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I don’t have a lot of time today (or any day) so this is going to be quick and dirty. But a piece by Adam Frey at a site called Pop Culture Uncovered –Comics: You’ve Got Your Diversity, So Why Don’t You Buy Them?  – has got a lot of people riled up. And I will explain why. The rather hectoring article has a sales chart based on Diamond/ICv2’s monthly periodical sales, breaking out titles with a diverse lead and suggesting that the sales are plummeting down the charts and it’s YOUR fault:

Except. For. One. Thing.

It’s the sales. A substantial quantity of diverse titles means nothing if they’re plummeting towards cancellation, and many of these books are headed in that direction. Comic books are a remarkably competitive marketplace, and Marvel and DC are businesses first and social justice pioneers second. If a title isn’t selling past a certain point, it will inevitably go and be replaced with the next hot property.

If you don’t believe me, you need to look at the rankings and sales numbers of the books above and compare them to how the did when they initially launched. For example, Silk got a huge push last year as Marvel’s first book with an Asian female lead. (Which was not correct, but never mind.)  Silk Vol 1, #1 in 2015 was Diamond’s #9 book with 74,501 units sold. Now a year later, Silk Vol 2 has dropped to 79th place with only a third of those numbers. A-Force got a big boost in the press on launch as an all-female superhero book, led by a female writer. A-Force Vol 1, #1 was the 6th-highest selling book with 114,528 copies sold. Last month, it was ranked #53 with 34,133 sold. That’s barely a quarter of its original numbers.

 

I don’t even know where to begin with this. It’s also a fact that books with white, male, cis, straight leads are “plummeting towards cancellation” — you may want to read our monthly sales analyses here at the Beat for confirmation of that. So right there, without any control set — how are comparable books with male leads doing? — the whole article is twaddle, to put it charitably.

I’ve seen a couple of responses to the piece in general. One is exemplified by this post by writer Ivan Brandon called “The Customer is Always Wrong”

Here’s the thing: readers aren’t venture capitalists. (Well, probably some of them are, but likely not for the periodical comics industry)


Ironically, the only person in the comics food chain that doesn’t actually work in the business is the reader. They’re not getting paid to be there. They go to the shop and like ANY kind of shop, if something’s there and it appeals to them, they get to buy it. They don’t bear the burden of longevity.

It’s any business’s job to sell its product.
You wouldn’t blame the supermarket’s customers for declining sales on corn flakes.

A second response is summed up by this piece at Panels by Dave Accampo who suggests that modern comics readers – who prize diversity –  aren’t counted by these incomplete Diamond charts for many reasons. For instance, multiple channel fans vs Wednesday Warriors:

Some of you like to read trade collections. Some of you like to read digital issues. Some of you like the floppy issues that you get from your local comic book shop. As such, we have fragmentation like we’ve never seen before. Why does this matter?
Well, for one, we don’t really have a lot of data on digital sales. We also don’t know if apps like ComiXology are the ideal app for an expanded audience. What digital represents is accessibility, but it also represents questions of digital rights management, ownership, platform problems, and formatting issues. As such, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve not yet reached the tipping point of digital sales, platform, and format.

And here’s the thing about trade paperback collections: they require numerous issues to be completed. Without changing direction, without scuttling plans and reassessing. If you cancel and reboot your line before a trade collection of a title is even solicited, you alienate the readers who are waiting, listening to the buzz, making plans to buy collections when they hit Amazon or their local bookstore.

 

I don’t think you need to make a lot of arguments for why this “diversity doesn’t sell” chart is dumb, given its faulty methodology, but these are all good points. Many of the criticisms of Frey’s piece is that by counting only Diamond periodical sales it’s an incomplete picture; as we know, Ms Marvel was a digital hit before it was a print hit, and we don’t know where digital is in all this.

Sadly, we will never know, since those numbers are guarded tighter than Donald Trump’s list of “the best people” he’ll hire. I used to get leaks here and there but since Amazon purchased  Comixology I believe the NDAs got realer. Aside from showing publishers number and asking them to nod for yes or shake their head for no, I don’t know if we’ll ever have any idea what kind of digital sales books get.

HOWEVER, we can go by the 10% rule. Generally digital is 10% of a company’s sales. Some have more, some less. It’s just a guideline.

If you want to dig in a little more, you can go to the Apple store and check in app purchases.

FOR INSTANCE, here’s what’s selling as of this afternoon:

 

As you can see no great shakes for diversity but until we see the long tail we can’t make any judgments. You can also see a variety of Amazon best seller lists at any given moment here.  Click on publishers for a breakdown by company. This afternoon shows Rat Queens, Wonder Woman Earth One, Tokyo Ghoul and Hyperbole and a Half doing well. Four out of 20, not great.

UPDATE: It has already been pointed out to me that you can check the Comixology bestsellers right here. And this snapshot showsw strong support for Wonder Woman, Monstress, Gwenpool, Huntress and Spider Gwen.

Comics Best Sellers   Comics by comiXology.jpeg

If you want to look at book sales in bookstores, the Bookscan chart is problematic but the only consistent numebr we have. It is leaked every year and you can see last year’s chart right here. 

I did some prelimiary analysis of the chart in this post; while Frey’s analysis was talking about on page diversity not behind the page, on the latter, grahpic novels are doing  very well, with 12 of the top 20 titles created by women, and the top book written and drawn by two African American women. Let’s review, all 12 books by women also feature female protagonists. There is a lack of diversity beond that, aside from El Deafo’s special needs protagonist and Persepolis, however. 

1. 352,791 — DORK DIARIES 10
2. 296,415 — DORK DIARIES 9
3. 263,932 — DRAMA
4. 240,045 — SMILE
5. 219,421 — SISTERS
6. 116,683 — BABY SITTER’S CLUB: KRISTY’S GREAT IDEA: FULL-COLOR
7. 115,424 — DORK DIARIES 1
8. 89,774 — BIG NATE: SAY GOOD-BYE TO DORK
9. 73,258 — EL DEAFO
10. 69,913 — BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE HC
11. 69,748 — JEDI ACADEMY
12. 68,081 — BABY SITTER’S CLUB: THE TRUTH ABOUT STACEY: FULL-COLOR
13. 66,898 — BIG NATE’S GREATEST HITS
14. 66,442 — THE WALKING DEAD: COMPENDIUM V3 TP
15. 62,666 — BIG NATE: WELCOME TO MY WORLD
16. 60,493 — THE WALKING DEAD COMPENDIUM V1 TP
17. 60,485 — BIG NATE: THE CROWD GOES WILD!
18. 58,818 — HYPERBOLE AND A HALF
19. 58,338 — PERSEPOLIS 1
20. 58,261 — DORK DIARIES 9 TALES FRO B&N EDITION

Still, obviously woman are buying graphic novels in droves at bookstores and online.

I could do more of a drill down on this later on if you want, but for today it’s worth noting that Black Panther #1 is going to be the best selling comic of the month by a yuge margin; stores report many first time customers coming in to pick it up. Marvel played this one just right, and getting an audience interested in the adventures of an African superhero was an overall strategy for them. This is just one data point in an otherwise barren landscape, but one success wil hopefully open the door to more successes; it’s also proof of concept.

I just want to go back to what I said up top. MOST COMICS aren’t doing well, month after month. Standard attrition hits everything. Somehow separating a special class of “diverse comics” and blaming readers for it is beyond baffling. Books like Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Black Panther,  Lumberjanes and even Harley Quinn succeed when they are GOOD BOOKS, and saying Red Wolf is a mark of diverse characters not selling when the book itself may (or may not) be to blame is equally baffling.

I’m a big advocate of putting your money where  your mouth is, but this isn’t that.

 

Comments

  1. Lucia says

    Excellent rebuttal to an agenda driven article that looked more for evidence to shore up its premise that actual reality. Thank you.

  2. J Killen says

    Excellent analysis. Thank you, I also had plenty of problems that article.

    I would also add the traditional sales patterns have changed and just as you point to the snapshot of the digital sales I would suggest that this “new” reader is increasingly buying in the graphic novel format rather than as monthly periodicals.

  3. Amazing Stam says

    The diversity fad is about over. At this time next year we will have a new President.
    Marvel and DC have alienated there old time audience.
    Yeah, it`s cool to diversify your characters,but not when it becomes a gimmick that all your old school characters get diversified.

    This diversification really didn`t bring in many new readers, and instead turned off it`s old reliable fans.
    Wait, until this time next year when the sales are even lower.

    I also see DC going way down now with the failure of BvS.
    It didn`t set the world on fire,and now they are going to be stuck with a bunch of upcoming movies that won`t even come close to BvS box office.

    What it all comes down to is people have become tired of the Politically Correct Agenda. It`s frankly boring,and it shows in all the stories which has affected sales.

    Being Politically Correct is a form of censorship and it shows in the dull safe stories we now get.

    Comics need a rebel like a Frank Miller or Alan Moore to get the scene going again.
    Think of Sex Pistols in 1977 or Public Enemy in the late 1980`s.
    If that doesn`t happen than continue to think of comics just being safe like Pop music.
    Stale.

  4. Skottie says

    “This diversification really didn`t bring in many new readers, and instead turned off it`s old reliable fans.”

    Not really. People are still buying a “non-diverse” Batman. People aren’t buying a “non-diverse” Justice League. People are buying a “diverse” Thor. People aren’t buying a “diverse” Sam Wilson Cap.

  5. Glenn Simpson says

    “You wouldn’t blame the supermarket’s customers for declining sales on corn flakes.”

    Well….no, but at the same time, you don’t sit around and complain that the store doesn’t stock more varieties of corn flakes if overall sales of corn flakes are dropping.

    In other words, no it’s not the customers’ fault, but the pundits need to quit making noise by asking for things that are clearly not popular.

    That thing may or may not be “diversity”, but it is whatever that isn’t selling.

  6. says

    “The diversity fad is about over. At this time next year we will have a new President.”

    Boy are you going to feel dumb when they swear in Hillary.

  7. Amazing Stam says

    @DCWOMENKICKINGASS
    Hillary is establishment as you get. I wouldn`t call her diversified. She has been a politician lifer all her life.
    She is Washington DC lifer bought by lobbyists. A safe bet to continually kick the can down the road for another 4 to 8 years.

    I will feel dumb comment you aimed at me. Will see how your princess looks when a real man debates her,and not some old senior citizen like Bernie.
    Again everything is safe for now and nice when you go up against an old grampa like Bernie.

    Wait until Benghazi is brought up in the debates by billionaire businessman Trump.
    Will see someone who is going to be exposed as a liar about e-mails.

    Back to diversification in comic books. The declining sales are the proof in that they turned off their core audience.
    In all honestly there will be no recovery with sales. The core audience has found other things to do than pay $3.99 for a 15 minute read to see people stand around in costumes and pontificate about their soap opera problems.

    The core audience has moved onto video games and kindle books were there is much action,fun and better storytelling.
    In other words the core audience got bored,and found something more fun to do at a better price and for a better value.

    Marvel and DC killed the golden goose by alienating their old time fans to get new fans.
    The old fans were the ones with the steady money who bought the comics, They were reliable. The new fans were just impulse buyers who just passed thru in the night,and moved on.
    .I rather keep a steady old loyal fan-base,than sell-out to a fickle fan-base who changes and moves on to the next hot faddish thing.

  8. HsssH says

    This is really flawed argument on both sides. Problem with “diversity” is that its not some singular thing. Just because someone is buying Ms. Marvel doesn’t mean that he is also going to buy Sam Wilson as Captain America. I might want a book about muslim girl, but at the same time I might not care about story featuring black american.

    There probably are some “activists” who try to buy as many diverse titles as possible, but their number is limited and they surely do not have infinite amount of money. I think that vast majority of people buy comics because they are interested in good comics and only slim minority cares about if main character is white or black which has absolutely no bearing on the quality of the work. As such, asides of initial boost due to “free” marketing, most of the diverse book seam to be trending to same spot as non-diverse books do.

    Either way I think that diversity card is overplayed. Looking at various charts, not only diamond’s, its rather obvious that asides of couple of hits (Ms. Marvel that everyone constantly mentions) it hasn’t produced any lasting effect. At best its few months of glory followed by decline to the usual sales levels.

  9. says

    Amazing Stam – Well let’s be real whatever you may think about Hillary she’ll still be the first female president. You can blahblahbenghazi all you want, but won’t change that. Also core audience seems to mean “white males”? If so wouldn’t it make even more sense to expand the audience? You know like Image has? Like Marvel did with Ms. Marvel? You know if they don’t they’ll end up like a certain party who seems to think that they will win elections catering to the same dwindling demographic.

  10. Glenn Simpson says

    @HsssH – just as a point of fact, I don’t think anybody assumes that one “diverse” person is buying all of the “diverse” books, but that as a group, “diverse” customers would be buying all of the “diverse” books.

  11. Zach says

    there’s also the problem of correlation and causation. Jason Aaron’s Dr. Jane Thor is a good book, as is Ms. Marvel. But Captain Falcon is lousy.

  12. Brian Lichner says

    >>Excellent rebuttal to an agenda driven article

    with another agenda driven article. But since this one is politically correct, it’s superior.

    I especially love how Morrison/Paquette’s Wonder Woman is used as a positive example of diversity.

  13. Amazing Stam says

    @DCWOMENKICKINGASS
    One thing in business I learned a long time ago was not to alienate your core customers. Marvel and DC did that with the diversity fad. Now their old school buyers have moved onto to something else.
    With MS.Marvel are the sales really that great? Are you sure white men are not buying it as well? I love the book and I am a white(gasp) male! lol.

    Also I have no qualms with a female president,as you tried to insinuate. Don`t play that card. I just don`t want Hilary Clinton as my president. Too much dirt.. Whitewater and Benghazi. I also question her character about her husband and that young female intern. Plus she is part of the group who has been in office who has lead us into this financial mess this country is now in. Why would I want another 4 to 8 years of the same old stuff?

  14. Jon says

    I don’t think diversity in comics is about checking in a bunch of boxes that list all the different types of people. It’s about telling interesting stories through talented artists from the perspective of a wide range of people that more closely reflect how our world looks. But the key point is an interesting story. If people don’t like the book, they may pick up the first issue, but readership will taper off.
    Of course, opinion is subjective so if other people find a book interesting is on them.
    I’m a 30 year old conservative Christian straight white male and my pull list is pretty much all female led books. I’m literally the only person at my LCS that pulls Squirrel Girl. I adore the art and story of Spider-Gwen. Babs Tarr’s art on the Batgirl of Burnside run is beautiful. I’m all about diversity in comics, as long as it keeps me interested. I used to read Silk, but Marvel kept swapping around artists when I wish Stacy Lee would just be given every issue because I’m in love with her art style. So I stopped buying the book.
    So no, I don’t think people will refuse to buy a book just because it lacks a straight white male as much as people will be willing to buy a book just because it’s led by a different gender or ethnicity. If people like it, they’ll clamp on. If they don’t like it, they’ll ignore it. The average person doesn’t buy comics with an agenda in mind.

  15. brian the brain says

    @ Amazing Stam

    I think the moment you wrote “let’s see how she will do against a real man” anyone stopped listening.

  16. brian the brain says

    Jon: ” I don’t think people will refuse to buy a book just because it lacks a straight white male as much as people will be willing to buy a book just because it’s led by a different gender or ethnicity. ”

    The problem is, until a year ago, there was no choice, 99% of the books were about white straight males. I don’t believe anyone thinks people will buy books just because they feature diverse characters, it’s just a silly argument made by the people that only want white straight males books to diminish other people and the recent comic publishers initiatives, because comics were the last frontier of old fashioned sexist dudebros that are now relegated to the past..

    @ Amazing Stam

    Your “companies have alienated core fans” argument is meaningless. 80% of super hero books are still about white straight males, if it’s true people stopped buying comics just because some books feature females or people of color it’s not Marvel fault, it’s just that these people are fundamentalist idiots. That said, books like Thor, Ms. Marvel, Spider Gwen, Squirrel Girl, Black Panther are successful, and manage to be very successful in channels that the classic characters can penetrate (bookstores, digital, collections). The books that are losing readers are not these new ones, but books like Spider Man, Avengers, X-Men and so on. Not every book can be a hit so it’s normal that not everyone of the new books will be one, this doesn’t mean diverse books are a failure, many are successful, some are not, just like it’s always been.

    And, luckily, comics are not Marvel and DC. Image sells hundreds of thousands of paperback outside of the comic shops to people who would probably never buy super hero comics, and I don’t think it’s going to disappear anytime soon.

  17. says

    “Diversity fad” – you mean the existence of black people, women, gay people, trans people and Asia are a fad? Good to know.

    Seriously, get over it. The world is not a safe space for white men. Comics need to reflect that.

  18. says

    We’ve seen in both at comic convention and some facebook demographic data mining (published here on the Beat) that today’s comic audience is very diverse. This has been backed up by purchases, particularly in bookstores (and possibly Digital).

    But just because a book is appealing to that audience, doesn’t mean it’s going to sell. Said book has to be STAND OUT great and something the market wants (or didn’t know that it wanted until they saw it) for it to sell. The standard quality of comics has risen so much that just producing a good book gets lost in the crowd of other good books.

    DC and Marvel have a long history of being an ‘aimed at boys’ superhero publisher. and that is a thing to overcome for some of the diversity interested indy reading audience.

  19. Dan Ahn says

    I get it that the original article that set everyone off is full of flawed/skewed logic.

    The problem is that the rebuttals are full of flawed/skewed logic as well.

    I get it that the original article seemed to be blinded by anti-diverse ideology.

    The problem is that the rebuttals are blinded by pro-diverse ideology.

    The original article was flawed because, DUH, EVERY #1 issue sells waaay more than a common issue of a series a year down the road. The fact that the first Silk or A-Force issue sold way more than this month’s issue proves absolutely nothing. The same thing could be said for Amazing Spider-Man.

    But the rebuttals seem to employ benefit-of-the-doubt and “magical thinking”. We must always rely on explanations of “Maybe they sell really well in trade…”. Whenever a “diverse” title is canceled, there is always a fallback explanation of “If they JUST let it go on for another 12 issues, THEN it would have found its audience.”

    Also, Black Panther #1 did great. Its numbers are also inflated due to a plethora of variant covers. It is what it is. It seems to have done well and I’m glad Marvel gave it a push. But pointing to its sales figures are just as flawed as pointing to Marvel NOW’s Uncanny Avengers #1, a series which started out as the tentpole of the whole comic industry, and then quickly dwindled down to a mid-list seller.

    Lastly, the fact that we’re still relying on that one editor’s side comment about “Ms. Marvel is our #1 digital seller” is quite sad. It was a comment from years ago, with ZERO factual proof, said by a person who has every reason in the world to spin the truth. Was it true? Who knows. Anyone interested in FACT-based analysis, though, should not use that kind of information. The fact that people are still using it only goes to show are desperate they are to make reality conform to their hopes and dreams.

    I like diverse comics. I have bought Ms. Marvel every month. I can’t wait for Black Panther to reach a larger and larger audience. And yes I do certainly see the flaws of the crabby people like Adam Frey.

    Unfortunately, the pro-diversity pundits are just as hamstrung by their own prejudices and illogical methods of analysis.

  20. Not The Original Writer says

    Sometimes a bad book is a bad book, no matter how many boxes you check off.

    Also, it’s the economy! you can only buy so many books, and some people would rather drink starbucks every day than put some of that money aside and buy these comics they ramble on tumblr about how great they are.

  21. Kentucky Fried Horse says

    While I don’t necessarily agree with Stam’s politics, I do agree with his sentiment. A lot of longtime, core readers have moved on because of “change for the sake of change” in comics. DC has learned that the hard way with the New 52.

  22. Bralinator says

    When Heidi says “the world is not safe for straight white males” It is very disappointing. All of her articles all have the same taint of a narrow minded agenda driven drivel. Too bad she will never write articles about taking the industry to task for something other than virtue signaling. She just wants to prove that SJW’s are demanding diverse characters in their comics and she applauds the big two when they tick that box for her.

    But these “underserved minorities” you regularly champion should not be catered to at the expense of the core audience. It’s a finite resource. Transgenders who aren’t buying comics now will not suddenly begin preordering a new comic about a transgender, much less sustain those sales – and if you turn Spider-Man into a trains, you’re only going to turn off about 85% of the current readership. You can bitch that white males should embrace transgender characters, but that isn’t going to change the fact that most people are put off by it. And white readers don’t actually care about th race or sexuality of a character, if it’s well written, makes sense, and doesn’t abuse or erase what’s been before.

    Once the big publishers recognize that cow towing to every shrill SJW is not s good long term business model, the days of believing gay superheroes getting married on the cover of this year’s annual are over. And as for David Walker and his Nighthawk series getting cancelled, I read your articles supporting his book and demanding we all pre-order it, but I notice you conveniently left off his myriad Twitter posts telling white conservatives he was going to piss them off and they could “eat a bag of dicks.” Was that just an oversight? Could be one more reason the book’s sales tanked.

    Most comic readers don’t care about the sexuality, the gender or the color if you’re making good stories and not trying to guilt people into buying the books. Just quit calling it diversity when your only original idea is to make all the white legacy characters into something else or your left-wing politics are about as subtle as a brick-to-the-face. Be creative and introduce new characters and let the market decide. Stop appropriating for the sake of diversity. It’s pathetic.

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