Okay, chart lovers: THIS IS THE BIG ONE! Retailer Brian Hibbs takes his annual peek at the BookScan chart so you don’t have to. BookScan, you’ll recall, is the Nielsen-run report on what sells in bookstores, so this is the closest we can get to actual “What did it sell” figures. You can download the entire top 750 graphic novels for 2009 at the above link, and since it’s technically a leak, you’ll want to save it for your own drilling down. Dedicated number crunchers will want to read the entire column, but we’ll steal the top ten for discussion purposes:
1. 424,814 WATCHMEN
2. 68,657 DORK DIARIES
3. 68,442 BK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED BY R
4. 65,235 BONE CROWN OF HORNS
5. 61,144 NARUTO V43
6. 54,817 BONE OUT FROM BONEVILLE
7. 53,392 NARUTO V41
8. 52,411 NARUTO V44
9. 52,012 COMP POKEMON PKT GDE V2
10. 49,382 NARUTO V45
If your takeaway from this is that bestsellers stay bestsellers, you’re not far off. But it’s also notable that this year’s chart contains a lot of kids/YA books, and although WIMPY KID isn’t counted, DORK DIARIES by Rachel Renée Russo, a girl-themed Wimpy Kid-inspired diary hybrid, comes in at #2. Too bad there aren’t any comics for kids, eh?
Hibbs observes that by the chart, book sales fell both in units and dollars about eight percent last year and if it hadn’t been for WATCHMEN, it would have been much worse, but, given the state of the economy and bookstores, these numbers are not devastating.
Our own quick observations: While “art comics” are still no threat to NARUTO, literary comics from major publishers definitely had an up year in 2009, led by CRUMB’S GENESIS, which as Calvin Reid reported yesterday, has sold over 120,000 copies, making it a gen-yoo-wine bestseller. ASTERIOS POLYP and LOGICOMIX also did well. (The award-nominated STITCHES did okay, but wasn’t a blockbuster, considering all the press it got.)
What is the real trend on the chart, from where we sit, is the success of a number of book spin-offs and adaptations, especially from the major houses. James Patterson’s Maximum Ride books, Mercy Thompson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, The Warriors, The Dresden Files — books written by or (more often) adapted from) traditional bestselling authors did well, although without knowing the licensing or other business arrangements, it’s hard to say how profitable they were. With its access to Hachette titles (like Twilight) Yen Press has a lot of sales potential. And looking at this, Dark Horse’s 100,000 copy print run for their Janet Evanovich projects looks sensible.
The success of Bone and Babymouse (and the manga blockbusters, of course) is still a testament to the number of younger readers who are the potential audience for comics. Once and for all, can we send the idea that the industry isn’t training a new generation of readers off to the glue factory? Yes, it was a close call, but we made it through. Now whether the kid will pick up the weekly buying habit is another matter; the readership is clearly there — the question is how and if comics publishers can successfully tap INTO that readership.
For comics publishers, best selling authors continued to sell — big surprise — Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Robert Kirkman (author of the only Image books to chart), Neil Gaiman, Bill Willingham. DC and Vertigo’s warhorses hold strong. By comparison, Marvel’s backlist is far smaller and lacking in perennials.
Our favorite thing to do with the chart is download, sort by imprint and then sales to see the individual companies bestseller lists — that’s the best way to play armchair publisher. Hibbs breaks the chart down by genre and publisher, which is a useful way to go about it. For our own analysis, it is telling to look at Scholastic’s Graphix line sales. While BONE is the huge seller there, a book that most “comics fans” never heard of — Frank Cammuso’sKNIGHTS OF THE LUNCH TABLE — sold 5,315 copies, which would put it squarely in either Marvel or DC’s charts, although at the lower end. Nonetheless, it still sold comparably to all but the elite of superhero books. Most of the Graphix books on the chart would be good sellers for Marvel or DC.
Along those lines, Marvel’s 7th best selling book was the Wizard of Oz adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young; their number 10 book was Marvel Adventures Iron Man by Fred Van Lente, two more hits for the all-ages crowd.
The market for original literary comics has been pretty hit or miss, alas. (We’re also saddened by the great Urasawa’s non appearance in Viz’s numbers.) But hopefully some of the young readers who are buying these comics adaptations will grow up into adventurous comics readers and the market will continue to grow, on paper and on iPad.
Okay, that’s our first impression….what did YOU think?
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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.