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February sales slump

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The ICv2 charts same out yesterday, and for the second month in a row, things were down:

Comic and graphic novel dollar sales to comic stores dipped in February vs. the year ago period, the second time in just four months that such a drop has occurred. The 4% drop followed an anemic 1% rise in January, a 4% increase in December, and a 5% drop in November. Tough comparisons with the Civil War-fueled sales in the year ago period and a lack of significant new hits in were the primary reasons for the declines.

Prior to the last few months, May 2005 was the last month that comic and graphic novel sales to comic stores declined.


The graphic novel chart is here; top 300 comics here. The analysis of the periodical sales continued the dubious picture:

The bestselling comics in comic stores were an extraordinarily weak bunch in February, with the top title, X-Force #1 (featuring 2 covers), selling only around 105,000 copies. Only three titles, X-Force, New Avengers, and one of the Amazing Spider-Man issues, topped 100,000 copies, something that happened only once all last year, in October. Prior to October 2007, it had been over 18 months, in January of 2006, since as few as three titles were over 100,000 copies in sales to comic stores.

Declines in the top 25 titles heavily outnumbered increases; only four titles increased versus the previous issues, versus 20 decliners.


Is the still-blossoming recession to blame? Seasonal lulls? Has Paul and Marc-Oliver’s nefarious plan to kill North American comics sales finally taken hold? Is it event fatigue? Marvel fatigue? DC fatigue? Fatigue fatigue?

One of the oft-blamed culprits for the slide is DC which, not to kick a company when it is down, is really getting a full-on rollicking these days. A business piece in Crain’s has a typical headline: Marvel zaps DC in comics battle. Despite the title, it’s more of a paeon to Marvel:

To put it another way, Marvel Comics had a banner year in 2007. A combination of breakout comic book series and best-selling graphic novels allowed the creator of the Hulk, Spider-Man and Captain America to dominate comic-book shops and take market share away from Batman, Superman and other superhero stars of longtime rival DC Comics.

“It was neck and neck [a few years ago],” says Marvel Comics Publisher Dan Buckley of the competition with DC. “Now we’ve stretched out in front.”


We don’t really listen to blogosphere bitching, or, God forbid, message board comments, which are nothing but uninformed whining most of the time. However, we always said that the only way to back up complaints was to stop buying the books. Has this really taken hold? This post from Wednesday Is My Sabbath sums up the usual dissatisfaction with DC’s current output:

When it was first announced, DC Editor in Chief Dan DiDio said that Countdown was going to be the backbone of the DC Universe. The problem is that their backbone has a wicked case of scoliosis and has failed miserably in holding up the rest of the line. Quite the opposite in fact, it seems to have dragged the rest of the line down to its abysmal level. Apparently DiDio and company have learned from the mistakes of Countdown and their next weekly series (called Trinity and starring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – pic is of the first cover) will be self contained, but after being subjected to 52 weeks of some of the worst comics I have read in a long time, taking them at their word is something I have no plans to do. Besides the fact that there are already more titles featuring Superman and Batman than you can shake a stick at that throwing one more out there hold absolutely no interest on my end. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong but after pre-paying for Countdown I will be perfectly content to have my money in my pocket and have missed a decent series rather than be out my money and have 52 22-paged turds clogging up my closet.


Will Marvel fall to the same problems as DC? They seem to be chugging along pretty well. While most industry observers are het-up over the impending FINAL CRISIS, the Grant Morrison-penned outing doesn’t have comedian Patton Oswalt stumping for it.

After COUNTDOWN and CIVIL WAR, I was going to take a break from these big summer crossover thingies. But this SECRET INVASION…holy shit. This is not a big, disposable, multi-issue donnybrook. This is a blitzkrieg from page one. Bendis basically worked out a remorseless, nothing-but-business tearing down of the Marvel Universe. And it’s clear the story has been set up…for…years. And the deaths are treated so off-handedly, with no appeal or remorse — and this is three issues in. So far, each issue has also ended with a shit-your-pants, ’Wait, what in the FUCK?!” moment…after, of course, about three or four what-the-fuck moments tossed off during the course of each story. As it stands right now, someone’s holding a possible key to stopping the Skrulls, and it’s the LAST person in the Marvel Universe you’d want with that info. And no, it’s not Dr. Doom.


Can DC compete by racing copies of the first four issues to FINAL CRISIS to Seth Rogen’s door? Well, perhaps, but according to recent interviews, they only have two issues finished.

  1. Ah, the big lonnnnngg storrrrrry. The multi-crossover, year long campaign. Issue after issue of $3 per comic tie-ins, baby kissing at railway stops, and Creator Team photo ops. The prolonged event that goes on and on, encompassing money, resources, shelf space and fan press. Me? I like the done-in-one. Buy the thing, enjoy it, move on.
    Well, maybe the done-in-one today is either a Jonah Hex comic or a GN. Whatever.

  2. The big question no one is asking, and maybe that’s indicative of how insular the comic book culture still is, is whether the overall economic recession will have an impact on discretionary spending – i.e. The Direct Market.

    Will comic book buyers still be able to shell out the thousands each year on comic books, graphic novels and toys? Are we somehow immune to the same economic conditions that have battered everyone else in this country? Or are our hobbies so important to us that we will make other economic sacrifices first?

  3. I wouldn’t read too much into it. It’s just a quiet month with a shortage of big event titles – something that, like it or not, both Marvel and DC will be providing in large quantities over the next few months.

  4. As far as I am concerned, DC forgot that those fans reading comics today are long-term readers that should be valued and respected rather than treated like livestock. The output of Countdown and endless “must read all” crossovers of the last year are prohibitive in any sense of reality. Marvel is a bit reasoned and actually attempts some words to justify a new series’ start, rather than the “just because” that DC displays.

    Civil War and Countdown pretty much ended my affair with over arching multi-crossover events. I cut 95% of my pull — rather than spending the $200+ a month that I used to, I now only put out barely $25 a month. Of that amount, only a couple DC books cross my door, a few more Marvel, and a couple of indie books. Next year I plan to dive into trades, but I will not waste a penny on any Countdown related material.

    My cutting my budget is protest based, but DC and Marvel should follow financial news and realize that in an economy as currently dire as that in the U.S., comics readers are more likely to take that $3.99 and spend it on food and gas rather than suffer being fleeced by companies that no longer appreciate them.

  5. As far as I am concerned, DC forgot that those fans reading comics today are long-term readers that should be valued and respected rather than treated like livestock. The output of Countdown and endless “must read all” crossovers of the last year are prohibitive in any sense of reality. Marvel is a bit reasoned and actually attempts some words to justify a new series’ start, rather than the “just because” that DC displays.

    Civil War and Countdown pretty much ended my affair with over arching multi-crossover events. I cut 95% of my pull — rather than spending the $200+ a month that I used to, I now only put out barely $25 a month. Of that amount, only a couple DC books cross my door, a few more Marvel, and a couple of indie books. Next year I plan to dive into trades, but I will not waste a penny on any Countdown related material.

    My cutting my budget is protest based, but DC and Marvel should follow financial news and realize that in an economy as currently dire as that in the U.S., comics readers are more likely to take that $3.99 and spend it on food and gas rather than suffer being fleeced by companies that no longer appreciate them.

  6. Y’know, no matter how much they say it, I just don’t believe that Secret Invasion is the big plan that’s been set up for years. Maybe I’m just cynical, but I don’t see the current Marvel regime as that forward-looking.

    Oh, and more “lots of deaths, tearing down the Marvel Universe, nothing will ever be the same.” Yawn.

  7. The graphic novel is to blame for the dip, and will continue to do so…

    The death of the graphic novel? Have you noticed as of late the sheer volume of new graphic novels and reprints of old newspaper strips collected in book form. Seems anybody who can get a hold of a printer can put out anything old reprint property out there. Alternative comics are one thing, but some of the sluggish stories or lack of stories just don’t cut it. Some alternative companies are gambling with some real bad choices of reprinted material. There was a time when there was very little to pick from when graphic novels came out. Sure they are making oodles of money on them right now, for every good book coming out there will be another four that will gather dust on the shelves and the numbers will grow. Bargain bin anybody?

    Manga, don’t get me going about that, there is so much rubbish out there and nobody says anything and why should they these books have replaced Harlequin books for young girls and many parents are not even aware of the content inside. Why ring the death knell? This fast growing part in the book industry has shades of the comic boom in the 90’s. Case example, many collectors pay top buck for the Peanuts anthologies from Fantagraphics and a few months later they end up at Costco at bargain prices. Now everybody is flooding the market and these publishers don’t have a clue what’s going on. I am scared for the graphic novel, it is starting to lose a luster in my opinion. It will peak in two years and from there the numbers will dwindle, how many anthologies will commit to all the volumes they promise to print.

    The graphic novel has saved the alternative imprints and exposed their stable of talent to the masses and given them also new venues for their artists for new freelance work. I see the signs already, there are books in the graphic novel section that are not moving. Many of these volumes start at a price of 20.00 and over 100.00, that is a fair chunk of change. Recession, that word will frighten many people from buying books such as these. Remains to be seen, but there are already graphic novels in bargain bins at the big box stores already. A rare site in the past. The more that end up there, the less stores will order in the future.

  8. Hmm, not quite what I was trying to say, Heidi…! But it doesn’t really make much sense to blame event fatigue for low sales in a month which was unusually light on “events.”

    Occam’s razor says that if you have unusually low sales in an unusually quiet month, that’s probably the explanation right there. Of course, there COULD be all sorts of other issues about the collapse of the economy and event fatigue and so forth, and if this becomes a general trend – in other words, if FINAL CRISIS and SECRET INVASION both tank – then we start looking at factors like that.

    But for now, there’s no reason to treat this as anything other than a blip.

  9. So it looks like DC should not bother putting out Final Crisis at all because mega celebrity Patton Oswalt prefers Secret Invasion.

    I should also not be worried about Marvel’s sales in 2008. If 2008 is not as good as 2007 for Marvel, it will be the fault of DC because they are dragging the whole industry down with their shitty books.

  10. The odd thing is, these mega-events no longer have a clearly defined conclusion. It seems they just sort of blend and segue with the NEXT mega event. And I’ll second the yawn above … More people are going to die and the Whatever Universe will never be the same. Does anyone actually become excited anymore by these claims?

  11. More importantly, all the events are just a *lead-in* to the next mega-event. Now, it was cool when Marvel used to spin their multi-issue epic storylines (which they did until the crash), but they didn’t try and sell any of those as THE MOST IMPORTANT THING SINCE SLICED BREAD. Okay, they did a little, but in the age of the graphic novel, readers are expecting stories with satisfactory conclusions, and not just a bleed into another plotline.

  12. Hey I’m not going to buy either. Like someone said above, I’m worn out on the big event. I kinda liked 52, but at that price point you can’t ‘kinda like’ something. Infinite Crisis and Countdown were utter crap (I dropped Countdown after 4 issues, realizing it just relied on 20 years of continuity.) and I the ending of Civil War left me with a ‘why bother.’

    I may pick these up if the buzz is really, really, really strong. I’m not going to go by Patton Oswalt either. All that comes to mind whenever he talks comics is that scene in ‘The Comedians of Comedy” where he kept on mispronouncing ‘Ex Machina.’

  13. To be fair, the “every event just blurs into the next” thing is more true of DC. Marvel have been doing event after event for years, but Civil War, World War Hulk and Secret Invasion can sensibly claim to be separate stories.

  14. I blame Reverend Jeremiah Wright. As a pastor, he instructed God to stop blessing America and to start damning America. And lo, America went into an instant nosedive. That minister abused his terribly power over God, and now we all pay the price. Comics slumping. Bridges cracking. Levees busting. Raisinets vanishing. It’s outrageous. Imagine how nice life would be if not for that guy and his evil, God-steering powers.

  15. If the “mega-event” is supposedly the reason sales are not at a respectable levels right now, then I think it indicates that the basic readership pool for comics is too small.

    But if that isn’t the case, then what it means is that the average story in the average comic book is not worth $3 to the average customer.

    Which begs the question: Why?

    If my livelihood depended on comics, I’d sure be real nervous until I had the answer to that little conundrum. Because face it, what it seems to indicate is either, a.) Your comics are overpriced, or, b.) The average quality of the product is below customer expectations.

    But if the regular comic book readership pool is, in fact, too small (which I think it is), that might be an even tougher nut to crack — especially under the current comics distribution system that is built upon two very fragile pillars: Comic book shops, and the non-returnability system.

    The problem inherent with the first pillar is a Business 101 no-brainer: If the number of comic shops (distribution nodes) stops growing, or declines, it will negatively impact readership levels.

    The second pillar also has an inherent problem. It only works in a market experiencing real, or perceived, growth. If growth stalls (or, more importantly, if it APPEARS to have stalled to the retailer ordering product each month), then the non-returnability system actually starts destroying itself through a vicious cycle of under-ordering.

    Then again, the downturn in sales may be due entirely to the current economic recession. After all, whenever the economy tanks, luxury spending is one of the first things to suffer.

    Regardless of what’s causing the sales slump, it doesn’t bode well for the comics industry if it continues.

  16. DC’s mistake was that they made a bad decision, and that decision turned out to be a HUGE committment. A year long one, in fact. And they tried to remedy it by adding tie-ins, but that worsened it. They tried to have ongoings make it better, but it worsened the ongoings. When the pieces they wanted in place, were, well, in place, it was too late to do anything. The mini (maxi?) was already bad.

    I don’t think it’s DC saying FU to the newer fans. I don’t think it’s DC forgetting about its old time fans (c’mon, a series about Jimmy Olsen? Who else are they catering to?). I think DC made a mistake, and it was a costly (pun intended) one.

    What do they do next? Right the ship, obviously. Let the ongoings rebuild a bit by letting nothing touch them. And that’s done by making FC and Trinity separate beings.

    Next, don’t make the whole Universe streamlined into one storyline. That’s done by getting a few other minis like Reign in Hell and the Rann/Thanagar one in there at the same time. Also, Trinity. And really, DiDio, make your promise (that this will be the last Crisis) stand.

    Finally, do something about the delays. The rumor about DC and it’s new art policy from LitG has yet to be confirmed, but we haven’t seen any big delays recently. (Although, I guess I should still count the Action Annual.)

    I think things will turn around, and Final Crisis might be the turning point. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt DC catches Marvel. Marvel seems to have just too much going on, and I don’t see DC’s stuff generating as much buzz. And plus, Marvel marketing is sooooo much better. When was the last time a celeb endorsed a DC product?

    Still, this next year should theoretically be better for DC. And in turn, better for the industry.

  17. Interesting. We actually had a *fantastic* February at my shop, as compared to a merely very good one last year. Granted we carry games as well, but it was in periodical comics that we saw the most growth, with graphic novels and manga close behind.

    Maybe Austin hasn’t been hit by the recession yet? Or maybe it’s because we sell less DC Universe and more Marvel/Vertigo/Image/Dark Horse and indies to most of my customers, and thus the sad state of DC’s affairs doesn’t have as much impact on us.

    One thing’s for sure… Final Crisis better be %#%-king impressive, because DC readers have begun voting with their wallets since Countdown began.

  18. To be fair, the “every event just blurs into the next” thing is more true of DC. Marvel have been doing event after event for years, but Civil War, World War Hulk and Secret Invasion can sensibly claim to be separate stories.

    The Illuminati brought on Civil War, sent Hulk off the planet, and are responsible for the actions that appear to have brought the wrath of the Skrulls. All three are inextricably tied together. Not saying that is a bad thing, though.

  19. “Interesting. We actually had a *fantastic* February at my shop, as compared to a merely very good one last year. Granted we carry games as well, but it was in periodical comics that we saw the most growth, with graphic novels and manga close behind.”

    Ah, but that speaks to how well you sold what you ordered, whereas the charts refer to how much you ordered. Not necessarily the same.

    I choose to believe (because it amuses me to do so) that retailers are temporarily cutting back orders to conserve shelf space in preparation for the perfect storm of having to order a gazillion copies of Secret Invasion, Final Crisis, and all the tie ins at once.

  20. Being the arrogant braggart that I am, I will loudly and proudly say ITOLD YOU GUYS SO. I have been saying for the last few years on various message boards that the “huge” comic sales were MAINLY due to gimmicks and that the industry was heading for a crash. While the industry hasn’t quite crashed yet, it is in a big slump.

    I’m going to keep it real and tell you guys why comics from the Big 2 are falling in sales.

    1. They are aiming their superhero books at 2 very narrow groups of readers, the existing and SHRINKING older teen/adult readers and the virtually non existent (and dare I say MYTHICAL) NEW older teen/adult readers. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, the Big 2 should aim their interconnected DCU and MU titles at kids/all ages.

    2. They are giving paying customers LESS for their $3 bucks. It’s a damn shame that comics today are more expensive, but take less time to read or have less things happening in them then comics from 20-40 years ago.

    3. The Big 2 are more concerned with selling and/or promoting/hyping up the creators of their comics then the actual characters they are writing.

    4. They have a lack of racial diversity in their comics. They tend to either kill off,depower,cripple,toss into limbo,or turn them into villains many of the FEW non-white heroic characters they have.

    5. They over expose and rely to much on their most POPULAR and well known characters by featuring them in multiple ongoing monthly series and mini series.

    6. They hire writers and editors who rather see superhero comics be written as prime time dramas then superhero comics.

    7. Natural attrition/sales decline. NUFF SAID.

    8. The single issue format has to go and be replaced with a monthly magazine size anthology format that CONSISTENTLY features the same series in a line of monthly anthology magazines. For example, ALL of the current monthly X-Books would be featured REGULARLY in a monthly X-MEN MAGAZINE.

    9. Sad to say, but I think that the comic book company’s may have to cease being comic book company’s and reinvent themselves as animation company’s and start putting out a line of monthly animated series on DVD. After all, animation is the next logical evolution for comics. Remember, comics replaced the pulp magazines, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if animation actually ends up replacing comics.

  21. Back when I was in sales, January was always a lousy month, and February was always worse. There was always a post-holidays slump. Every year, same thing. Then sales would typically start to turn around in the spring and go up and up through the summer, then drop in September, climb in October-December, and then begin the same cycle.

    So if sales are still dropping in March or April, that’s a matter of concern or comment. Otherwise it’s pretty much the sales cycle that I remember.

    PAD

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