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So is the great comics boom over? DC’s New 52 initiative in September 2011 kicked off a boom in comics sales that has seen store sales up significantly, more top selling books from all publishers, and the much-wished for bigger pie of comics consumers finally delivered piping hot from the bakery.


As The Beat reported here last week, March was the third blahish month in a row, and certain other sales signifiers are not all that positive. However this could just because Q1 2013 was SO totally amazing, nothing could match up?

Our top two industry sales analysts have totally different views. John Jackson Miller, often quoted here, has the mostly “it’s all gonna be okay” view

Last, a word about first quarters in comics in general. January and February’s data set off some hand-wringing in various internet circles—in part, because they were the first back-to-back negative months the market had seen in some time. But it’s worth noting that since less of the industry’s annual volume is sold in the first quarter—just 21.45% of 2012’s sales came in the first quarter—both upside and downside changes simply mean less than at other times in the year. Last year’s first quarter was up 20% but the year was only up 9%.

As the biggest indicator (beyond the number of accounts) in what a comic book sells this month is what it sold last month, certainly any slowdown is meaningful. But history is replete with strong Aprils wiping out winter losses. The picture of a year seldom is really clear until June—and in years like 2011, with the DC relaunch, it was September before we really knew how things would go.

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JJM is a steadying presence to be sure, and the comics internerd’s tendency to cry Ragnarok at the merest hint of trouble, although to suggest that a new industry shaking initiative like The New 52 might just wander by any month now is perhaps a bit…overly hopeful. Yet perhaps the opposing view, from the veteran of many a Ragnarok, Milton Griepp, reflects the tendency of us old timers to think it can all be taken away at a moments notice::

The long bull market in comics is officially over, or at least pausing, with a significant decline in sales to comic stores for a full quarter now in the books. Sales of comics and graphic novels declined 1.48% in March, making the decline for the quarter 4.4% vs. the previous year. Comic sales to specialty stores, according to numbers released today by Diamond Comic Distributors, were down 9.47% in March, while graphic novel sales were up 18.31%. For the quarter, comic sales were down 6.89% and graphic novel sales rose 1.39%.

Greipp even dampens the parade of the Walking Dead sales juggernaut, noting that with “no early volumes of TWD in the graphic novel top 10 despite a weak month, perhaps an indication that new readers are no longer flocking to the title in the same numbers.”

I stand somewhere between the half full/half empty views, making the glass, at most, a quarter filled with water and one quarter tears and the other third mincemeat.

WILL YOU STOP TALKING ABOUT THE FRICKING WEATHER, PEOPLE? Diamond sales numbers indicated SELL-IN not SELL-THROUGH. It is possible that comics retailers were so cold in January that they were unable to move their fingers to order more books in March but…it is unlikely.

As Jackson alludes to, Graphic Novel sales are still holding their own, behind Saga and Walking dead. With TWD off the air until October, we’ll probably see some softening here although the actual Walking Dead periodical seems to be firing on all cylinders these days. I’ve spoken to a few retailers and while there is concern over the softening of the big “events” (see next post) sales remain strong because of the general high quality of comics overall.

So yeah, some things are not doing as well as they were but luckily, I can’t think of a time when so many publishers were putting forth strong lines, with readership based not just on a single property or creator. In a way both Jackson and Griepp are right: any downturn should be noted but it is far from the end of the world…yet, true believer, YET!


  1. “Diamond sales numbers indicated SELL-IN not SELL-THROUGH. It is possible that comics retailers were so cold in January that they were unable to move their fingers to order more books in March but…it is unlikely.”

    Well, kinda?

    Diamond order numbers are a predictive reflection of what the prior sell-through was — on March orders, by and large, retailers are ordering what they feel like they SHOULD HAVE in January…

    I’m pretty willing to lay money that if we WERE able to track sell-through, it would map really really close to the two-month difference between order-placement and order-receipt (on monthly, continuing, ongoing books — “events” and stunts and mini-series follow a slightly different kind of calculus)

    If you want to know what sales were like in January, look at orders for March books!

    So, yeah, if winter weather kills out your growth, you’re not going to keep placing deep bets into Spring. In 1989, maybe, when there were 30 comics in a given week — but 2014 has well over 100 SKUs every week.


  2. I would think the lack of WALKING DEAD backlist entries in the Top 10 is evidence that it’s not a weak month. There were a number of new releases which would have been the top book in a weak month, and had to settle for lower in the Top 10 in a month where SAGA and WALKING DEAD and LOEG and AVATAR all had new books.

  3. I actually wrote about this subject today at length, but I really genuinely think that it’s a bit of an outlier, and that we’ll see a healthy return in the remainder of the year. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that I align with JJM in thinking that it isn’t so bad, especially when looking at year-to-year and quarter-to-quarter comparisons. Anyways. here’s my piece.

    Always interesting to see the “sky is falling” perspectives pop up when things like this happen.

  4. The comparison between 2013 and 2014 is really striking at the top of the chart. In March 2013 every top ten comic sold over 90,000. Last month you could get into the top ten selling 65,000. Last year the number 50 comic sold 10,000 copies more. By the time you get down to number 100 things have levelled out, 22,000 for both years.

    This looks like bad news for DC and Marvel who sell most of their comics in the top 50.

  5. Is it possible for someone at Beat Manor to investigate why Marvel’s subscription site has been down for two months?

    I e-mailed the generic inbox last week and all I got was “No one is more frustrated about the site being down than us. You can still manage your subscriptions by calling 1-800 blah blah blah.” That may not be an exact quote.

  6. Matthew’s point about leveling out is certainly true: as my final estimates piece for the month — — notes, unit sales of both the 300th place comic and graphic novel were up more than 20%. The bench is doing relatively better, and it’s fairly deep.

    Winter does impact the charts. This isn’t 2000, when the tables were based on preorders: all reorder activity is included. That’s a significant amount (sometimes pegged at eight percentage points on the comics, but that certainly varies) that is wholly dependent on foot traffic.

    I also think it’s worthwhile to look back on the comparison months — and to note when they really were exceptional. Last March, Marvel discounted hardcovers by the palletload, adding a couple million dollars to the overall tote — more than the amount the market was down this month. Discounting didn’t happen to the same degree this year: we can see that because Diamond’s GN sales — which are based on wholesale dollars — popped up double-digits overall, while a straight comparison of retail dollars sold in the Top 300s would have led us to expect a drop. In truth, more GN volume moved through the system last year, but Diamond got far closer to cover price for it this year.

    Some statistics are born frightening and should be best ignored out of hand: the 4th Quarter to 1st Quarter change number is one. They always plummet (and this time in particular as Q4 2014 was a modern record size), just as Q2 always beats Q1. In fact, since 2010, the ONLY down quarters versus their previous quarter are Q1s versus Q4s. Christmas sales beat St. Patrick’s Day sales. I’m not sure that tells us a lot.

    I don’t have any more foreknowledge than anyone else (though I am looking to see where Amazing Spider-Man #1 winds up) — all I’ve got are the spreadsheets. It’s not what you want in a weather forecaster — I’d be the guy telling you “this looks like the winter of 19xx” — but I do think changes in the comics market follow recognizable patterns, and some are more easily picked from the noise than others. So, no, I don’t want to say “I’ll tell you when it’s Armageddon” — but I do know what that looks like, and we haven’t seen anything anywhere close to that in a long time.

  7. “I don’t want to say “I’ll tell you when it’s Armageddon” — but I do know what that looks like, and we haven’t seen anything anywhere close to that in a long time.”

    I’m pretty confident in JJM knowing what’s going on. It’s hard not to be a little nervous though because this industry doesn’t exactly have a big margin for error anymore.


  8. I blame $4 comics. Too many DCs and Marvels are at that too-expensive pricepoint.

    It’s killing the industry. ….

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