So is the great comics boom over? DC’s New 52 initiative in September 2011 kicked off a boom in comics sales that has seen store sales up significantly, more top selling books from all publishers, and the much-wished for bigger pie of comics consumers finally delivered piping hot from the bakery.
BUT HAVE WE FINALLY EATEN ALL THE PIE????
As The Beat reported here last week, March was the third blahish month in a row, and certain other sales signifiers are not all that positive. However this could just because Q1 2013 was SO totally amazing, nothing could match up?
Our top two industry sales analysts have totally different views. John Jackson Miller, often quoted here, has the mostly “it’s all gonna be okay” view
Last, a word about first quarters in comics in general. January and February’s data set off some hand-wringing in various internet circles—in part, because they were the first back-to-back negative months the market had seen in some time. But it’s worth noting that since less of the industry’s annual volume is sold in the first quarter—just 21.45% of 2012’s sales came in the first quarter—both upside and downside changes simply mean less than at other times in the year. Last year’s first quarter was up 20% but the year was only up 9%.
As the biggest indicator (beyond the number of accounts) in what a comic book sells this month is what it sold last month, certainly any slowdown is meaningful. But history is replete with strong Aprils wiping out winter losses. The picture of a year seldom is really clear until June—and in years like 2011, with the DC relaunch, it was September before we really knew how things would go.
JJM is a steadying presence to be sure, and the comics internerd’s tendency to cry Ragnarok at the merest hint of trouble, although to suggest that a new industry shaking initiative like The New 52 might just wander by any month now is perhaps a bit…overly hopeful. Yet perhaps the opposing view, from the veteran of many a Ragnarok, Milton Griepp, reflects the tendency of us old timers to think it can all be taken away at a moments notice::
The long bull market in comics is officially over, or at least pausing, with a significant decline in sales to comic stores for a full quarter now in the books. Sales of comics and graphic novels declined 1.48% in March, making the decline for the quarter 4.4% vs. the previous year. Comic sales to specialty stores, according to numbers released today by Diamond Comic Distributors, were down 9.47% in March, while graphic novel sales were up 18.31%. For the quarter, comic sales were down 6.89% and graphic novel sales rose 1.39%.
Greipp even dampens the parade of the Walking Dead sales juggernaut, noting that with “no early volumes of TWD in the graphic novel top 10 despite a weak month, perhaps an indication that new readers are no longer flocking to the title in the same numbers.”
I stand somewhere between the half full/half empty views, making the glass, at most, a quarter filled with water and one quarter tears and the other third mincemeat.
WILL YOU STOP TALKING ABOUT THE FRICKING WEATHER, PEOPLE? Diamond sales numbers indicated SELL-IN not SELL-THROUGH. It is possible that comics retailers were so cold in January that they were unable to move their fingers to order more books in March but…it is unlikely.
As Jackson alludes to, Graphic Novel sales are still holding their own, behind Saga and Walking dead. With TWD off the air until October, we’ll probably see some softening here although the actual Walking Dead periodical seems to be firing on all cylinders these days. I’ve spoken to a few retailers and while there is concern over the softening of the big “events” (see next post) sales remain strong because of the general high quality of comics overall.
So yeah, some things are not doing as well as they were but luckily, I can’t think of a time when so many publishers were putting forth strong lines, with readership based not just on a single property or creator. In a way both Jackson and Griepp are right: any downturn should be noted but it is far from the end of the world…yet, true believer, YET!
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.