Ah… another year draws to a close, and just like the Facebook New Years app, I analyze a year’s worth of data, run my quirky algorithms, and post it for all to see. And just like those “here’s the great things our family did this year” holiday letters, you’ll probably look at the graphs, skim the post, and move on to the next post.
But it’s a tradition here at Beat Manor, and I’d do it anyway, just because I’m curious about sales figures.
So, my methodology:
- The New York Times publishes three weekly charts for “graphic books”: Hardcover, Paperback, Manga.
- Each week covers data from two weeks previous.
- I grab everything dated “2014”, so that I get some time to process it all before the clock tolls, and to keep the goalposts at the same place.
- Each title is weighted in reverse, since the list only ranks titles, with no approximate sales figures. 10 points for #1, 9 for #2… (Yes, aggregate sales can vary wildly for season to season. but I do the best with what I’ve got.)
- I make a nice spreadsheet for each list, run totals, make nice pie charts, and present it all here.
The Times’ methodology? Guarded, to keep publishers from gaming the system. But if you scroll down to the bottom of each list, they have a nice boilerplate.
Something interesting happened this year… the chart was eclectic and lively, until June. That’s when Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant debuted at #1. It’s still up there as I type, never dropping below #5, and topping the charts eleven times. Publisher? Bloomsbury, which doesn’t publish many graphic novels.
Then, in June, Bryan Lee O’Malley debuts with Seconds, published by Random House. It stays on the list for the remainder of the year.
Then it’s followed by three books by Neil Gaiman (none of which got much notice in comics circles), which, of course, stay on the list for the remainder of the year.
The Top Twelve titles, by weeks charted, followed by the weighted total:
- Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? 32 weeks 272 pts. (of 520 possible)
- Batman: The Killing Joke 28 weeks 149 pts.
- Seconds 22 weeks 153 pts.
- The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains 22 weeks 112 pts.
- Batman, Volume 3 17 weeks 96 pts
- The Joker: Death Of The Family 16 weeks 72 pts.
- The Walking Dead, Book 1 16 weeks 67 pts.
- The Graveyard Book, Volume 1 13 weeks 55 pts.
- Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, And Blood 12 weeks 46 pts
- Kill My Mother 10 weeks 56 pts.
- Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children 10 weeks 46 pts
- Injustice: Gods Among Us, Volume 2 10 weeks 42 pts.
Which were the Number One titles? Chronologically:
- The Best American Comics 2013 (1 week)
- Batman, Volume 3 (2 weeks)
- Cemetery Girl, Book 1 (2 weeks)
- X-Men: Battle of the Atom (1 week)
- The Planetary Omnibus (1 week)
- Locke & Key, Volume 6 (3 weeks)
- Infinity (1 week)
- Beautiful Darkness (1 week)
- Game of Thrones (1 week)
- Justice League: Trinity War (1 week)
- Fear Agent: Library Edition, Vol. 2 (2 weeks)
- Justice League, Volume 4 (1 week)
- Spider-Man: Family Business (1 week)
- Over Easy (1 week)
- The Uncanny X-Men Omnibus, Volume 2 (1 week)
- Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (11 weeks)
- The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains (1 week)
- Big Damn Sin City (1 week)
- Seconds (6 weeks)
- Scott Pilgrim, Volume 5 (1 week)
- Kill My Mother (1 week)
- The Walking Dead, Book 10 (1 week)
- Sugar Skull (1 week)
- Kick-Ass 3 (1 week)
- Injustice: Gods Among Us Year 2, Volume 1 (1 week)
- Batman, Volume 5 (2 weeks)
- Pogo, Volume 3 (1 week)
- The Complete Peanuts: 1991-1994 (1 week)
- The Wake (1 week)
- Serenity: Leaves on the Wind (1 week)
- Saga, Deluxe Edition, Volume 1 (1 week)
A fairly diverse scattering.among publishers.
Realize that the “one-week wonders” are driven by pre-order sales, mostly online. Once a title is shipped, those copies are counted as “sold” and tabulated. Any title which charts for more than a week is exceptional, and a title like “Can’t We Talk” is amazing, with strong word of mouth, year-end accolades, and award nominations. It’s this year’s Fun Home or Building Stories, a title which gains critical acclaim and sells outside the comics-shop enclave.
DC Comics dominates, mostly due to Batman titles, old and new. (The Killing Joke accounted for 18% of their total points.) The Snyder Batman volumes chart well, along with Justice League, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn titles. The remainder: Injustice, a few Vertigo titles, an omnibus or two, and some original graphic novels.
Abrams had great success with their “Nathan Hale” books, hardcover editions about Nathan Hale, spy, narrating historical adventures created by Nathan Hale, cartoonist. Jeepers! Kids reading non-fiction comics? shh! Don’t tell them!
Marvel and DC both had declines this year in placements on the chart, compared to 2013. (DC: 217>154, Marvel 59>40) HarperCollins and Bloomsbury muscled their way into the pie. Image also slumped, while IDW and Dark Horse placed more titles this year. The big winner? Random House. They have their regular comics imprints (Knopf, Pantheon), and just acquired Penguin, which is starting to publish graphic novels. They also distribute many comics publishers, including DC, Archie. Dark Horse, Titan, Vertical, and Kodansha.
So what was going on over in the more competitive market of graphic novel paperbacks?
Pretty much what was going on last year… Image dominated with The Walking Dead, and Raina Telgemeier became that rare author with a #1, #2, and #3 title on the same list when Sisters, Smile, and Drama topped the chart on November 23, 2014! (The Walking Dead did this on January 5, and earlier, but that’s a group effort, and there are some sixty-plus titles they can use, and it’s driven by a television show. Ms. Telgemeier does it all herself, one book a year at best, and with only six (?) books and amazing word of mouth. (oops… pardon the pun.))
The Number One titles, chronologically:
- The Walking Dead Compendium, Volume 1 (three weeks)
- Fables, Volume 19 (one week)
- Persepolis (six weeks)
- Lego Ninjago #9, Night of the Nindroids (one week)
- Unwritten, Volume 8 (one week)
- The Walking Dead Compendium, Volume 2 (three weeks)
- Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Rift, Part 1 (one week)
- The Walking Dead, Volume 20 (two weeks)
- Saga, Volume 3 (five weeks)
- Sex Criminals, Volume 1 (one week)
- The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (one week)
- Lego Ninjago, Volume 10 (one week)
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (one week)
- The Forgotten Man: Graphic Edition (two weeks)
- The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (one week)
- The Harlem Hellfighters (one week)
- Rat Queens, Volume 1 (one week)
- Nightwing, Volume 4 (one week)
- The Star Wars (one week)
- The Walking Dead, Volume 21 (two weeks)
- Sisters (fourteen weeks)
- The Walking Dead, Volume 22 (one week)
- Smile (one week)
Only TWO superhero titles, each charting only one week each.
14 weeks (27%) were topped by backlist titles. Not reprints of old material, but actual titles still in print years later. Smile…132 weeks (and it first charted a year after it was published!) Drama…75 weeks. TWD Compendiums… 144 and 73 weeks, respectively. Saga, Volume 1…78 weeks.
Image dropped a little, for 43% to 41%. Scholastic almost doubled, from 12% to 21%. DC… 11% to 5%! Yikes… (from 66 placements in 2013 to 26 this year. Batman, Vertigo, Nightwing, Green Arrow. I don’t think the New 52 is long for this world, if the trades aren’t selling. I wonder how well they sell to comics shops?) Marvel had no change, and no big titles. Ms. Marvel only lasted three weeks on the list, and once again, a movie moved few units, as GotG: The Complete Collection, Volume 1 only charted four weeks. (Compare to the multiple placements DC charted during the Batman movies.) Macmillan/First Second did well, from 3% to 5%, 39 placements this year up from 22 last. Abrams burst onto the chart this year, grabbing ten slots with one title, the memoir El Deafo.
Again, the manga market seems to be a bit like last year, except for the absence of Sailor Moon, and the growing dominance of Attack on Titan.
Here’s the big picture, by franchise:
Attack on Titan, a huge property which launched in 2013, became even bigger in 2014! How big? Most manga titles will last, at best, a month on the bestseller list, replaced by the next volumes of other predominant franchises. Attack on Titan, Volume 1 charted every week this year, and even topped the charts multiple times! Volumes 11, 12, 13, 14 all topped the chart, as did ancillary series such as AoT: Before the Fall, and AoT: No Regrets. All told, there were sixteen different AoT titles charting this year. (Miscellaneous titles are clumped under the “weekly” slices.)
The Number One titles, chronologically:
- Attack on Titan, Volume 1 (four weeks)
- Attack on Titan, Volume 10 (one week)
- Naruto, Volume 64 (three weeks)
- Attack on Titan, Volume 11 (one week)
- Bleach, Volume 59 (two weeks)
- Blood Lad, Volume 4 (one week)
- One Piece, Volume 70 (one week)
- Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Volume 1 (two weeks)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 5 (one week)
- Naruto, Volume 65 (three weeks)
- No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys Fault I’m Not Popular! Volume 3 (one week)
- Attack on Titan, Volume 12 (one week)
- Monster Musume, Volume 3 (three weeks)
- Dragonar Academy, Volume 2 (one week)
- Pokemon Adventures: Diamond and Pearl/Platinum, Volume 8 (one week)
- Crimson Spell, Volume 4 (one week)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6 (one week)
- Attack on Titan: No Regrets, Volume 1 (one week)
- Naruto, Volume 66 (four weeks)
- Black Butler, Volume 17 (one week)
- Rosario+Vampire, Season II, Volume 13 (one week)
- Crimson Spell, Volume 5 (one week)
- Monster Musume, Volume 4 (one week)
- Attack on Titan, Volume 13 (one week)
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, Volume 6 (two weeks)
- Noragami, Volume 1 (one week)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 7 (one week)
- Naruto, Volume 67 (one week)
- Vampire Knight, Volume 19 (one week)
- No Game, No Life, Volume 1 (one week)
- Attack on Titan: No Regrets, Volume 2 (one week)
- Attack on Titan, Volume 14 (two weeks)
- Monster Musume, Volume 5 (two weeks)
- Naruto, Volume 68 (two weeks)
Fantagraphics?!? Yup. Nijigahara Holograph. Dark Horse? Unofficial Hatsune Mix. Viz and Kodansha trade market shares this year. Seven Seas gains on Hachette/Yen, as both are not owned by Japanese manga publishers, and must compete for licenses from smaller manga publishers in Japan. (Given the strong market for original European manga in France and Germany, I wonder if Hachette will experiment by importing some of those titles. Maybe even Tokyopop, still extant in Germany, might re-enter the market, like a phoenix from the ash piles!
As I stated earlier, these lists seem to be powered by pre-orders. What surprises me about the manga list is how successful first volumes are! How are the publishers promoting new series so that they chart? Perhaps the bar is low for making the list, although these titles must compete with established franchises. Perhaps, like with superhero titles, there is a curiosity/boredom driving sale of first volumes/issues.
Mainstream book publishers have figured out how to sell graphic novels via traditional book channels, as seen on the paperback and hardcover lists. Fall is the most competitive time, given the holiday sales at the end of the year, as well as back-to-school purchases (both academic, as seen with Persepolis, and library/school purchasing) where the blockbuster titles are promoted during the summer via trade shows, then launched in August and September. (Gift books ship in October or November, in time for the holidays.)
The other half of the year seems to be forgotten, allowing comics publishers to fill the void. Many comics publishers do schedule major titles for release in January, some of which would make great holiday titles if released earlier. (For example, I have Big Hard Sex Criminals on order, a 320-page $40 hardcover omnibus, but must wait until March 2015 to take it to bed.)
What’s interesting is that the comics industry does parallel the sales schedule of book publishing… Comics publishers issue many titles in July to exploit the fan frenzy known as Comic-Con International. But do any reserve their big names for the Fall season? How many years will it be before a comics publisher is responsible for a “book of the year” like Fun Home or Building Stories?
We might see a change next year. Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor will be released in February, and is already highly anticipated. (Barnes & Noble, for example, is offering a special limited edition.)
Marvel and DC each have thirty-plus years of book trade experience. They know how to sell to comics shops, and how to sell to bookstores and libraries. Marvel seems to treat the book trade as an afterthought, as seen by the mediocre sales of Ms. Marvel on these lists, a title which could easily gain traction via school book fairs and libraries. (I’ll watch 2015 to see if it reappears, and to see how Volume Two sells. The New York Public Library has 74 copies, with reserves on the title, so that might help.) DC… needs to generate a better backlist, as few New 52 titles are charting. (All first volumes of the original series charted in previous years.) Fables ends soon, as does Unwritten. Vertigo has been aggressive in launching new titles, even advertising on phone booths in New York City.
IDW, Dark Horse, Boom…. they have titles which do appeal to a mainstream audience (as seen with the success of IDW’s mini-comics on sale at Target and Wal-Mart). I believe some cross-marketing between the publisher and the IP owners would help. Dark Horse, part of the Random House distribution tent, tends to get overlooked due to the huge catalog of RH titles on display at trade shows. Perhaps they should get a satellite booth, similar to Fantagraphics (Norton) and First Second (Macmillan). It will be interesting to see what sort of graphic novel marketing will be seen at this year’s BookCon, occurring the weekend after the BookExpo America trade show.
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!