March comics sales down but not out

ICv2’s monthly sales analysis for March went up yesterday, and it was something of a grim milestone:

For the first time since March of 2001, the month that ICv2 began tracking sales of periodical comics through Diamond Comic Book Distributors, no comic sold more than 100,000 copies in March of 2009. While sales of periodical comics were down 7% in dollars for the month, the decline in units sold was greater, considering the rise in cover prices of key titles versus their cost in March, 2008.


In assessing the dollars for the month, ICv2 spins down as “Not bad, considering.”

With the U.S. in the grips of the deepest economic downturn in 80 years, sales of periodical comics and graphic novels were down just 5% in the first quarter of 2009 versus Q1 of 2008. In a quarter that has been described as the “worst retail environment in memory,” as an era when “flat is the new up,” a five percent decline is a drop that most retail sectors in the American economy can only dream about. Sales of periodical comics were down 6% for the quarter, but graphic novel sales were up enough to trim the overall drop in comic and graphic novel sales to just 5%.


Considering that bookstore sales were down 10.8 percent in February, and the wholesale slaughter in magazine and newspaper revenues, comics’ drop does seem petite. But we’re far from out of the desert. Let’s just say that Obama and WATCHMEN were well timed.

More: Top 300 Comics Actual–March 2009
Top 300 Graphic Novels Actual–March 2009

Comments

  1. Comparing the drop in bookstore sales to the drop in comic books is really and apples and oranges type of thing. February’s bookstore sales reflect what was actually sold to consumers while the February comic book sales only show what was ordered by comic book retailers and then delivered in February.

    That doesn’t mean consumers are actually buying the comics, even if they have pull-lists at their local comic shop.

  2. Dave Hackett says:

    I suspect the numbers are off slightly, as a lot of the Marvel titles seem to have bumped up for no discernible reason from February. It’s almost like there’s a 5% or so change in the way ICV2 calculated the numbers.

  3. MBunge says:

    There’s also the physical reality that just as it’s harder for a big audience to grow substantially, it’s harder for a small audience to shrink quickly and dramatically. Stephen King had a great analogy in The Long Walk when he wrote about crackers in a sifter. The little crumbs fall through quickly, but it takes a long time for the big pieces to break apart and follow. The comic audience is in the “breaking down the big crackers” phase.

    Mike

  4. Alan Coil says:

    I think the numbers are off because there was a downturn in the price of tea in China.

  5. “The February comic book sales only show what was ordered by comic book retailers and then delivered in February.”

    This is why I can never understand the big deal over these monthly comic book sales figures. If it’s based on orders, and, say, the 20 issue order of Booster Gold for this month sells only 5 copies and 15 remain on the shelf for long after the month has passed, how can any of us possibly find these monthly comic book sales acceptable? And then people leap to its defense and say it’s as close to accuracy as it can get. But they’re still not accurate sales figures. Oh, I get it, they’re SALES figures based on ORDERING figures. Y’know, I stared real hard at that new issue of Booster Gold on the shelf at the comic book shop yesterday. They might even have ordered it based on my ordering issues of the title in the past. But I didn’t buy the new issue. Couldn’t afford it this month. But there it sits on the shelf. SOLD! Another triumph for accuracy.

  6. Well, that’s the point of looking at the trends, Jim. If the retailers can’t shift the book, they’ll stop ordering so many copies.

  7. Yeah, I think the lag in this type of report makes it difficult to claim the we are really doing that much better than the rest of the retail world – we’re just more in the dark than Target or Best Buy are.

  8. Dave, I’m working through the March numbers right now, and I don’t see this anomaly.

  9. Paul, I understand that the monthly “sales charts” is invaluable when it comes to looking at trends or unexpected interest, and the retailers order accordingly. My thing — my annoyance with it all for lack of a better description — is that there’s this perception amongst, well, everybody, I guess, that it is some kind of accurate barometer of SALES. Akin to like, well, hey, Superman #so and so SOLD OUT at the publisher. Really? WOW! Okay, what does that mean in regard to sales?

    Look, I’ll concede the chart is fun to look at on a monthly basis. Hey, Justice League of America is holding on. Scalped is doing better. Uh oh, I think Green Arrow and Black Canary is in trouble. But this isn’t the Billboard charts. When U2 sells 484,000 copies of its new album, that, according to SoundScan, is what it sold. It’s not based on anything else.

    If Green Lantern Corps suddenly/surprisingly sells out of any given issue, and there are second and third printings of that particular issue, is that reflected further down the line based on orders, or on actual issues sold? I don’t know, maybe it’s me, maybe I’m asking too much. Reading the last 100 Bullets is so much more fun.

  10. The chart includes re-orders and subsequent printings, although obviously in many cases they’ll only show up the next month.

  11. My transaction numbers (this counts how many transactions I did per store) for my stores are actually up. The problem is the lack of the amount of product people are purchasing per transaction. So granted, while my Hardcover and Softcover trade numbers are fine, it’s the lack of floppies per transaction that has me concerned. The delay of the Gaiman/Kubert Batman didn’t help. Sales on Mighty Avengers, in my stores, have dropped since the new team came on board. However the Battle of the Cowl books are all selling nicely and I can’t keep Dark Avengers on the racks at all. Justice League is in meltdown mode like the Mighty Avengers in sales here, but Justice Society and Flash Rebirth blow out as does Walking Dead and anything Kirkman related. The Dark Reign (Elektra, Hawkeye) have all sold well. So there *is* stuff out there for people to buy, just not enough like there was last year at this time.

  12. You obviously put a lot of time and effort into compiling these charts, Paul, and I do appreciate that; truthfully, I’m venting because I wish comics had something in regard to exact sales like the music industry has, with no ifs, ands, or buts to it. That, and I wish Scalped sold better.

  13. Alan Coil says:

    The numbers in these charts ARE the number of comics sold–sold to the LCS, which does not get to return them. They are permanently sold. If the LCS can only sell 15 out of 20 ordered copies, they will then reduce the number they sell the next month. That is why most series show continued drops from month to month, at least until the next nega-crossover boosts sales again.

  14. Dennis V. says:

    Dave Hackett wrote: “It’s almost like there’s a 5% or so change in the way ICV2 calculated the numbers.”

    The numbers for March were calculated the same way as always.

  15. Dennis V. says:

    Jim Kingsman wrote: “…how can any of us possibly find these monthly comic book sales acceptable? And then people leap to its defense and say it’s as close to accuracy as it can get. But they’re still not accurate sales figures. Oh, I get it, they’re SALES figures based on ORDERING figures.”

    Not so sure why you are so convinced people are misusing these numbers. They are what they are — monthly initial orders (and as mentioned above, some reorders and reprints) by comic book shops. No where do they claim to be sell through numbers and I think the majority of people understand this. I just wonder why certain people, who seem to have continual problems with the monthly sales charts, just love to keep on saying otherwise?

  16. To be fair, it seems to confuse newcomers from time to time, no doubt because they’re used to music and book charts based on sell-through, so it’s worth reiterating.

    I’ve now gone through the March sales and I can see no sign of a 5% anomaly on the Marvel books. Most titles are either sticking to existing trends, or have an obvious reason to depart from them, such as variant covers. There are two low-selling minis where sales unexpectedly increased by a few hundred for no apparent reason, but this doesn’t suggest a general glitch.

  17. Alan Coil wrote: “If the LCS can only sell 15 out of 20 ordered copies, they will then reduce the number they sell the next month.

    Not necessarily. With the advent of gimmick variant covers, many comic book retailers are ordering a lot more of some titles than they actually need just so they can get the special 1:50 or a 1:75 variant cover to put on eBay.

    A couple of years ago, I was at a comic book convention and saw one dealer selling (at least he was trying to sell) copies of Civil War #7 for a dollar each. He had an entire long box full of them. Here was the supposed top-selling comic of February 2007 just collecting dust in a dollar bin only a few months after being published.

    Clearly this retailer ordered a lot more copies than what he or she actually needed.

  18. The following quote is from a news report published over at NEWSARAMA. I have capitalized two words for emphasis:

    “Diamond Comics Distributors released their preliminary Top 10 SALES charts and publisher Market Share report for products that went on sale in the comic book Direct Market in March 2009 and it’s ‘Dark’ days for the industry…

    No, we don’t yet have data on what sort of overall month it was against historical sales averages … it means Marvel’s “Dark Reign” storyline continues to dominate the comic book SALES charts.”

    This news report does not state anything about sales based on orders from retaliers. It doesn’t differentiate between retailer and consumer. It just states “SALES CHARTS,” twice. I realize it’s more complicated than that, and I understand that there are different ways to look at these charts. But this particular news report (and I also understand that other news reports go into more detail) is what it is, and a first-time reader will see it as an actual sales chart, while the rest of us in the know must understand that what is being reported is something more than what’s been reported.

    Honest, I don’t lose sleep over this, and I’m not trying to discredit the chart and the purpose it serves. I don’t even want to pick a fight! It’s just something that annoys me.

  19. I hear what you’re saying, Jim. The unusual thing with the distributor figures is that for much of the history of people writing about them, the only people in the audience were people who already knew that Diamond does not sell to consumers, and so the only possible kind of sales it can report are sales to retailers. So you wouldn’t see “sales to retailers” mentioned in Internal Correspondence, Dialogue, or Comics Retailer, or wherever. It was assumed the audience knew. You couldn’t GET some of those magazines if you weren’t a retailer.

    And so once these kinds of reports moved online, they’d had a history of being esoteric, inside information. I think it took a while for non-civilians to begin paying attention to them — and for those of us writing about them to realize they were out there.

    So I’ve been layering more specifics since I went to writing online about these things several years ago — my charts specifically say “Estimated Comics Sold to North American Comics Shops as Reported by Diamond Comic Distributors” — but there’s no way to assure that everyone who quotes them will pick that up, and it’s a lot to put into a blog subject line. I think sites are providing the caveats more often than they were, but I think the newcomer will always have some chance for confusion.

    But when you think about it, CNN runs the Dow average on the screen all day without explaining what it is, so newcomers at anything face a learning curve. :-)

  20. Dave Hackett says:

    Sorry for the confusion. My bad. I got data mixed up when pulling it down.

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