BookScan Debate Goes to Hell: The Final Monday

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As the swallows return to Capistrano, as the bats return to Colossal Caves, as the wildebeest migrate across the Serengeti, and the alewives return to Lake Damariscotta, so we celebrate the season with the annual Hibbs/MacDonald/Deppey BookScan debate. Here’s last year’s bout from The Beat, with many of the same competitors taking part in this Soap Box Derby of sales figures. TRADITION!

Today, over at Journalista, Dirk offers his annual disclaimer and you can tell he’s serious because he uses words like “proffered.” He also tweaks Hibbs a bit by quoting very, very similar passages by Hibbs vis-à-vis indie/art comic sales from every year since 2003. Dirk finds the smoking gun of Hibbs’s ulterior motives right here in the Beat comment section:

Actually, I’d characterize my argument as “the argument that ‘oh but if only we could get “lit comics” out of the stinky dirty backwards Direct Market, then everything would be light and honey forever and ever, amen!’ is pretty demonstrably wrong”

and then spends a good few paragraphs circling, stabbing, stamping, yelling “Ugga! Bugga” and while still failing to refute anything.

Look, I don’t want to live in a world where L&R #1 sells only 719 copies in bookstores. But before anyone goes any further with all this “It’s a guess, it’s wrong, it doesn’t add up” stuff, let’s look at one fact about the BookScan numbers. While they DO NOT measure all book sales across all channels, they do measure 100% of sales in approximately 70 percent of bookstore channels. So by any standard, it is a metric for comparison, analysis and debate.

In order to prove that BookScan is wrong, Dirk dons his sleuth hat:

Hibbs’ claim that Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 sold just 719 copies, however, motivated me to e-mail Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth, Kim Thompson and Eric Reynolds to find out if they could add some light to all the heat. While I suppose it’s possible that Hibbs’ BookScan reportage might turn out to be true, it struck me as being unlikely. Still, one must investigate, and the resulting email exchanges seemed to produce light and heat in equal amounts: Not because the Fanta staffers were dissembling or in any way less than forthcoming, but because the nature of the mass market essentially makes even the vague sort of instant tallying one expects from the Direct Market to be impossible in the short term. Short of absolute disaster, any attempt to figure out how a given title has done in the returnable booksellers’ market within its first year of release inevitably turns out to be little more than guesswork.


So is that dissembling or not? Sounds like it to me. Dirk goes on to present the Internet version of a school film on the publishing business, explaining how mighty catalogs roll out and orders are placed, and books are sold and returns are made, and it’s all a great unknowable system of terror and awe, but just to reiterate, BookScan sales are via UPC scans, so they are not guesswork at all They are sell through in a certain percentage of the retail market.

That said, of course there are other channels and other markets. It would be interesting to see what Reynolds, Groth, and Thompson all had to say on the topic in a neutral ground, but unfortunately Dirk just quotes them in random bits so it’s hard to see context.

And in the end, what’s sauce for the autobio cartoonist is sauce for the spandex superhero. Groth suggests that

It doesn’t make any sense to differentiate libraries from bookstores; they both buy books from the same wholesaler(s) at the same price. It’s like differentiating chain stores, indies, PXes, big box stores or any other particularized sales destination.

That’s certainly true, but that means you also have to count SUPERHERO and MANGA sales to libraries, and no one wants to do THAT do they?

Another place where I think Dirk gets fuzzy is here:

According to Groth, there are currently over 10,000 copies of Willie & Joe in play outside the Direct Market, while the figure that Hibbs quotes BookScan as giving for it is just 5485 copies. While more returns are likely, we’re nonetheless talking about a title that’s been in the marketplace for nine months and counting. At this point, one could be justified in assuming that it’s a good way over the hump. And if that number winds up holding steady, we’re talking about not a 10% difference, not a 30% difference, but somewhere near a 100% difference between BookScan and the real world. What will the end figure wind up being, do you think? 90% off the mark? 80%? 70%?

That is categoricaly not true. Once again, Bookscan measures sell-through, the number of books that have been purchased by consumers, whether via a bookstore or an online retailer. 10,000 is the sell-in number. It’s the reason why you will walk into a bookstore and SEE a copy of Willie and Joe on the shelf while browsing. That sell-in has not yet been converted to sell-through. Later in the piece, Groth mentions that publishers can expect a third of books sold-in to be returned, which is indeed about industry average. (20 percent returns is considered a very good number.) It is quite likely that many of the FBI books that are on shelves but not sold to consumers are at indie bookstores where the publisher is a favorite and the individual owners believe in the titles. Heroes and visionaries, you might say.

Where I do agree with Dirk is that if selling graphic novels into bookstores wasn’t profitable for Fantagraphics and D&Q, they probably would have gone out of business some time ago. Or as I wrote the other day, 

I can also attest that sometimes selling only 2000 copies on BookScan is perfectly okay. Anything in five figures is probably very profitable, and numbers far lower than that could also make money or break even. I have no idea what the golden number is — it undoubtedly varies from book to book and publisher to publisher.

To me the question is still how to get sell copies of the good stuff to people who would enjoy it? L&R #1 may have sold-in 4000 copies, but can it sell-through more? Can Bill Mauldin sell more copies? Can Tatsumi?  Can Tezuka?

Every year when these numbers come out, there is some bristling from the indie community (probably partially brought on by Hibbs’ taunting on the subject) on the fact that superhero comics appear to sell more in the stores measured by BookScan than indie/art comix do. On the surface it seems bad, but I assure you, there are lots and lots of books from Marvel, DC and book publishers that sell in numbers just as “bad” or worse. As mentioned above, everyone’s magic number of profitability is different. I’m not going to embarrass anyone, but you know who you are.

What needs to be understood by a lot of people (and this is something I myself have only begrudgingly accepted) is that not every comics “classic” is really a timeless classic that speaks to generation after generation. All of the reissues that come out in 2008 really proved that, but this is a subject I hope to return to shortly in a more focused manner.

And this hopefully concludes this year’s installment of The BookScan Debates. Until next time!

 BookScan Debate Goes to Hell: The Final Monday

Comments

  1. I don’t want to live in a world where L&R isn’t a hit, either, but this is pretty damning:

    http://www.borders.com/online/store/OLRLocatorResults?within=100&all_stores=10&productId=58095740&id=58095740&sku=1560979518&VIEWNAME=OnlineReserveListView&ERRORVIEWNAME=OnlineReserveListView&zipCode=10022&x=0&y=0

    According to this, no Borders in NYC has a copy of New Love & Rockets 1.

    Now, to be fair, you can find it at B&N:

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/store.asp?EAN=9781560979517&distance=2&zipcode=10022&x=0&y=0

    But when one of the two biggest bookstores in the biggest city for book sales on Earth doesn’t have your book in stock…and it’s less than a year old…maybe the number is truer than we’d like.

    Of course, you can buy the book online from either seller, and from the great comic stores in NYC. But that wasn’t really the question, was it?

  2. Mark Coale says:

    Is it wrong that I really don’t give a flying fig about this argument?

    It’s probably something I should care about, but just don’t.

    All I can is that thank goodness I don’t have to moderate the comments in this (or any thread). :>

    That said, I’d probably rather listen to this debate than see another stupid Watchmen 70/80s retro clip.

  3. This just in: low selling books sell low.

    More at 11.

  4. Thanks for this post, Heidi, you pretty much summed up my own reaction to Dirk’s post. It certainly made for interesting reading, but I didn’t find that it refuted Hibbs’ argument, which was strictly a DM-vs.-mainstream bookstore outlets argument. Bringing in indie bookstores and libraries and discussing total sales with actual numbers is certainly illuminating, but it really doesn’t address the specific DM-vs.-mainstream bookstore outlet argument at all.

  5. “That is categoricaly not true. Once again, Bookscan measures sell-through, the number of books that have been purchased by consumers, whether via a bookstore or an online retailer. 10,000 is the sell-in number. It’s the reason why you will walk into a bookstore and SEE a copy of Willie and Joe on the shelf while browsing. That sell-in has not yet been converted to sell-through.”

    This is sort of true and sort of not. Let’s say I sell 10,000 copies through my distributor, B&T, and Ingram, and BookScan reports 5000 sold through. So the other 5000 are still on the shelves somewhere, right? Yes–except for those that were sold to libraries. The distinction between sell-in and sell-through is meaningless for libraries. Once you’ve sold in to a library, you have effectively sold-through. And Bookscan does not record that sale. (There are probably other venues for which this is true, but they would be pretty minor compared to libraries.)

    I don’t want to overstate libraries’ importance, but since they don’t return books like the book trade, publishers love ‘em.

  6. Michael says:

    On the subject of superhero comics possibly outselling art comics in bookstores: Does this surprise anyone? Whom do you think Barnes & Noble sells more of, John Grisham or Umberto Eco? Hell, what sold more tickets, Iron Man or Slumdog Millionaire?

    Independent, artsy *anything* is always going to have an uphill battle in the market. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves. And anyone who tries to turn sales figures into some kind of point-scoring for your particular industry granfalloon is just childish nonsense. Not that I haven’t come to expect childish nonsense from the world of comics blogs, but still.

  7. Alan Coil says:

    Dirk’s response was typical Fantagraphics dissembling and obfuscation.
    Such is why I quit reading TCJ over a decade ago. Some claim they have changed their style and method, but my memory has a long tail.

  8. Steven R. Stahl says:

    The art comix vs. superhero comics feud generates a lot of heat because many people in the mass media and the general public don’t distinguish between the content and the format. When they mention comics, they imply that comics are just stories about Archie and friends, Spider-Man, Superman, et al. The false public perception wouldn’t matter if comics were sold like other publications are — but they’re not. The direct market supports superhero comics — the direct market arguably enables Marvel, DC, and other publishers of superhero comics to stay in business — and as long as superhero comics provide a large percentage of comics shops’ profits, they’ll support the content.

    Again, that wouldn’t matter if superhero comics were just a fiction genre, like hard SF or sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but the actual writing (and editing) in many Marvel and DC comics seems to have gotten progressively worse in the last several years. In DARK AVENGERS #2, Bendis mishandles time travel mechanics more severely than I’ve ever seen anyone else screw up before. And when poor writing generally is combined with artificial, reader-manipulating events at both Marvel and DC — the overall impression is that comics store owners who push superhero comics are pushing porn.

    When an art comix creator or publisher looks at the market, hoping to find shelf space for his products in stores of any type, and constantly finds the direct market unapologetically selling the equivalent of porn, and the mass media and general public unaware of the great differences in quality between art comix and superhero comics, one can see why the art comix people occasionally get upset.

    SRS

  9. I agree with Michael. I mean Fantagraphics, D&Q, Top Shelf sell what are known as “alternative” comics. There is a reason why they are considered “‘alternative” in the first place. They are alternative or outside of the norm. Thus they are of interest to a smaller group of people.

  10. “But before anyone goes any further with all this ‘It’s a guess, it’s wrong, it doesn’t add up’ stuff, let’s look at one fact about the BookScan numbers. While they DO NOT measure all book sales across all channels, they do measure 100% of sales in approximately 70 percent of bookstore channels. So by any standard, it is a metric for comparison, analysis and debate.”

    But that’s the point: Because there’s at least a 30% hole in the figures, it DOESN’T serve as an across-the-board metric. Figures for titles that you’d expect to do well in the big-chain stores are more accurate because the percentage of measured sales are greater, so the sales that don’t fall under BookScan’s radar are a lesser percentage. The reverse is true for more specialized titles. You can’t measure one against the other because the figures for the latter are less dependable than the figures for the former.

    Let’s use a pair of manga examples, to get away from the art-comics argument: NARUTO and BLACK JACK. Naruto appeals to teen readers in massive numbers, so of course the vast bulk of sales are going to come from places like Barnes & Noble. By contrast, there’s no mass demographic for Osamu Tezuka books. Over the past five or six years, you’ve probably seen the same dreadful BookScan numbers for titles like BUDDHA as I have, numbers so dreadful that you’d have expected Vertical to pull the plug on Tezuka altogether — and yet, they’ve done just the opposite, aggresively expanding the number of Tezuka books they’ve published and releasing BUDDHA in paperback format. If BookScan numbers were destiny, they’d surely have found themselves in grievous financial difficulties by this point. That they’ve been able to keep publishing titles like BLACK JACK tells me that sales are taking place outside the mass-market channels — smaller indy bookstores, U.S. branches of Japanese bookstore chains like Kinokuniya, that sort of thing. Otherwise, the continued production of such books simply doesn’t make sense.

    “…but just to reiterate, BookScan sales are via UPC scans, so they are not guesswork at all They are sell through in a certain percentage of the retail market.”

    See above. Likewise, I fail to see how my argument is “dissembling” when the whole point of the piece is that it’s impossible for even PUBLISHERS of specialized titles to tell how well their books are doing until a year after initial release, when the vast majority of returns have come in.

    “That said, of course there are other channels and other markets. It would be interesting to see what Reynolds, Groth, and Thompson all had to say on the topic in a neutral ground, but unfortunately Dirk just quotes them in random bits so it’s hard to see context.”

    Reproducing the entire e-mail conversation, complete with recursions and off-topic digressions, would’ve made the piece even more unweildy than it already is. I included the pertinent bits, save perhaps one paragraph from Kim Thompson that I withheld because the point had already been made multiple times. Here it is:

    “If I look up POPEYE Vol. 3 on BookScan the result is meaningless. If I look up IDW’s LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE Vol. 1 on BookScan the result is meaningless. If I look up POPEYE Vol. 3 on BookScan, compare this number to our ‘real’ sales number, look up LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE Vol. 1 on BookScan, and apply the same factor to them I’ll probably have a pretty good idea as to how they sold.”

    “That’s certainly true, but that means you also have to count SUPERHERO and MANGA sales to libraries, and no one wants to do THAT do they?”

    Why not? Of course, I have no problem with this because I don’t want to narrow down the debate to keep it focused on how one form of comics or another Doesn’t Sell Anywhere But In My Shop, so I have no reason not to consider library sales.

    “That is categoricaly not true. Once again, Bookscan measures sell-through, the number of books that have been purchased by consumers, whether via a bookstore or an online retailer. 10,000 is the sell-in number.”

    Wrong: 10,000 copies is the sell-in number after nine months of returns. That’s what’s left, and as I noted, it’s reasonable to speculate that the majority of returns have already come back at this stage of the game. Will there be further returns? Undoubtedly. Will they be 5000 copies worth of returns? I’m going to go out on a limb and say “probably not.”

    “Where I do agree with Dirk is that if selling graphic novels into bookstores wasn’t profitable for Fantagraphics and D&Q, they probably would have gone out of business some time ago.”

    Right, but we’re not talking about initial placements of 2000-3000 copies — in the case of L&R:NS, we’re talking about an initial placement of 5500 copies, which is very likely indicative of the sorts of placements for other books as well. If Fantagraphics were routinely getting 60-70% returns, they’d find themselves unable to keep up the production line — and yet they keep going. Obviously, they’re not suffering such grievous setbacks, so the question becomes: Where are those other sales coming from? My essay explains the various channels but doesn’t offer a definitive answer because you CAN’T get a definitive answer in the short term.

    “Every year when these numbers come out, there is some bristling from the indie community (probably partially brought on by Hibbs’ taunting on the subject) on the fact that superhero comics appear to sell more in the stores measured by BookScan than indie/art comix do.”

    Really? Name one that doesn’t rhyme with “Balan Bavid Boane.” Most indy types that I know are perfectly content to be the PBS to other genre’s HBO. That’s just how the world works.

  11. i think it’s spelled “ooga booga”…

  12. Raised fist to:

    What needs to be understood by a lot of people (and this is something I myself have only begrudgingly accepted) is that not every comics “classic” is really a timeless classic that speaks to generation after generation.

  13. Heh. Whilst browsing at the main branch of the Chicago library tonight, I did observe 4 copies of the first volume of BUDDHA and one copy each of v.2-8.

    Anybody who doesn’t want to differentiate between library sales and bookstore sales really needs a reality check. Libraries are a fairly large market for a lot of titles.

  14. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t differentiate between library and bookstore sales when the distinction is important; I’m saying that they shouldn’t be discounted. Certainly in terms of Hibbs’ need to demonstrate that the Direct Market is pre-eminent and all-important in All Things Comics, library sales are a pretty big blind spot, insofar as reconfiguring your publishing strategy towards works with spines is just as important to get into libraries as it is bookstores — which is exactly what Fantagraphics did with LOVE AND ROCKETS.

  15. Ah, libraries found meaning over the weekend. Excellent.

    “# Dirk Deppey Says:
    02/20/09 at 7:00 pm

    Todd – From a publisher’s perspective, libraries-vs-bookstore is a meaningless distinction. Take LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES, for example. Fantagraphics changed format on the series in order to allow it to reach more markets than it previously did. Even if only a handful of copies sold to bookstores — a premise that I’m not convinced is true, but never mind that — and a bunch sold to libraries, then why shouldn’t they consider it a successful strategy? They just doubled their effective circulation, and the exact nature of the end markets is basically irrelevant.”

  16. I’m not sure what you’re saying here, Todd. From a PUBLISHER’s perspective, the distinction IS meaningless insofar as your production and packaging strategy is much the same for both markets. Now, from a MARKETER’s perspective, there are differences, sure — they require attending different conferences to promote the work, for one thing. But those differences aren’t by any means all-encompassing, and I don’t see where what I’ve said in the post you quote contradicts what I’ve said since. So what’s your point?

  17. The Beat says:

    Oh Dirk, you had to pick a book from Vertical. I can say no more.

  18. This is really interesting to me since I have books in stores now.

    I wonder…does the Bookscan also consider the newly instituted Kids Graphic Novel sections? Cause that’s where most of my books are. And I’m eager to see how IDW’s sales are for these books.

    I will say as someone who was self publishing…the costs/profit for graphic novels are much better.

    My 300 page 6×9 full color graphic novel of The Dreamland Chronicles cost only $1.89/book to print. Considering it’s a $19.99…the retailers pay $8/each for the books.

    So you really don’t have to sell many to see a profit.

    IDW is handling this now. So this is from my experience last year self publishing…before I signed on with them. But I’m sure the numbers are as good if not better for a larger publisher who can get a “bulk” deal on printing and such.

    So I’d say if you have a print run of say just 4,000 copies. You could break even with only half that. Then consider online, conventions, and library sales will handle the rest easily.

    Just a thought. And thanks for posting.

  19. Leaving like that, you already have said more. Come on, dish!

  20. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Vertical is widely rumored to be ailing, Dirk.

    Heidi, why wouldn’t anyone want to count library sales for superhero books and manga? I’m not going to pretend I understand everything Dirk is arguing, but I don’t think it’s alts vs. mainstream.

  21. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I have no personal knowledge of anything Vertical-related, btw.

  22. Tom – Right, but I’ve been hearing variations on those rumors for six years and counting. They increased a bit when Anne Ishii left, but the books have kept on coming. After a while, it all becomes background noise.

    The last I’d heard, Vertical had received investment from an unnamed Japanese publisher. If anyone can flesh that out, I’m all ears.

    (In any event — to get things back on track — I don’t see how a failed, off-the-cuff example derails my main argument. You could pick any number of books that Hibbs has mocked for their low BookScan numbers only to go on to great success — much of First Second’s back catalog, for example.)

  23. Kenny says:

    One more vote for Michael saying the truest thing ever said:

    “Independent, artsy *anything* is always going to have an uphill battle in the market. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves.”

    Anyway, I think the issue here is just as much Hibbs’s attitude towards artsy books as is anything. He can’t champion the DM as being the best place to sell them when he himself insults them every chance he gets. But then again, I think everyone would do much better to admit the DM *only* cares about Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image.

    The point I fear is lost in all this is manga *sells*. Naruto is bigger than Batman. That’s just unbelievable. And mange did this in spite of the DM. That to me is as telling as anything. I mean, I *loved* L&R New Stories, but who cares how it sold, look at that manga!!!

  24. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Dirk, I assume that’s what she talking about; I’m not vouching for the damn rumor. For all I know, everyone at Vertical is wearing solid gold shoes and all their books have sold 1,000,000 copies.

  25. Dirk –

    Friday I wondered if there’s a 3x discrepancy between BookScan and internal sales numbers, if library sales were part of that sales figure.

    Then you go off on that rant about library sales being an irrelevant distinction to a publisher.

    Then you turn around and say that libraries are a distinct and separate channel for marketers as soon as the weekend is over. Now it’s OK to talk about them as a different market.

    Both threads are about BookScan numbers.

    It is an interesting hair-split that the perspective of the publisher is different from that of the marketer. Most places, marketing reports to the publisher and the publisher is interested in sales numbers and profitability. Being in Chicago, that kind of hair-splitting reminds me of the local politicians and their legal troubles.

  26. John Harper says:

    ” Dirk Deppey: According to Groth, there are currently over 10,000 copies of Willie & Joe in play outside the Direct Market, while the figure that Hibbs quotes BookScan as giving for it is just 5485 copies. … if that number winds up holding steady, we’re talking about … somewhere near a 100% difference between BookScan and the real world. What will the end figure wind up being, do you think? 90% off the mark? 80%? 70%?”

    The difference is currently only 82% even if all the 4515 cases left to sell through, sell through. So even if there are only 10% returns, the figure will only be 74%

  27. Todd – Having looked back at the thread in question, it seems obvious that you’re splitting hairs. You asked:

    “I have a strong suspicion that library sales are getting mixed up with BookScan sales. I’d think that Fantagraphics would have pretty good library sales.”

    Now, the distinction between “BookScan sales” and “library sales” is fucking meaningless because the former assumes that “BookScan sales” includes essentially everything in the book trade, which (as I’ve argued) is simply not true — there’s a big X in the middle defined by sales to outlets that BookScan doesn’t track, and those aren’t insignificant. In any event, there’s no reason whatsoever for publishers to make the distinction between bookstore and library sales for exactly the reason that Gary Groth gave in my essay:

    “It doesn’t make any sense to differentiate libraries from bookstores; they both buy books from the same wholesaler(s) at the same price. It’s like differentiating chain stores, indies, PXes, big box stores or any other particularized sales destination.”

  28. John – I hedged my bets because Gary didn’t give me an exact number; just “over 10,000 copies.” For what it’s worth, I can live with being wrong by that amount.

  29. Wow. You can’t make a distinction between BookScan sales, non-BookScan tracked retail and library? So sales channel is defined solely by the distributor? (Here and I thought I heard that Warren went out of business because they lost the PX business… but that must not be so because it isn’t important to break that out.)

    But if you and Gary think that it doesn’t make any sense to know who’s buying your book… good luck with that.

    (And please don’t say that you only have to know where the book sells if you’re in marketing.)

  30. Todd – Why would you need to make a distinction between BookScan sales and non-BookScan tracked retail? How exactly would that help a publisher? Do you think that publishers are lying awake at night, soaked in sweat because the distinction eludes them?

    As for the rest, if you can’t make the distinction between publishing and marketing, then it’s not my place to educate you.

  31. Fight!!

    Fight!!

    Fight!!

    Fight!!

  32. There’s this video on You Tube here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=621QHGl9_u4
    Within the first minute and a half, Joe Q says that the reason that Marvel keeps doing events, is because comics have become an event driven medium. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what book your doing. If it’s not tied to an event, chances are, the books going to get cancelled. Does it make sense that all the books that make money should cover the cost of all that fail? That answer depends of course on who you ask. I can’t pretend to understand all that’s being discussed here, but it all seems a little complicated and superfluous after hearing what Joe has to contend with all day. We truly have come to the point of evolve or die.

  33. First off, thank you Heidi for the post, saying everything I would have said, except more logically and politely. I am suddenly glad I had Too Much Work this morning!

    A couple of responses to Dirk’s longer response to this thread:

    “But that’s the point: Because there’s at least a 30% hole in the figures, it DOESN’T serve as an across-the-board metric. Figures for titles that you’d expect to do well in the big-chain stores are more accurate because the percentage of measured sales are greater, so the sales that don’t fall under BookScan’s radar are a lesser percentage. The reverse is true for more specialized titles. You can’t measure one against the other because the figures for the latter are less dependable than the figures for the former.”

    I think we have enough examples of both “things one would expect to do well in big chain stores” as well as “more specialized titles”, within the Top 750 alone, to make some fairly appropriate connections between the relative success or failure of individual works. I think that, generally, works like BLACK HOLE or SHORTCOMINGS or WHAT IT IS are “close enough” in tone, audience demographic and retailer-likeliness to stock to L&R (or things “like it” — I don’t want to pick on L&R: NS #1 per se) that looking at the difference between the sell-through of those works is a very meaningful comparison.

    And I think it is just as meaningful to go to the other side of the scale and witness a (sorry Geoff) horrific piece of shit comic that’s only barely coherent if you don’t have a degree in DC-ology like INFINITE CRISIS wildly outsell those works year after year. I’m not comparing it to DARK KNIGHT RETURNS which at least “makes sense” to be a top seller — there is no rational world in which one can make an argument that you would “Expect…[INFINITE CRISIS] to do well in the big-chain stores”

    “Why not? Of course, I have no problem with this because I don’t want to narrow down the debate to keep it focused on how one form of comics or another Doesn’t Sell Anywhere But In My Shop, so I have no reason not to consider library sales.”

    Well, there isn’t any (easy, at least) way to get those figures, so it is kind of moot. I know that what I would expect to see is that, at least at the top of the charts, WATCHMEN and BONE and NARUTO and PERSEPOLIS and whatever would possibly have a multiple percentage gain on the L&Rs of the world — 1-200% gains, possibly.

    But regardless of my completely gut supposition there, in the absence of better information we use what information that we DO have to do the best that we can to figure out the size and shape of any market. It is the same thing as Heidi’s printing Marc Oliver’s and Paul’s ICv2-derived analysis — that’s off by what we widely assume is around 20%, and for things with special love from Diamond-UK, maybe even as high as 50%. But still we (well, or at least I) find value in those analysis each month.

    Or you: you comment on the US Today list each week. I can’t imagine that there’s anything but an exponentially higher “fudge factor” in that calculation than there is the actual sell-through to BookScan client stores! But despite its flaws, it provides a data point that is worth drawing from and considering.

    At the end of the day, BookScan appears to be exactly what it seems to be: hard and specific retail sell-through information, or to paraphrase Heidi, “100% of approximately 70% of retail bookstore sales”. BookScan appears to be strongly factual data. It is even BETTER than the ICv2 kind of “estimate” that says L&R:NS #1 sold “3654” copies into DM stores. We can pretty safely assume that a) it is on the face of it wrong (because it doesn’t count Diamond UK), and b) doesn’t include any sales in October, November, or December of 2008, and C), of course, maybe only 500 of those copies SOLD to a consumer (we’ll find out in a year when they solicit #2, I guess!) At least the 719 through BookScan is hard fact of what Amazon, Borders, B&N, etc., down the list of BookScan client stores, actually sold.

    If you don’t CARE about that datum of information, that’s fine — but that certainly doesn’t render it irrelevant. As long as one considers that data point for what it is, not what it isn’t.

    _

    And here, this one is purely anecdotal and completely meaningless because it is anecdote, nut I thought it was funny: at absolute minimum least two copies of that 5500-ish figure for L&R:NS through Norton went to a Direct Market comics shop — mine. There was 2-3 weeks in there where Diamond didn’t have reorders on hand, so I went to B&T to get some flash copies for the rack, despite the 10% (ugh!) lower discount. Those came from the “Norton” basket, rather than the “Diamond” one.

    _

    This is actually a quote from Heidi, but since I cut and pasted the whole response in order to reply, let me pull this out:

    “Where I do agree with Dirk is that if selling graphic novels into bookstores wasn’t profitable for Fantagraphics and D&Q, they probably would have gone out of business some time ago.”

    And I agree with Dirk as well, mostly — that’s not to say that publishers don’t make huge and grievous mistakes too, sometimes (ask DC about BATMAN: DIGITAL JUSTICE or D&Q about the 3rd [?] Crumb WAITING FOR FOOD HC), but that, overall, they must be doing something more right than wrong since they are still in business. It is pretty easy to go out of business in publishing.

    I don’t think I ever suggested that selling GNs into bookstores wasn’t profitable though? Or that it shouldn’t be done?

    What I DO think is that without the bought-and-paid-for-no-matter-what to the DM order of xxxx copies, the ability of a comics publishers to take the risks on other potentially-break-even-or-less chances is made much harder. But I shouldn’t think that would be a controversial statement, except for your “Balan Bavid Boane” and Beat posters like “Kenny”.

    -B

  34. Alan Coil says:

    Dirk said:

    “But that’s the point: Because there’s at least a 30% hole in the figures, it DOESN’T serve as an across-the-board metric.”

    Doesn’t matter what size the hole is. What matters is that a comparison can be made from year to year regarding the size of the market getting bigger or smaller, and how it is shaped.

  35. I’m focusing the argument specifically on New Love and Rockets, because this was publicized to be a Hernandez Bros offering tailored for bookstores and libraries.

    I just looked in the New York Public Library catalog- no listing of New Love and Rockets in the collection by title or ISBN. I do see a few copies in Jerseycat, the NJ Interlibrary Lending Service, but no copies in the Ocean County system, a system that really has tried to expand its graphic novel collection for both teens and adults (disclosure: my wife used to manage one of the brances in the system).

    So this book isn’t in stock in an NYC Borders, was sporadically ordered in the state of NJ by libraries, and doesn’t seem to be in the NYC Public Library system 6 months after release, but yet we’re to ignore all of the numbers that we have- which are imperfect but at least give us some picture- and should assume this book was a success just because Fanta says so?

  36. Ahhh, nerd court.

    There’s really only so many times you can say “Read what I previously said,” so here’s where I bow out. I’ve got a site update to finish, and all that. Before I go, though, Brian did somehow manage to say one thing that he hasn’t previously said and I haven’t already answered:

    “Or you: you comment on the US Today list each week. I can’t imagine that there’s anything but an exponentially higher ‘fudge factor’ in that calculation than there is the actual sell-through to BookScan client stores! But despite its flaws, it provides a data point that is worth drawing from and considering.”

    The charts are posted as much for amusement as anything else, though I’m going to guess that, like BookScan, the numbers would seem to be a bit more accurate at the top than at the bottom, since they probably reflect an overwhelming percentage of big-box chainstore sales rather than more idiosynchratic retail environments. If they’re worth considering, though, they’re probably not worth considering by very much. I certainly don’t trust them enough to render Definitive Statements about the market based upon what they say. Which makes one of us.

  37. Siegfried Sasso says:

    “But when one of the two biggest bookstores in the biggest city for book sales on Earth doesn’t have your book in stock…and it’s less than a year old…maybe the number is truer than we’d like.”

    Absolutely meaningless. Maybe it sold out in those locations. The idea of only 700 copies of L&R being sold is not plausible.

    “Of course, you can buy the book online from either seller, and from the great comic stores in NYC. But that wasn’t really the question, was it?””

    Best observation of the day. So what were online sales volume anyway? We’ll never know.

    ” DARK AVENGERS #2, Bendis mishandles time travel mechanics more severely than I’ve ever seen anyone else screw up before. And when poor writing generally is combined with artificial, reader-manipulating events at both Marvel and DC — the overall impression is that comics store owners who push superhero comics are pushing porn.”

    Oh really? Are you saying the LSH comics weren’t equally mishandled? Or any other superhero time travelling story for that matter? Please. Superhero comics are all about mishandling and manipulation.

  38. Brian – Why is it so hard to believe that Infinite Crisis sells well in the book market? It was a high profile book that years after is still being talked about (heck, we are talking about it right here). Zohan did really well in the box office last year, doesn’t mean it didn’t suck (cause it does), it just means that the public will buy whatever kool-aid every one else is buying.

  39. Ali Kokmen says:

    Just to comment on one of less controversial elements of this discussion, to Scott Christian Sava’s question: “I wonder…does the Bookscan also consider the newly instituted Kids Graphic Novel sections?”

    The list Brian analyzed included the various BABYMOUSE books published by the Random House children’s book division, so it would appear that Bookscan does. Or that it can. Or, more precisely, that there’s nothing that would intrinsically preclude children’s graphic novels from being tracked by Bookscan in some permutation of the Comics/Graphic Novel category.

  40. I think this whole argument is splitting hairs. It is funny to pick a book like L&R NS because we really won’t know how the book performed until next year when vol 2 comes out and then we will really only know how well vol one did, unless people just start buying it in droves.

    The DM is primarily only concerned with the big four and that is because it roughly makes up 80 – 90% of what sells for us as a whole (and as a microcosm too, I think even Brian would admit that for his store however begrudgingly)… That doesn’t mean that we aren’t selling the Indy stuff. I would love to be selling 100 copies of Glamourpuss every two or three months, however the 20 or 30 I sell is a big chunk relatively, Aardvark Vanaheim just isn’t producing 60-80 books a month, so they get lost in the background noise. Hell on the Diamond charts, Image and Dark Horse are almost white noise, hell if memory serves IDW is out performing Image currently. Doesn’t mean they don’t sell, just means the Marvel/DC glut drowns them out.

    I think there is a lot of hair splitting on both sides. Between the Diamond Charts and the Book Scan numbers (despite the inherent and different flaws of each) we have a good picture of how comics are doing in America. Arguing the details is fun, but hardly worth doing…. I find it interesting that the charts are so similar despite the different methodoligies behind them… that should be what we find interesting and provacative, not what it means that L&R NS only sold through 715 copies in 3 months in the mass market… give it nine months and see where it is then. Even Hibbs has talked in his T@W that indy books have a different audience that doesn’t have to have the book the day it comes out. There are still 4000 odd books out there for them to buy when they get there.

    And as to the person who complained about Borders not having it, remember they are in trouble. It would make since for them to cut back on shelf copies of something not flying off the shelves, in this economy even the big boys (especially the ailing ones) have to cut back on their overhead as more, they probably just replaced it with more of whatever book Patterson has out currently.

  41. “The list Brian analyzed included the various BABYMOUSE books published by the Random House children’s book division, so it would appear that Bookscan does. Or that it can. Or, more precisely, that there’s nothing that would intrinsically preclude children’s graphic novels from being tracked by Bookscan in some permutation of the Comics/Graphic Novel category.”

    But we also know that Bookscan can be funny about where that stuff goes. Someone with access to the long tail should look it up.

  42. I’ll also point out that the bookstore chain in question is Borders, which is in eight kinds of financial hell at this point. I wouldn’t take their ordering patterns as evidence of anything right now.

    Nice piece, Heidi. I don’t think anyone’s dissembling (polite word) here, but Dirk’s definitely got his agenda as always. I’ve said this before, but to me, lit/art comics seem likely, to me, to sell within the bookstore market in roughly the same way literary fiction does. Which means: an occasional big seller and a lot of books that sell VERY low — less than the genre equivalents. Of course, the genre competition is different in comics (less crime, more superhero), so it’s not an exact equivalent. But everone in book publishing knows that literary fiction is a big gamble. You’ve got to know what you’re doing, AND you have to be lucky.

    And on a related note: Does anyone have any real sense of whether indy bookstores — the ones that are left — are actually selling comics at all? I ask because, as little as a decade ago, a lot of them were actively disdainful of the format. I’m sure that’s changed somewhat as the whole public perception of comics has changed, but I’m skeptical as to whether this is a substantial market. (It’s also a hard area to get information on, for the same reason it’s hard to get Direct Market sell-through info: small, independently-owned operations. Only the publishers will really know.)

  43. Stuart-

    I run a lcs located on Ninth St in Durham NC, the biggest indy bookstore in town is less then a block away from me, they stock Watchmen (as well as whatever hot mainstream book is out currently) and lots of Lit GNs in a little book shelf in their basement, so there is definitely a presence, they also seem to sell through the 1st second stuff quicker then we do.

  44. Dirk Deppey Says: “From a PUBLISHER’s perspective, the distinction IS meaningless insofar as your production and packaging strategy is much the same for both markets. Now, from a MARKETER’s perspective, there are differences, sure — they require attending different conferences to promote the work, for one thing.”

    Without getting into the rest of the discussion, I do have to mention that this isn’t true. Lerner Publishing Group has been publishing into the library market for 50 years, the past four or so producing graphic novels through the Graphic Universe imprint. When I joined the company as an editor, I had a lot to learn that was different than publshing for the trade.

    The editorial approach, the design, and the physical production of the books can be entirely different. Instructing artists on how to lay out a page when half their books will be bound in gutter-devouring Library Binding is just the tip of it. Graphic novels must consider library needs in terms of both acceptable content and in terms of layout and design–even of the placement, shape, and style of word balloons. This is accentuated by the fact that our primary audience is children and teens. The library/institutional market further subdivides into public and school libraries, and multiple copies purchased for classrooms, another growing market for graphic novels for kids and teens.

    Scott Christian Sava Says: “I wonder…does the Bookscan also consider the newly instituted Kids Graphic Novel sections? Cause that’s where most of my books are.”

    I never see our (Graphic Universe) books on any comics industry lists, even though they sell very well. What’s up with that, yo? Because, I tell you, we sell, like a million copies of everything I edit, so you’d best rush out and get yours today, as each title is a timeless classic. Well, I’m in editorial, not marketing, and this is the best patter I can do early in the morning while posting from the bathtub. But, the books are doing well, both over time and in individual years, with no doubt many of those sales being into libraries and classrooms. That the school/library market is familiar with the parent company’s reputation is no doubt a factor. But, I digress…

  45. Eighteen copies of Love and Rocket: New Stories Volume One are available thru the Portland “comic-town” Oregon library system, and Portland’s local book store chain Powell’s has six copies on their shelves and another 35 in their warehouses.

    Portland (where I live) is, of course, not indicative of how well the book sells throughout the country as a whole, but it does give some indication that it’s doing some business outside of Barnes & Noble, Borders.

    In addition, Portland has a couple of comic book stores that don’t use Diamond at all, or only as a last resort! That’s a trend I’d like to see more of. Start turning comic book stores into graphic novel stores and ordering books on a returnable basis. That way they might actually have something I want in stock when I go to one.

  46. More on public libraries here…

    I am in charge of collection development (purchasing) all of the juvenile, young adult and adult graphic novels for a large midwestern library system with 22 branches covering a primarily urban and suburban area. Last year our system topped 7 million circs. We’re not the biggest, but we’re a decent size.

    Like any retail establishment, we run reports. A B&N or Borders probably stocks and re-orders titles that sell well, and returns titles that don’t. Most public library systems use circulation statistics the same way a retail chain uses sales numbers. If a title, series or author circulates well, we buy more and keep the titles on the shelf. If they don’t circ well, we stop buying and we pull the titles off the shelf and sell them at the library sale.

    All that being said, here are some hard numbers for titles that have been batted around…

    LOVE & ROCKETS NEW STORIES #1
    1 copy purchased for the system in November 2008
    cataloged and in circulation by mid-December 2008
    1 circulation (in-house, meaning a staff member used it) in 2 months

    This would qualify as low circ and unless the book picks up quite a bit, it will be pulled from the collection in December of this year and sold.

    NARUTO Vol. 32
    10 copies purchased for the system in November 2008
    cataloged and in circulation by mid-December 2008
    65 circulations in 2 months

    To put it bluntly, on average, 1 copy of LOVE & ROCKETS will circulate for us 6 times in 1 year, on average.

    1 copy of NARUTO will circulate for us 39 times in 1 year, on average.

    We depend largely on money from the state and from local taxes. We have a responsibility to give our patrons the material they truly want. The answer here seems loud and clear, and continuing to spend money on titles from Fanta, D & Q and so on is a very poor use of the public’s money. We’re facing budget cuts more severe than any we have ever experienced in the history of this library system, so every single dime we spend has to count and count big.

    As much as I personally love Fanta, D & Q, Top Shelf and the like, their titles circ very very poorly in our public library, so we spend nearly all of our money and build our permanent graphic novel collection largely on manga and superhero stuff.

    And remember, a patron doesn’t have to spend a dime to check out LOVE & ROCKETS or SECRET INVASION or NARUTO, so there is no penalty at all for risking something that they wouldn’t like. And even with that in place, manga still rules the library.

  47. Steven R. Stahl says:

    If Quesada is claiming that the readership is demanding events and event tie-ins, then he’s basically calling the readership in general stupid — and stupid people can be manipulated into buying whatever the publisher wants them to buy. Quesada, et al., should manipulate them into buying fantasy fiction.

    Mr. Sasso, the story content of some Marvel titles is worse than it was several years ago, and far worse than it was decades ago. Prior to event-driven editorial demands, when a reader purchased a story, he got an actual story, with a beginning, middle, and end, in spite of whatever flaws it might have had. Now, events exist merely to set up future events, and the events lack structure. I haven’t seen anyone here attempt to defend “Secret Invasion” as a storyline; attempting to do so would be hopeless. The storyline fails in so many ways, from the incoherent premise all the way to the incoherent conclusion, that one is forced to conclude that it should have never been published — should never have gotten past the proposal stage.

    Superhero fiction doesn’t *have* to be junk. A story can be structured as tightly as any SF or fantasy story, but the writers and editors have to want to do the work, and to be able to do the work. But when Marvel’s star writer is apparently incapable of writing a superhero story that shouldn’t be tossed into the shredder, what is one supposed to think, other than that Marvel bases its editorial policy on the assumption that its most devoted readers are stupid people who will buy what they’re told to buy, and won’t recognize the most obvious storytelling mistakes?

    BTW, the problem with DARK AVENGERS #2 is that the villainess proclaims at the end that, since she’s time traveled from the past to the present, that she can’t be killed, that she would just reappear from the past. I’ve never seen anyone else do a time travel story without realizing that time travel involves physically moving within the space-time continuum. That sort of ignorance making its way into print is an extreme case of editorial failure.

    SRS

  48. Rich Johnson says:

    I just want to jump in here for a minute. When I was at DC Comics I was the first representative from a comic book publisher to exhibit at the American Library Association trade show and have long advocated aggressive sales to the library for the following reasons:
    1. They are non-returnable. (And, to answer an often heard argument about library sales – “Well, yeah they’re non-returnable but they only buy one copy.” – Untrue – they often are replaced because because they are checked out at a far more aggressive rate that most books and some libraries bring in more than one copy due to demand.)
    2. Libraries order based on for many reasons;
    a. Reviews – many libraries will only bring in a title if it is reviewed by one of the book or library trade magazines and many times these reviews are for more literary graphic novels.
    b. While some books in libraries are there because of their popularity and how they will circulate, some are there because the librarian believes that the addition of this book will be important to their collection development.
    c. Awards are also a big deal to the library market – look at a book like American Born Chinese. When it won the Printz Award many librarians immediately placed an order for the book, regardless of how they think it will circulate. That is also one reason why I think more needs to be done to establish the Eisner Awards in this market.
    3. The only library sales that would be reflected in Bookscan would be when the librarian buys the book at retail. Books bought through wholesalers are not accounted for in Bookscan numbers. And many libraries buy from these wholesalers because they prep the book for them to put on their shelves, bar codes, Dewey decimal numbers, etc.
    4. With the discussion between the direct market and the bookstore/library market we all have to remember that Diamond’s numbers are all sell-in. Comic shops to don report to Bookscan, which is why I have said in previous posts that if they did the Bookscan numbers would look very different than they currently do.

    In the end Bookscan is a useful too – but publishers need to look at and analyze more data in order to get the bigger picture on where their titles eventually land.

  49. Rich Johnson says:

    I just want to jump in here for a minute. When I was at DC Comics I was the first representative from a comic book publisher to exhibit at the American Library Association trade show and have long advocated aggressive sales to the library for the following reasons:
    1. They are non-returnable. (And, to answer an often heard argument about library sales – “Well, yeah they’re non-returnable but they only buy one copy.” – Untrue – they often are replaced because because they are checked out at a far more aggressive rate that most books and some libraries bring in more than one copy due to demand.)
    2. Libraries order based on for many reasons;
    a. Reviews – many libraries will only bring in a title if it is reviewed by one of the book or library trade magazines and many times these reviews are for more literary graphic novels.
    b. While some books in libraries are there because of their popularity and how they will circulate, some are there because the librarian believes that the addition of this book will be important to their collection development.
    c. Awards are also a big deal to the library market – look at a book like American Born Chinese. When it won the Printz Award many librarians immediately placed an order for the book, regardless of how they think it will circulate. That is also one reason why I think more needs to be done to establish the Eisner Awards in this market.
    3. The only library sales that would be reflected in Bookscan would be when the librarian buys the book at retail. Books bought through wholesalers are not accounted for in Bookscan numbers. And many libraries buy from these wholesalers because they prep the book for them to put on their shelves, bar codes, Dewey decimal numbers, etc.
    4. With the discussion between the direct market and the bookstore/library market we all have to remember that Diamond’s numbers are all sell-in. Comic shops to don report to Bookscan, which is why I have said in previous posts that if they did the Bookscan numbers would look very different than they currently do.

    In the end Bookscan is a useful too – but publishers need to look at and analyze more data in order to get the bigger picture on where their titles eventually land.

  50. Now we’re comparing L&R to Naruto? When was the last time War & Peace was checked out? Remembrance of Things Past? Ryan Higgins said it best when he said: “This just in: low selling books sell low. More at 11.” I expect a book aimed at a mass youth audience with a hot cartoon to sell much better than L&R the same way I expect Stephen Spielberg movies to outperform Jim Jarmusch films. WOW. Is this seriously the argument some think we’re having?

    Hibbs tries to prove the DM is the place best suited to sell art comics, insinuating that if they can’t do it then maybe people just don’t want to buy them. Dirk shows that art comics DO sell outside the DM, but also outside of Bookscan’s range, but now we’re nit picking a comment he made about libraries and marketing? No wonder the Internet’s reputation for thoughtful discourse is about as low as GW Bush’s approval ratings.

    Besides, hasn’t Diamond effectively made a lot of this old flame war moot? Without the low-selling floppies that the fans of art comics probably still go to the DM to get, I imagine most will finally give up on the DM (those that haven’t already) and start shopping exclusively on-line or at bookstores. I know I’ve already been pushed to that point myself. If it wasn’t for still looking at bargain bins and grabbing a couple of Image, IDW, etc. books every now and again, I’d have no reason to go at all. I’d buy more comics but the DM seems to keep trying to make that harder and harder without ordering everything months in advance sight unseen. Even then, most retailers I’ve encountered act as if it’s a chore to order from anyone not in the front 1/3rd of Previews.

  51. scrollscrollscrollscroll…

    Here’s some information from OCLC’s WorldCat (the version libraries use, not worldcat.org, which is a useful tool).

    171 libraries in 36 states (and two foreign countries) have cataloged at least one copy of “Love and Rockets: New Stories #1″. Again… OCLC does not include ALL libraries on the face of the planet, just the ones which subscribe to their bibliographic network. As a comparison, 1130 libraries have cataloged Watchmen (9780930289232) and 4087 the Da Vinci Code (9780385504201).

    http://firstsearch.oclc.org/WebZ/FSQUERY?format=BI:next=html/records.html:bad=html/records.html:numrecs=10:sessionid=fsapp1-36216-frkoyem1-48tx8x:entitypagenum=2:0:searchtype=advanced

    (The New York Public Library allows online access to this database with a valid library card. The Catnyp catalog is available to all.)

  52. “If Quesada is claiming that the readership is demanding events and event tie-ins, then he’s basically calling the readership in general stupid — and stupid people can be manipulated into buying whatever the publisher wants them to buy. Quesada, et al., should manipulate them into buying fantasy fiction.”

    I’m not sure how you read all that into what was said on the video. Quesada is payed by the retailers to produce that sells for the stores. What he’s telling us is a reality he has to contend with as a publisher, not any kind of low opinion of the fans. In fact, I see him going out of his way to explain this stuff to the fans and everyone else alike, because he believes that they are capable of understanding it. I see heads of other companies being condescending smart asses at panels all the time, but not him. I also see (despite so many peoples complaints) an EIC that makes sure that every comic that comes out of Marvel is a quality product, written and drawn by people who love what they do, and produced with the latest printing technology, on the most beautiful glossy paper. These comics may not suit your taste all the time, but I would find it very hard to believe that Quesada is simply pandering to what he feels are the lowest common denominator in intellect.

  53. Hibbs,

    “Kenny” isn’t a made up name. It’s my actual Goddamn name. Geez, you can’t not be an insulting jackass, can you?

  54. Justin Colussy-Estes says:

    I haven’t followed all the arguments here, but the big debate doesn’t seem to be alt vs. superhero graphic novels, but direct market vs. bookstores.

    I stock the graphic novels section for an independent kidslit bookstore in Altanta, GA. Because we a)don’t have the space to stock much manga (if a series is over a half-dozen volumes, we can’t devote the shelf space to it), and b) I have to be fairly cautious about appropriate content (there are more books about superheroes I can stock in the store than comics, to be honest)– over 90% of our GNs are independents (we do have an adult section where we stock older/mature material, but, let’s face it, superheroes just aren’t competitive there, except maybe Watchmen).

    We are a NYT bestseller list reporting store, but none of our sales go through bookscan. We are the “go to” store for author visits in the area: this year we got Jeff Kinney, over every B&N in the region (maybe it’s because of their financial woes, but Borders doesn’t seem to compete for authors here). Last year we had Patrick McDonnell, Mo Willems, Marc Brown, Rick Riordan, and the author/artist of the new Madeleine book, just to name a few of the biggies.

    We have had net growth over the last year, as opposed to many, many bookstores and comic book stores, chain and independent, both locally and nationally. But again, none of our sales are reported to Bookscan.

    What do we sell in the GN section? Bone, obviously, but more broadly, if it’s a GN from Scholastic, or from any big publisher and kid-friendly, we’ve tried it and had some success (Don Wood’s Into the Volcano didn’t do so well, but I’m guessing that’s because it’s hardback). Have any of you even heard of Rapunzel’s Revenge? It’s written by Shannon Hale, a big kidslit author, and outsells all Star Wars titles, and superhero titles (which consists of a couple of batman and spider-man books) we carry–it’s from Scholastic. Also, that recent Frank omnibus is a regular seller. Lots of the Top Shelf and First Second catalogs. Several NBM titles. In the adult section, David B’s Epileptic was one of our book group selections this year.

    Graphic novels are not huge here, but they are perennial. And I’m guessing that our sales are competitive with, or beat several DM stores in the greater Atlanta area.

    Put another way:
    what do the various stores devote most of their graphic novel section/comics specific shelfspace to? DM comics outlet: superhero GNs. B&N chain outlet: manga. Independent bookstores: independent GNs. And of these three types of stores, which are there no statistics for?

    All of this disregards libraries. And where are librarians getting their suggestions from? Well, in every community I’ve ever lived in where there’s a good independent bookstore? Librarians are going there, not to their local direct market comic book store or the local big chain box store.

    But I will say that comic book stores seem woefully ill-equipped to serve the market that’s they have a home-court-advantage in, and if independent/art GN publishers went away tomorrow, we would have very little interest in, what is for us, right now, a growing section of our business.

  55. Ray… according to Worldcat, the book is available at NYPL (Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island), Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, Westchester, and Suffolk county libraries.

    Catnyp (the research catalog) does not have a copy. LEO, the branch catalog, shows 30 copies available.

    http://leopac3.nypl.org/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=1R354VM627906.16512&menu=search&aspect=numeric&npp=10&ipp=20&spp=20&profile=dial–3&ri=&index=ISBN&term=9781560979517&x=0&y=0&aspect=numeric

    And I warn you all… NYPL has an EXTENSIVE circulating collection of graphic novels. 1415 titles under the subject “graphic novels” (more if you include subcategories). The Donnell Library Center and the Mid-Manhattan branch have the best selection. All circulating books can be reserved as well.

  56. Joe Williams,

    I absolutely agree with everything you just said.

    I’ve befriended a comic shop owner who explained to me why it’s a chore for him to order anything not in the front of Previews. He makes a profit of about $400/week. He’s so worried about tying up too much money in a front of the Previews book that won’t sell through that processing my order sometimes escapes his thoughts. OK, cool, I get that, you know? To add to that, like you said, Joe, I’m not always comfortable ordering books sight unseen. So, it’s easier for me to wait until I can leaf through a book at the bookstore and buy from Amazon, totally bypassing the LCS. That’s the discussion I think needs to take place – where are people who are bypassing the DM for whatever reason buying their books at? Why are they buying their books there? How much of the current comic book buying is lost to the DM?

    I’m not buying the argument anymore that people don’t want to read comics or that kids are too distracted by video games. Look at manga. Manga is a category that rose up totally in spite of the DM and really can’t be dismissed as just a fad anymore. Manga is doing something right everyone is missing.

    Trying to compare Naruto to Love & Rockets isn’t going to help anyone out. One book is selling like the Bible in Utah and one is only appealing to the lit minded set. The elephant that everyone is doing their best to avoid is what appeal does manga hold that it can defy all conventional sales knowledge?

    Actually, the more I think about it, trying to compare Love & Rockets to anything is kinda silly. The Hernandez brothers and Fantagraphics together made a decision to change the format to generate more sales. I don’t think anyone expected sales to equal Watchmen, Naruto, or the DaVinci Code. Anyone who is trying to make a case for those sales as equivalent is reaching. The question remains – how is manga selling so well with virtually no support from comic stores? How can comic stores tap into that?

  57. and then spends a good few paragraphs circling, stabbing, stamping, yelling “Ugga! Bugga” and while still failing to refute anything.

    Yes. This. Thank you.

  58. “So what were online sales volume anyway? We’ll never know. ”

    Kinda. BookScan includes sales from Amazon, B&N.com, Powells.com, and so on. It wouldn’t include, say, Khepri though (but who is certainly buying through DM channels)

    “Why is it so hard to believe that Infinite Crisis sells well in the book market? It was a high profile book that years after is still being talked about”

    Personally, I think INFINITE CRISIS is the very definition of “insider baseball”, that it doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have decades of comics reading under your belt, and barely makes sense if you do. It is, I think, the poster child for “what people in bookstores supposedly don’t want”

    Also, we can only track about 6200 copies sold in the DM for it — which means the bookstore market just about doubled that, yikes!

    -B

  59. Kenny,

    To answer your questions: “Where are people who are bypassing the DM for whatever reason buying their books at?
    Why are they buying their books there?
    How much of the current comic book buying is lost to the DM?”

    I just need point out this from your post: “I’ve befriended a comic shop owner who explained to me why it’s a chore for him to order anything not in the front of Previews.”

    There you go.

    I’ve had it trying to buy books at local comic shops. All I see are stuff from the front of Previews. I’d love to go to a shop and leaf through books (like you state that you do) but I can’t do that at “your average LCS” (for want of a better term.

    They forced me to seek elsewhere, and I have. Other non-comic only books stores and the internet, as well as comic conventions (MOCCA, SPX).

    I can only ASSUME that the comic shops don’t want me as a customer if all they’ll order from is from the front of Previews.

  60. Whoa, settle down there Mr. Joe Williams! You’re certainly angry about this! The only things I compared were holdings and circulation statistics for L&R and NARUTO. That’s it. Sure, my comparison didn’t do much more than reinforce what has already been discussed (i.e. “low selling books sell low”) but I was able to cite hard numbers from a large public library system. I thought those might have been of some interest to a few people.

  61. Lee: Thanks — that’s good to hear. I still wonder how widespread the pattern is. In a way, it’s like trying to divine direct market sales patterns from message board comments. If you went by this blog, you’d think SCOTT PILGRIM would outsell SECRET INVASION in the DM by orders of magnitude.

    Steven: Re “If Quesada is claiming that the readership is demanding events and event tie-ins, then he’s basically calling the readership in general stupid” — Christopher already refuted this, but no, “stupid” is your value judgment, not Joe’s. What he’s doing is looking at sales figures and seeing what the audience is buying. Not the only way of deciding what sort of fiction to publish (and, I know, not the only way Marvel makes decisions). But not a cynical one, either.

    Regarding libraries, I have nothing to say except that the New York City system has 117 copies of Bob Haney’s Super-Sons trade paperback in its collection.

  62. Brian:

    I am probably arguing this in the wrong place but I have a different perspective on Infinite Crisis.

    1) First, it’s a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, which–along with Watchmen and Dark Knight–is one of the few comics from 1985-86 to still be in print (and has been continuously for 20 years).

    2) Second, IC sells for the same reason COIE: even casual curious readers love the idea that a story has everybody in it, lots of costumes and lots of fights. (Remember, both COiE and IC were credited with bringing Marvel readers to DC–readers who reportedly loathed the “inside baseball”/multiple earths stuff.)

    3) If Amazon and the B&N websites are part of the Bookscan total, then it is fair to presume these books are selling to the existing fan base who may purchase periodicals from DM retailers like you and me. But they buy their higher-priced tpb and hc items from discount websites. Certainly there is anecdotal evidence that whlle sales of Absolute Sandman v1 were strong in the DM, sales of later volumes seem to have emigrated to the online discounters.

    For the record, I seem to have enjoyed Infinite Crisis more than you. And like Final Crisis, it is much more enjoyable in the book collection (IC includes some edits that improve on the perodicals).

  63. Stuart:

    Ironically, Scott Pilgrim 5 has outsold Secret Invasion TP in our store.

    But Scott Pilgrim’s sales pattern is more akin to a periodical than a tp because it is all-new material.

    Outside of Watchmen, some of our highest-selling tps and hcs over the past few years have been ogns: Pilgrim, the Joker HC, Pride of Baghdad, LOEG Black Dossier.

    Similarly, series like Walking Dead, Y and Fables (and newer series like Criminal, Boys, DMZ, Sword, Umbrella Academy) also sell heavily on release because to people who only read the tpbs, they are new material.

  64. “Personally, I think INFINITE CRISIS is the very definition of “insider baseball”, that it doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have decades of comics reading under your belt, and barely makes sense if you do. It is, I think, the poster child for “what people in bookstores supposedly don’t want”

    That’s probably true to a certain degree. But it also stars famous characters that have DECADES worth of brand awareness. That goes a long way. And people won’t realize how confusing it is till they’ve already bought it. Some people just keep buying things because they like the characters or want to see what’s happened to the characters they used to love.

  65. “I’ve never seen anyone else do a time travel story without realizing that time travel involves physically moving within the space-time continuum. That sort of ignorance making its way into print is an extreme case of editorial failure.”

    Unbelievable! I fail to check in with CNN for a couple of days and miss the fact that Time Travel has been all figured out. That’ll teach me.

    John

  66. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I bought six issues of Editorial Failure Extreme in the 1990s before it was canceled. I think it starred Captain Atom and the Ray.

  67. Thanks Ali and Carol.
    It is something I’ll check with IDW about.
    We’re only 5 months in to having these books in the store.

    Next year we’ll have 12 books and 15 months worth of numbers. So maybe I’ll be a bit more informed then.

    :)

  68. “1) First, it’s a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, which–along with Watchmen and Dark Knight–is one of the few comics from 1985-86 to still be in print (and has been continuously for 20 years).”

    Actually, that’s not true. Crisis On Infinite Earths was not collected until 1998, and even then it was a pricey hardcover with a limited print run. Affordable paperback edition wasn’t published until 2001.

  69. Just checkin’ in to say hey, everybody.

  70. Matthew says:

    Blog fight! Blog fight!

    Really, everyone here knows that Japan more or less has cornered the American comic book market. Why argue about superheroes versus indie when this basic fact is true?

  71. Jesse Post says:

    I’m sure I lost the thread but it seems that the original points were about the overall accuracy/validity of Bookscan. On that note, we use Bookscan every day at work to get a “quick glance” gage of how our titles are selling. Being that most of our books are mass-retail focused and Bookscan doesn’t track places like Wal-Mart, we certainly don’t live and die by those numbers. But they do give us a glimpse at trends that are track-able by other means.

    So I think Heidi and Dirk are both right — Bookscan isn’t an accurate picture of sales, but it is one tool to gather an insightful estimate.

    As for all the other stuff about art books and genre books and DM and manga and libraries, I have no idea, but who needs more ideas in a 70+ reply post? ;)

  72. Brian-

    In the end it doesn’t matter what your personal feelings towards IC are, it sells, period. One of three things happens when it sells, either a reader throws their arms in the air and gives up, they get on wikipedia and figure it out, or they come into a lcs and buy back issues/trade paper backs. I can’t help the first example, but the second two are potential customers.

    I mean Hulk is not the best book in the world, but people sure do buy it and they actively come in to buy it. Would I rather people bought Comic Book Comics? Hell yes, but THE BIG BOOK will always out. It is our responsibilty as retailers to nuture both the reader who wants whatever big book there is (and notice what books they may like as a result) and help out those readers who want something a little more substantial. You know this though. Instead of worrying why something sells, why not just recognize that it does and turn that into a win for you?

    We can argue all day long as to why L&R seems to perform better in the DM, or why Manga was a powerhouse for a few years in the Mass Market, or why Infinite Crisis sells so well in trade in both markets. Again, its fun to do, but it is up to us to recognize what sells nationally, but more important what sells in our microcosm…. capitalize on that and grow our customer base.

    Bookscan charts and Diamond charts are a tool, both fallible in their own ways, both extremely useful in their own ways.

  73. Torsten,

    You haven’t been to NYPL for a while if you think that Donnell has a big comics collection. It’s closed for good because the building was sold. (Absolute shame, too.)

    Having said that, you’re right, I’m wrong. There’s quite a few copies of NL&R at NYPL:

    http://leopac6.nypl.org/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=123BK820109T1.29597&menu=search&aspect=basic&npp=10&ipp=20&spp=20&profile=dial–3&ri=3&source=~!dial&index=TW&term=new+love+and+rockets&x=6&y=15&aspect=basic

  74. Lee: “In the end it doesn’t matter what your personal feelings towards IC are, it sells, period. One of three things happens when it sells, either a reader throws their arms in the air and gives up, they get on wikipedia and figure it out, or they come into a lcs and buy back issues/trade paper backs. I can’t help the first example, but the second two are potential customers.”

    Doesn’t your first sentence lose sight of the fact that Brian’s argument is about how well it appeals to or works for non-DM readers? And doesn’t the rest of that paragraph lack anything other than anecdotal evidence?

  75. JWH: Maybe, but my problem with that kind of argument in general is that it does more harm to comics than the actual comic being bad in the first place. Yeah, it’s cool to be critical of the book, but it sells, instead of harping several years later about how he is mystified that it sells, it is more important (I think) to figure out how to retain those readers… I see no other options really available in reference to his argument, I guess there are some like they like it and go back for more… I fail to see how that has anything to do with anything though…

  76. Steven R. Stahl says:

    How many people are there, I wonder, who read and enjoy fantasy fiction and SF, but don’t read and enjoy superhero fiction? What repels such readers? The costumes? The powers? Megalomaniacal villains with irrational motives? Genre conventions, such as the non-aging of characters? Editorial policies, over the years, that have gone from one extreme of publishing stories that were written solely to correct flaws in continuity, to ignoring continuity when it gets in the way, supposedly, of a good story? Do readers evaluate each story on its merits, or take the opposite approach of dismissing the whole genre as junk?

    One of my interests is rationalizing the universe in which superheroes operate. I believe that practically any power can be linked to a particular human gene or gene-like (viral) sequence in the human genome (or be based, of course, on technology). Such genes can be artificial or natural; one can envision an organic android, who possesses a genome studded with multiple artificial genes which can be turned on and off in various configurations as desired.

    Psionic energy doesn’t have to be written as vague wish fulfillment. The energy could be defined as units (neurolts) convertible into equivalent units of kinetic energy. The power levels of individuals could be rated (similar to the numerical ratings of Kirlian auras in Piers Anthony’s “Cluster” series of SF novels).

    If superhero stories were written in ways that made them practically indistinguishable from SF, would they be appealing? Or is the concept of the superhero just a turnoff?

    SRS

  77. Peter Adriaenssens says:

    Steven, based on box office figures for superhero movies, I’d say the general populace has no problems at all with the concept of a superhero, on the contrary. But with the art and writing often being juvenile, I’m sure that being seen with an actual trade paperback that features superheroes is thought of by many of those movie-goers as an embarassment.

    And publishers only make that worse by focusing on the lowest common denominator. It seems to me that superhero comics used to level with their audience more, rather than pandering to it. On the other hand, characters only became popular in the publishers’ eyes because people wanted to see more of them. That’s very different from comic book writer/artists with their own creative vision who can stick with it, which probably explains some of the popularity of manga: it tells its stories without being yanked around by marketeers as much as DC/Marvel books have in this century.

    (which is all conjecture on my part, of course, but does that really need saying?)

    Interesting stuff to read, but in the end I think it all boils down to this: what’s visible and recognizable will obviously outsell what’s more obscure (both in the literal and figurative way). That doesn’t imply any judgment of value though, so what’s there to argue about, really?

  78. Steven R. Stahl is my new favorite commenter.

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