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Mayo: “Sales Advances & Declines”

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Over at CBR, John Mayo does a monthly sales analysis which charts the ups and downs of sales trends. His report on the December figures cuts right to the chase:

A friend of mine is planning on opening up a comic book store in the near future and we had a recent exchange on the health of the comic book industry. His reasoning was that since the total sales of the top 300 comics have been trending up over the past few years, then the industry must be doing well. My monthly analysis focuses more on the sales trends of the individual titles over how the total sales of the top 300 comics and top 100 trades are doing. While the total sales do seem to be trending up, most individual titles are trending down. As a result, I’m not convinced that the industry is doing well.


Mayo’s column is as fine a primer on comics seeming downward sales spiral as we’ve seen. Over all sales are UP due to events and new #1’s and so on. But more books than ever are down.

In December 2007, the total of the advances was 30,618 units and the total of the declines was 507,048 units. That works out to an average of 1,530 units for each of the 20 advances and 2,654 units for each of the 191 declines. The net difference is a net decline of 476,430 units as compared to the previous issues of each individual title. Note that this is not the change in the total for the top 300 comics from the previous month. The total estimated sales for the top 300 comics in December 2007 was an estimated 7,024,971 units which was an increase of approximately 74,081 units from the estimated total of 6,950,890 units for the top 300 comics for November 2007.


This seems a bit confusing, but as Mayo points out, “They just measure different things.” Mayo goes over a lot of territory in his column, so you’d best go over and read the whole thing. What it does seem to point to (der) is the fact that regular creators on a regular book for a reliable reader experience is almost besides the point in today’s drop it like it’s hot market. Nothing will ever be the same again!

  1. It looks like “the quick buck era” of the big 2 is definitely showing it’s ill effects. In any business it’s been proven time and time again that the slow and steady wins the race. I hope the big 2 can/will change their business plans for long term growth.

  2. Back when DC and Marvel took steps to stop FM Z-Cult from posting trackers to comics, I wondered if downloading comics had any kind of measurable effect on comic sales. I found sales charts for the last ten years on Comics Buyer’s Guide

    2004 – $328.25 million (6% increase)
    2005 – $352.33 million (7% increase)
    2006 – $395.55 million (12% increase)
    2007 – $429.90 million (9% increase)

    I only looked back as far as 2004 because that’s when FM Z-Cult went online. I seem to remember the yearly sales numbers mostly being negative before 2004, but I’m not sure. The numbers show that sales since 2004 have increased 31%.

  3. I don’t think these sales declines are showing any change in comics economics. As long as these figures have been tracked, the normal pattern for a comics is to decline every month. As our commenters call it “standard attrition.”

  4. Yup, that’s the pattern. Launch. Slow decline. Attention-grabbing new direction/creator. Slow decline. Repeat until cancelled, with the occasional variant cover, crossover and anniversary issue to provide a spike along the way.

    I don’t see that as particularly unhealthy. Books live out their natural lifespan, fade away, and get replaced by different (or relaunched) books. The fact that the direct market is growing tends to suggest that this is a perfectly viable model.

  5. Something that I raised a while ago was the question: “how long has standard attrition existed?” “Has there been a time when standard attrition did not exist and it was normal for books to gain from month to month?”

    One of the particular books I was thinking about when I formulated the question was New Teen Titans, which supposedly was going downwards for the very early 1980 issues, and then around #8 or so — with no creative team change, no direction change, no nothing — started heading upwards.

    You’d very rarely see something like that these days. But it does suggest that at least once in the comic book industry, it was possible for a book to totally turn itself onto the consumer base *without* a #1, without a creative team change, without deaths or rebirths, without anything other than good writing, and numbers would start to go up.

    I’m sure that in history, there must be other times too when a comic book has steadily climbed in sales without any gimmicks.

    Why don’t we have that today anymore? I think it’s a question worth exploring.

  6. We do see it from time to time on major Marvel/DC titles. DAREDEVIL climbed under Brian Bendis, and INCREDIBLE HULK climbed for quite a while under Bruce Jones (until people got bored of waiting for a pay-off and drifted away again). So it can be done.

    However, it’s not the standard, and I think the tendency to write four-to-six-part storylines for trade paperback collections deters readers from jumping aboard halfway through an opening storyline. By the time storyline #2 comes along, the buzz has dissipated. Also, I think readers, writers and publishers have now developed a mentality that there is such a thing as a “jumping on point”, and that it is the exception to a “don’t bother, we’ve already started” norm.

    I would suspect that readers who would at one point have started buying a series on the strength of good reviews and now making a mental note to buy the trade when it comes out in six months time. Whether they actually remember to do so is another matter.

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