More on comics sales charts

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While we know readers love our comparative sales charts compiled monthly by Paul O’Brien and Marc-Oliver Frisch, we also know not everyone is a fan.

Several professionals have suggested in the comments section and elsewhere that the charts are a self fulfilling prophecy: retailers see a comic sliding down the charts, decide it’s a goner, start ordering less and sure enough, the book is cancelled.

We took these comments seriously enough to ask several retailers at the recent Diamond summit what they thought of this idea. The notion that we are somehow killing worthy books by running these charts is a distressing one, and we were open to taking action based on the reactions we got. Did retailers, in fact, base their orders on what comics were doing on the charts?

Among the folks we talked to, the answer was a clear no. “I make my decisions based on what sells in my store, not what’s on a chart,” said one, summarizing the general consensus. However, one person did allow that a BAD store might base their orders on something they read on the internet as opposed to actual sales charts. Depending on the number of bad stores, this could be a factor.

This is something that the advent of POS systems MAY (accent MAY) alleviate. We’ll have more on that in a future post, but for now, suffice to say that anything that gives retailers more accurate sell through numbers is a very good thing for publishers at all ends of the spectrum.

And speaking of these controversial sales charts, Marc-Oliver Frisch addresses many of the main complaints against them in this post:

As it frequently does in this context, the question of the usefulness of the available direct market sales data comes up. And not surprisingly, not everyone’s convinced of it – the most vehement criticisms, in this instance, come from creator Brian Wood (DC Comics/Vertigo’s DMZ, Oni Press’ Local). Wood is arguing, in a nutshell, that the direct market sales index information provided by Diamond Comic Distributors, the sales estimates calculated from it by ICv2.com and others, as well as the frequent publication and analysis thereof, are wrong, harmful and – that’s the impression – generally and wholesomely evil.


You should read the entire post for his thoughts.

Comments

  1. brett tolino says:

    It’s both incredible and sad that publishers will look for anything and anyone to blame but themselves for their books not selling.

    Their pubications are such brilliant works of genius, its crazy that people aren’t buying and retailers aren’t helping. Today, its the sales charts, yesterday the complaining internet fans.

    It can’t be that you publish whenever you want, not when you advertise or on any regular basis. Of course, that’s because people are impatient and can’t wait for their comics. The fact that most publishers start and story but never finish it, then go on to the next story without a hitch, that has nothing to do with it either. The creators you hype on a title that never deliver, that’s irrelevant too. This says nothing of the stories in the comics themselves, that were either told before (so they don’t need an ending, dummy) or have no intelligent or artistic consistency, most of them look like bad patchwork quilts.

    So of course its the retailers who aren’t ordering the books because they see on charts some comics aren’t selling.

    Newsflash guys: If readers wanted a comic that wasn’t there because a retailer didn’t order it, the reader would ask the retailer to order it and they would. They’re in business to make money.

    Readers, they don’t stop buying comics just because they’re at the bottom of the charts either.

    They stop buying them mostly because they don’t like your work as much as you do.

    We know this is a difficult concept for you all to understand, lord knows you pay no attention to anything readers say. You’ve gone to great lengths to promote that they don’t matter and they’re out of their minds too.

    Publishers, if you want to know why your books aren’t selling, look in the mirror, not at the people you think are being enouraged by sales charts.

  2. I’m glad muslimstoday is so interested in this story; there are vast theological implications here!

  3. Paul C says:

    Ha, ha indeed. But seriously, everyone should check out the rest of the “figure skating” column over at Marc’s blog. It proved to be a very informative read for me.

  4. michael says:

    interesting….

  5. Wraith says:

    I agree with everything Brett Tolino said.

  6. “Newsflash guys: If readers wanted a comic that wasn’t there because a retailer didn’t order it, the reader would ask the retailer to order it and they would. They’re in business to make money. ”

    Thats not entirely true. I have seen readers come into a shop many a time, ask for Book A, be told “its not in but I do you want me to order you one?” and respond with “no, nevermind”. You can argue that he wasn’t very serious, and that that is only one sale, but a sale is a sale and not having the books people want is bad business.

    Also, any comic store owner that bases his orders on that of the national average really doesn’t know what he is doing. You need to know your own market and your customers. The overall trend for stores is cutting their copies of The Order yet the one I frequent is INCREASING copies ordered. Just going by the charts is stupid and lazy business. Instead of POS terminals Diamond should really try to train some of these shop owners in basic business, economics, and marketing.

  7. brett tolino says:

    Thing is, the creators and publishers who are now considering Marc’s column ‘evil’ and a bad influence on sales are so desperate for a reason as to why their books aren’t selling, it shows with the intellectually challenged type of logic they’re using to place blame.

    Charts are nothing new. Diamond publishes their top 100 in Previews and has been publishing this list for just about as long as anyone can remember. Diamond must be evil too and they need to stop publishing their charts as well. Years ago, sales figures were made public in the statements of ownership published annually in the back of the comics themselves. So, readers and retailers must have looked at the back of the comics to gage whether they should keep buying it!

    Making Marc’s column go away isn’t going to raise sales by any stretch of the imagination and anyone who believes it will is just living in a delusion.

    This information will always find a way into the public’s hands, in some form or another and calling this information evil and a deterrant to sales is more of a reflection on the intelligence of the creator using it as their excuse than anything else.

    Many years ago, there was this little DC comic that hung around the bottom of the sales charts like barnicles on a sunken ship. One day, this writer came along and began writing the most incredible stories ever told on this bottom dwelling cadaver of a comic destined for cancellation.

    Did retailers not order this comic because it was already lingering around the bottom swamp of the sales charts? Did readers stop buying the comic because it was already doomed to death?

    No, what happened was this Swamp Thing of a comic suddenly became very good and the few people supporting it from the bottom of the charts began spreading the word and before long, it rose up out of the sales Swamp and the rest as they say, is history.

  8. I think the very notion that publishing sales numbers hurts those same sales numbers is absolutely ridiculous, and nothing more than an attempt by comic-book publishers to make excuses for their own inability to put out titles people want to read. Brett Tolino’s responses absolutely nail the real issue, and his Swamp Thing analogy is a perfect one…though I’m admittedly a bit biased about that one. :)

    Rich Handley
    Roots of the Swamp Thing
    http://www.swampthingroots.com

  9. I think the number of people who read these columns is a very small proportion of the market, and those people are also reading tons of other sources as well. Any effect that we have is merely as part of an overall buzz of whether a title is hot or not. But I’m sure any halfway sane store orders by reference to its own customer base, not to the cumulative figures of all America. The notion that Marc and I have that sort of influence is deeply implausible.

    Besides, even if it DID damage a series to have attention drawn to its low sales figures, would that really be a good reason not to do it? They’re still a matter of legitimate interest. Marvel and DC make extensive play of their “sell outs”, and regularly cite high sales as a defence to criticism of quality. They can’t have it both ways and deny that low sales are of interest too.

  10. Brian Wood says:

    There’s a lot of misrepresentation of me both here and in Marc’s column, so I feel I should say for the record that I don’t think sales numbers are evil. How can they be? They are just numbers. And I never ever ever once said that they shouldn’t be published or that people should stop talking about it.

    My problem lies in the analysis of it, specifically the conclusions that get jumped to, how the charts themselves are labeled and what they are called. I don’t need to rehash it all out because I am on the record in a lot of places, including The Beat.

    But the numbers are interesting and every single person I know in this industry reads them every month (for better or worse).

    bir-

  11. Sure, and I appreciate that your concern relates to the WAY in which the figures are presented, which is a separate and entirely legitimate issue (and, to my mind, one that largely comes down to making sure that the limitations of the data are appropriately flagged up). But I’m simply referring here to the particular argument raised by Heidi in the original post.

  12. brett tolino says:

    Without anger or animosity towards Brian Wood, there are many people in addition to him who have made comments that contribute to the growing criticism of Marc’s column often from people inside the industry.

    It doesn’t take much of a genius to see where the animosity comes: no one wants to hear their work isn’t selling or being well received.

    It’s a hit to the ego. To cushion the blows, EICs and other representatives from both DC and Marvel publically denounce sales chart analysis as irrelevant as the readers, incomplete figure data that really have no impact in the decision making process of what gets published by them.

    However, most people read Marc’s column ‘because’ of his comments.

    He’s only reporting what most everyone else is already discussing amongst themselves anyway, before the charts are even published. If publisher’s didn’t consistently ignore their readers, labeling them as irrelevant, they would be aware of this and Marc’s comments would be no surprise.

    All Marc does is make an analysis based on data delivered from another independant source, as to what the factors may be that contribute to a sales spike or fall.

    Most of his comments are based in factl — publishers are quick to run to the press to applaud themselves for another sell out, mileading people to believe everyone must be buying a certain book because it sold out. Of course, they don’t say that the issue had 2 different variant covers. But that’s their distortion of reality.

    If comics sales weren’t declining so rapidly, publishers wouldn’t need an extra cover to sell a few more copies to boost the numbers. If people thought they were really good, they would sell on their own merit, not because someone wants both versions of the comic to complete their collection.

    When Marc makes note of a sales decline because a creator didn’t deliver, that its been months since the last issue showed up and that publisher now has to play bingo with the stories and numbers, causing confusion and frustration for the reader who is now fed up, well, that’s more fact than fiction. Publishers and creators don’t want to hear that their own actions contributed to a sales drop and its easier to crucify the messenger than accept responsibility. Hey, the truth hurts.

    But anyone with minimal common sense should know sales figures have very little to do with a sales decline.

    The comic’s sales had to decline first, to make the bottom of the list before people can see the list then decide not to order it or keep reading. And if they made the bottom of the list first to depict a decline, it’s probably because the people buying it didn’t like what they were reading, which has everything to do with the publisher and nothing to do with a chart.

  13. Rest assured, if the comparative sales chart commentary went away, the creators of the bottom-dwelling titles would still find someone else to blame….whether it’s the always-popular hegemony of “The Big Two”, the parochialism of unsophisticated superhero fans, or oppressive political forces on the march.

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