Let’s all talk about Sales Charts

Various talk about various charts and actual figures. You know the drill. Brian Wood posts his actual sales figures for some of his graphic novels in this Standard Attrition thread:

Aug 4th: Northlanders Vol 2 is released, with direct market orders of: 4,287 copies.

Sep 30th: My royalty sheet is tallied up and the total sales for the book as of that date is: 9,073 copies.


Also:

Northlanders vol. 1: 18783
DMZ vol. 2: 34,077
DMZ vol. 1: 57,515

Those numbers don’t include the foreign editions. DMZ is published in six languages other than English, up to the fifth volume in some of them.


Those are pretty impressive sales figures, and gives you some idea why the serialization-to-trade model still works for Vertigo even when the initial sales are low. Marc-Oliver Frisch and Wood get into this a little here.

§ The Nate Silver of comics, John Jackson Miller, looks at November sales and makes all kind of extremely educated observations — including the fact that direct market sales for 2009 will be down slightly from 2008 — but only slightly. In This Economy — and with the freefall of bookstores and magazines — this is pretty good news overall.

While the direct market is close to flat for the year versus 2008, it is up 32% versus 2004. What’s the role of inflation? The Consumer Price Index has increased 14.5% since 2004, meaning that either we’re selling more units in aggregate, or the average item sold is more expensive by a rate far exceeding inflation. Top 300 Comics unit sales are, as noted above, up 1% year to date versus the same period in 2004, whereas the dollar value of those comics is up 21%. The price of the average comic book retailers sold in 2009 is $3.42, as compared with $2.86 in 2004. That’s an increase of 19.5%. So it’s true that inflation is contributing to part of that increase — but not all. Increased trade paperback sales account for the rest of the jump versus 2004.

§ This is an old link, but we kept meaning to post it and finally have time to give it a bit of context. Graphic Novel Reporter posts The Independent Bookstore Comics and Graphic Works Bestseller List for November 2009. And this is interesting WHY? Well, indie bookstores have long been seen as a new sales frontier for graphic novels (contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, they haven’t been that big on comics until very recently) and looking at what sells in these shops gives some idea of what the habitual book buyer buys when they buy graphic novels.

1. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb
2. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth
3. The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks
4. Watchmen
5. Naruto, Volume 46
6. Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection
7. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation
8. A People’s History of American Empire: A Graphic Adaptation
9. What It Is
10. The Adventures of TinTin in the Land of the Soviets


This is a somewhat different product mix than one sees in either BookScan or Diamond, and shows why this is an area of further growth potential.

Comments

  1. Yup… the Indy bookstore list has parallels with what I’ve been seeing on the BN.com rankings. Manga hasn’t been charting very high (except for the American titles from Del Rey), but Genesis has been charting in the Top 100 of all titles on BN.com frequently. Good luck finding a copy of Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide in a comics shop, even though Zombie titles are proliferating in the Direct Market.

    As for Watchmen, DC sent a free copy to every Random House account which did not actively sell graphic novels. They included a sales letter mentioning the movie and describing the GN, so that seems to have worked. Of course, once one graphic novel starts selling, it appears on sales reports, the staff becomes more knowledgeable, and it is becomes easier for sales reps to sell new titles.

    Hmm… is Twombly’s Zombie book a graphic novel? An illustrated story? Perhaps a hybrid in the way that “Gnomes” was?

  2. Mikael says:

    Preach on Brother Brian. “Reporting” on sales numbers – on numbers that are inaccurate and incomplete – is foolish. This is where the counterarguments begin with “but they show trends”. No they don’t. If the numbers are incomplete they are INCOMPLETE. Duh. They have nothing to do with readers, nothing to do with comic book buyers and all to do with retailer orderings. Direct market retailing orderings. Oh – but not in other countries. And not bookmarkets. The only people who find these statistics interesting are number crunchers who never put their findings to any practical use.

  3. The numbers report what Diamond says they report, Mikael — what Diamond sold. Since Diamond sold 85% of the comic books and something on the order of 40-45% of the trades by dollar volume last year — and is the exclusive supplier for much of that material to comics shops — its sales are worth tracking.

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average doesn’t track all economic activity in the stock market, either — but it does track what it says it tracks, and it is a meaningful enough indicator that people look to it. No one should follow only that indicator, and neither should we in comics follow only the direct market figures. I post on a raft of them myself. But when comics shops continue to account for more than half the industry’s dollar sales in North America, having this particularly detailed barometer of their health is of interest to many.

  4. Mikael:

    “… on numbers that are inaccurate and incomplete …”

    That’s a common misconception. The Diamond numbers and the estimates based thereupon are neither inaccurate in all but a technical sense (being estimates) nor incomplete.

    They measure precisely what they’re supposed to.

    What that is, I think the majority of people who are interested in the subject know by now. For those who don’t yet, it’s easy enough to find out by reading the disclaimers that all of the articles disseminating the information include and link to.

  5. Mikael says:

    Did I call it or what? The number crunchers come out to make excuses for the numbers instead of owning up that they are incomplete. “They report what they say they report” – right, incomplete overall sales. It’s okay – we know these numbers mean nothing and Brian Wood continues to prove that.

    To Marc – people do not know what these numbers are, because how many times do people say – “Wow, Blue Beetle #459 sold 200,000 units – I didn’t know there were still 200,000 readers behind the book”. Get it?

    Let’s make a 2010 resolution – start putting your number crunching into practical use. Start calling Diamond for more accurate numbers (because you know they have them) – start calling retailers to see how the numbers relate to their stores by region/by city-size/etc. Get out from behind the computer and do some leg-work.

  6. As Brian and I have discussed, there are areas we would love to see reported more fully, and as more information has become available, it’s been passed along.

    But let’s not forget who the intended customers really ARE for the Diamond charts: comics shop owners, who want to know what other shops like theirs are selling. It’s why these charts were invented; it’s why Milton Griepp came up with the Order Index Numbers. If we knew exactly what was selling everywhere in the world, we’d report it — but we’d STILL report the Diamond data. It’s why you’ve got both a national and a local weather radar — both have useful information, but one’s more detailed, and more immediately relevant.

    As for the accuracy of Diamond’s numbers, I’ve gotten internal publisher data every month for the 14 years I’ve done this. (How do you think the Diamond estimates are generated, after all?) They demonstrate that Diamond’s Top 300 lists are indeed reporting what they say they report — what Diamond sold of their comics. Milton and others have found the same thing. You’re welcome to replicate the results on your own: all you need are publishers equaling a statistically significant sample to provide you their reports of what Diamond shipped, and you’ll know what Diamond shipped for everybody.

    The accuracy of the measure is not really in doubt; saying it’s not the measure to be looking at is, indeed, open to debate, because it depends on what you’re trying to show. Sales on a monthly super-hero comic book? Diamond’s your answer. Sales on a Vertigo trade or an Archie digest? Diamond’s only a small piece. I trust readers to look at the fine print and decide for themselves based on their needs.

  7. Synsidar says:

    It’s unfortunate that the readership for superhero comics is so inelastic. That makes the trends predictable, and the reasons for increases (e.g., event tie-ins) predictable as well. I’d guess that the maximum yearly circulations for the superhero titles for the past ten years, at least, are very close to each other.

    If comics were more closely tied to TV and movies, figures could reflect cross-promotional efforts, and compare the ratings of TV series to series circulation over time. One thing to consider re OGNs is that publishers could tie them to other media, whether the other media were movies, TV series, or cartoons. The cross-promotion would compensate for the absence of monthly issues. It didn’t take me long, though, to find that Brian Hibbs was right about cash flow being a major concern at book publishers.

    SRS

  8. I have a new post and table that looks at the comics shop orders across the decade, highly accenting the superhero books and events — http://bit.ly/8TwV3s — that does show a little about where the ceiling is and how it has changed across time; it’s not in aggregate, though.

  9. Mikael says:

    “Sales on a monthly super-hero comic book? Diamond’s your answer.”

    So those numbers include subscriptions? Comics sold at bookstores? Diamond UK? I know they don’t include Diamond UK and bookstores – I’d be curious to hear if they cover subs. Either way, no, you can’t tell accurate sales on a monthly super-hero comic book if it’s only counting North American sales.

    It’s a game of cross this line you die, no this line, no this line, no this line…

  10. I said at the top: Diamond sells around 85% of the comic books. Subscriptions in North America are a small sideline, as they have ever been — averaging a couple of percent for the titles that still offer them, and that list is shrinking. Periodical comics sold at bookstores are part of the returnable system that accounts for a likewise dwindling, chunk of the sales for the titles that still have that distribution; again, Diamond, as I say, handles something like six copies out of seven in the direct market.

    Diamond’s UK sales are known as I have that information from many publishers; UK comics shops add about 10% to sales. I regularly mention the UK sales in my monthly report — in November 2009, Diamond sold $34.95 million worth of comics and trades, $38.9 million with UK — but I don’t delve any further into it, because my bailiwick is the North American market. Sales in other markets certainly may be useful to know for many purposes, which is why I link to places that specialize in them.

    Again, it all depends on what you say you’re reporting in whatever table you’re running. The mission of the monthly direct market tables section of my site is reporting what North American comics shops sold, individually and in aggregate — for comparison against the same aggregate measures across history. A separate section, delves into overall sales, and does take in newsstand and subscription sales; though that data is only available in yearly and not monthly format, and only includes specific publishers. It is both more and less complete at the same time; this is the way of it with comics sales data from publishers and distributors. None of the reports are trying to do the same thing, and so they don’t quite interlock.

    So if you’re looking for a clearing-house that lists everything everyone sold of everything, well, so am I. Like Brian, I get royalty statements from the publishers I work with; they vary widely in how much detail is available on what sold in what markets, so even if you somehow formed a bank of those, you wouldn’t get far. They’re interesting, for telling you what else is out there to hunt down — but they’re not the trick on their own. Audit Bureau information is complete on some things but leaves out a wide swath of the market’s offerings; Bookscan is complete about its own specific grouping, but again leaves out a chunk.

    If hard data sources open up on some of these other fronts, I’m certainly not averse to trying to knit various datasets together… if enough of it became available to make it more than a marginal addition. After all, this started for me 14 years ago when Marvel was self-distributing and I began an effort to restore unified monthly sales charts to the business. It can be done, but it helps to have the data in piles that can be reconciled. Merging Diamond monthly reports and other resources’ weekly reports gets complicated, for example, especially if title names have to be normalized for lack of UPC and ISBN codes in the raw data. I don’t have the solution, as they say, but I certainly admire the problem.

    But even with the One List To Rule Them All — yes, we who watch the direct market would still want the direct market charts. They are, as stated, our local weather report, and very directly tied to the track of the fortunes of the industry.

  11. Mikael:

    “To Marc – people do not know what these numbers are, because how many times do people say – “Wow, Blue Beetle #459 sold 200,000 units – I didn’t know there were still 200,000 readers behind the book”. Get it?”

    No, I don’t.

    I can’t stop people from ignoring the text next to the figures. By what standard is that a valid reason not to disseminate information, though?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Beat has a interesting look at various sales chart related things.  It helped shed some light on something I have been wondering as well as helping to illustrate some of the differences in the costumers between comic shops and book shops. [...]

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