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Hibbs on BookScan 2008


It’s the mother of all sales charts! Today’s must reading — and I do mean MUST — is retailer Brian Hibbs’s annual analysis of the year-end BookScan numbers for graphic novels sold in bookstores. The general trends show pieces down a tad, dollars up a bit, manga down but still ruling the roost, and DC’s distribution deal with Random House yielding SPECTACULAR results. It isn’t just the 300,000+ copies of WATCHMEN sold — it’s improvements all the way down the list of proven items. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that Random House can’t save weak or misguided books, but it can significantly boost the sales of books with proven audiences.

Beyond that, you should just go read the whole thing, but a few caveats on the accuracy. Hibbs writes:

Really, what I’m trying to get across to you is that this really is entirely unreliable data in terms of the absolute and total number of books sold, and is only able to give the broadest outline of what’s happening in book stores, based upon the data-set that I’m being given, which is in no way comprehensive. I still think that’s better than having no information, so I persevere in writing this each year.

Tom Spurgeon amplifies that with this concrete example:

For instance, Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds tell me that rather than the 719 copies Bookscan reports that Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 1 sold through the book trade, they’ve sold just over 4000 copies. That’s an astounding difference, not just in terms of the math but how those numbers span the chasm that exists between “uh-oh” and “all right!”

I can attest that the numbers you see on BookScan are significantly lower than what publishers’ numbers indicate, but it isn’t a consistent percentage differential as it is with Diamond’s charts, so just because L&R #1 sold 450 percent more copies doesn’t mean WATCHMEN sold 1.35 million more. It’s my understanding that one big difference is that a publisher will count sell-in to a bookstore as a sale — the BookScan charts measure sell-through. Also, as pointed out, they don’t include a lot of venues, including book fairs and so on. The general rule of thumb is that BookScan represents about 70% of retail outlets.

I can also attest that sometimes selling only 2000 copies on BookScan is perfectly okay. Anything in five figures is probably very profitable, and numbers far lower than that could also make money or break even. I have no idea what the golden number is — it undoubtedly varies from book to book and publisher to publisher.

So while drawing any conclusions based on absolute degree is a fool’s errand, the charts certainly do indicate trends — and the general locale of many books on the charts indicates that some things that are assumed to sell well don’t do as well as you might think, while some things you never heard of do very well indeed,

For instance, in looking at the manga category’s top publishers, Hibbs writes :

Coming in at #3 is Del Rey, with 62 books charting, for about 455k pieces and just a hair over $5 million retail dollars. Mean average of about 7300, median of about 6200. Their average numbers are up a bit from 2007, and they have at least three BookScan charting titles that aren’t manga: the “Dresden Files” HC (their 2nd best selling comic), the “Essential Batman Encyclopedia,” and the perennial not-comic “Bloody Crown of Conan.” Their best selling title in 2008 was the manga-ish adaptation of Dean Koontz’s “In Odd We Trust,” with 25,588 copies sold.

That’s two big success stories with books based on existing properties — Dean Koontz and Jim Butcher, the former an “OEL” drawn by Queenie Chan.

The success of comics based on WARRIORS, Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephen King and the continued prominence of the Dabel Brothers’s publishing plans indicate that these kinds of middlebrow adaptations are what the book publishing world is going to have the easiest success with, and I’d expect to see more of this kind of thing. These will be the new books that art comix people love to hate.

As usual, Hibbs is quick to bury “lit comix”:

In terms of “art comics” or “literary comics”, we can see these items: “American Born Chinese” (just under 10k), “Black Hole” (8800), “Best American Comics 2008″ (7400), “Johnny, The Homicidal Maniac” (7200), “Squee” (5200), “Blankets” (5k) and “Shortcomings” (4300) – nothing else makes the Top 750. It isn’t that books by Clowes or Hernandez or Tomine or Crumb or Bagge don’t chart, they do, but deep, deep in the long tail. Generally speaking none of these author’s books (or “other books” in the case of Tomine) has BookScan tracked sales of over 1000 copies, and usually it is much less than 500.

These are good numbers for “literary” properties, and the success of books like FUN HOME and PERSEPOLIS means that compelling first person memoirs will continue to have a place in literary houses’ hearts. “Lit”, “Alt”, and “Indie” benchmarks for success are far lower (like it or not) in EVERY medium, be it film, publishing or music.

Anyway, I encourage everyone to go read Hibbs’ piece for themselves. And take it all with a grain of salt.


  1. Hibbs buries the “lit” comics? I dunno bout that… It seems that the numbers speak for themselves, -in this venue-, and all he does is report. And he’s quick to point out that the Vasquez titles are “truly perennial”.

  2. “As usual, Hibbs is quick to bury “lit comix””

    As far as I can remember, Hibbs has never been “quick to bury “lit comics”” as you suggest. His argument has consistently been that direct market stores are better places to sell lit comics than bookstores.

  3. We shall see if the Random House distribution helps. In addition to DC, they distribute Egmont USA, Titan, Vertical, and Wizards of the Coast. They also acquired Watson-Guptill, which has published many licensed comics properties.

    And here’s another way to judge: How well does HarperCollins do with their Simpsons GNs? Or McCloud catalog?

    And Mr. Hibbs… not to be too greedy, but could you add more publisher analysis like you did for Marvel and DC? Just a simple grid for each major publisher (both book trade and comics) listing number of titles in the 750, amounts, and, if not too much trouble, comparison to last year. (Or, at least a special comparison of all of the Random imprints and clients.)

  4. Hibbs doesn’t just bury lit comics, he goes out of his way to insult them and their readers as frequently as he can. He’s always quick to back up his insults with his observation NY corporate comics sell more in every venue. Well, no shit, books written for a general audience have always trounced high brow lit stuff.

    Beyond that, I don’t understand why Marvel and DC get their own breakdown and Viz and TokyoPop don’t. The manga boys are continuing to administer a sever ass kicking of the NY corporate comics publishers.

  5. Always an interesting read. I’m quite the fan of crunching the numbers myself.

    However, there is one particular point that probably deserves some clarification. Brian (quite keenly) points out the disparity in the Naruto numbers from 2007 to 2008, but his supposition on the reason behind the gap isn’t quite spot on. When doing a comparison of the two years particularly with this property, Viz’s “Naruto Nation” push in the fourth quarter of 2007 really needs to be taken into account as it has a significant impact not just on the performance of this property but the manga segment as a whole.

    In 2007, Viz released some 12 volumes of Naruto in the fourth quarter versus only two or three in the fourth quarter of 2008. Not only do you necessarily see a drop in the license between the two years as a consequence, you also see a significant drop in the overall manga numbers by removing so many volumes of the category’s bestselling property — particularly in the fourth quarter of 2008 where there’s been all sorts of speculation as to why the manga numbers suddenly went soft.

    It’s a huge comp that should be factored into any interpretation of the category’s performance. Although since Viz is doing a similar push in the first quarter of 2009, I suspect the manga figures are due for a miraculous rebound…

  6. “His argument has consistently been that direct market stores are better places to sell lit comics than bookstores. ”

    Actually, I’d characterize my argument as “the argument that ‘oh but if only we could get “lit comics” out of the stinky dirty backwards Direct Market, then everything would be light and honey forever and ever, amen!’ is pretty demonstrably wrong”

    “Beyond that, I don’t understand why Marvel and DC get their own breakdown and Viz and TokyoPop don’t. ”

    Dunno, maybe because I’m writing for a DM-focused site where the overwhelming majority of the readership is more interested in those two publishers than anything else in the whole wide world?

    I relate virtually all of the same information, Kenny, I just haven’t created separate headings for each.


  7. “Hibbs buries the ‘lit’ comics? I dunno bout that… It seems that the numbers speak for themselves, -in this venue-, and all he does is report. And he’s quick to point out that the Vasquez titles are ‘truly perennial’.”

    Well, that’s just it — the numbers DON’T actually speak for themselves. There are multiple variables that don’t show up in BookScan numbers, and as graphic novels filter out through the mainstream market, those variables increase over time, rendering the numbers less and less useful. As if that weren’t enough, the returnability factor muddles things up even more. I’ll be discussing this further in Monday’s Journalista.

  8. “Well, that’s just it — the numbers DON’T actually speak for themselves.”

    Maybe publishers and retailers should look at a more unified initiative that would more accurately and efficiently reflect and track actual sales in any and all formats in any and all markets while also doing surveys to get a better idea of who’s actually buying them?

  9. Considering Brian’s Bookscan data and comparing notes with Milton at ICV2, I estimate the frontmarket for comics, tarde paperbacks, and manga in 2008 to be in the range of $860-880 million. That include direct market, newsstand, book trade, and subscription sales. Aftermarket is not relevant to many, but that trade adds more:


    On the what Bookscan includes score, I certainly agree with Eric about the Bookscan sample. Comparing notes with other creators, royalty statements suggest trade sales outside the direct market are about double the Bookscan numbers Brian reports for action (i.e., mainstream) titles; and yet, you have the Love & Rockets example. My guess is that Bookscan’s sample doesn’t include many alternative booksellers, so its portion of that market will be skewed low.

    My understanding is returns do not figure into the Bookscan numbers, as these are tabulated point-of-sale, but publishers would have more knowledge of that.

    An interesting tidbit I touched on combines Brian’s news and the fact that Diamond’s new Olive Branch warehouse is designed to floor 20,000 SKUs of inventory — number from the new Diamond Dialogue Annual. If Bookscan’s sales of 17,000 different TPBs and manga last year is reflective of what Diamond was already carrying, we can see how that could figure into recent inventory moves. I assume that 20,000-item inventory already includes comics, toys, and everything else.

  10. Is anyone tracking Baker & Taylor’s sales from puballey.com? B&T’s sales numbers, while they may overlap with a percentage of Bookscan sales, give a better idea of what is moving into libraries, a massively growing market for GNs in the past 5 years?

  11. Bookscan claims it’s running the point-of-sale tabulation 13,000 retail locations, and I would presume that for something like Barnes & Noble, they could be running Bookscan on what goes out of BN.com. But they don’t say. It’s kind of a black box when it comes to knowing who all is inside — we can only look at what we know publishers sell, and guess who’s in the sample.

  12. “Well, that’s just it — the numbers DON’T actually speak for themselves. There are multiple variables that don’t show up in BookScan numbers, and as graphic novels filter out through the mainstream market, those variables increase over time, rendering the numbers less and less useful.”

    I’m not exactly sure what your point is here regarding Hibbs and “lit” comics, Dirk. Surely the variables you speak of apply to all the comics on the list, and he says right up front – at length – that the numbers aren’t absolute, just for comparison. And as comparison between categories and year-to-year, they seem to be as good as the methodology would allow.

  13. Apologies for the double post.

    John Jackson Miller says: My guess is that Bookscan’s sample doesn’t include many alternative booksellers, so its portion of that market will be skewed low.

    John, the list of bookstores reporting to Bookscan is pretty comprehensive across the board and covers all the major chains, Amazon, Costco, a huge percentage of trade independents including Tattered Cover, Powell’s, The Strand, Elliott Bay, University of Washington, Prairie Lights Kepler’s, as well as larger specialty stores such as Mysterious Galaxy and Uncle Hugo’s. I don’t see Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books of Chicago on there, which are among the most prestigious and larger indies, but between the large majority of the market covered by Amazon and the chains and the large majority of the remaining portion covered by the independents. The only major omissions from the Bookscan tracking list are Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, drugstore and grocery store chains (usually supplied by regional wholesalers), and Baker & Taylor, which sells direct to libraries.

    I rather think that any alternative store, even if they can sell several dozen copies of a particular title in the trade (non-direct) market, is statistically tiny compared to the accounts that are included above. I’m agree that Bookscan figures are open to interpretation and can vary wildly, but I believe that with the exception of Baker & Taylor’s library sales (which have the potential to be quite strong) and special sales of GNs to Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart (I honestly have no idea how extensive that may be), you’ve got the sales reporting pretty well covered. In 22 years in the publishing sales business, I’ve see the pie chart covering the vast majority of book sales change from indies to mall stores to big box stores to the internet plus what’s left of the rest, and I believe we’re probably talking about, discounting rare exceptions, 95+% of the market. That makes Bookscan’s figures clearly open for wiggle room…but not too much wiggle room.

  14. “And at the press conference, Paul Levitz and Joe Quesada can ride up to the microphone on the same unicorn.”

    You win this round, Mr. Spurgeon. Well-played and good day, sir.

  15. An addendum I forgot to mention:

    JJM> My understanding is returns do not figure into the Bookscan numbers, as these are tabulated point-of-sale, but publishers would have more knowledge of that.

    That is correct. Keep in mind that there is a distinctive difference between what a publisher says they have sold and what Bookscan says the book has sold because those two numbers are talking about different end markets. A publisher count their sales as the number of books sold to bookstores, wholesalers, and any other retailer for resale. Let’s say we ask the fictional Big Bob Publishers how many they have sold of Bob’s Big Book o’ Comics, and they look at their records and report that they have sold shipped and shipped 10,000 copies of that book to Amazon, B&N, indies, etc. Then we look up BBBoC on Bookscan and it says that it has sold 3,300. Who’s lying? Neither, because the Bookscan figures are sales to end consumers: the customers who walk into a store, buy the book, and take it home to read or give as a gift. That’s called sell-through.

    So, what has happened to the remaining 6,400 copies out there in the marketplace? Well, some of them probably sold through Baker & Taylor, which doesn’t report to Bookscan (although some of those probably sold to independent bookstores who buy through B&T, making it even more difficult to compute Bookscan figures to the exact number). Some might have sold through other venues like clubs or retail racks that don’t report to Bookscan. But probably the lion’s share of those 6,400 books are still out there in bookstores, in B&N’s warehouse, in Amazon’s distribution centers. In most cases, these books are returnable to the publisher and can be sent back for credit whenever the bookstore wants.

    So, say, in two months B&N or Borders looks at their inventory, sees they have umpteen copies of BBBoC in stock, that the sales have trickled down to a few a week, and ships, say, 2,000 copies back to the publisher. That then means that the publisher has net sales of 8,000 copies or fewer against the sales of 3,300 + anything in those two months at Bookscan. The range begins to narrow. Any unsold copy is not counted on Bookscan, unsold and returned copies are subtracted from the publishers sales.

    The difference between the numbers never quite matches up do to a number of possibilities: perpetual stock kept at stores, remainders sold off or book excess stock pulped. But my point (and I do have one) is to remember we’re talking apples (publishers’ sales numbers to trade market retailers) and oranges (Bookscan’s sales numbers of sales to civilian consumers).

  16. John DiBello writes: “I rather think that any alternative store, even if they can sell several dozen copies of a particular title in the trade (non-direct) market, is statistically tiny compared to the accounts that are included above.”

    I would agree they’re smaller in terms of quantity sales, but the question was why Fantagraphics sold 4,000 copies through the book trade versus the 719 Bookscan reported — or why the Bookscan numbers are only about half what’s shown for the book trade on the average royalty statement that I’ve seen. Bookscan is only reporting sold returnable copies; the royalty statements, too, are only reporting sold returnable copies. I’m sure the creators don’t mind being paid for more books than Bookscan is reporting, but I would assume the existence of actual books.

    I’m open to the suggestion that the unreported share is smaller than I’m guessing, but these anomalies have to be explained in it.

  17. John DiBello – The problem with this is that while BookScan works well enough as a bellwether for prose, comics are a mutant enough form to find havens in places where BookScan wouldn’t even think to go. Back in the 1990s, for example, I was finding art-comics and undergrounds in indy music shops all the time, and I know that Fantagraphics’ circulation manager worked very hard to place them there. (To this day, it’s easier to find Johnny Ryan comics at my local punk-rock record store, where they order books from Last Gasp, than it is at my local comics shop.) My understanding is that distributors like Baker and Taylor have become the go-to sources for retail outlets that wouldn’t even know how to order books from, say, W.W. Norton. The logic that drives big NYC publishers to trust BookScan based upon its ability to track Harry Potter volumes doesn’t necessarily apply to graphic novels.

  18. JJM, we may be talking at cross-purposes here. I’m only talking about the trade market (B&N, Amazon, trade bookstore indies; not comic book stores). Are you including the direct market when you say “alternative stores”? If so, then yes, Bookscan does not count direct market comic book store sales and they could affect the end number.

    I can’t comment authoritatively or publicly on the Fantagraphics example you give, but possible reasons for the discrepancy in the numbers are these numbers which would be counted by Fantagraphics but not by Bookscan at this time:

    * books sold through comic book stores or Fantagraphics.com
    * books still sitting out in the marketplace still unsold (with a risk of being returned)
    * books sold through B&T to libraries
    * any combination of any of the above points.

    I’d hazard a guess it’s all three put together, so yes, I may not have made myself clear: Bookscan can tell within a pretty decent margin of error how many books have sold through the trade, non-direct market—but not through the (nonreturnable) Diamond comic book store direct market. On that we must rely on Diamond sales figures, which pose this different problem:

    For DC, or Fantagraphics, or Drawn + Quarterly, or Tokyopop, you could add the Bookscan and Diamond figures to come up with a good approximation of what has sold to the end consumer or as near as dammit (sold-through Bookscan + non-returnable Diamond = books that won’t come back to the publisher). That’s because these publishers have completely different distributors for the direct and trade market. The trade market for these books is distributed by (respectively) Random House, Norton, FSG, HarperCollins.

    For Marvel and any other publisher that does not have their own sales force to the bookstore trade market, it’s more confusing, because the Diamond figures would overlap with the Bookscan figures. Theoretically since everyone who gets Marvel books is getting them from Diamond, then the Diamond sales figures for Marvel trades are the most accurate. (Here’s something I don’t know so don’t know how to address it: does Diamond sell returnable to the trade market/B&N/Borders, etc.? If so, that’s gonna throw off your eventual numbers.)

    All of that just shows—man, it ain’t easy keeping track of numbers, is it? Brian’s analysis is pretty comprehensive, but as you can see, the numbers are so connected to certain markets, variables, and even distribution arrangements, and to keep all those in mind and use them to compute final figures would be a near-full-time job. (Anybody hiring for that position? I’m really good at Excel!)

  19. Jesus, John, how many italics tags did you use?

    Also: It should be noted that I began writing my post before John posted his follow-up, which rendered mine somewhat superfluous.

  20. Catching up to John’s post before last: No, I’m absolutely not including the direct market in this. Royalty statements in comics (most of them, anyway) clearly delineate between returnable and non-returnable (and thus, DM) sales — as do most creator deals.

    Under the case you’re making, John, the larger-than-Bookscan figures under “returnable” on those royalty statements includes copies in stock and not yet returned, but which may be in the future. One problem I see with this is that would mean the royalties are being paid before the returns come in, which is not the practice that I’m seeing on these forms. The counts only ever go up to reflect new returnable sales, not down to reflect unsold copies returned.

    But let’s see if Eric will clarify. Love & Rockets New Stories was a May 08 solicit: 3,389 books still out there on what you’re suggesting was an order of 4,000 copies seems quite a large chunk to be still on shelves or awaiting return.

    Finally — Diamond has said before that its bookstore sales are not included in the charts that it releases; thus, no overlap with the Marvel sales. It would make sense to keep the returnable and the non-returnable portions of the business separate. That’s why the two can be used in aggregate.

  21. And Dirk, I’ll argue that while it’s wonderful to find Johnny Ryan or any other comic or GN in a non-book store, those numbers are going to be a drop in the bucket, even to a smaller publisher. But there’s no way to prove it either way, and I respectfully understand what you’re arguing.

    The logic that drives big NYC publishers to trust BookScan based upon its ability to track Harry Potter volumes doesn’t necessarily apply to graphic novels.

    Agreed. But nor do publishers (maybe I should say at Norton and not speak for all publishers!) see Bookscan as the be-all-end-all of numbers, just of numbers in the trade market. You figure out the demand in the trade market based upon Bookscan figures, and then you add the demand in the non-trade/direct market based on other figures (reports back from the publishers, Diamond sales figures, whatever you can get. It’s an inexact science, but it’s a starting point.

    Here’s another example: we also sell a large number of travel books. These sell not only in trade markets covered by Bookscan, but in gift shops, museums, bed & breakfasts, hotels, regional sightseeing areas, etc. We start with the Bookscan numbers to see what has sold in the main trade market and then project what else we need for the indirect market. For example, some states or regions may sell travel guides more strongly in gift shops than in bookstores if there are a smaller number of chain and indie bookstores in the area. There’s a lot of calculations to be made, and if I suggested that Bookscan covers them all, I regret the oversight. I’ll repeat: Bookscan is a decent indicator for what sells in the trade bookstore market.

  22. I’d also note quickly that it was Milton Griepp’s estimate that the bookstore graphic novel sales were roughly double what appears in Brian’s list. I do not know where Milton sourced that figure.

  23. Todd – From a publisher’s perspective, libraries-vs-bookstore is a meaningless distinction. Take LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES, for example. Fantagraphics changed format on the series in order to allow it to reach more markets than it previously did. Even if only a handful of copies sold to bookstores — a premise that I’m not convinced is true, but never mind that — and a bunch sold to libraries, then why shouldn’t they consider it a successful strategy? They just doubled their effective circulation, and the exact nature of the end markets is basically irrelevant.

  24. OK, rechecking — Milton’s figure was not book trade, but all-inclusive, which would make the Bookscan figure a larger chunk of the trade than I was seeing. Let me subtract out DM TPBs and run the numbers again quickly.

  25. “And Dirk, I’ll argue that while it’s wonderful to find Johnny Ryan or any other comic or GN in a non-book store, those numbers are going to be a drop in the bucket, even to a smaller publisher.”

    I’m happy to respectfully disagree on the matter, but I should note that the vast majority of sales that indy comics publishers see in the Direct Market are likely coming from under 300 comics shops out of, what, 3500? Drops in the bucket do matter if the bucket is small enough.

  26. Dirk, agreed, on both your last posts, but hypothetically agreed on the second one, because, short of snooping in the wallets of everyone who bought that book for their receipts to see where they bought it, however, we’ll probably never know.

    What were Diamond’s direct market sales figures for LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES #1?

  27. Well, I can tell it’s a Friday afternoon. Thank you, John — I’d plugged in Milton’s figure and didn’t subtract out the Diamond share — even though I’d done it the right way on a post here earlier this week. This now means that the overall market stands at $680-710 million, and that the non-DM TPB sales were around $215-225 million, squaring up far better with Brian’s figures regardless of the royalty statement issue.

    Corrected math, with tribute to John diBello, below…

    It looked high — should have gone back through once I saw how it compared with my previous year’s total. Or, even looked at what I posted here earlier this week. Sigh…

  28. Dirk – “From a publisher’s perspective, libraries-vs-bookstore is a meaningless distinction. ”

    Tom – “For instance, Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds tell me that rather than the 719 copies Bookscan reports that Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 1 sold through the book trade, they’ve sold just over 4000 copies.”

    So was Eric talking about book trade-only, book trade & library, or total sales?

    Makes a big difference about what we’re discussing, at perhaps that should get clarified before anyone gets too excited.

  29. “From a publisher’s perspective, libraries-vs-bookstore is a meaningless distinction”

    While this is ABSOLUTELY true, Dirk — dollars are dollars, regardless of source — it has nothing to do with any analysis of BookScan figures, or their relative worth or scale.

    IF L&R:NS v1 sold 4k through “non-DM sources”, and IF 3k of those copies went to libraries, you can not point to those library sales as a failure in BookScan to report retail consumer sales. Those are not “retail consumer sales”!

    If we’re counting library (or other) sales for L&R: NS #1, then we should be ALSO counting library sales of WATCHMEN and NARUTO, otherwise you’re not comparing like-to-like whatsoever.


  30. Can you clean up my making a $150 million mistake a bunch of messages back? In any event that original link is no longer operative, as Ron Ziegler put it. Oh, well… :)

    Looking at the corrected numbers, it is still an up year, if just barely — which follows the DM course. I wish I knew what the royalty statements were reflecting — I suppose they are indeed counting books shipped, and not penalizing creators when the returns come.

    And if Milton’s number minus the Diamond number is right and Bookscan is capturing 90% of book trade comics sales, I guess that would leave room out there for problems like the L&R one — though that’s a fairly large spread.

  31. Brian – You can’t compare sales of, say, NARUTO and LOVE AND ROCKETS regardless of whether you include library sales or not. Each title travels through different channels in different proportions, since each has different target demographics. The vast majority of NARUTO will be sold in chain bookstores. LOVE AND ROCKETS will have a higher indy-bookstore penetration, and since the total number of copies in play will be smaller, the ratio between W.W. Norton and B&T sales (and subsequent BookScan reportage) will matter more. The difference in percentages will make the comparison effectively meaningless.

  32. Fine, Dirk, then make it L&R and FUN HOME (or PERSEPOLIS or AMERICAN BORN CHINESE or SHORTCOMINGS or BLANKETS), or something else where they DO have similar demos and indy-penetration.

    There are plenty of potential examples, after all.

    The point is library sales ARE NOT “retail consumer sales”, and no matter how you try to change the goal posts, this will remain true.


  33. Some statistics and statements, found (or linked to) on GalleyCat at mediabistro.com:

    2/3/09 Nielsen BookScan covers about 75 percent of the bookselling market.

    12/15/08 Juno Books editor Paula Guran listed total sales of the top 50 books in several fiction genres from the previous week, but then deleted the blog post at juno-books.com after Nielsen complained about the numbers being publicized.

    9/30/08 A successful hardcover literary novel has sales of 4000-7000 copies. Sales of 2,000-4,000 are strong. Sales under 1,500 copies are disappointing. A paperback edition has to have sales of four to five times the number of hardcover copies sold for the profits to be equal.

    7/17/08? A rule of thumb regarding BookScan figures is, that since BookScan is used in about 70 percent of retailers selling books (versus the 75 percent figure cited in 2/3/09), that a BookScan total should be multiplied by 1.43, but that multiplier will undercount sales of books through, for example, Wal-Mart.

    5/2/08 whatever.scalzi.com The bestselling young adult fantasy and SF books heavily outsell the bestselling adult fantasy and SF books.

    2/14/07 BookScan is used by Amazon.com, Costco, Kmart, Target, Starbucks, and some independent booksellers, but not by Wal-Mart, grocery stores, drugstores, etc. [and, presumably, not book clubs]


  34. Mention of the long tail in there – does that work in the comic marketplace? because it seems to a busted flush when applied to music.

  35. Hibbs,

    Thank you for making my point. You always try to have it both ways. Either the DM services all comics fans and is thus the best place to sell lit comics or, like you just said, the DM caters to people who only care about Marvel and DC. You have to pick one or the other, you can’t continue to keep talking out of both sides of your mouth. Either you and your customers care only about Marvel and DC or you don’t. Which is it?

    I think the Bookscan numbers do say one thing very, very loudly. Despite the best wishes of the people who champion superhero comics, those comics are now a minority of the greater comics picture. Any retailer not well versed in manga isn’t appealing to the mainstream.

  36. Charles:

    “Mention of the long tail in there – does that work in the comic marketplace?”

    Not sure exactly what you mean by “work”, but yeah the Long Tail compared to the (completely and wholly arbitrary) Top 750 shows the back portion generates roughly the same sales volume (spread over thousands of more books of course) as the top.


  37. Kenny:

    “Either you and your customers care only about Marvel and DC or you don’t.”

    You know nothing about me or my customers, so I’d appreciate it if you stayed away from making such sweeping statements, which are so absurdly reductive and don’t add anything to the conversation. Thanks.

    (“My customers” are not even slightly close to the same thing as “CBR’s readership”)

    “I think the Bookscan numbers do say one thing very, very loudly. Despite the best wishes of the people who champion superhero comics, those comics are now a minority of the greater comics picture.”

    You’ll need to take that up with someone who “champion(s) superhero comics”, really. I’m an advocate for the Direct Market (and no, “Direct Market” is not interchangeable with “superhero comics”, no matter how much you wish to find a straw man) — and the Direct Market is selling a much higher percentage of the greater comics picture than the bookstores are. That’s pretty undeniable.

    JJ’s link, in case you missed it upthread: http://blog.comichron.com/2009/02/bookscan-and-comics-big-year.html

    DM is $437m vs non-DM retail sales of $270m.


  38. For those of you who don’t know who I am ( I am currently “not in the biz” as they say). I was previously VP Book Trade Sales for DC Comics and most recently Co-Founder/Publishing Director for Yen Press.

    What I find most fascinating about the Bookscan list is the top 20 graphic novels. I am looking at the one without the kids graphic novels thrown in – Bone, Warriors, etc. – for clarification.

    With the exception of Vampire Knight (volume 1 was released in 2007) all the titles or series are old.

    Watchmen – first released in 1986
    Naruto – series debuted in 2003
    The Killing Joke (yes I know it’s a new edition) – first published in 1988
    Death Note – series debuted in 2005
    The Dark Knight Returns – first released in 1986
    Bleach – series debut 2005
    Vampire Knight – series debut 2007

    Average age for best-selling American graphic novel – 22 years
    Average age for manga series – 3.75 years

    My point is – where is the big breakout, he next big thing?

    Watchmen has a monster of a movie coming out – understandable, Batman had a monster movie (the monster movie) last year and Naruto is still hot in the media, but where is that breakout title? Is this the result of the way the books are being published, brought into retail or the way they are or aren’t promoted and marketed?

    The fact that stacks of Watchmen and Naruto are getting customers attention at retail is great – but what are they getting besides these titles?

    I think it’s great that these books are still doing well – they deserve to – they are good books. I just want something new to grab the attention of the reader and push the medium further.

  39. Sales of Naruto will be different from nearly every other manga title due to
    1. demographic (teens & tweens, and demand from kids much younger; don’t know if they’re getting it past mom & dad)
    2. TV show
    3. sheer number of available volumes
    4. it’s about freakin’ ninjas.

    Naruto ranks on USAToday’s charts for *all* books; it’s popular and available everywhere.

    ICv2 is probably correct with their 10% figure, which is based on their numbers — including numbers they aren’t sharing with us — though 10% is a nice, round, easily-quotable number so maybe it is a bit fishy…

    My back-of-the-envelope calculation for Naruto puts the direct market’s share of This One Title at more like 3% of overall sales, but Naruto is different.

    a direct link to the article in question is here:

  40. Rich:

    Well, as I’m sure you would know, a good backlist is great. But yeah we need as many NEWER perrennials as we can get. Does Persepolis and Fun Home count? I suspect Scott Pilgrim, once the movie comes out, will join the list.

  41. Rich:

    I’m not sure that BookScan’s Top 20 is the best place to look for the next breakout title (nor am I really sure that I’d define a successful perennial that tightly — something can be down in the mid-hundreds and provide a very good living for all participants.

    Further, the mass bookstores tend to latch onto “breakout” titles a bit after they’re proven out in the DM, which can be a process that can really take years.

    Things that my store is doing fabulous with, that are both of more recent vintage, and that, based on their current sales patterns, are probably going to have excellent “legs”, still selling in a decade or more (in no particular order other than as they occur to me, and without checking my sales history directly) would include


    All of those except one is still ongoing as well, and will continue to bring new volumes into their series, which well ultimately sell more copies over the long haul.

    And, like I said, that’s without even checking anything else, and thinking in terms of series — there’s tons of single volume books that might end up being solid retail backlist, depending on artistic trajectories.


  42. As a comics retailer that attempts to carry a wide variety of alternative comics, super-hero comics, manga comics, kids comics, and all other kinds of comics, it’s encouraging to hear from Brian that comic book stores are doing a better job of selling them than book stores. (Some exceptions to the rule, particularly Manga, if I’m reading correctly.)

    It makes me feel a little bit better about my life’s work, so that is good news, at least for this retailer.

    I hope the publishers keep us comic book stores in mind when they send the big gun creators on book tours.

    Since there are very few really good comic book stores, and lots of very good book stores, is it safe to say that a good comic book store sells comic books much better than almost any book store?

  43. The reason I looked at the top 20 is that in “traditional” publishing the year end list is usually populated with new releases and some hangers-on (the Da Vinci Code being a perfect example). I agree that you need to look further down the list to see the breakout titles; I’m just waiting for the day when a stand alone new release is a breakout title and gets into the top 20. And all the titles brian and Heidi mentioned are great books and yes deserve to be on the list as part of a great backlist for years to com.

    I am totally unhappy that the books that populate the chart are there, frankly whatever get the medium that much attention is fine by me. I just am looking down the road a bit to see what will happen when these titles will cool off – and they will – what will claw it’s way to the top.

    I also agree that Bookscan is not the most accurate measure of what is selling. I have always advocated that comic book shops should have P.O.S. systems and report into Bookscan and the list would be very different. Yes, Brian I know that you have a P.O.S. system and have enjoyed your columns on how it has affected your business. It would be an equalizer when it comes to American comics vs. manga. Let’s face it – bookstore sales of manga are so much stronger than most American titles because the bookstore became the destination place for the early adopters. Much like the direct market stores have been the established market for the devoted fan of American comics and graphic novels.
    I also think there will be a day when the readership lines between manga and American comics will blur. I have already heard stories from retailers, in both channels, that some of the girls who were the early adopters of manga and are now of high school or even college age are looking adding titles from publishers like Vertigo and Dark Horse. The issue here is; what will publishers do to try and keep that reader?
    Well, I could go on and on about the industry. So to save room in the long comment thread – if anyone wants to continue this my email is rjhnzn@yahoo.com

  44. American Borne Chinese, The Arrival, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, etc. are all newer works by newer creators that have done well. I’m not really sure why we should focus on how old a book is. Part of the reason comics have been doing better and better in bookstores is because of a build up of material that is helping the artform reach critical mass on the shelves. Once upon time when Watchman, Maus and Dark Knight Returns were all new there was nothing to shelve them with. Many times, those books were sent to the Siberia of the “humor” section and placed next to Garfield and knock knock joke books. Now that the market has matured we will see more new books by new creators hit, we’re already seeing it. But asking a new book by an unknown creator to be as big as a book by a major creator with decades of work and publicity under their belt and with the weight of a movie marketing campaign behind them seems to be placing the bar unnecessarily high. Film industry analysts don’t expect major studio releases to get beaten by low budget indy films by first time directors. Are novels in trouble because a young writer fails to out-sell Stephen King?

  45. Maybe the Dorling-Kindersley kind of books are likelier to be purchased by the civilian looking to buy a gift — they don’t know what comics the recipient already has, so the big Batman hardcover serves as a stand-in for all Batman comics.

  46. And I’m curious how big of a chunk of the Bookscan list books about comics represent overall. They are not included in the Diamond monthly numbers, but segregated into their own category — indexed like everything else, but seldom reported because it’s just 10 books a month and the numbers aren’t big. The top seller every year is almost always Overstreet.

    Back in the days when Diamond actually reported its product breakdown, non-TPB books were about 1% of total Diamond sales each month. But that also includes any book it carries, comics-related or not.

  47. “And I’m curious how big of a chunk of the Bookscan list books about comics represent overall.”

    For what it’s worth, Bookscan claims to use BISAC Subject Headings in determining its categorization. This is a system used by the industry to standardize the categorization of book subjects. BISAC subject headings are organized into major categories (such as “Art” or “Fiction”) and, under those major categories, many, many, many sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. “Comics & Graphic Novels” (CGN) is a separate Major Category within the BISAC system, with many, many, many sub-divisions.

    It may therefore be worth noting that preferred BISAC usage holds that “books-about-comics” should now be BISACed under the major category “Literary Criticism” with a “Comics & Graphic Novels” sub-category. (This is a comparatively new usage note, only put in place in the past year or so.)

    So, if that categorization catches on (that is, if more publishers BISAC books-about-comics in the “Literary Criticism” main category and not the “Comics & Graphic Novels” main category); and if the Bookscan list Brian analyzes is somehow limited to the “Comics & Graphic Novels” category; then it may be the case that “books-about-comics” might be underrepresented in that list.

    Or maybe not. Bookscan’s category list might incorporate that Literary Criticism/Comics & Graphic Novels category already, or be influenced by other non-BISAC factors. (After all, I’m reasonably certain that the Del Rey prose book THE BLOODY CROWN OF CONAN that Brian keeps seeing on the Bookscan comics list isn’t BISACed as a graphic novel, so there would seem to be other elements going into how Bookscan determines its categories.)

    Still, I’m a bit of a BISAC wonk, so I figured I’d mention the newish peculiarity that puts “books-about-comics” outside the “Comics & Graphic Novel” category from certain points of view, at least…

  48. In reply to Rich Johnson:

    I think part of the “age” of graphic novels can be attributed to many new readers discovering the format/medium.

    When I seduced an Innocent at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble, I would recommend Watchmen to everyone. (That, and Understanding Comics, are the two GNs EVERYONE should read.) It’s so easy to handsell (Murder mystery! Conspiracy! Superheroes acting like regular people! Hugo Award! Time’s list!) From there, I’d ask what the reader enjoyed reading, and select something similar from the GN section.

    Once this new mass of humanity (1,000,000 copies of Watchmen?) finishes their basic introduction to the “classics”, then I think you’ll see a maturing/leveling of the backlist, and more new titles entering the list.

    Another observation… it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to become an overnight sensation. However, unlike prose fiction, which doesn’t have many series (outside of juvenile fiction), comics are continuing stories. So, you have a title like Scott Pilgrim, which didn’t catch fire until volume four. just like Dan Brown, who didn’t catch fire until his fourth book, a sequel to a previous book.

    To prove this hypothesis of maturation, would Mr. Hibbs or someone else with access to BookScan data compare the top 100 of COMICSTRIP collections (BISAC: HUM001000) and analyze which titles are from last year, which are less than five years old, and which are older? Also, how does a new volume of Garfield or Dilbert sell compared to the older volumes?

    Comicbook stores generally do not sell many comicstrip collections. If the distribution is similar, then a lot of assumptions go out the window.

  49. Just for grins I looked at a couple of orders my company had from the Indianapolis Public Library, who buy their graphic novels and manga from us. These are just some quick total numbers of what they buy from us

    June 366
    Oct. 221
    Jan 174
    Feb. 216
    March 233

    and these are just the orders I had on hand that I had left in my email folder. Thankfully we have a terrific relationship with the Indianapolis Public Library that one of my partners (Mike Costello) had made years ago and they’ve been been great customers of ours for years. And they have a very hip woman (Amy Dalton) who does all their purchase ordering and is very aware of what her patrons are requesting to have in the local branches.

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