A couple of developments in the ongoing pamphletpocalypse/sales adjustment.
§ At long last John Jackson Miller has appeared with comforting words to explain why September’s sales figures weren’t cause to jump out the window. This may be just our interpretation, but it appears that the plunge isn’t so much that all periodical sales are shrinking as top periodical sales are slipping. Miller explains that the tail-end of the long tail is actually HEALTHIER than ever.
Direct Market sales volume for comics not appearing in the Top 300 appears to be increasing.
How do we know? Believe it or not, a record for high sales was actually set in September. The 300th place comic book, Boom’s Farscape #11, sold more copies to retailers in September than in any month since November 1996: 4,702 copies. That’s a record for the period following Marvel’s return to Diamond. This bellwether tells us about the shape of the market, and how prolific the major and middle-tier publishers are; when many of their titles are being released and reordered, higher-volume titles tend to push farther into the list. (See an updated list of all the 300th place titles and their sales.)
A few other data points: The top 25 periodicals are selling about 25 percent worse than they did in 2003, the period when the most recent sales “boom” was at its healthiest. The 25-70th places are steady, but the midlist definitely needs a tummy tuck, down about 15%. And then things pick up for the end like CRAZY. “Midlist” publishers BOOM!, Dynamite, and IDW are all solidifying the audiences for their titles, and might even be building NEW audiences for people who like to read, say, TRANSFORMERS or INCORRUPTIBLE but not Big Two comics.
JJM has a table showing the 300th comic sales for the last 14 years or so; it’s incredibly interesting just for the flashes of also-rans from the datebook of comics history: IronCat, Dabel, Jack Lake, Gutsoon.
Like we said, this sales trend—combined with the fact that Marvel and DC are very busy redefining their price point, format and line size—suggets that all signs point to a significant balking of hardcore Marvel/DC periodical readers.
§ Indeed, in an interview with Kiel Phegley Marvel’s co-executive editor Tom Brevoort was busy explaining the recent announcements re line cutting and price cutting:
Tom Brevoort: I think that the key thing, from my understanding of it at least, is that people either misreported or misconstrued what David Gabriel actually said at that panel. They kind of confused it a bit with the DC announcement and mixed them all together, and so it created what amounts to an unrealistic expectation for what would be happening in January. As I understand it, in the panel that David was in speaking about digital comics, he said that our digital comics sales had been really successful and that as a result of that, beginning in January we’d be able to start pricing some of our upcoming limited series and other releases at $2.99. This announcement came at around the time that DC announced that they were rolling back all their titles to $2.99, and people got very excited and confused and a little crazed, and I think that all of the particulars got lost in the shuffle. So now that the actual January catalog is out, people are going, “Wait! Didn’t you say all these books were going to be priced at $2.99?” No, we didn’t actually say that.
We said two things: one, we’re going to be able to do more things at the $2.99 price point as a result of the success of digital comics, and two, that we’re going to try to contract some of the wild line expansion that we’ve had over the next couple of months. It’s not all going to happen instantly– it’s not going to be that suddenly in January we’re down to only four Deadpool books. We’re still going to have the same number of Deadpool books that we normally had (or perhaps a little bit fewer just to pull that all back.) But this morning we announced the Point One initiative that we’ve got running through many of our monthly titles between February and April, and all of those books are priced at $2.99. And you’ll see more initiatives like that in the months to come. So really, what this kind of amounts to from my point of view is either people reporting the wrong message or reading the wrong message from those reports and then being upset that reality isn’t exactly the thing they had in their heads.
As many have pointed out, this misconstruing may be partially due to the fact that Marvel hasn’t really made a concrete policy announcement re all this. However, it is our understanding that further statements are coming this week. STAY TUNED, TRUE BELIEVER.
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.