.50. $3.99 was the most common price of comics appearing in the Top 300 for the first time ever.
While comics’ prices have been increasing, probably the easiest way to subtract inflation out is to look at the number of units sold. We know that the Top 300 comics sold more copies in both March and the first quarter, but it also appears that the comics off the chart are doing better, as well. Looking at the 300th place comics shows us that the bottom book on the chart has nearly doubled in unit sales from March 2009 to March 2010, from 1,962 copies to 3,706 copies.
Here's a look back at what was going on in previous years...
March 2009''s top seller was Marvel's Dark Avengers #3, the top seller for 2009 with estimated first-month Diamond orders of 96,532 copies. It was the first month (and, to date, one of only two months) in which the top-selling comic book had fewer than 100,000 copies in first-month orders. Watchmen's film release dominated the month's comics' news.
March 2005's top-seller was DC's Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, a promotionally priced dollar comic book with Diamond first-month orders of nearly 200,000 copies. Among normally priced comics, New Avengers #4 led the market with nearly 155,000 copies.
March 2000's top-seller was X-Men #100, with estimated Diamond orders of more than 144,800 copies. X-Men #100 was the start of Marvel's Revolution relaunch to promote the upcoming first X-Men movie release.
It marked the beginning of many changes in the X-Men run, notably new costume designs and a six-month time jump in each issue. The Revolution rebrand would continue until July of 2001, when the series would be once again revamped by a new entourage of authors.
March 1995's top seller at Diamond and at Capital City Distribution was Marvel's Amazing X-Men #3, continuing the "Age of Apocalypse" storyline. Capital reported preorders of approximately 104,300 copies. After a dip in sales of the second issue in February, the third issue sold even more preorders than the first; this is reflective of the fact that retailers, ordering two months in advance, had by this point seen the initial sales from the first month of the "Age of Apocalypse."
March was otherwise a tumultuous month at the beginning of the Distribution Wars. On March 3, 1995, Marvel announced that beginning with July-shipping product, Heroes World would become the exclusive distributor of Marvel comic books to the direct market. Capital City promptly filed suit under the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law; Capital settled with Marvel later in the month, gaining the right to distribute Marvel comics for a slightly longer time.
In the middle of the month, DC held its fourth annual retailer meeting; attending retailers were given few clues as to DC's ultimate plans. Marvel began meeting with retailers itself on March 24, with the first of its "Marvelution" meetings in New York City to announce trade terms.
And in what remains one of the more puzzling acquisitions of financier Ronald Perelman's shopping spree, Marvel purchased trading-card publisher Skybox for approximately $150 million. Skybox was a relatively recent startup in a field that was already suffering hard times; Marvel consolidated its operations with Fleer, which it had purchased earlier.March 1990's top seller at Diamond and Capital City was Legends of the Dark Knight #7, the second issue of Grant Morrison's "Gothic" storyline. Capital's orders on the issue were 95,750 copies; overall sales were likely closer to the 400,000- to 500,000-copy range. March 1985's top seller at Capital City was Marvel's Secret Wars II #1, the shorter sequel to 1984's best-selling comics series. Capital's orders were approximately 85,000 copies, meaning overall sales were probably in the half-million copy neighborhood.
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.