Comics periodical sales decline for 7th month in a row

ICv2’s monthly sales charts for August are out, and while the 43,000+ copies of WATCHMEN sold is a fantastic number that dwarfs all expectations, it’s the seventh month in a row of declining periodical sales that everyone will be talking about:

Sales of periodical comics by Diamond Comic Distributors declined again in August, the seventh consecutive month of declines. The 9% drop (based on sales to comic stores of the Top 300 comics) was the third largest drop since a two year climb in comic sales ended last September. Although it was relatively easy to explain declines earlier this year based on tough comparables against Civil War and its spin-off titles in the corresponding months in 2007, the competition a year ago was less powerful in August, with World War Hulk the major Marvel event in August 2007.

More:
Top 300 Comics Actual–August 2008.
Top 100 Graphic Novels Actual–August 2008.

Comments

  1. Lawson says:

    Well … I can’t say I’m surprised to see comics sales steadily drop.

    I’m one of those grouchy old fanboys (mid-30s) who lost his taste for DC and Marvel superhero comics a few years ago, around the time everyone started getting raped, maimed, diagnosed with AIDS and blown up or shot to death.

    Aside from the ridiculous grim-and-grittiness that sucks the fun out of the escapism, the Big Two publishers’ constant Major Event Crossover Projects — SECRET CRISIS INFINITE CRISIS WAR CRISIS — demanded that we spend $50 a month following their entire line of comics.

    I found it easier instead to drop nearly everything from my weekly pull list and focus on trades and graphic novels, preferably independent stuff and ideally sold for cheap prices at used bookstores.

    I voted with my feet. Looks like a lot of people are joining me.

  2. Yeah… for me it is the cover price. There are a lot of good stories and a lot of great art in the periodicals, but I can’t afford the cover charge. If they cut the price by $1, well, maybe. Comics aren’t supposed to be a luxury item. They are supposed to be a disposable item, kept only for nostalgia, which may have great value to one person, but no value at all to anyone else. Isn’t that why Larry Young says back issues are only worth 50 cents A POUND?

    I don’t know, maybe I got that last bit wrong. Dean Trippe explains it better than I can.

  3. I just order the ones that I am interested in 2 months ahead of their printing date. Best I can do. And purchasing the catalog costs me $4.50. ok, done.

  4. Alan Coil says:

    Gasoline and food…or…comic books?

    Easy decision for most.

  5. Lawson says:

    The $3 to $4 cover price would be less outrageous if most stories weren’t needlessly stretched over six to 12 issues. (“Next month: Our hero scratches his left armpit and has a conversation with his sidekick!”)

    As it stands, however, we’re asked to invest $18 or more to get a complete story — to say nothing of struggling to remember every 30 days what was going on in CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS when last we read it. And that’s assuming the comic ships on time, which happens less and less often. We might wait 60 to 90 days between installments because the writer is focusing on a movie script or the artist got a hand cramp.

    Now that I think about it, there are so many ways that the demise of the comics industry is self-inflicted and truly deserved.

  6. StrongWall says:

    Here’s hoping the numbers keep sliding. I’m an angry fanboy priced-out by the comics industry. $3.99 for a comic? Are you kidding me?! The industry is in need of such an event to get them to reduce production costs and change the way they distribute comics.

    Imagine if Marvel or DC had the guts to say they were no longer selling “floppies” but were only selling digital issues and print trades.

    Just something to think about.

  7. “Comics aren’t supposed to be a luxury item.”

    You said it! A return to cheap newsprint (and a reduced cover price) would get me buying more new floppies.

  8. “The industry is in need of such an event to get them to reduce production costs ”

    How exactly do you think a decrease in sales could help or encourage lower production costs?

    “and change the way they distribute comics. ”

    An alternative to Diamond would be nice, though.

    “Imagine if Marvel or DC had the guts to say they were no longer selling “floppies” but were only selling digital issues and print trades. ”

    That would be an incredibly foolish decision. The wise decision is to have as many delivery methods as possible available to as many people as possible.

    Here’s why I’m not buying as many comics as I used to:

    1. After buying Civil War and not really enjoying it all that much, I decided to read Secret Invasion for free at a later date.

    2. Half of the books I was buying on a monthly basis were cancelled.

    3. I’ve skipped some new series and mini-series which I plan to purchase in the future as a TPB.

    4. I don’t buy Marvel or DC comics anymore since Fraction left Iron Fist and the first Anita Blake mini-series ended.

    5. Some of the comics I buy aren’t on a monthly schedule and the creators are experiencing setbacks (which I am not angry about, unlike some people)

    Here are a few reasons why sales in general are down:

    1. High selling finite series have come to an end and haven’t been replaced by equally high selling books. (Y, The Last Man, All-Star Superman, for example.)

    2. Quite a few books have been cancelled, and new books to replace them are either in the works or absent.

    3. Everybody is buying Watchmen instead of trying new comics. (this is a joke, yet also possibly true)

    4. There is a general shift toward buying TPBs now that a lot of the attention which brought people back to buying comics has died down and there’s no suitable high-interest story/book to take its place. The “must have” aspect of a book like Civil War is missing right now.

    That’s what I think, anyway.

  9. Joe Lawler says:

    “You said it! A return to cheap newsprint (and a reduced cover price) would get me buying more new floppies.”

    Newsprint prices have been skyrocketing. I’ve heard it may be more expensive than the glossy paper now.

  10. Brian Davison says:

    For me, the situation is exceedingly and depressingly formulaic:

    $3.99 cover price + Decompressed Storytelling + Higher Gas & Food Prices + 30% Amazon.com/TalesOfWonder.com Discount On Collected Editions = Certain Death For Monthly Issues

  11. Micah says:

    I blame Marvel Apes.

  12. Actually… DC has already announced February and March publication dates for collections of storylines currently running in the monthly titles (R.I.P., Brainiac). The wait for the trades is now shorter.

  13. This is the way it will continue to go til standard 22-page comics are a thing of the past. If it weren’t for the core fanbase of middle-aged fanboys they would already be gone.
    So thank God for graphic novels, trade paperbacks and the internet.
    The art of comics will survive.
    But comic books will soon be dead.

  14. Alan Coil says:

    Making comics cheaper is not going to increase sales. Profit margins are almost too low now. But the only way to lower the cost of comics is to pay the creators less, and many of them can’t make a living now just doing comics.

    The most common price for a standard comic book from DC and Marvel is $2.99. Many of the comics that are $3.99 and $4.99 have additional pages in them, making the cost per story page roughly the same.

    Waiting for the trade is a viable option for some people, but as long as there are new comics every week, I’ll buy them every week.

  15. rodney Wall says:

    I can’t remember the last time I bought an “issue” of something.

  16. AERose says:

    Jesus, where’s Grant Morrison when you need him. I’m fairly drowning in melodrama.

  17. Price does have something to do with my buying habits, but, in general, I just find that I have almost no use for what the Big Two are selling these days; most of my pull list has switched over to not-terribly-obscure indy. Marvel and I parted ways a few years ago and, though I still have a few DC titles that I buy on a regular basis, they’re mostly the ones always hovering on the verge of cancellation. I’ve got no love for event books or for the sloppy-to-non-existent coordination between the people putting them together, and resent when the events intrude upon storylines that I was enjoying just fine without the distraction, thanks. The “this will change everything forever — we PROMISE this time!” crap usually signals a jumping off point rather than a fun new direction so far as I’m concerned. So I follow writers I like and when their run ends — assuming the hook is enough to catch my interest to begin with — so does my interest in the book.

  18. brett says:

    The price may be a driving factor for many but the awful material being published has more to do with it than the price.

    If its good, people will buy regardless of the price. Just look at the already in print for 25 years Watchmen that sells better than most comics and that’s more expensive. But side by side with that, you have DC and Marvel publishing some of the worst material in the history of the industry.

    You had Joe Quesada practically give the finger to way too many readers and as one retailer said in a recent Newsarama interview: When you do something this drastic, you have too many people who just give up on the hobby altogether.

    For the people who claim Spidey sells better now than it did before, you can only have a success when there is a sales gain. There is no sales gain on Spider Man. The first issue of Brand New Day was close to 100k and now its in the mid 60’s. That’s 40k readers who are no longer buying the book. That’s a lot of readers to piss away and while yes, the industry needs to gain new readers, you don’t do it at the expense of your current bread and butter because in this declining marketplace, the leaders need to value and maintain every reader they can. It’s a fairly easy concept to get but the egos of the people leading the industry are so intense, they can’t see the signs staring them straight dead in the face.

    Why bring up Spider Man and blame him? He’s as iconic and visable as Micky Mouse and his success is integral to the health of the entire industry. You can’t have the trunk of a tree covered in maggots and moss and expect the rest of the branches to grow beautiful leaves. It’s kind of like Merlin said to King Arthur in Excalibur: You and the land are one. Flourish and the land prospers, fall and the land does too. Or something like that.

    People can say no, debate that point from now until doomsday but its not going to change the reality of what is.

  19. brett says:

    And ironically, to further accent my point, if this is the 7th straight month of comics sales declines, isn’t it about 7 months ago that Brand New Day started? People tried it and it began tapering off shortly after. The stink of crap doesn’t usually entice people to buy your product and what Quesada did was pretty crappy. Again, like that retailer said, when something this drastic occurs to piss people off, you have way too many people giving up on the hobby altogether.

    There’s your decline.

  20. Brett, you make a good point about the egos of the people running the industry. Comics are largely sold in comic shops to people who already read comics anyway.

    We, the constant readers, are exposed to so much marketing that is about the creators, rather than about the creations. The new team, the delay, the nex tnew team, the new artiat, and so on.

    We come once again to the question of how to attract new readers. Do we current readers try to find a new reader to bring to the comic store with us? Some believe that’s the best way, to indoctrinate in person. But how is the industry helping us to do that?

    How about a reduced-price “new reader” package? It would contain everything a new reader needs to know about the world of comics. A synopsis of the current “event”, a discount coupon, and such.

  21. Jim Sheridan says:

    What strikes me is that even with the expense of comics and my desire to get something for my cash, a number of Marvel comics offer a full-page summary / title page to start each issue. What a waste of space.

  22. geek goggles says:

    Alan Coil: “Profit margins are almost too low now.”

    Do you have any hard numbers or facts on this statement or are you speculating? Just curious to see what the margin is.

  23. Alan Coil says:

    geek goggles—

    No, I’m not speculating. This is from the written opinions of so many these past few years stating that the amount of profit from a comic book is so small compared to magazines and other items.

    A $3 comic book brings ~$1.50 of raw profit per issue. A $5 magazine brings ~$2.50 of raw profit per issue. A $10 dvd brings ~$5 of raw profit per dvd. That’s assuming that most merchandise is bought by retailers for around 50% of their face value. Many book stores buy books and magazines on a returnable basis for more money per issue, but they return most or all of the excess for credit. This is why many convenience stores and grocery stores no longer carry comic books.

    The profit margin on comic books is too low per comic for may places to even bother selling them any more. This is why there are still so many comic book stores in business. You have top be a specialist in order to have a chance to make money selling comics. It is also why book stores are more interested in selling collected editions. The profit per item is much higher, and handling costs per item are much less, creating more profit after costs are deducted.

  24. Al,

    You make excellent points as well. The trick is getting new readers and when comics are mainly sold in specialty shops, its difficult to reel them in. Kind of like a gaming store or any other niche specialty hobby. How do they reel in new business? By recommendation, a friend tells a friend and so on.

    But when you have companies mainly geering their material towards adults or very young children, it’s hard to find the middle ground for teenagers, who were, the bread and butter of the industry. That coupled with the fact that far too many current readers are displeased by the current output so they’re basically hanging by a string, much less recommending stuff to anyone else.

    It’s kind of like the thing I said with Spider-Man. Spider-Man is the anchor for many, many readers. They began reading comics as teens first by getting into Spidey then branching out to buy and read other stuff. For many, it was the underlying reason to keep buying. When you have Marvel go and pull an insane stunt like they did, like the retailer said, you piss off too many people who give up on the hobby altogether. So now, they’ve not only stopped buying Spidey because they’re disgusted, they gave up on comics altogether, which means they stopped buying all the other comics they were collecting as well.

    There’s been a 40k reader drop in Spidey and if even 1/3 were disgusted enough to give up on the hobby altogether, that’s a whole lot of other comics not being bought, largely contributing to the 7 month decline.

  25. geek goggles says:

    Alan:

    I think I am not getting the terminology you are using.

    Profit margin is generally defined as cost to produce versus total cost to sell.

    You seem to be referencing merchant’s profiting which is more wholesale cost versus retail cost times units sold.

    I was curious if you knew the actual cost to produce a comic. Ultimately that is how a publisher would measure profit margins whereas a store needs only to care about the wholesale price they pay versus the gross revenue they receive from selling them to customers.

  26. Alan Coil says:

    Don’t know the actual cost to produce a comic book.

    The ultimate important profit is the profit a retailer can make from your product. If a retailer has to work 10 hours to make $60 profit, he might not think it is worth his time.

    They also sell Warhammer and other games at my LCS. A box of figures may sell for $40. Using a 50% cost, they made $20 raw profit on the one little box. They would have to sell ~13 comic books to make that same profit, yet they would have to handle 13 items. And the total shelf space for that 1 gaming item is less than 13 different comics.

    More profit per item is one of the reasons why people want to sell other things than comic books.

  27. Sean M says:

    Economy has a great deal to do with it

    I have been collecting for 17 years. I had to give up one of two phone lines, downgrade the speed of my interent, give up on cable except for basic and deinsure one of the two cars. Comics will be next when my current deposit runs out in five months.

    So far I cant say I miss anything I gave up and I am losing weight bking to work.

  28. You’re thinking isn’t off Al, but some of your numbers are.

    Games Workshop, for example, is capped at about 35% off retail. Profit margin sucks, but GW has a huge sales engine that drives their product in that segment.

    Also, most retailers are realizing the 50% off retail only on Marvel/ DC titles. Their overall margin on comics, depending on if they offer bags/boards free, selection of Indies (often capped at around 45%) discounts and their labor costs is pretty much nil.

    Fact is, retailers might be paying the store’s bills with weeklies but they aren’t putting any kids through school on sales of X Men #Whateveritis.

Trackbacks

  1. 7th month of sales decline…

    ICV2 reports that comics sales continue to go down (via The Beat):…

  2. […] This comes on the heels of PW Beat’s previous report that periodical sales have been declining for the 7th month in a row. This is not new news, by the way. Print comic readership has been on a steady decline for a long, long time. I remember reading an interview with Spawn’s Todd McFarlane in the 90’s mentioning that there was nothing that could be done to stop comics’ spin into irrelevancy. (This was before he went full-throttle on his admittedly successful toy business.) Some blame the ghettoization of comics to comic book shops (i.e., the direct market). Others blame the extremely lax publishing schedule as of late, as comics tend to never meet their publication dates. (The theory here is that once the comics get collected in trade paperbacks, no one will care when the single issues came out.) Maybe Mr. McFarlane had a point. But maybe there’s something else at work altogether. What if we’re in the middle of a shift of comics making the leap from one media to another? […]

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