With Diamond’s year-end sales charts released, along with year-to-year comparisons, the pundits are out in force, making all kinds of observations and suggestions. We’ll try to run them down in an orderly fashion but you might want to get a cuppa…there are a lot of them,. We’ve bolded things for skimmers, however.
First off, heroic John Jackson Miller has taken all the sales charts and given us the Top 1000 Comics and Top 1000 GNs of 2010. Jackson finds softening in every region of the periodical chart:
So that’s declines in every grouping, supporting my contention about the flattening of the curve at the front part of the list described here before. There well could be a point on the list where the 2010 entries are outselling the 2009 entries, but I would have had to take both lists out rather far. If it’s the comics at the bottom of the Top 300 that are doing slightly better, those wouldn’t appear on an aggregated annual list until closer to the 3,000s.
BUT adding to the infographics, Diamond also released a list of top 200 comics and gns for non-premier publishers, giving us a deeper look into the long tail. Basically Dynamite ruled the periodical charts, while the GN chart was topped by Oni and Scott Pilgrim — however in general GNs showed a much wider variety of publishers than either periodical chart.
NOW, as to the conclusions drawn by this? Douglas Wolk, Todd Allen, Sean T. Collins and Jason Wood have all given us some breakdowns on what the charts are telling them. We’re going to mix up GNs and Periodical a bit in the following, but some of the overall trends apply to both, so try to bear with us.
Erik Larsen tweeted perhaps one of the most succinct analyses:
Fun fact! NINE of the TOP TEN graphic novels in 2010 were creator-owned books! Walking Dead, Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim among them.
The sole exception? The mysterious SUPERMAN EARTH ONE, a surprising hit whose success deserves future analysis. Because after that, it was a very creator heavy year. As Wolk pointed out — and Collins expanded upon —
“The 26 best-selling DC single issues were all written or co-written by either Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison.”
Bendis is in a similar position at Marvel, where he dominated the top of the charts. Collins expanded on this in a comment:
…if you look at the top of the charts, you could say that the ENTIRE INDUSTRY is a three-man operation between him, Johns, and Morrison. They’re all relatively prolific and they all wrote multiple, simultaneous bestselling series last year. But before you get to the first non-Johns/Morrison-penned DC title, the #74-ranking Green Lantern Corps #44 from Peter J. Tomasi, you hit the following non-Bendis Marvel writers: Victor Gischler at #2 (X-Men #1), Ed Brubaker at #13 (Secret Avengers #1), Jason Aaron at #17 (Wolverine #1), Rick Remender at #26 (Uncanny X-Force #1), Brubaker again at #44 (Captain America Reborn #6), Matt Fraction at #63-64 (Uncanny X-Men #523-524), Brubaker again at #65 (Secret Avengers #2), and Dan Slott at #73 (Amazing Spider-Man #648). Now, is it kind of nuts that 65 of the top 75 bestselling comics of the year from any publisher were written by one of three people? Yes. But Marvel appears to have a bit more luck in placing writers outside its go-to guy (and franchises outside its go-to franchise) high on the charts.
Adding in graphic novels to the mix, it’s obvious how Mark Millar looms large for Marvel, as Wolk writes:
*Marvel’s highest-charting book was the Kick-Ass hardcover by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., at #2–but its second-highest-charting book was Millar and Steve McNiven’s Wolverine: Old Man Logan, all the way down at #40. The highest-charting Marvel book not written by Millar was #64, The Dark Tower: Fall of Gilead.
Allen’s column looks as a number of metrics and draws a number of conclusions, mostly regarding GN sales. He picks up on something that others didn’t state as directly: Marvel had a poor year in books:
Looking at where the publishers chart, Dynamite’s The Boys is more popular than any graphic novel with a Marvel character in it, at least in terms of 2010 sales. Not the case in monthly sales and not what you were likely expecting. We do, however, see a lot of smaller publishers charting much higher with the graphic novels, than they do with monthly comics, and we see the licensed titles more prominently as the sales flagships. Is this a case of media franchise fans catching up or not wanting serialization and/or the monthly trips that requires? That’s a good question, but something’s up with that.
We highly recommend reading Allen’s column in full, but here are four conclusions he draws:
Conclusion #1: The graphic novel category is driven by cross-media exposure and character franchises.
Conclusion #2: Taken over a year, Vertigo holds up well.
Conclusion #3: Marvel is still taking their monthlies more seriously than their trades.
Conclusion #4: Crossovers have legs, gratuitous add-ons don’t.
Also, you can add Person of the Year Robert Kirkman to the essential list:
Between his Walking Dead and Invincible franchises, Robert Kirkman accounts for 28 books in the top 500. Make it 30 titles when you add volume one of Haunt at #67 and volume three of Astounding Wolfman at #378. That’s 6% of the top 500 titles. 44% of the top 25 (11 titles).
Allen also notes that CHEW and THE BOYS were the biggest sellers relative to not having any multimedia crossovers in the recent future or past.
Finally, iFanboy’s Wood digs more into the Non-Premier publisher list and has some conclusions of his own, which we’ll excerpt:
1) Dynamite = DY-NO-MITE!
2) Boom! Waid a plus, Lee a maybe but everything else a question mark
3) Whither Avatar?
And for GNs:
1) Scott Pilgrim 1-upped the rest of the market
2) The One Piece conundrum (Manga sales don’t match Japanese phenomenon)
3) Fragmentation and lack of volume
Again, it’s best to read his entire analysis, but here’s some of the last point:
To say it’s tough for Non-Premier publishers to rely on the Direct Market would be an understatement. Only 48 graphic novels sold more than 3,000 units in the Direct Market last year according to Diamond. To put that into perspective, keep in mind that conservative estimates put the number of comic book stores at 3,000-4,000. So if something sells less than 3,000 units, it’s akin to selling less than one copy per store nationwide. Unlike the comics list, where Dynamite had a dominant market share, the sales of graphic novels is far more balanced. While Viz had 56 of the 200, which seems fairly dominant, keep in mind that sales of the average Viz book sold 2,148 units. Beyond Viz, 32 other publishers placed at least one book in the Top 200.
It’s always difficult to draw sweeping conclusions from these lists, although Diamond’s near monopolistic position in the Direct Market does make them representative of the vast majority of sales in the LCS market. What’s evident from these lists though, is that even the most successful publishers in the back of Previews (i.e., Dynamite, Boom!, Viz, Oni), absolutely have to continue to push their content into other channels. Because the numbers they’re doing outside of the occasional outlier hit (e.g., Scott Pilgrim or Green Hornet) inside the Direct Market are by no means robust.
And now some observations of our own:
Creator-owned or creator participation work absolutely RULED the graphic novel charts.
Looking at the Top Fifty GNs of the year, exactly half were creator-owned — most of them by Robert Kirkman.
BENNY AND PENNY BIG NO NO HC
BOYS TP VOL 06 SELF-PRESERVATION SOCIETY (MR)
CHEW TP VOL 01 (MR)
CHEW TP VOL 02 INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR (MR)
HELLBOY TP VOL 09 WILD HUNT
INVINCIBLE TP VOL 12 STILL STANDING
KICK ASS PREM HC (MR)
SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 01 PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE
SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 02 VS THE WORLD
SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 03 INFINITE SADNESS
SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 04 GETS IT TOGETHER
SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 05 VS THE UNIVERSE
SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 06 FINEST HOUR
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 01 DAYS GONE BYE
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 02 MILES BEHIND US (NEW PTG)
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 03 SAFETY BEHIND BARS
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 04 HEARTS DESIRE (NEW PTG)
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 05 BEST DEFENSE (NEW PTG)
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 06 SORROWFUL LIFE (NEW PTG)
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 07 THE CALM BEFORE
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 08 MADE TO SUFFER (MR)
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 09 HERE WE REMAIN (MR)
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 10 WHAT WE BECOME
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 11 FEAR THE HUNTERS (MR)
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 12 LIFE AMONG THEM
WALKING DEAD TP VOL 13 TOO FAR GONE (MR)
Another seven were what we’d called “creator participation” via the old DC/Vertigo deal:
FABLES TP VOL 01 LEGENDS IN EXILE
FABLES TP VOL 13 THE GREAT FABLES CROSSOVER (MR)
FABLES TP VOL 14 WITCHES (MR)
SANDMAN TP VOL 01 PRELUDES & NOCTURNES NEW ED (MR)
UNWRITTEN TP VOL 01 TOMMY TAYLOR BOGUS IDENTITY NEW ED (MR)
Y THE LAST MAN TP VOL 01 UNMANNED
(You could argue WATCHMEN and SANDMAN being on that list, but they were created long ago more in the spirit of what was then considered creator-participation. But feel free to move them.) The appearance of UNWRITTEN by Mike Carey and Peter Gross here shows that the creator-driven premise can still find purchase at a big company, if it’s strong enough.
14 books were company-owned superheroes, mostly by Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns or Mark Millar:
ALL STAR SUPERMAN TP VOL 02
BATMAN AND ROBIN DELUXE HC VOL 01 BATMAN REBORN
BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM MADNESS HC
BATMAN DARK KNIGHT RETURNS TP
BATMAN HUSH COMPLETE TP
BATMAN RIP TP
BLACKEST NIGHT GREEN LANTERN CORPS HC
BLACKEST NIGHT GREEN LANTERN HC
BLACKEST NIGHT HC
CIVIL WAR TP
FINAL CRISIS TP
GREEN LANTERN REBIRTH TP
SUPERMAN EARTH ONE HC
WOLVERINE OLD MAN LOGAN TP
Three were what we’d call “licensed” books for lack of a better word:
BTVS SEASON 8 TP VOL 06 RETREAT
SERENITY SHEPHERDS TALE HC
RICHARD STARKS PARKER THE OUTFIT HC
So no huge secret here: people buy books because they are by an author they like. And it’s also no secret that the backlist is am important revenue stream for publishing companies. A hit like CIVIL WAR that lasts into book sales year after year pays off way more than some miniseries with multiple creators — remember the big controversy over delaying the book so Steve McNiven could finish it himself? That paid off. Tom Brevoort was right!
Of course it takes time to develop the talent of a Morrison or Johns or Millar — but maybe getting them developed and giving the next generation of graphic novelists room to stake out their territory is a good idea. The youngest creators on these charts — O’Malley and Kirkman — developed entirely outside the Big Two, unsurprisingly, and that’s where the work that is going to take comics publishing into the next generation of readers is growing right now. It’s not at all clear that Marvel and DC can even tap into that energy any more.
Another observation, to back up Allen’s: Marvel’s GN program needs work. 2010 was a transitional year for Marvel as they moved from Diamond to Hachette as their book distributor so it’s not surprising they weren’t storming the charts. We heard lots of stories about “growing pains” from folks on both sides. Marvel puts out plenty of GNs a year, and these figures don’t give us a line average, but lost in their program somewhat is the way that backlist favorites drive periodical sales. An entry point like ARKHAM ASYLUM or HUSH or even SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE helps give the periodicals a boost. It’s not that Marvel doesn’t have tons of good books that they could promote…but their lingering print-to-order practices make reorders less of a priority.
OKAY, that’s enough for now. We imagine that Brian Hibbs will be along with his annual BookScan analysis soon and we’ll be able to combine that with Miller’s top 1000 for the best sales chart ever! And then we can get into rounds two and three.