Brian Hibbs’ annual BookScan analysis

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dorkdiaries cover Brian Hibbs annual BookScan analysisOkay, chart lovers: THIS IS THE BIG ONE! Retailer Brian Hibbs takes his annual peek at the BookScan chart so you don’t have to. BookScan, you’ll recall, is the Nielsen-run report on what sells in bookstores, so this is the closest we can get to actual “What did it sell” figures. You can download the entire top 750 graphic novels for 2009 at the above link, and since it’s technically a leak, you’ll want to save it for your own drilling down. Dedicated number crunchers will want to read the entire column, but we’ll steal the top ten for discussion purposes:

1. 424,814 WATCHMEN
2. 68,657 DORK DIARIES
3. 68,442 BK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED BY R
4. 65,235 BONE CROWN OF HORNS
5. 61,144 NARUTO V43
6. 54,817 BONE OUT FROM BONEVILLE
7. 53,392 NARUTO V41
8. 52,411 NARUTO V44
9. 52,012 COMP POKEMON PKT GDE V2
10. 49,382 NARUTO V45

If your takeaway from this is that bestsellers stay bestsellers, you’re not far off. But it’s also notable that this year’s chart contains a lot of kids/YA books, and although WIMPY KID isn’t counted, DORK DIARIES by Rachel Renée Russo, a girl-themed Wimpy Kid-inspired diary hybrid, comes in at #2. Too bad there aren’t any comics for kids, eh?

Hibbs observes that by the chart, book sales fell both in units and dollars about eight percent last year and if it hadn’t been for WATCHMEN, it would have been much worse, but, given the state of the economy and bookstores, these numbers are not devastating.

Our own quick observations: While “art comics” are still no threat to NARUTO, literary comics from major publishers definitely had an up year in 2009, led by CRUMB’S GENESIS, which as Calvin Reid reported yesterday, has sold over 120,000 copies, making it a gen-yoo-wine bestseller. ASTERIOS POLYP and LOGICOMIX also did well. (The award-nominated STITCHES did okay, but wasn’t a blockbuster, considering all the press it got.)

What is the real trend on the chart, from where we sit, is the success of a number of book spin-offs and adaptations, especially from the major houses. James Patterson’s Maximum Ride books, Mercy Thompson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, The Warriors, The Dresden Files — books written by or (more often) adapted from) traditional bestselling authors did well, although without knowing the licensing or other business arrangements, it’s hard to say how profitable they were. With its access to Hachette titles (like Twilight) Yen Press has a lot of sales potential. And looking at this, Dark Horse’s 100,000 copy print run for their Janet Evanovich projects looks sensible.

The success of Bone and Babymouse (and the manga blockbusters, of course) is still a testament to the number of younger readers who are the potential audience for comics. Once and for all, can we send the idea that the industry isn’t training a new generation of readers off to the glue factory? Yes, it was a close call, but we made it through. Now whether the kid will pick up the weekly buying habit is another matter; the readership is clearly there — the question is how and if comics publishers can successfully tap INTO that readership.

For comics publishers, best selling authors continued to sell — big surprise — Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Robert Kirkman (author of the only Image books to chart), Neil Gaiman, Bill Willingham. DC and Vertigo’s warhorses hold strong. By comparison, Marvel’s backlist is far smaller and lacking in perennials.

Our favorite thing to do with the chart is download, sort by imprint and then sales to see the individual companies bestseller lists — that’s the best way to play armchair publisher. Hibbs breaks the chart down by genre and publisher, which is a useful way to go about it. For our own analysis, it is telling to look at Scholastic’s Graphix line sales. While BONE is the huge seller there, a book that most “comics fans” never heard of — Frank Cammuso’sKNIGHTS OF THE LUNCH TABLE — sold 5,315 copies, which would put it squarely in either Marvel or DC’s charts, although at the lower end. Nonetheless, it still sold comparably to all but the elite of superhero books. Most of the Graphix books on the chart would be good sellers for Marvel or DC.

Along those lines, Marvel’s 7th best selling book was the Wizard of Oz adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young; their number 10 book was Marvel Adventures Iron Man by Fred Van Lente, two more hits for the all-ages crowd.

The market for original literary comics has been pretty hit or miss, alas. (We’re also saddened by the great Urasawa’s non appearance in Viz’s numbers.) But hopefully some of the young readers who are buying these comics adaptations will grow up into adventurous comics readers and the market will continue to grow, on paper and on iPad.

Okay, that’s our first impression….what did YOU think?

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Comments

  1. My impression? That Dave Gibbons and Alan Moor could probably buyout DC comics from TimeWarner with their Watchmen royalties by now.

  2. Nate Horn says:

    “Once and for all, can we send the idea that the industry isn’t training a new generation of readers off to the glue factory?”

    I don’t think anyone’s ever argued that and if they have, they’ve probably had a lobotomy. I think the argument has always been the superhero publishers haven’t been tapping into the new generation of readers and they have no idea how to.

    Can we send the idea that superhero comics are “mainstream” off to the glue factory? Because the best selling books, yet again, aren’t superhero comics. The best selling comics are comics that most “direct market” stores not only don’t sell, but refuse to sell. (And yes, Mr. Hibbs, I’m sure a handful of direct market stores do sell Dork Diaries and Naruto, but it has to be such a small number as to be irrelevant.)

  3. 1) Marvel’s best seller is #67, Dark Tower. Followed by #129, Halo Uprising. Odds are Disney will fold Marvel bookstore distribution into the Hyperion/HarperCollins distribution scheme.

    2) Darwyn Cooke’s Hunter novel charts at #561 (4967), after a lot of publicity and critical acclaim. How do the normal Parker novels sell? Did his fans know of this book? (Their long tail is excellent.)

    3) DC seems to have been successful with their hardcover releases.

    4) Scholastic Graphix… A great line of titles! (Smile! Copper! Bone!) Hardcover and paperback editions. Great sales force, great website, and they own the direct market of school book clubs and book fairs.

    5) No Fantagraphics? No Boom? No Dynamite? I wonder what their long tail data looks like?

  4. Dave Ziegler says:

    At the risk of sounding ignorant, I’m not familiar with the term “long tail”. What does that mean?

    Thanks…

  5. Nate:

    “(And yes, Mr. Hibbs, I’m sure a handful of direct market stores do sell Dork Diaries and Naruto, but it has to be such a small number as to be irrelevant.)”

    Well, Naruto IS within the DM Top 100 for the year — http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2009.html — so it isn’t an irrelevant number, but I’ll grant you Dork Diaries.

    Dave Z:

    “At the risk of sounding ignorant, I’m not familiar with the term “long tail”. What does that mean?”

    It is actually linked the very first time I use the phrase in the column — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Tail — which can cleanly describe it better than I can..

    -B

  6. Tommy Raiko says:

    “At the risk of sounding ignorant, I’m not familiar with the term ‘long tail’. What does that mean?”

    It’s a sales concept/buzzword describing the phenomenon of selling small quantities of many different items to lots of different customers (as opposed to selling a large quantity of only some items.)

    The name’s taken from the shape of the sales graph that shows the phenomenon.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Tail

    In this case, it sounds as if we’re using “The Long Tail” to talk about the sales of the comparatively vast numbers of books that a publisher publishes that aren’t among its bestsellers.

  7. Synsidar says:

    Sean T. Collins’ interview with Brevoort is illuminating on the topic of marketing:

    But the market we have is the market we have, and has been for decades now—it’s the marketplace we made, and it’s a very Darwinistic beast.

    In the interview, he doesn’t demonstrate any ability to break down the comics market into income, age, sex, general reading interests, or other demographic segments. There’s just the market, and the market will decide whether a publication sells well or doesn’t. Perhaps that was due to the superhero comics context of the interview — possibly he’s more of a numbers cruncher at his desk — but he gave no signs of interest in producing comics aimed at specific populations. That’s the concern of other guys, whoever they might be.

    SRS

  8. Naruto might as well be a super hero comic. They don’t wear spandex, but that’s about the only difference really.

  9. In the case of Marvel, it seems that their long-tail has atrophied. While the head maintains a large market share in periodical comics, the fanboy tapeworm prevents the body from growing, infecting the body and eventually causing cysticercosis in the corporate brain. The easiest way to diagnose tapeworm? Look at the shit being produced.

    In Darwinian terms, Marvel is happy to swing in the jungles of Madagascar while other hominids are walking around the savanna of Africa.

  10. Alan Coil says:

    “(Their long tail is excellent.)”

    Unfortunately, I seem to have been shortchanged in the ‘long tail’ department.

  11. Sawchuk says:

    If Brian Hibbs said the sky was falling, would Torsten Adair hide under the awning of his Barnes & Noble, spouting nonsense?

    I must admit that reading these things is fascinating, but people seem to gloss over the flaws (using the same assumptions about percentage of business as he did in 2004, only looking at one list) and not using common sense.

    He has a list of 750 titles. From ONE week, the last week, but it is from ONE week. That is like saying the best movies all year are the ones still in the theaters on 12/31. Or that the last NYT list of the year is the Year’s Best. Or the last Top 100 Comics For December is reflective of the full year. Books, like all media, have life cycles that are parabolic, and may not be #1 on Day 1 or #1 on Day 365 but can perform so well in between that they would be a top seller at the end of the year. It is a fundamental error. And the thing is, it is right there in his article but people aren’t reading those paragraphs. There were over 10,000 unique titles sold in the graphic novel category in 2009. And we’re extrapolating bsaed on the top 750? What?

  12. Synsidar says:

    DORK DIARIES

    Above is am excerpt from DORK DIARIES, the #2 item on Hibbs’ list at 68,657 copies sold in 2009. The book might not be comics in a pure form, but — go where the market is.

    SRS

  13. Synsidar says:

    He has a list of 750 titles. From ONE week, the last week, but it is from ONE week.

    I believe you’re misinterpreting the text. There were not, for example, 424,814 copies of WATCHMEN sold during the last week of the year. The figure is for 2009.

    SRS

  14. Rich Johnson says:

    I am not surprised by the decline in manga. I am happy that Brian stated that the original manga reader is aging. It’s something I have believed for quite some time. Not that manga will die, or even YA manga, – it just needs to offer material for the older reader. The reader is moving from the YA section to the adult section and finding it a little bare.
    The industry also needs to do something (and I have ideas) to get the young talent in this country who have been influenced by a manga style for the past ten years a place to hone their talent.
    As for Marvel – it is a crime that their books don’t perform better in the bookstore market. DC always had a better backlist program and was always able to keep them in print and in stock over the years. But While Marvel was one of the first to do a great job branding their book – particularly the spines – as Marvel – they have done the same with individual books. For instance last year I was having lunch with a comic book editor and we were discussing the business and we were discussing this very topic. I brought up the book Batman: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (great books) and at the time I said it would be hard to find their Marvel titles in a book store. My friend stated – “Yeah the Loeb/Sale runs were great for the Hulk, Daredevil and Spider-Man.”
    He referred to them not by the name of the book but as a “run”. He knew Long Halloween and Dark Victory by name – but not the Marvel titles…and he is in the business! One reason is that those two books have been in print since the day they came out – no so with the Marvel titles. I just went to Amazon and Spider-Man: Blue is only available through secondary retailers and a few used copies are around. Maybe that’s one of the reason they don’t have more on the list … and they should. They really should.

    Here is a question – If Marvel beats DC in the direct market month-after-month and if you only look at similar titles – like the Loeb/Sale books – why are they beaten by DC in book format?

  15. Tommy Raiko says:

    “He has a list of 750 titles. From ONE week, the last week, but it is from ONE week. That is like saying the best movies all year are the ones still in the theaters on 12/31.”

    In fairness to Hibbs, that no longer seems to be the case. In this article, he does make a point of saying:

    “For the last four years, what I’ve been given is the actual end-of-the-year total report, as opposed to 2003-2005 where I only had the report for the last week of the year.”

    That does mean that comparing data from recent years (where he has fuller data) to earlier ones (where he doesn’t) is probably not useful, but he makes a point out of pointing that out as well…

  16. Sawchuk says:

    I know his data is for the full year, however, it is still the 750 titles in a category that has over 10,000 books that sold in 2009. 10,000. He has 750. Full year data or not, he still has 750 out of 10,000.

  17. Synsidar says:

    The data is meaningful in terms of what the bookbuyers find most enjoyable. Public libraries routinely post bestseller lists at their circulation desks because patrons want to know what the new and bestselling books are. The “10,000 titles published” figure is meaningful to an industry analyst, but not to a buyer who’s looking for a book by a particular author or artist, or about a particular subject or character. The readership on a mass basis is pretty predictable.

    SRS

  18. Tommy Raiko says:

    “I know his data is for the full year, however, it is still the 750 titles in a category that has over 10,000 books that sold in 2009. 10,000. He has 750. Full year data or not, he still has 750 out of 10,000.”

    In this piece, Hibbs writes:

    “Also of major note is that for 2007 to 2009, I have the full and entire BookScan listing, down to books that have only one copy sold YTD. However, I’m not going to provide that entire list because that’s too much data, even for a data-junkie like myself. I’ve cut the list off at 750 items because that’s what we’ve reported in the previous six years. Still, I have the deeper data, and I’ll summarize it as we go along.”

    So, apparently, he does have the more complete list–at least for recent years–but has just decided to present raw data for the top 750. Which is certainly an arbitrary cut-off point, but anywhere he choses to cut it off is going to be an arbitrary place. It’d be nice to see the rest of the data, I admit, absolutely. (And, as Heidi observes, this whole thing is technically a leak, so I can understand his not wanting to tempt fate by posting the entire list he’s acquired.)

    Even if he doesn’t provide the raw data for the on-past-the-top-750 titles, Hibbs at least seems to try to address the notion of the rest of the list in his various “Long Tail” observations throughout the piece.

  19. Sawchuk, you’re off by half: there’s an actual chart there with the gross summary of the Long Tail data — 19,692 discrete titles.

    I also specifically say:

    “It might also be worth underlining that the “Long Tail” is roughly the same size as the best-selling 750 titles – those best-selling 750 titles sell about as many copies and dollars as the 18,942 items below them.”

    It takes me 6 weeks to arrange, analyze, and report on what I’m doing as it is — to write anything meaningful about individual books selling under about ~3900 copies is not something that I’m likely to do, except in certain highly specific cases, not without a massive massive pay raise at least! I make under $5/hr writing the BookScan reports!

    By limiting it to the Top 750, I am reporting on “the Top Half” of the market — and I’m providing gross Long Tail performance of ANY publisher placing 5 or more titles in the Top 750. That’s about the limit of what I’m capable of doing, sorry.

    -B

  20. There’s a bit more to long tail concept.

    The long tail is also about something new perking interest in an old product/back list. The classic example from the original article was two books on mountain climbing – “Touching the Void” became popular and caused people to find the older “Into Thin Air.” Part of this was facilitated through Amazon’s “Customers who bought this, also bought:” feature.

    So a pure long tail play would be people seeing Watchmen the movie (or hearing about it) and picking up Watchmen the comic, V for Vendetta, LOEG, etc.

  21. michael says:

    good for the second book, this makes me happy. finally, some new blood.

    as for Bone selling big because of kids….I think that’s wrong. if anything, the (old) fanboys love Bone as much as anything I’ve ever seen. Sure, some may be buying it for their kids and library collections, etc., but for the most part, it’s still adults who love that series.

  22. Dan Felty says:

    Publishers’ Weekly reports that Crumb’s Genesis has sold 120,000 copies, but Bookscan only reports 62,442 sales. What accounts for the discrepancy? What does that indicate? I doubt 60k copies were sold in the direct market.

  23. Pedro Bouça says:

    “I am not surprised by the decline in manga. I am happy that Brian stated that the original manga reader is aging. It’s something I have believed for quite some time. Not that manga will die, or even YA manga, – it just needs to offer material for the older reader. The reader is moving from the YA section to the adult section and finding it a little bare.”

    That’s no so obvious, Rich. The more adult manga (do note that I’m not talking about porn or anything, just manga done for adult audiences) sells a very small fraction of the teen stuff. Look for the examples on Hibbs’ list.

    The same problem happens in France, where manga has been on the mainstream for much longer than on the US, so it’s not so easy. Remembr that on Japan itself the manga boom happened on the late 40s/early 50s, but it took over 20 years for adult manga to get established.

    Best,
    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

  24. Tommy Raiko says:

    “Publishers’ Weekly reports that Crumb’s Genesis has sold 120,000 copies, but Bookscan only reports 62,442 sales. What accounts for the discrepancy?”

    A few thoughts:

    1) Bookscan tracks actual sales by retailers to individual consumer customers. The publisher’s statement to PW seems unclear to me as to what they mean by “sales.” They might be talking about the number of copies the publisher sold into their various book retailer/wholesaler customers, which isn’t the same thing as sales to end consumers.

    2) Bookscan doesn’t track sales made in the direct sales comics market, but it also doesn’t track sales made directly to libraries or schools, or sales in Wal-Mart, nor sales to Christian bookstores / church markets, or sales made in export markets. (I don’t imagine that Wal-Mart would be a big factor for this book, but I can imagine that libraries, religious booksellers, and export sales might combine to be non-trivial for this one.)

  25. Scott Robins says:

    Michael – sorry, you are just wrong about Bone. Kids are buying these books in droves. Libraries are buying multiple copies for their CHILDREN’S collections. I saw first hand the sales of Bone on Scholastic Book Clubs. I see kids reading these books everywhere. I went to a signing with Jeff Smith up here in Canada and guess what…80% of the people in line were KIDS. Bone is definitely finding a huge amount of new fans in kids.

  26. Dan Felty: Crumb’s Genesis book is also a big seller in Europe before the European editions came out

  27. Torsten Adair says:

    When I worked at the bookstore, kids would buy the latest volume from Scholastic, then buy the omnibus from Cartoon Books because they did not want to wait for the next volume.

    Scholastic Bone is sold in the kid’s department at B&N. Everything else Bone is sold in Graphic Novels. Sold by Scholastic, which is the largest publisher of children’s books in the U.S. They have bookstore accounts, DM accounts, libraries, book clubs, and book fairs. Yes, there are older fans buying these books (I buy the hardcovers) but these older fans are also reading and gifting these books to children.

    As for what Brian Hibbs say, I compare it what I see and know. The sky is falling? How fast? How big are the chunks? Or is just a meteor shower?

    Marvel has a great brand, but the only superhero titles that sell are the licensed titles from other publishers. (DK, Chronicle) Which suggests that Marvel needs to market their books better to bookstores. They have a great selection of Iron Man titles this summer, yet I doubt they will come near DC’s Dark Knight success. (Take a look at the NY Times BS GN lists. Compare Marvel to DC to everyone else.)

  28. one of the problems
    with bookscan is this (this will explain the Book Of Genesis)

    i work for a news agency that distributes trades , etc
    to many types of stores
    even Borders and B&N use us for restocks

    we use an unique barcode for all items
    so when a store scans our items
    they can figure the distribution source for the book
    Bookscan does NOT recognize our barcode in their system
    the customers recipt will read right
    but it will have a small * or something similar
    bookscan treats our sale as a General Book purchase

    also i think everyone on here would be surprised how many grocery stores , drug stores , toy stores , newsstand , Targets , Wall-Marts, etc add up.

    stores may only sell one’s and two’s of a book
    but you multiply this by X 1,000’s of stores
    this quickly adds up to quite a bit
    of unreported sales
    add in our unreported sales in book stores

    and our medium size Mid-Atlantic News Agency
    may end up selling 3,000+ pcs of a title that are never reported

  29. Synsidar says:

    Last July, Todd Allen wrote a PWCW article on the numbers for graphic novels purchased by libraries. Those purchases wouldn’t be included in BookScan totals. An excerpt:

    For instance, in April 2009, Baker & Taylor sold 12,791 paperback graphic novels into the library market. The top 15 titles averaged 511 copies each and the leading category for these top 15 books (with 5 ISBNs) was Juvenile Fiction/Manga. That probably won’t come as a surprise to a lot of people.

    On the hardcover side, Baker & Taylor sold 1274 graphic novels into the library market, with the top 15 averaging 60 copies each. The most popular category for the top 15 books (with 4 ISBNs) was Superheroes, filed under adult.

    Jamie told me that the paperbacks skew towards the juvenile fiction section and the hardcovers skew towards adult. As you can see from the above, the paperback market dominates in drastic fashion with hardcovers only achieving 10% of paperback sales in April. Upon consideration, a certain logic would account for this. Who puts out the most hardcover graphic novels on a regular basis? Marvel. DC will occasionally pop in with an original graphic novel or an Absolute edition, but Marvel’s tendency to follow a traditional publisher’s hardcover/ paperback rotation could account for the superhero dominance in hardcovers.

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