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The year in sales

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Brian Hibbs has done the lord’s work yet again by getting hold of the year-end Bookscan report and leaking it so everyone can draw their own conclusions. You can read Brian’s analysis here, and see the precious, precious chart here.

I’m not going to go into a lot of analysis here at this time, except to note that it’s manga all the way, with only V FOR VENDETTA breaking NARUTO’s death grip on the top 10:
#1 NARUTO V9 101,457
#2 NARUTO V1 THE TESTS OF THE NIN 96,651
#3 NARUTO V10 95,859
#4 NARUTO V11 85,184
#5 V FOR VENDETTA 79,907
#6 NARUTO V2 79,071
#7 NARUTO V8 76,489
#8 NARUTO V4 70,366
#9 NARUTO V3 69,865
#10 NARUTO V7 68,207

What’s most interesting from where we stand is looking at the best sellers for individual companies. For instance, here’s DC:

V FOR VENDETTA 79,907
WATCHMEN 37,554
SUPERMAN BATMAN V1 18,796
MEGATOKYO V4 16,331
BATMAN THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS 15,689
KINGDOM COME 13,749
SUPERMAN BATMAN V2 SUPERGIRL 13,109
BATMAN THE LONG HALLOWEEN 11,591
SANDMAN V1 PRELUDES & NOCTURNE 11,540
INFINITE CRISIS 11,350

And Marvel

HALO GRAPHIC NOVEL 32,174
HOUSE OF M 17,365
ASTONISHING X MEN V2 DANGEROUS 15,328
NEW AVENGERS V1 BREAKOUT 13,874
X-MEN PHOENIX ENDSONG 13,062
MARVEL ZOMBIES 13,037
MARVEL 1602 12,112
ASTONISHING X-MEN V1 10,730
ULTIMATE X-MEN THE ULTIMATE C 9,960
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN V14 9,940

DC’s top non-backlist seller is–shock of shocks — MEGATOKYO #4, a Ameri-manga book. Think about that for a while. Also, what is Jeph Loeb’s mysterious hold over the bestsellers list? Other non-backlist top sellers include SUPERMAN BATMAN Vol. 2 and the INFINITE CRISIS collection.

Marvel has a slightly larger contribution from non-backlist on their top 10 — HALO, MARVEL ZOMBIES. Even ASTONISHING X-MEN Vol. 2 and NEW AVENGERS Vol 1 are more recent books.

What has proven to be the most controversial aspect of Hibbs’ analysis is his declaration that art comics sell as badly in the bookstore market as they do in the direct sales market. He makes that statement after noting the lack of Fantagraphics, D&Q and First Second books in the Bookscan top 750. A not unreasonable assumption.

Dirk jumps in with a stinging defense:

The dubious: Over at The Engine, Hibbs goes on to make claims that his presented figures simply cannot support. “Conclusion: for the most part, ‘art comix’ sell just as bad in the general bookstore market, as they do in the DM.”

Don’t you believe it. Never mind that the portion of the bookstore market most likely to back non-genre works — independent bookstores — is the one most underrepresented by BookScan’s numbers. Likewise never mind the absence of Canada’s largest bookstore chain, Chapters (a significant market for Drawn & Quarterly, I’m led to believe), let alone the library market sum in toto. The real signifier that this claim is unsupportable comes from the simple fact that the bottom item on the list in question sold 4784 copies.


Tom has his own analysis:

I don’t believe as Dirk Deppey seems to that Hibbs is creating a total straw man when he seems to assume that some people out there doubt the effectiveness and importance of comics shops. No one on earth has time to track down individual statements and examples of rhetoric now three and four years old, but I remember for instance being in a room when a comics company owner was told by one such advocate that any extra effort at all working with the direct market was “a total waste of time.” You can’t tell me that sentiment didn’t exist. Still, I agree with Dirk I don’t think it’s a sentiment that anyone invested in actual decision-making at these companies takes seriously. It’s not a case that needs to be made. In addition, the only place where the idea existed that arts- and alternative-type comics do outstandingly well in bookstores exists is in the press statements of people hopeful that this would be the case for their comics as well and bad feature articles in the local paper. Just because they remember 1996 doesn’t mean alt-comics companies look at 2007 as anything other than a continuing struggle. So Hibbs is popping an already deflated balloon there.


I side with Tom here. There’s little evidence that indie bookstores sell graphic novels in vast quantities. A few may — like the Rand McNally Bookstore in NYC, or a few others — but I don’t think these sales would have been enough to boost MOOMIN to #20 on the list, or even #200. In fact most of the book sales gurus we talk too seem to think that indie bookstores are undiscovered country for GN sales, not a hallowed redoubt.

It’s also good to keep degree in mind. In the book world any sales over 5 figures is probably in the realm of the break even point, if the advance wasn’t too outrageous. Even modest sales of 5,000-8,000 can be considered strong for a small book publisher. And I am pretty confident that Houghton Mifflin was happy with the sales of BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2006.

The DM and the bookstores may have different sales patterns, but when you add them all up, you have numbers that Marvel and DC, I’m sure, are happy with. Of course, the trick is always to sell more. And the real question? Can American comics EVER compete with manga. The jury’s definitely out on that one.

  1. As much as I love these reports and analysis…. they also scare the pants off of me. Tom is right….the struggle continues on, and while it’s nice to have accolades about the new trend in Graphic Novels, that hardly picks up the slack in the realm of marketing and business. Selling in bookstores is still a hard nut to crack without a hit anime TV show, movie, or Hollywood-esque promotional machine.

  2. I’m really surprised to not see Fables on that list. Those graphic novels fly off of our shelves, surpassing Sandman sales long ago. But as I’ve been shown time and time again, what sells in the DM doesn’t always sell in the Book Market, and vise versa.

  3. I know why the Jeph Loeb titles are selling — it’s because they are well-told, self-contained mysteries that stay true to the characters, don’t bring a lot of complicated continuity and backstory and can be enjoyed by someone (like me) who wants a good Batman story without having to submit to a confusing, expensive, time-consuming immersion into a sea of never-ending continuity.

  4. I see some titles here that are being carried in Target’s books section (Superman/Batman, 1602, Phoenix Endsong) and wonder how much that contributes to their sales. It’s a very visible area in a major chain and can only hope they are selling well. Now if they could only get trades into Wal-Mart…

  5. And if we substract anything that DIDN’T have a movie (V for Vendetta) or an ongoing successful TV show on (Naruto), we will actually see how high the highest-rated Graphics Novels sell, and that would be 37,554 of Watchmen as the top level of a stand-alone GN.

  6. What’s also astounding for seeing Megatokyo Vol. 4 in the number 4 spot on DC’s list is that the entire book is available to read for free online. And not in an under-handed bittorrent/pirate sort of way; the entire series is right there on the site for anyone to read. I just think that’s flatout amazing.

  7. As far as Megatokyo Vol. 4 – I can’t spend all my time on the computer reading webcomics, much as I like them. It’s too damned hard on my eyes and I’m on the computer almost 12 hours a day just for work. So I buy the books that collect the webcomics whenever they’re made available. And it’s much easier to reread books when they’re physically in your hands, instead of constantly clicking and waiting for the screen to load …

  8. WOW! Thanks so much for publishing this type of analysis–it’s something I always wanted to know growing up (attempting to decode the circulation reports in comics that seemed to demonstrate even the lowliest Marvel title had 160,000 sold per month).

    I’d say V for Vendetta is only partly about the movie, unless there was a correlating bump for Watchmen (as the “greatest work”). What is interesting to me as a reader is that DC’s “biggest hits” are populated by many older titles–V, Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, and Sandman are all at least ten and sometimes TWENTY years old.

    Contrast that with Marvel’s relatively new offerings that sell the highest. And I have to admit that until today I’d never heard of Neruto!!

  9. Blargh. This is very unsurprising. Old fads opened up American minds to anime, particularly young minds. Naruto is a popular and comprehensible show on Cartoon Network. The books which inspired it sell like hotcakes. I side with Todd Alcott, the titles from both big companies that sold well were those which do not need hours upon hours of continuity research. Ultimate Spiderman vol 14 being on the list is a bit odd though…

  10. I replied to Deppey’s comments over on Journalista, but I thought I’d cross-post it here, if that’s not too rude. I basically agree with you, and I would even suggest that for a shoestring small press operation, the breakeven point for a book may be lower than five figures, even taking into account accurate overhead costs. Even though the book trade doesn’t necessarily seem like a shangri la for small press publishers, it doesn’t take much for it to be really good for them.

    The argument over sales of art comics being misrepresented by BookScan due to undercounting of indy bookstores and certain specialty bookstores strikes me as beside the point. Art comics are like literary fiction. Only occasionally–as when Oprah bestowed fame on The Corrections–does a literary work achieve best-seller status. I suspect that if you looked at the top 750 fiction list from BookScan, it would not include too many works of literary fiction. There’d be a lot of romance and thrillers and “chick lit” and series fiction and books by writing machines like James Patterson and Danielle Steele and Mary Higgins Clark, etc. Maybe occasionally you will get a big name literary author there whose new book is an event book–a Norman Mailer or Don Delillo or Margaret Atwood, for example. But mostly not. National Book Award winners? I bet they typically don’t make the top 750 lists.

    And yet, literary fiction keeps getting published and published by big publishers. Why? Lots of reasons, I suppose–publishers want to sell to the widest market; the occasional breakthrough books may justify the low investment cost in the rest; habit; a desire to do the right thing; a desire to be able to brag to educated sophisticated friends about the great books you’ve published; a book of literary fiction that gets acknowledged as a classic can become a long-term backlist earner; maybe a positive marginal profit makes them worthwhile, if not as profitable as “10 Management Secrets of Cheops” or whatever; etc.

    What separates our big publishers–Marvel and DC, and I guess also Viz, Tokyopop, and Dark Horse–from Random House or HarperCollins is that they don’t publish the comics equivalent of literary fiction. They don’t publish art comics. DC made an attempt years ago with their Piranha/Paradox line, and there have been occasional oddball books that seem pretty arty–Dark Horse being the most consistent experimenter, I suppose. But perhaps except for Dark Horse, art comics are not part of their mission the way literary fiction is without a doubt part of the mission of Random House. Unlike Random House, the big comics publishers never developed this habit. They are happy to let Fantagraphics and D&Q and whoever have that trade.

    So I suspect that even with the undercounting of indy bookstores, Brian Hibbs is largely correct. However, so what? If Fantagraphics is able to sell 5000 to 10,000 of a book in the book trade, in addition to the 2000 it sells in the direct market–well, that’s a lot more than they used to sell when they relied almost exclusively on the DM. Who cares if they aren’t selling Naruto numbers? Does Random House lose sleep over the fact that Leaving Home by Anita Brookner sells substantially less than Sisters by Danielle Steele?

  11. I think it’s great that a webcomic that is serialized for free can also be a high-selling book without having to take the material off the site. I know some publishers are overly paranoid about such things.

  12. Quote from above, “Bookscan Reveals that People Like Manga, Superheroes. « The Daily Cross Hatch Says:”

    Without disputing the actual conclusion expressed here, I want to say that “superheroes” are a genre, while “manga” is not. So at first glance the quote seems to be making a statement about popular subject matter, but it doesn’t really. I mean, “Buddha” isn’t “One Piece” isn’t “Full-Metal Alchemist” etc., etc.

    Manga has it’s own genres and creative ghettos. I think you have to look at who’s buying it and why. I teach a comic book drawing class for kids, and they’re all reading manga. Why? Because they’re in school and their friends are reading manga. They’re kids. They wear the same clothes, listen to the same bands, see the same movies, etc. This stuff is aimed at them, while a $50 volume of “Palomar” is not.

    It’s absurd to expect the 10 year old that’s reading “One Piece” now to have any clue about Igort’s latest Fantagraphics release.
    I think it’s more important to recognize that manga has done what American comics abandoned trying to do; get kids reading comics. I’m happy to see it. Those kids will grow up and either grow out of comics or search for more mature books, hopefully discovering that artists in countries other than Japan draw comics too.

  13. “And if we substract anything that DIDN’T have a movie (V for Vendetta) or an ongoing successful TV show on (Naruto), we will actually see how high the highest-rated Graphics Novels sell, and that would be 37,554 of Watchmen as the top level of a stand-alone GN”

    No, the highest selling Graphic Novel from 2006 that doesn’t have a hit tv show or movie was Fruits Basket Volume 13, followed by Kingdom Hearts Volume 2, Fruits Basket Volume 14, Kingdom Hearts Voume 1, Kingdom Hearts Volume 3, and _then_ Watchmen.

    You could argue that Kingdom Hearts had a hit videogame to boost it’s sales, but no such argument can be applied to Fruits Basket.

    Fruits Basket did have a tv show, but it was only released on DVD in the U.S. and that was in 2002 and 2003 (with a boxset in late 2004). It also was hardly some sort of massive hit even by the standards of direct-to-DVD sales. So it’s sales are pretty darn impressive (not that I’m comparing it to Watchmen, which has sold tens of thousands of books a year for two decades now).

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