Units units units. Who’s got the units?

I’ll post the full charts in a bit, but the short version is August was a record setting month for Diamond, as they shipped 1o million units. I’ll let John Jackson Miller make the announcement:

Since 1998, Diamond Comic Distributors has never shipped more than 10 million comic books to comics ships in a single month. That changed in August, as DC‘s “Rebirth” resulted in shipments of 10.26 million comics to retailers in North America.

It’s the first time Diamond has ever revealed the full number of copies shipped in a single month; it previously has only announced a total for the entire year. (Last year’s overall total was 98 million copies.) As a result of August’s shipments, every category for 2016 has turned positive. Retailers ordered $57.66 million in comics and graphic novels in the month, up 31.62% — bringing the year’s total to $388.35 million, up nearly 3%. It’s a five-week month versus a four-week month this time out; there have been 35 shipping weeks in the year to date, versus 34 weeks at the same time last year.

Although the full number of units ordered monthly has not been previously released, Comichron estimates of the Top 300 comics shipped in the past make it possible to guess at the most recent time that shipments topped 10 million. We know that the Top 300 comics sold 10.29 million copies in December 1996, for example, but that comes from a combination of Marvel’s sales through Heroes World and Diamond’s sales of everything else. Marvel‘s return to Diamond in April 1997 resulted in orders of 9.34 million copies of the Top 300 comics; it’s possible that comics outside the Top 300 took that figure over 10 million, but it’s tougher to believe that it topped 10.26 million. There weren’t as many books beneath 300th place then, and lower-tier books were selling at levels a good deal lower back then.

Since the direct market is dying, it’s nice to go out on top.


  1. Bis repetita placent!

    Aren’t most of those REBIRTH issues returnable?

    And thus vastly inflating numbers shipped vs. numbers sold?

    Meaning months before hard numbers based on sell-through?

    How come this isn’t mentioned in either of your posts?

  2. If you click through to the article, you would see it mentioned that the median returnable comic book sells through the reduced sales levels Diamond reports. It links as well to this piece —


    –which demonstrates that if you combine all the returnable comics of 2014-2015 for which final end-of-year numbers are known, eventual total orders were 7% higher than Diamond’s initial reports. Many returnable books sold far beyond their initial shipments, via reorders and reprints,

    Convergence’s final totals fared poorer relative to the rest of the titles in that two-year period; prospects for this event are looking much better by comparison.

  3. John, your “Ignore the asterisks” link was interesting. Makes one wonder why they don’t leverage returnability more, though.

  4. The expense is a major reason. Printing, shipping, and paper are too costly to create a large portion of your print run knowing that it’s going to be destroyed. It’s why the economics of the newsstand continue to suffer — note how many magazines, to make a go of it, are priced at $15 and more as “special editions.” And the logistics also incurs an expense. Worse, on the newsstand, the lower discount associated with returnable books cuts doubly against sales; the retailer might simultaneously be more likely to overorder while having at the same time less impetus to push the books.

    I think it can make sense for a large publisher on the occasional project that it wants to give extra attention to. But things can be taken too far, and ultimately retailers’ time is generally better spent on sending books out the front door rather than shipping stripped covers out the back.

  5. “[returnability] can make sense for a large publisher on the occasional project that it wants to give extra attention to”

    John, if most returnable comics have a good sell-through, why didn’t Marvel use that for NIGHTHAWK’s launch? Why are readers blamed for not pre-ordering it, and not Marvel for not making such project returnable?

    A cynic could think Marvel just wanted to service the trademark, give lip service to diversity, and be able to keep saying that such comics just can’t sell. Wouldn’t your findings help support such view?

  6. As I understand it, Marvel has done promotional overships for which it does not charge, but has not really done much in the way of returnability as a sales tactic. There’s one obvious reason: there is a cost associated with accepting and processing returns. The former method gets the same job over and done with.

    Note also that while the median returnable title does better, it doesn’t always work — and when it doesn’t work, it can turn out quite a bit worse. Convergence’s numbers went down by a lot in the final accounting Diamond released. Returnability appears to be functioning as a way to spotlight particular projects: if you did it for everything, it would lose its impact, drastically increase logistical work, and just possibly undermine that which makes the Direct Market so much more profitable for all involved than the newsstand is for its participants. I refer you to Brian Hibbs’ column here for more thoughts on that.

    I don’t think encouraging preorders blames readers at all, actually, any more than concert promoters encouraging people to buy tickets in advance does. You take two risks in waiting to buy a ticket at the door: the show might sell out, or the show might be cancelled for lack of presales. While it’s obviously on the promoter to properly market the event, it’s perfectly responsible for those involved with the show to let people know that, yes, presales are directly related to whether or not a show goes on, and that preordering is a way that fans can make sure that it does. There’s no blame there — but there is a potential cost to not acting.

  7. Sure, but even just “as a way to spotlight particular projects”, one could wonder why Disney’s Marvel used neither returnability nor overshipping to promote NIGHTHAWK if they were to launch it at all, especially against two “events”.

    (Having then Lex Luthor lecture the little guys on pre-ordering after his big globo-corp didn’t do diddly adds insult to injury, IMO.)

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