Get comfortable for a few different threads to come together.  The fireworks are starting early this year.

You know how it’s become a custom in recent years for retailers to link to their best sellers of the previous?  It’s January and it’s started.  The first one I’ve seen is from Challengers Comics + Conversation in Chicago.  Here’s their full Twitter feed discussing 2017 sales:

 

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That’s… kind of grim, isn’t it?  I actually passed through Challengers around Halloween, so let me add a little context here.  They’re NOT saying they’re going out of business, they’re saying that they don’t like the trends they’re seeing.  Challengers is one of the better known comic stores in Chicago.  Co-Owner Patrick Brower is on the Board of Directors for ComicsPRO (that’s the trade association for Direct Market Retailers).  The store won the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award in 2013.  It’s not a dinky store and it’s run by credible people.

The downturn for a lot of comic stores started around the end of October or November 2016.  I started hearing hearing retailers alarmed about sales and warnings of imminent shop closings in early ’17.  There wasn’t a huge wave of shop closings in the Spring as was feared, but I’ve been hearing the same things with a bit more urgency lately and there have been a few closings announced.  Everyone is concerned there are going to be more and what was Tweeted is exactly why.

A $21,000 decrease in Marvel sales?  That’s a part-time employee’s salary right there.  Marvel is showing high sell-in on the Diamond charts with all their variant covers, lenticular covers and constant parade of #1 issues, but it’s not selling through for all retailers.  Challengers is just being public about that.  They’re obviously not happy with $21K hit from their customer base not buying Marvel like they used to.  They can also apparently absorb the hit.  Can every store absorb that kind of a hit?  Well, that’s a big part of why there’s so much gossip about retailers holding on by their fingernails.  Marvel’s inevitable reboot/relaunch can’t come soon enough for the retailers.

DC’s up a little bit, but not enough to really offset Marvel’s decreased sales.  Enamel pins are something that appear to be a popular item for a lot of stores.  Pins aren’t going to be the silver bullet that Magic decks were when the market took a hit in the 90s, but they seem to be a popular supplemental item.

What’s being said about Image?  That’s not the first time I’ve heard that.  I’ve also heard some retailer complaints about Image putting out too many low selling books.  There’s always been a pretty clear sales divide at Image, at least in terms of the monthlies, based on the profile of the creator.  Some of that shouldn’t be new, but retailers are talking about it right now.  It’s also interesting if I follow the link to their top 100 Graphic Novel Sales, just how few of the books on that list are V.2 or higher.  The first volume will frequently be the biggest mover, but that seems a bit more pronounced than I might have expected.  Then again, Challengers was down $15K in graphic novels/tpbs and that’s not a statistic you expect to hear.  And that scenario with Angelic?  It’s probably not limited to just Image titles, but that trend of sales dropping off fast after the first issue was mentioned to me when I was in the shop.  It’s not just a single title they’re talking about.

It’s just the tale of one store, but it’s probably not a unique experience.  Over the next week or two, we should see more retailers weighing in on how their 2017 was and what was (and wasn’t) selling for them.  Perhaps the narrative will change.  Perhaps the narrative will be similar.  For now, we just have one store willing to share their experience and that experience is consistent with what a lot of people are saying in private.

(And here are Challengers’ Top 100 Single Issue sellers for reference.)

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

5 COMMENTS

  1. I think the market is in a down cycle right now. I also think the printed comic companies missed an entire generation of customers who now consume comics in a different way. Tumblr alone is full of people making good comics – why is someone going to go to a specialty store to pay $4 for a short story?

    I’m not blaming the stores. I think the Android’s Dungeon types are pretty much gone and the rest are getting by on offering a large selection and good curation/customer service. I think the major comic companies kinda screwed the pooch by offering substandard comics for too much money.

    DC seems to have rightened their ship some, but Marvel is caught trying to balance between serving an old, bitter, dying audience and trying to appeal to a new audience and it’s not working.

  2. “an old, bitter, dying audience”

    One must have a massive set of blinders on to look at what Marvel has done the last few years and what DC has done the last few years and then believe the problem is Marvel’s audience.

    Mike

  3. It will be interesting to compare this (and other) store’s Top 100 lists with the Diamond lists for the year. I suspect graphic novel sales are going to see sustained growth in the “bookstore” market (i.e., Amazon and Barnes and Noble) at the expense of sales in comic shops. For the amount of money involved, and based on where the customer is already, they’re going to buy the cheaper comic they see suggested to them on Amazon rather than find a comic shop.

  4. “I’ve been getting the increasing feeling the specialty stores scare casual and new readers away.”

    A lot of shops are very unwelcoming places to newcomers and casual readers — and to women and children.

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