BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales

twitter BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales0facebook BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales0google BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales0pinterest BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales0tumblr BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore salesreddit BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales0stumbleupon BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales0email BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales
draglunch BookScan: Kids' comics ruled in 2011 bookstore sales

Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath

It’s our favorite day of the year! The day retailer Brian Hibbs posts the complete BookScan chart for the previous year, with his own analysis. You can download the entire chart for your own edification in the first link above, but we’ll just cut to the chase. Here are the top 20 GNs for the year:


We’ll have lots more analysis of the chart on Monday, but if you look at the above, one thing is screamingly clear: kids comics are what is selling in bookstores. And not in comics shops.

For instance, has a copy of Dragonbreath ever been sold in a comics shop? Is it ever even mentioned? Have you ever heard of Ursula Vernon? According to her website:

Dragonbreath is the current children’s book series from Ursula Vernon. A combination of text and graphic novel, the Dragonbreath books tell of the adventures of Danny Dragon, a young dragon attending a school for reptiles and amphibians. Join Danny and his best friend Wendell the Iguana as they travel under the sea outwitting bullies, fending off giant squid, meet giant heron, run from ninjas,and fight were-hotdogs, all the while trying to avoid getting an F in Science!

If you’re wondering where DC and Marvel are, DC charts for the first time at #25 with (surprise!) WATCHMEN.

Marvel? All the way down at #149 with that RICHARD CASTLE: DEADLY STORM tie-in.

Hibbs’ analysis includes charts showing year-to-year changes for all the top publishers, and includes an analysis of the long tail—the complete BookScan chart of more than 24,000 items. Although sales were down in the top 750 for the fourth year in a row unit-wise (ouch), when the entire category is examined, the unit drop for the year is smaller and dollars are UP:

We are now tracking almost 24k items through the BookScan charts, which is almost a 9% increase since 2010, and an amazing 82% increase since 2007. This is a much rosier chart — while units sold are still down (but only by 3.6%), dollar sales are actually up by almost 2%!

I would primarily attribute this to two things: first, the majority of the new books entering the market every year are “western” comics, and, as such, bear a much higher cover price than manga books; and second, there’s a certain amount of greater stability in the “long tail” base simply because of lower piece sales. By this I mean that over 6000 of the 24k items in the full database — a full quarter! — have reported sales of five copies or less. It is, generally, less likely for those books to drop from (say) 5 copies to 4, than it is for a best-seller to drop from 5200 copies to 5000, in my opinion as a bookseller.

Still, there is a general paucity of “new hits” to the market in 2011 that, when combined with the crushing crash of manga gives you an ugly looking picture for the frontlist. The positive news is that with the slow-motion collapse of Borders now concluded, there’s every reason to think that 2012 is going to look a whole lot better.

As I’ve mentioned here several times, while the daily changes in the periodical chart after this or that event has been sifted and resifted by industry watchers, the big underreported story of 2011 was the decline in graphic novel sales. A lack of a new Scott Pilgrim is part of the reason, but it’s also clear that aside from kids’ books and media tie-ins (predominantly female-driven), publishers are not putting out material that is setting the book world on fire.

BTW, we’re not putting much emphasis on the actual numbers—BookScan sales are accurate to a degree, but actual sales are higher by variable degrees.

As Hibbs also mentions, the fall of Borders was part of the story as well—as is manga’s continuing decline. That’s the half-empty part.

The half-full part? Kids read comics! Amazing. Something no one could have foreseen.

It’s a day busting with news, so we’ll be back to break down this chart with this year’s Shiga line on Monday.


  1. MBunge says:

    “The half full part? Kids read comics! Amazing. Something no one could have foreseen.”

    That much concentrated sarcasm should require a doctor’s prescription.


  2. Chris Hero says:

    It’s kinda amazing to me we can see this data every year, see the same thing every year (kids read comics), and yet most of the all ages stuff found in the DM is just awful. The real shame is there are creators making a real go of making good all ages comics, but they’re just lost in the white noise of junk.

    I was *really* excited to buy Adventure Time #1 this past Wednesday and had to go to two comic stores in Brooklyn to find a copy! The first store didn’t know what I was talking about and the second store had to go behind the counter to produce a copy like it was porn. (The shame is buying that was easier than trying to find print copies of Snarked. I’m half convinced that book only exists on Comixology.)

    But yeah…kids like reading comics but the comics industry on the whole seems to not care. I have high hopes this will be an area we’ll see improvement in. I think DM stores generally want to sell stuff their customers like, but it’s been challenging for them to find that stuff due to limited budgets and limited man-hours. I really hope with Marvel seemingly taking all ages books seriously we’ll see DM stores having a better shot of selling to that audience.

  3. I think what is happening here, is some of these titles aren’t considered kid’s comics by the customers, but kid’s books.

    Based on previous lists by Brian, I have ordered Dork Diaries, Big Nate, and Adv. of Ook and Gluk.

    I have yet to sell any of them.

    I’m on a busy downtown tourist street, and about 20% of my sales are books (other than graphic novels.) I do sell Bone on a constant basis, along with Calvin and Hobbes and Tintin and so on.

    I sell the hell out of The Hunger Games, Hugo Caberet, etc.

    But not to comic customers — to people off the street.

    I doubt many comic shops are willingly forgoing the profits they might get from carrying Kid’s Comics.

    But would getting Kid’s Books actually work for them? It would help if they were offered through Diamond, but again I suspect they see books like Dragonbreath as kid’s books not kid’s comics, and that isn’t their business.

    I’m going to go to Baker and Taylor and immediately order Dragonsbreath an hope to catch a customer or two, but I’m already set up to do that.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    Comics is comics. Kids don’t care if it’s a comic strip, a comic book, a collection of cartoon panels, or a graphic novel, or a picture book.

    But kids reading comics? Well, 2012 marks the TENTH anniversary of the “Get Graphic” initiative at the American Library Association. Ten years of young adult librarians promoting graphic novels at libraries.

    Now, the children’s librarians are beginning to notice. The mainstream publishers are selling to that market. DC? Marvel? Kinda sorta… via licensed properties and comics adapted with reading guides to match curricula.

    I wonder what sort of picture develops if one takes the monthly Top 300 Graphic Novel lists published by ICV2?

  5. “Comics are comics.”

    Well, no.

    Not when they’re considered kid’s books.

    People go to bookstores for books.

    They go to comic stores for comics.

    Branding matters.

  6. I personally agree that comics is comics.

    I agree that that kids (not so sure about parents) buy whatever appeals to them, whether it’s called a comic or a book.

    But the perception of what they’re buying, how people shop, really matters. I can carry books that people don’t expect me to have, but I can’t expect them to sell as well as the book they expect me to have — and vice versa.

    Work in a comic shop sometime, and you’ll be amazed how blind the customers are to anything else you carry, no matter how prominently you display it or point it out.

    The book are out of context. They shouldn’t be, but that’s the way they are perceived.

    I say this as someone who actually carries a lot of children’s books.

    I sell them to book buyers. I can sell Bone and Tintin to book buyers and comic buyers, but I can’t sell Nate to comic buyers.

  7. Just asking a question here, but at a base sales level, does the comics/kids book distinction make that much a difference?

    I understand that from an advertising perspective, it’d be tough to get parents in the area used to the idea that they’d rather seek out some of this material at a comic shop as opposed to a Barnes & Noble, but in terms of in-shop sales, if a comic store owner already has a targeted section for kids releases from the standard comics publishers that does well, wouldn’t racking highly popular comic-type projects from the big book publishers be a pretty easy sell?

  8. If all I was carrying was comics and graphic novels, it think it would be a hard sell.

    I carry a large selection of kid’s books and young adult, and I mix in as much graphic material as possible.

    But I’m in a tourist zone and sell off the street pretty well.

    The new survey from DC says that less than 2% of the buyers of the New 52 were under the age of 18.

    You see the problem. At what point is a comic store beating a dead horse? You sell the clientele you got, not the clientele you wish you had.

    I’m an exception because of the nature of my store, but even I wonder if it isn’t more a R % D effort, or good will.

    Fortunately, I can sell Tintin and Archie and Asterix and Calvin and Hobbes, so I try hard to mix in all the rest.

    For comics, oddly, they (parents) really want COMICS like they remember them to be, not as they currently exist.

    DC and Marvel both have young readers versions of their super-heroes, but they don’t seem to like those either.

    I don’t have the answers.

    But I get a little tired of people saying that comics shops aren’t doing the job right when they don’t carry a huge section of kid’s comics. Most comic shop owners would love to sell more kid’s comics.

    When you ask kids if they “like” comics the answer is almost universally yes. If you observe them going through the store, the answer is — but not enough to buy it. If the parents don’t buy, the kids usually won’t.

    There is among parents, who are the real buyers, a real difference between “Kids” books and “comics”, even if you and I would find it hard to point out the differences.

  9. What I’m saying is that there may not be an inherent difference between a well-illustrated kids books, or a wordy comic book, but there is a perceptual difference.

    And that difference does matter when it comes to how much and to who they sell.

    I think there are even visual clues — maybe not intentionally, but they’re there. Just like you take but a second to glance at the cover of a book and tell if it’s romance, S.F. or mystery.

    Book publishers package differently enough that parents can immediately distinguish.

    Call something a kid’s book, and they may buy. Call it a comic, and they may not.

    It ain’t rational.

  10. Chris Hero says:


    I apologize if my comment came out as anti-retailer. I think the fault here lies at the comic companies that have been filling the market with bad kids comics.

    I think you and all DM retailers are at a disadvantage with kids comics/books. I think so much awful product has been given to you guys to sell as all ages comics that the perception has become comic stores are only good for grown up comics.

    I think you guys are doing the best you can with what you’ve got. I think you guys need better stuff to sell. I mean, Adventure Time and Snarked are awesome, but you guys can’t base a retailing strategy around 2 books.

    I don’t think it was the fault of the stores I’ve gone to I’ve had a hard time finding Kaboom titles. I wouldn’t invest much time/money/effort in selling kids books either with the amount of junk out there.

  11. The Beat says:

    The more I look at the list the starker the separation between the markets becomes. THE ARRIVAL sold a ton of copies last year—I mean granted it is a visual masterpiece, but not really considered something comics shops would sell.

  12. Personally, I wish we could get rid of the distinction between good kid’s books and comic books. I don’t see much difference, myself.

    But I think we in the comic biz sometimes forget that there is still a huge bias against comics.

    We’ve made enormous progress, but we’re only a little the way there. Like I said, I can sell books to people off the street, but I have hard time selling comics except to people who are already inclined to buy comics.

    It’s 50/50 in my store, with not a whole lot of crossover.

    Parents will buy Bone if I call it a young adult book and turn up their nose if I call it a comic.

    I’m not saying it makes any sense. Sometimes a title will become what I call “culturally approved” and thus escape the everyday stigma of “comics,” but they are the exception, not the rule.

    I’m a comic shop, but I sold more book copies of Twilight, than I did graphic novel versions of Twilight. I still have 15 out of the 20 copies I ordered.

    Yet, apparently the graphic novels of Twilight sold in bookstores.

    Explain that one to me.

    At least adults are somewhat open to graphic novels like Walking Dead and Watchmen and Maus — like I said, “culturally approved.”

    I can sell Asterix or Tintin to any parent who already knows what they are; I can’t sell Asterix and Tintin to any parent who doesn’t. Same books.

    The ground has to be prepared, culturally, or it usually doesn’t happen. A “cold” sell is hard to make. Believe me, I try.

  13. As in past years, I have used Brian’s data to it to inform my piece on the size of the overall market, fusing much of the known data:

    Comics are 45% of the overall market, trades 55%. But the Direct Market is still 60% of the overall market, and nearly twice the size of the bookstore area.

  14. IMHO there are PLENTY of good kids comics current and classics (the later not mentioned in this excellent discussion) available for retailers to stock and sell. i’m sure it ain’t always easy but a big pat on the back to the retailers who are giving it their best. it’s a big key to the future to figure the kid component out. the future of comics, the future of the shops. cartoonists, publishers, and retailers need to give the highest priority.

  15. @ Torsten, Libraries are all well and good, but its not going to carry the industry.

    Anyhow, How is Maus a kids book??? we know the demand is there, jus the content needs to be up to snuff for kids and appeal to them. one of us saying a kids book is good does not represent what kids actually think/want or even need, im not doubting that Adventure Time comic is good, but why cant we have kids clamoring over Mouse Guard or Anya’s Ghost like they do for Hunger Games or Hugo?

  16. Because they’ve never heard of them.

    – B

  17. Chris Hero says:

    I’m throwing Adventure Time out there because the cartoon is *insanely* popular with kids and they have *very* talented people working on it. The dude from Penny Arcade did a cover and his web comic has a readership that blows away any print floppy.

  18. @ Brian, well no one heard of Hunger Games or Hugo Cabret when they first debuted. not much of an excuse.
    @ Chris nothing wrong with that at all, just I wish i could see more comics become a mega hit by not being associated with some pre-exsisting TV or Film franchise. would like to see it start with comics and branch from there(Walking Dead & Scott Pilgrim).

  19. I’m in awe. My dilemma is actually being discussed. I have written 7 gobsmackingly awesome ‘comic/books’ …. 2 years ago … a literary agent told me ‘dialogue bubbles don’t sell’ …. a bunch of kids I showed said they loved them cos they could read the pictures. I showed one publisher and they wanted me to turn them into chapter books because they were too old to be picture books. I’m so confused. I’d love to show a publisher with an open mind my work … can anyone make any suggestions …. there’s a visual feast happening on the ZedkidZ facebook page if you want a squizz …. Mel

Speak Your Mind