Comichron Analyzes the NEW 52 & September 2011 Sales

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The preliminary comics order data for the direct market in September 2011 is in from Diamond, and it shows the DC reboot led to a double-digit increase in comics unit sales. The overall market netted out down 1%, however, as graphic novel orders sank against strong comparatives — Scott Pilgrim and Walking Dead were drawing very well at this point last year, and while sales for September 2010 were down slightly against a very strong September 2009, it was still one of the strongest months of 2010.

The rankings are further impacted by the fact that 41 of DC's titles were made returnable, and by custom Diamond has reduced those titles' rankings in the tables. Click to see the Top 100 comics and graphic novels for September 2011M; the affected titles are marked by asterisks. The Comics Chronicles believes the figures have been reduced by around 10% for ranking purposes and that the number of comic books which did reach the market is actually higher by more than 100,000 copies; just by adding up the index numbers of the returnable titles, we add another book the size of first-place Batman Vol. 2 #1to the mix. We don't know yet the actual sales for that title — full estimates will be along next week. The true sales for the DC titles will be reflected in the sales charts that Diamond releases at the end of the year, but from my conversations with retailers and various insiders, it is not expected that there will be many returns.

So the real location of the asterisked titles in the ranking is in a range starting at the order index number, and going up as much as 11.11%. (That's because while 100 minus 10% equals 90, to get back to 100 again you must add 11.11% of 90.) I do not believe that the market share and comparative figures have been reduced by this adjustment for returnability, but if they were, it would put the real September overall at close to dead-even or slightly up.

Regardless, the third quarter is up over 2010 by 3.55%; this is the first up quarter since the fourth quarter of last year, and the first up third quarter since 2009. We're still looking at a month with comics and trade orders of more than $39 million overall, bringing the year to date to nearly $300 million

September 2011 has been a very difficult month to predict all along, as the scale of DC's change was unprecedented — and discussions in various quarters may have led some to expect much different numbers this month. I myself left the door open to the possibility that the entire market could go positive for the year based on September alone (it did improve, but not by that much). But there are a number of reasons why that result was on the unlikely end.

Back in March in the comments for this post, I wrote that "The problem with doomsaying is that it's easy to put together a scenario for an extreme result, but the system militates against extreme results." The same is true of extremely good results.

Orders in the direct market exhibit something known as autocorrelation, or serial correlation: to a degree, what sales are next month are a function of what they were last month. Most obviously, cash flow determines what retailers may order for the shelf, and that depends on what sales were in the past — but there are other factors present in comics. Most retailers have pull-and-hold folders for customers where they're asking for every issue in a series; those figures tend to change only on the result of external actions — people asking to stop or add a title, or losing their hold accounts entirely. This injects a degree of inertia into sales levels; really major monthly fluctuations, as we saw in the 1990s, were usually a signal that something had fundamentally changed, like the elimination of an entire distributor.

Retailers can only order (or should only order) what they can afford to pay for, and the soft 2011 market to date imposed a ceiling. It's tempting to speculate that some of the extra money for comics orders was pulled out of orders for trade paperbacks for this month; I'm not comfortable drawing that connection too strongly without more data, because comics and trades have not been shown to be a zero-sum game in the past. But we do know from history that when sales go up, they go up in graduated steps, as one event funds the next one — we saw this throughout the recovery of the 2000s. The DC reboot would be a significant step in the story of a new recovery, but it is necessarily an early one. What this new money funds in the out months will tell the larger story.

There's much to be remarked on in the rankings themselves. DC had the top seven titles and 19 titles out of the Top 25, and as we know from above, some of those titles actually had more copies ordered than some items ranked above them. It's not the best such performance, however: Marvel had 23 out of the Top 25 spots in March 2005.

Only one title not published by Marvel and DC made the Top 100 — Dark Horse's Buffy debut. DC's Justice League #1 from August reappears in 44th place on the strength of reorders.

Legendary Comics made its first appearance in the top publishers list, with Frank Miller's Holy Terror topping the graphic novel charts.

The weighted cover price of comics ordered by retailers in the Top 100 was $3.30. That is a figure that has been dropping significantly throughout the year.

The full estimates will appear next week.

Market Share and Comparative Sales Data charts can be found here...

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