The business news website ICv2 isn’t known for being hyperbolic. So when Milton Griepp said that this month’s comics sales had “plummeted”, everyone leaped up, screaming, knocking over chairs and spilling drinks everywhere.
Sales of comics and graphic novels through Diamond Comic Distributors dropped substantially in August with periodical comics falling 17% and graphic novels down 21%. There wasn’t a single comic title even close to the 100,000 in August.
If it weren’t for the continued strength of SCOTT PILGRIM trades, the GN drop would have been even more grisly. On the periodical side, there was no big book, but, said ICv2, certainly “the lack of one big title can’t account for everything.”
The grim details immediately set the punditocracy to arms, perhaps sniffing the hint of burning smoke in Tom Spurgeon’s Doomapocalyptigeddon which he described from his aerie high in the Misty Mountains, the same distant smell of charring paper and brimstone that we’ve been picking up for the last few weeks.
Rich Johnston was first out of the gate, bursting into the pub with a hale and hearty hallo as he called for a pint and reassured us that there was no need to get alarmed:
Of course the other explanation is much less sensationalist. Just that there were just no big ticket items in August. Figures for comics weren’t too far off from the previous month, the big difference was that the first issue or X-Men slipped from 140K to 70K for its second issue. And August didn’t see a Blackest Night hardcover, a BN: Green Lantern hardcover or a new Walking Dead book to top the charts. And reduced sales of other books, is just regular attrition that a revamped #1, a big crossover or a hor creative team will help bump at a later date. Just not in August.
So be warned of sensationalist headlines (like this one). This is not the imminent collapse of the comic shop. It’s just another one of the thousand cuts…
Given that Johnston also thinks the #1 book in August was called Blackest Knight, it wasn’t all THAT reassuring. All kidding aside, terming a 50 percent decrease a “slip” is definitely looking on the bright side.
Mike Gold at ComicMix, a student of distribution and sales if ever there was one, sat at the end of Munden’s Bar, sipping his shandy, and quickly blamed Public Enemy #1, the $3.99 price increase and The Great Comics Flood of 2010:
27 issues featuring Thor, Iron Man, and/or The Avengers. Boy, you’d think there was a Thor movie coming out that, oh I don’t know, tied in to the Iron Man movies, to be followed by the big The Avengers movie.
So, why the flood? Is Marvel worried about competition from Boom, Dynamite, and IDW? I don’t think so. They started producing material for this latest dump just about the time the Disney takeover was ratified. They are trying to impress the Mouse.
Even given similarity of sales patterns to previous dips (which we’ll get to in a minute) there is a corresponding increase in the number of titles coming out from both publishers, with a resultant dilution of talent and interest from readers.
After the loudmouth and the old-timer had had their say at the bar, the know-it-all piped up, and he brought lots of charts. Todd Allen analyzes all this and more in a piece he calls The Great August Graphic Novel Collapse which is complete with charts like the above which shows the ranking of the titles closest to 1000 units for every month for the past year. Which reveals….something. Allen concludes:
Still, August does look to have some serious shrinkage, which isn’t always the smoothest thing for budgeting a business, or for finding something to read if you wait for the trade. It has been suggested to me that retailers are increasingly inclined to re-order as they sell out, rather than buying extremely large numbers of graphic novels up front, so we could be seeing some of that here, as well. Is it a lack of new volumes in old series in August? Any way you slice it, that just was not a good month for the orders.
It does give you a little pause if you do think that a number of key series are driving the graphic novel sales. Scott Pilgrim’s had his last film-fueled hurrah and now we have to see if Bryan Lee O’Malley’s next project is embraced with the same numbers. For that matter, as successful as Walking Dead is in tpb, what would happen if Robert Kirkman was lured to Hollywood and gave up comics? That’s a lot of sales to make up if anything happened to Kirkman.
Finally, the weatherbeaten stranger in the corner threw back his hood and gave us Comichron. John Jackson Miller points out that sales right now are exactly mirroring sales from 2000, the trough of the last depression, when top sellers hovered around 100K for months, with no breakout series. Instead of unsheathing the shards of Narsil, he pulled out yet more charts and graphs.
As someone who could never understand JJM’s charts from the old Comics Retailer, this made us super queasy. However what it seems to show is that
The red line is 2010 — and we can see that comics orders have tended, for most of the last 12 years, to be right in the 5-7 million copy per month track. That continues to be the case.
While also blaming the lack of several big number books in August, Miller goes on to make a very detailed comparison of 2010 and 2000 including similar factors — a hit movie, a price increase:
There are differences with 2000, too, of course, making the unit sales comparison problematic. 2000 was near the bottom of a long industry recession; 2009-2010 are years coming off a period of relative growth, and there aren’t the kind of structural problems driving down sales that we contended with in the late 1990s. Marvel had many fewer comics coming out each month in 2000. Downloads for comics, authorized and otherwise, were far less readily available. And as noted before, month-to-month comparisons across time have other problems in comics.
But all that said, we do still have about the same number of comic books being pulled from UPS boxes and placed on shelves each month as we saw back then. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, these identical numbers for the comics unit sales category are not a sign of market stagnation overall, because since 2000, the industry has enjoyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of sales of trade paperbacks that didn’t exist back then. The market has grown in dollars and units — it’s just those units are trade paperbacks, where 2010 is concerned. And periodicals rebounded nicely in the 2000s, with energy behind projects like Civil War and a stronger general economy. So the narrative is not that sales haven’t increased since 2000; rather, we are not keeping pace with the best years of our run.
He concludes that we are just one hit away from everything rebounding, yet another positive spin on what seems to be an eroding base.
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
August 2010: approximately $32 million ($35.5 million including UK)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -11%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -2%
YEAR TO DATE: $270.66 million, -5% vs. 2009, +18% vs. 2005
And The Beat. What do we think about this, sipping a glass of Malbec at a booth? We’d like to direct you to yesterday’s column by Rich Johnson, the most succinct write-up we’ve yet seen of the changes at Marvel and DC in the year since both underwent drastic management/ownership changes.
Marvel and DC are still the industry leaders, at least as far as the comics media and loudest fandom is concerned, and whither they goest, we goest. And the truth is, both have been in transitional periods this year.
Marvel has been pumping out a lot of material, some of it excellent, some of it not. But there is no question that the mini events haven’t taken hold as in the days of Civil War and the Death of Cap. This could be general event burnout or …maybe people really do like big events. The DiDio Doctrine states that big mammoth tie-ins that make every book in the line successful are the only way to keep today’s distracted consumers focused on your line…he’s yet to be proven wrong.
As The Beat’s Rich Johnson pointed out, despite all the upheaval, there has actually been little change in management at both companies. Marvel is still run by the same canny brain trust that got them to the point of Disney thinking the company was worth $4 billion. Marvel has also been successful at bringing along new writers — but the truth is a Bendis or Johns only comes along once every few years. There isn’t anything that has the “MUST BUY THIS IS IT” feeling of some past projects.
Over at DC the situation is dicier. After dithering for four months over who to hire to replace Paul Levitz, they left mostly the same folks in charge that were already running things, but didn’t replace some of the lower levels left vacant by promotions. The doubts over the impending move, a hiring freeze, and so on, have left DC’s main business in a holding pattern. Given all the distractions, its little wonder DC has lagged in establishing any new businesses to replace the ones they’ve shut down.
Our email has been full of people suggesting that 2010 is just one big transitional year. Given the wider uncertainty over the economy, people have a lot on their minds, and comics aren’t doing that much to distract us from our problems, esp. given the price tag of periodical comics.
Which isn’t to say that the next big thing isn’t right around the corner. It seems pretty clear, even from Miller’s level-headed analysis, that we are nearing the end of a cycle of some sort. At $4 for a story you can read in 5 minutes, we’ve reached the tail end of the Satisfying Chunk™ formula. The manga collapse hasn’t helped, and the end of the bookstore market as we knew it has been a big setback — if book sales were THE growth segment of the Aughts, it’s a segment that isn’t growing any more. We have to find new ways to find an audience. Period.
Of course, comics aren’t going to go away or end or turn into video games. Having just returned from SPX where great comics and great cartoonists were multiplying like bunny rabbits, it’s hard to take the August numbers as anything but the logical softening of a certain market. Other markets will spring up. It’s just who will create them and profit from them that everyone must figure out.
So by the time everyone had their say, it was last call and everyone gathered their charts and headed for a warm bed. Munden locked the door behind them. A chilly, rainswept wind sprang up, and it smelled like change.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.