You know the ongoing argument about whether or not comics sales are heading away from single issues and towards collected editions? Guess what – the trend is a little further along than you might think and now that all the 2016 sales numbers are in (at least the ones you can look up), it’s time to highlight a few comics that sell more in tpb format than in monthly serial format.
I’ve have a suspicion brewing that the trend towards collected edition is more of an independent comics thing than a superhero thing. Part of that probably being how heavily the superhero publishers emphasize the story of the universe and crossovers above and beyond the core titles. But let’s have a look and see what there is to see, shall we?
For book sales, I’m going to be using what I call the “confirmed kills” methodology. The annual DM sales totals from Comichron + the conveniently leaked BookScan numbers from The Beat’s own Brian Hibbs. I’ll compare those to the average of the last 6 issues (or whatever came out in the last 6 months if it wasn’t 6 issues) from The Beat’s sales chart watchers.
Caveat #1: monthly issue sales and DM sales are going to be ~10-15% lower, due to lack of reporting on UK sales. But that should be consistent.
Caveat #2: Bookscan numbers are IN THEORY accounting for 75% of book sales. It misses out on an awful lot of independent bookstores and the book clubs. And it’s not necessarily a predictable 25% short. If 90% of a graphic novel’s non-DM sales come from Amazon, it might only be 10% off or less. And then there’s the 800 lb gorilla in the room:
Caveat #3: if a graphic novel is sold in the Scholastic book fair system, it could more than it did in individual issues. Period. Not even worth discussing. We don’t get to see numbers for that, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that disappointing sales at Scholastic would still get you 100K copies sold. For example, BOOM!’s Filip Sablik was bragging about selling 800K copies of Lumberjanes at the recent ComicsPro meeting. Now, maybe that’s across 4 tpbs and a whole bunch of floppies, but there’s still a whole lot o’ copies that must’ve sold in either bookclubs or indie bookstores where we can’t see them.
So, summing it up, DM + Bookscan = sales we know happened. There are more sales than we can document, but if that combination outsold the monthly serial, then it sells better as a collected edition and it’s highly likely any undocumented book sales offset undocumented digital sales (which rule of thumb would put at 10-15% of print – on average).
I’m also looking at the most recent volume of a serious, unless the most recent was released at the end of the year and doesn’t likely reflect a full purchase cycle (like Paper Girls V.2, which was released in December).
Oh, and before you ask, Walking Dead V. 25 has 76,485 confirmed sales. Since sales on the monthly jumped in August, the average has been a bit under 91.5K/issue, with the December issue at ~85.5K. So the regular tpbs could be outselling the comic, but I can’t confirm that. It’s entirely possible library order push it over the edge, though. And those compendiums are huge for the Long Tail effect further down the sales stream.
Here are 10 semi-random examples:
|Collected Edition||DM||Bookscan||Collected Edition Total|| Six issue/month
|Saga V. 6||47,968||43,944||91,912||46,689||45,223|
|Montress V. 1||26,008||24,128||50,136||20,370||29,766|
|Paper Girls V. 1||33,712||23,538||57,250||33,989||23,260|
|Rick & Morty V. 1||13,725||13,084||26,809||9,752||17,056|
|Rat Queens V. 3||14,043||12,392||26,435||12,649||13,785|
|Tokyo Ghost V. 1||16,424||7,821||24,245||21,304||2,940|
|Invader Zim V. 1||9,053||8,422||17,475||14,590||2,884|
|Descender V. 2||11,100||7,232||18,332||17,084||1,247|
|Lumberjanes V. 3||7,093||?||7,093||5,898||1,195|
|I Hate Fairy
Land V. 1
For some reason Lumberjanes V. 3 wasn’t showing up in the Bookscan results, but it’s outselling where the monthly is without even adding in any Bookscan numbers.
What can we take away from this snapshot? Most of the these titles need a significant Bookscan market presence to pull ahead of single issue sales. While online bookstores have the entire catalog available, brick & mortar bookstores aren’t going to cycle through as many different titles in a year as a good DM store will. There’s a little more competition for that mainstream shelf space. If you can get it, there are definitely potential rewards and Image and Oni, in particular, are getting some wins.
There should be more titles outselling the single issues if you care to dig through and add things up. This is not intended to be comprehensive and while it’s more than cocktail napkin math, there are a lot more calculations that could be applied here. There are also plenty of titles that weren’t QUITE selling more as collected editions, but were close. One example would be Dark Horse’s Fight Club 2, which merely sold decently in the DM, but racked up over 25K confirmed sales in the Bookscan world. Add in independent bookstores and library sales, it probably did outsell the monthlies, but when you look at comics sales and especially the book market for comics, there’s going to be a certain amount of extra sales you’re going to be guessing about.
Still, the percentage of readers consuming things as books instead of periodicals seems to be marching on, at least for the independents. There’s every reason to take the idea of a reader shift seriously and potentially mid-stream in progress.
And three of those titles: Monstress, Rat Queens and Rick & Morty seem to have more than DOUBLE the number of readers in the collected edition format.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.