You know the ongoing argument about whether or not comics sales are heading away from single issues and towards collected editions?  Guess what – the trend is a little further along than you might think and now that all the 2016 sales numbers are in (at least the ones you can look up), it’s time to highlight a few comics that sell more in tpb format than in monthly serial format.

I’ve have a suspicion brewing that the trend towards collected edition is more of an independent comics thing than a superhero thing.  Part of that probably being how heavily the superhero publishers emphasize the story of the universe and crossovers above and beyond the core titles.  But let’s have a look and see what there is to see, shall we?

For book sales, I’m going to be using what I call the “confirmed kills” methodology.  The annual DM sales totals from Comichron + the conveniently leaked BookScan numbers from The Beat’s own Brian Hibbs.  I’ll compare those to the average of the last 6 issues (or whatever came out in the last 6 months if it wasn’t 6 issues) from The Beat’s sales chart watchers.

Caveat #1: monthly issue sales and DM sales are going to be ~10-15% lower, due to lack of reporting on UK sales.  But that should be consistent.

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Caveat #2: Bookscan numbers are IN THEORY accounting for 75% of book sales.  It misses out on an awful lot of independent bookstores and the book clubs.  And it’s not necessarily a predictable 25% short.  If 90% of a graphic novel’s non-DM sales come from Amazon, it might only be 10% off or less.  And then there’s the 800 lb gorilla in the room:

Caveat #3: if a graphic novel is sold in the Scholastic book fair system, it could more than it did in individual issues.  Period.  Not even worth discussing.  We don’t get to see numbers for that, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that disappointing sales at Scholastic would still get you 100K copies sold.  For example, BOOM!’s Filip Sablik was bragging about selling 800K copies of Lumberjanes at the recent ComicsPro meeting.  Now, maybe that’s across 4 tpbs and a whole bunch of floppies, but there’s still a whole lot o’ copies that must’ve sold in either bookclubs or indie bookstores where we can’t see them.

So, summing it up, DM + Bookscan = sales we know happened.  There are more sales than we can document, but if that combination outsold the monthly serial, then it sells better as a collected edition and it’s highly likely any undocumented book sales offset undocumented digital sales (which rule of thumb would put at 10-15% of print – on average).

I’m also looking at the most recent volume of a serious, unless the most recent was released at the end of the year and doesn’t likely reflect a full purchase cycle (like Paper Girls V.2, which was released in December).

Oh, and before you ask, Walking Dead V. 25 has 76,485 confirmed sales.  Since sales on the monthly jumped in August, the average has been a bit under 91.5K/issue, with the December issue at ~85.5K.  So the regular tpbs could be outselling the comic, but I can’t confirm that.  It’s entirely possible library order push it over the edge, though.  And those compendiums are huge for the Long Tail effect further down the sales stream.

Here are 10 semi-random examples:

Collected Edition DM  Bookscan Collected Edition Total  Six issue/month
average sales
Reader Gain
Saga V. 6 47,968     43,944 91,912 46,689 45,223
Montress V. 1 26,008     24,128 50,136 20,370 29,766
Paper Girls V. 1 33,712     23,538 57,250 33,989 23,260
Rick & Morty V. 1 13,725     13,084 26,809 9,752  17,056
Rat Queens V. 3 14,043     12,392 26,435  12,649 13,785
Tokyo Ghost V. 1 16,424     7,821 24,245 21,304  2,940
Invader Zim V. 1 9,053     8,422 17,475 14,590  2,884
Descender V. 2 11,100     7,232 18,332 17,084  1,247
Lumberjanes V. 3 7,093     ? 7,093 5,898 1,195
I Hate Fairy
Land V. 1
15,075     8,424 23,499 22,840 659

For some reason Lumberjanes V. 3 wasn’t showing up in the Bookscan results, but it’s outselling where the monthly is without even adding in any Bookscan numbers.

What can we take away from this snapshot?  Most of the these titles need a significant Bookscan market presence to pull ahead of single issue sales.  While online bookstores have the entire catalog available, brick & mortar bookstores aren’t going to cycle through as many different titles in a year as a good DM store will.  There’s a little more competition for that mainstream shelf space.  If you can get it, there are definitely potential rewards and Image and Oni, in particular, are getting some wins.

There should be more titles outselling the single issues if you care to dig through and add things up.  This is not intended to be comprehensive and while it’s more than cocktail napkin math, there are a lot more calculations that could be applied here.  There are also plenty of titles that weren’t QUITE selling more as collected editions, but were close.  One example would be Dark Horse’s Fight Club 2, which merely sold decently in the DM, but racked up over 25K confirmed sales in the Bookscan world.  Add in independent bookstores and library sales, it probably did outsell the monthlies, but when you look at comics sales and especially the book market for comics, there’s going to be a certain amount of extra sales you’re going to be guessing about.

Still, the percentage of readers consuming things as books instead of periodicals seems to be marching on, at least for the independents.  There’s every reason to take the idea of a reader shift seriously and potentially mid-stream in progress.

And three of those titles: Monstress, Rat Queens and Rick & Morty seem to have more than DOUBLE the number of readers in the collected edition format.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics or try some fiction.

14 COMMENTS

  1. At my store, collected editions sell better than floppies in almost every case with the exception of DC and Marvel gladiator errrrrrrrrr…..I mean super-hero books. Marvel collections are almost unsellable and DC trades are not what they once were. The sales of the new Rebirth collections are underwhelming at best. New 52 trade sales blew Rebirth sales out of the water which is very troubling considering the fact that Batman, Justice League and Harley Quinn monthly sales are already below N52 levels and many more will be below N52 sales soon enough (See the latest January DC Sales breakdown right here on The Beat and compare it to the February Diamond sales charts). Our single issue sales have been declining every single month for the last 14 months while collected editions and OGNs have been increasing double digits for the past 38 which is when I started comparing sales between the two different formats.

    I pretty much order independents and Marvel (Yes Marvel because Marvel comics sell at small press numbers now!) for pulls only with the exception of a few titles such as TWD, Saga, Paper Girls, Snot Girl, Lady Killer and Black Mask comics (I will take a beating on Black Mask floppy sales because I think they are important enough to new younger readers to promote. I am thinking long term here.) I just wait for the trades because they sell better with almost no risk of being stuck with unsold copies. I am so tired of trying to predict the future when ordering floppies. Floppies are a terrible business model!

    February marked the first month that Image trades sales were #1 in both units and dollars. They have been #1 in units for a long time. I could not be happier with this even though it does not bode well for DC. Boom, Oni, Dark Horse, Black Mask, Scholastic, IDW, Fantagraphics, Dynamite and other smaller publishers continue to grow and Manga has been coming back for a while now and is exploding since the beginning of the year.

    Face it folks, the floppy and super-hero books have seen their best days. We are in a new Golden Age of comics and the preferred delivery method of comics going forward is trades. (Even digital delivery is flat.) The era of floppy gladiator errrrrrr super hero books is coming to an end. I fear Marvel will never come back no matter what they try. I am seeing an outright hatred of Marvel books on the internet and in store. I think it will be almost impossible for Marvel to come back after such a reckless and incompetent destruction of their brand during the last few years.. I hope they do, but I would not bet on it……

  2. “it’s highly likely any undocumented book sales offset undocumented digital sales (which rule of thumb would put at 10-15% of print – on average).”

    ;-)

  3. 1) A well-written book will always sell better than the monthly comics, because it has a longer shelf life.
    1a) It’s well-written because it has a stable creative team. Most of the backlist superhero titles which remain in print are because of one writer, not because of the characters.
    1b) If a comic doesn’t sell well, or is panned, it’s unlikely to be collected.
    1c) The economics can vary per title, but generally, any book which sells over 10K is a success.

    2) Superhero comics are soap operas. A never-ending battle. How many people watch soap opera reruns? Heck… how many people buy the DVD box sets for a TV series? How many people binge-watch a show more than once?
    Now, how many people order a show on-demand, on a whim?
    (I don’t subscribe to any streaming services. I find enough free distraction on YouTube and PBS.org.)

    The stories are forgettable. Seriously… can you name all of the New 52 titles which launched? Can you name ONE Justice League or Green Lantern series event? (And if you can, did that plot have any permanent ramifications for the characters?)

    3) The poster child for this article: Bongo Comics.
    Simpson comics… probably easy to sell, right? Everyone knows the show, everyone would give the comic a read. It’s a Gold sponsor for Free Comic Book Day, and they always offer a great comic for free.
    How many stores sell the single comics? Where do the comic books chart? Do the collected editions chart on the ICV2 monthly charts? Or are those graphic novel sales almost exclusively through non-comics shops, just like Archie Double Digest?

    4) The current period is the Renaissance (new technology, old classics rediscovered, new innovation inspired by other cultures). Next step: The Enlightenment.

  4. Basically all my Image books sell better in trade than in singles (they don’t usually do badly in singles, either) – we’ve sold something north of 40,000 copies of the three Strodes together, for instance.

    What’s sort of fascinating to me is that, if you look at the Diamond 300 and Bookscan, most of the sales don’t exist. This partly where the books sell and partly that my books (knock on all the wood) actually sell really consistently. 300 – 500 copies a month of each title won’t get you on the lists, usually, but it adds up.

  5. The thing is that I doubt very (VERY) much that if that same list of material was presented as “original graphic novel only” that most of it would be selling that well. Periodicals are still what drive market-knowledge of material, and market-awareness of continued publication, and what “allows” the “taste makers” to identify and promote high-quality comics in the first place.

    And that doesn’t even begin to address what would happen with prices as a result.

    -B

  6. Torsten makes several good points. However, I will say that, of the New 52 titles, Geoff Johns’ Justice League was consistently one of the best with the (almost) series closing “Darkseid War” standing as one of the best arcs in JL history, IMHO. .

  7. Interesting! One more consideration I would throw in is that perhaps the first collected volume isn’t the best benchmark to base these conclusions on though. Image in particular regularly prices the first volume at 10$, so I imagine a lot of people will just sample a series that way once the first arc has gotten good press/word of mouth.

    I realise there simply is no newer volume of Monstress to look at yet, so we’re constrained by the available data. Also Invader Zim and Rick & Morty are maybe a bit different since they’re established properties? By which I mean they might sell more to non-DM crowds simply because those people never visit DM shops but do venture into ‘regular’ bookshops every now and then.

  8. Do I know the ongoing argument Todd? I can remember having it since 2000 or so in message boards! I thought we were on the cusp of change then, and wish we had given so many comics are snoozefests padded for the collection*, but these days I agree with Hibbs that both are needed.

    Personally I go singles with $2.99 comics, except for a few higher priced standouts, and try an issue of anything higher and then wait for collection.

    *American writers seems too scared to bring the Thrill Power!

  9. Heidi: Right. I realized that after I saw the chart.

    My question is since those BookScan Image GN sales obviously had to go through Diamond at some point, is there a chance that Diamond already includes sales to the regular book market in their Top 300 GN charts for books wherein they’re the distributor?

    For example, Paper Girls V. 1 shows 33,712 DM and 23,538 BookScan. By any chance is it possible that 33,712 is the actual total est. known sales in 2016, with 23,538 selling via book stores, Amazon, etc. and 10,174 (33,712 – 23,538) selling via comic shops?

  10. There is absolutely 100% ZERO chance of that — DM and BookScan are *additive*, and reporting on wholly different things. In your example, PAPER GIRLS sold (*at least*) 57k copies, and since we’re fairly confident BookScan under reports by a significant amount, it could be much more than that.

    -B

  11. I have to agree with Brian here , the single issues set the table , the trade sales are just the gravy. We all know (for the most part) how poorly original GN’s perform …… I shared this on another thread , so it kind of is relevant to what is posted here , so I will share it again ………………………………………….I would love to see School Book Fair totals … I recently helped at one , and at first I was kind of stunned on how many comicbook trades we were setting up the night before…I commented to the person in charge , and she said just watch , how they sell . Well after the 1st day the 6 books that sold out of their 25 copies were : Cyborg Vol 1 and 2 , the 2 DC Superhero Girls books , 2 of the Gotham Academy volumes . The comic related trades led the way , and by far and away were the best sellling books for the 3 day event…………………..and by the way Marvel trades sold pretty well , but they trailed DC by a large amount

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