Despite the jitters everyone is having about the Big Two’s periodical publishing programs, as we reported the other day, graphic novels did pretty well in 2015, with sales up 22% in bookstores. Calvin Reid follows up on this sanguine report with an interview with Diamond Book Distributions Kuo Yu Liang, who says
2016 will probably be their best year ever.:
Liang credited the growth to a wide variety of popular titles and a supportive and stable retailing sector in 2015 “We had a year of great books in 2015 and an overall robust retail environment,” he said. He also emphasized the continuing growth of new bookstore customers curious about the buzz around graphic novels.
“Consumer interest in graphic novels keeps rising. That’s been a trend over the last 10 years,” Liang said, noting the impact of demands for diversity. “And there were lots of new customers—including women and minorities—asking about graphic novels in bookstores. The more people talk about graphic novels, the more people want to try one out.”
In another interesting tidbit, Liang says that there are “ongoing discussions” with Walmart to set up dedicated graphic novel sections.
Liang called the deal, “a great example of a lot of comics people working behind the scenes toward a much bigger project at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart wants to be a part of this. Manga is first but other graphic novels are coming.”
This interest is far from theoretical. Viz recently signed deals with both Wal-Mart and Best Buy to start carrying their titles.
Walmart will now feature four of Viz’s most popular series—Tokyo Ghoul, Pokeman, One Punch Man and the new Naruto one-shots—in more than 2,000 of its location across the country. The deal will ensure that more Viz titles are consistently available in more Walmart stores. At Best Buy, Viz will now be selling three titles—two Naruto titles and an Assassination Classroom title—packaged with their anime tie-ins. The titles will be featured in floor displays in 687 Best Buy stores around the country.
Kevin Hamric, Viz senior director of sales and marketing, said the Walmart deal marks the beginning of an effort to convince the national retailer to once again maintain a dedicated graphic novel section. Hamric explained that the retailer had a dedicated comics section years ago but “shrank it” over the years to include only a few bestsellers from a handful of publishers.
Getting comics/graphic novels into “big box retailers” has long been considered a holy grail for replacing the retail environment that newsstands once offered, but there have been many hiccups along the way, as Hamric noted. Wal-Mart has often rejected comics content as too violent or sexual, and selling comics on the vast returnable basis that a huge chain requires can be a deadly boomerang. A long time ago Marvel got back into 7-11s but that didn’t work out for various reasons.
However, as with many things happening in graphic novel sales these days, this new attempt at expansion seems to be based on knowledge of the market and not throwing things against the wall and hoping for the best. Wal-Mart will never be an outlet for most comics because of the content, but there are plenty of all-ages-ish titles to stock a section. (although they do carry The Walking dead comics, as I recall.) And as I noted a few months ago, you can buy even challenging comics material like CF and Crumb on the Wal-Mart website.
Liang’s report on the state of comics is generally upbeat, with international sales, especially in the Middle East, growing. Due to some currency exchange issues, sales dropped in Brazil, Malaysia and Canada, however.
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.