Comichron: Top Seven publishers have cut their slates by 12%

Comichron: Top Seven publishers have cut their slates by 12%

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By John Jackson Miller
(reprinted with permission from Comichron)

There have been many Black Panther series over the years from Marvel, but the title has never been one to appear near the top of the sales charts. In April, the new series from Ta-Nahisi Coatesand Brian Stelfreeze not only was the comic book most ordered by comics shops in North America, but with sales of more than 253,000 copies, Black Panther #1 is easily the best-selling issue of the year thus far. Click to see the sales estimates for comics ordered in April 2016.

As we mentioned here on Friday, the overall sales reported by Diamond Comic Distributors reflect a considerable drop, not all of which can be attributed to the fact that last April was the highest volume month of the year — and had one more week to boot. One of the elements playing a role, as noted there, is the fact that the pace of new comic book releases has slowed in 2016.

We can see this looking at the first four months of each year, which include an equivalent number of shipping weeks (17):

NEW COMIC BOOKS RELEASED
January through April 2015: 1,907
January through April 2016: 1,843

That’s a drop of a little more than 3%, which doesn’t sound that significant. Yet the fact is that the cutbacks have disproportionately come from the publishers whose titles sell better. Here’s what it looks like if you just look at the Top Seven Publishers (Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Boom, and Dynamite):

NEW COMIC BOOKS RELEASED (Top 7 publishers)
January through April 2015: 1,500
January through April 2016: 1,317

That’s a much larger drop, of more than 12%. The number of new releases from Diamond from non-Top 7 publishers is up 29% — but since those publishers titles sell far less on average, they don’t come close to making up the difference.

Digging down, we actually see that the slowdown in new comics releases is greater with some publishers than others 

CHANGE in number of NEW COMICS RELEASED
in January-April 2016 by publisher:
2015 2016 Change
Marvel 325 340 5%
DC 353 312 -12%
Image 248 221 -11%
IDW 186 171 -8%
Dark Horse 114 111 -3%
Dynamite 128 67 -48%
Boom 146 95 -35%
Other 407 526 29%
TOTAL 1907 1843 -3%
  

While Marvel actually published about an additional comic book a week, Dynamite cut its new comics offerings nearly in half, and Boom reduced its release pace by more than a third. Every other publisher in the top seven also cut back, but by smaller numbers. Remember, this is an exactly equivalent time period: seventeen weeks.

We see in looking at graphic novels, however, that several of those publishers have in fact redirected attention towards graphic novels this year.

CHANGE in number of NEW GRAPHIC NOVELS RELEASED
in January-April 2016 by publisher:
2015 2016 Change
Marvel 131 148 +13%
DC 99 120 +21%
Image 64 60 -6%
IDW 83 90 +8%
Dark Horse 74 63 -15%
Dynamite 22 19 -14%
Boom 26 44 +69%
Other 562 675 +20%
TOTAL 1061 1219 +15%

That’s right: the number of new graphic novel releases is up 15% overall year-to-date, and Boom has increased its number of releases by 69%. DC, Marvel, and the collected publishers under seventh place are up double digits. And that would seem to track with the story of the year, so far: comic book dollars are down nearly 8%, while graphic novel dollars are up close to 5%.

The problem is simply that since retailers spend two of every three dollars on comic books, a slowdown in that category erases a percentage increase of twice the size on the graphic novel side. And since it was the larger publishers that were releasing more comics last year, the absence of those issues has an outsized effect.

So supply appears to be a factor; regression analysis might find out how much (a project for another day). It should be noted that smaller release slates aren’t necessarily a bad thing, if the result is that the publishers and retailers are earning more profit per title; figuring out how much the comics market will absorb is the name of the game. It does appear that in 2016, at least thus far, the six publishers after Marvel in the charts have been a little more (and in some cases, a lot more) conservative in their periodical releases.

This month’s 300th place title sold 4,309 copies, which is the highest figure seen so far this year in that slot; that seems to suggest that the volumes on that smaller number of titles are hanging in there, at least this month. Click to see the sales of 300th-place titles across time.

The aggregate changes are as follows:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
April 2016: 6.69 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -20%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +25%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +7%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: 25.14 million copies, -14% vs. 2015, +21% vs. 2011, +1% vs. 2006, +26% vs. 2001
ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -22.28%
YEAR TO DATE: -13.05%

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES

April 2016: $27.57 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -18%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +45%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +41%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +111%
YEAR TO DATE: $100.37 million, -11% vs. 2015, +38% vs. 2011, +32% vs. 2006, +84% vs. 2001
ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -18.05%
YEAR TO DATE: -7.84%

TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

April 2016: $8.2 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -9%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +54%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +37%
Versus 15 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +34%
YEAR TO DATE: $32.69 million, +17% vs. 2015
ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -11.99%
YEAR TO DATE: +4.87%

TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES

April 2016: $35.77 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -16%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +33%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +20%
Versus 15 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +111%
YEAR TO DATE: $132.44 million, -6% vs. 2015
ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
April 2016 versus one year ago this month: -16.19%
YEAR TO DATE: -4.06%

OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)

April 2016: approximately $47.54 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -16%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +52%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +57%
YEAR TO DATE: $177.17 million, -4 vs. 2015

RELEASES
New comic books released: 420
New graphic novels released: 304
New magazines released: 30
All new releases: 754

As noted, the average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.93; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $4.12. The median and most common price for comics offered was $3.99. Click to see comics prices across time.

Comments

  1. says

    I added to the original story (once I finally located the link) that Boom’s move had been announced last fall: http://icv2.com/articles/news/view/32847/boom-studios-comic-production-cuts

    I could not find similar announcements from others, but I would assume they were all responding to similar market information. Rebalancing shifts back and forth like this have been a common practice over the years; it’s common to see years where graphic novel volumes grow and comics don’t, and vice versa.

  2. says

    The problem is with most comics costing around $4 on average, it makes more economic sense to wait for the $9 to $11 TPB which tends to collect, at least, four issues if not more.

    Single issues are vital to the health of the industry but the price point is a killer for most customers.

  3. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    The total number of paying customers for monthly comics has been shrinking for decades. while production costs have been going up as publishers focused on making higher quality products for adult readers with disposable income. These adult readers with disposable income apparently demand high standards. Higher quality is the comic industry’s common explanation for the higher cost of comics.

    The most common explanation for why periodicals are more expensive these days is because there are less customers to spread the costs out. In other words, economies of de-scale , the opposite of economies of scale, are the culprit.

    Print has been displaced by new media over the last thirty years to some degree but I don’t think a empirical explanation has been put forward.

    New media is sexy but it isn’t exactly “cheaper” than a comic.Video games still require upfront cost if the “replay value” is high. The internet and cable TV provide a lot of entertainment options but are more expensive than the things they displaced: newspapers, magazines, local TV stations.

    What if there are other factors, besides production quality and economies of scale.
    What if the cost of paper is a contributing factor to the decline of print?

    What if profit seeking content providers moved over the new media because costs were rising more slowly in new media?

    https://books.google.com/books?id=58DqCQAAQBAJ&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=newspapers+1990s+%22cost+of+paper%22&source=bl&ots=NiCtnd7NnA&sig=KYVoMT87Ooq0-GGkeAZk1kp0d5k&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjJhbDxrt_MAhWJcT4KHUEfCy4Q6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=newspapers%201990s%20%22cost%20of%20paper%22&f=false

  4. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    In addition to this, I think we need more context.
    How are other forms of media, media that monthly periodical comics doing in comparison to comics?

    Video games, movies, books?

    I think it may be safe to say that digital sales are a not insignificant since neither the Outside World publishers, creators, or online comic enthusiasts talk about them regularly.

    I read a post, the other day, either this blog or Bleeding Cool, about how motion comics were the future of the comics industry. Creators and publishers who didn’t adapt by digitizing their content would bite the dust. Is there any wide consensus among industry professionals about that? It seem similar to statements that stated that if comics didn’t adapt by being more diversity-orientated, they would bit the dust. There’s no evidence that shows that technology or diversity is reversing the plight of monthly comics.

  5. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    *”How are other forms of media, media that monthly periodical comics doing in comparison to comics?”
    should be
    “How are other forms of media, media that monthly periodical comics are in competition with, doing in comparison to comics?”

  6. Tim says

    30 years ago I got hooked on comics.

    15 years ago I spent ~$120/month, going into the LCS every Wednesday with delight.

    10 years ago I began to budget and be selective due to pricing.

    5 years ago I started dabbling in alternate means to reading than buying new/retail: library, digital, flea market-style regional comic “conventions” (talking like 50 comics for $20 type stuff), piracy.

    Currently, I don’t buy anything new and have not darkened the doorway of a comic shop in years.

    And despite the relative ease and lack of real money spent in order to read comics, there’s very little I even want to read anymore. What happened to comics? Or, what happened to me?

  7. Al@ says

    There HAS to be a saturation point. How many publishers can print comics month after month, and rely on pull lists for their survival? I am astonished at how many titles are solicited in PREVIEWS each month. Are there really THAT many comic readers out there, to support all that printing??

  8. says

    “And despite the relative ease and lack of real money spent in order to read comics, there’s very little I even want to read anymore. What happened to comics? Or, what happened to me?”

    Speaking as a long term reader who got hooked in the 1990s, in my personal opinion is that the publishers don’t care about comics anymore. They care about maintaining their IP.

    I see a trend in comics that has happened in movies. In the movie industry, franchises or IP is becoming much more important than talent.

    15 years ago, actors and directors were a major selling point of many movies, whether those movies were big budget franchise movies or not.

    15 years ago the comics industry, particularly Marvel and DC, began to use their talent to sell their books.

    Today, there is a lot less emphasis on actors and directors in Hollywood. Sure, they’re important, but the name of an actor or director isn’t used to market a movie, anymore.

    Today, although the surname of creators are still on some of the covers of comics, the name of of creators aren’t used to sell a comic anymore, particularly at Marvel and DC.

    Today, there is a lot more interest in getting a comic developed into a movie than in selling more comics or getting a new generation into comics. The recent diversity initiatives weren’t about bringing in new fans or younger fans but making IP more attractive to for films, and video game developers. I’m guessing that there’s very little money in animation these days, which is why I guess there are very few animated tv shows based on comic books, particularly comic books by Marvel and DC.

    I’m not sure if long-term readers have changed that much. Their tastes have evolved, sure, but I also think that the industry is hopelessly dependent on long term readers and would like to replace them but cannot make enough money doing so.

  9. Vernon W says

    For us the price point hit a breaking point when Marvel went line wide at $3.99 ea. While the first tier sellers didn’t really miss a beat, the 2nd and 3rd tier books really took a hit. Many of them just couldn’t get numbers due to customers not willing to take a chance on a four dollar comic. Squadron Supreme at four bucks? Maybe. But Hyperion and Nighthawk? There wasn’t enough readers for these titles anyhow, and four bucks an issue hurt them before they got out of the gate.

  10. says

    Comic fans, and especially new comic fans, are opting for the trade format. A rapid migration from floppies to trades is happening as I write this. It is that simple. Collecting single issues is so Nineties. Comics are all about entertainment and stories. Not investments. At our store trades are booming and floppies are crashing with the exception of Marvel. Marvel floppy sales are increasing. Go figure…..

  11. Zach says

    @Ed – Brian Hibbs yearly December round up of TPB sales suggests that there hasn’t been an en mass flow of readers from periodical to tpb format. There are a few books that sell really well in TPB form (and they are almost always named Walking Dead, Saga, and Watchmen), but it’s not really a trend.

  12. says

    The price & money explanation can explain a part of the problem, but not just on the price of the comic itself. Today, many peoples have an internet access, one or more smartphones, probably computer, tablet, game console, access to HBO and/or Netflix, etc. All those things & services cost money too and people’s budget isn’t infinite, so at one point, even if comics prince didn’t raised, you have to choose were to cut. Keep the comics & stop Netflix or keep Netflix & buy less comics ? (for example).

    The other point about that wide offer in media & entertainment is that it takes time. Since the 1980’s, we’ve got internet access, video games that for some can last a hundred hours, social medias, far more tv channels & show to watch, dvd then bluray to replace vhs and rewatch again & again the same movies we liked, etc. But we haven’t more free time (or not enough more if we decide that today people work less than before). There’s only 24 hours a day and whatever you can try, whatever your budget, even infinite one, you can’t have more than those 24 hours a day. And I think it’s pretty evident that on the time you allowed to comic reading in the 1980’s, now part of it would be allowed to video games, social media or any other of the so many entertainment possibilities we have today.

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