Tilting at Windmills: Looking at BookScan, 2004


By Brian Hibbs

(Originally published #130 – February 2005 – “Looking at BookScan, 2004”

Welcome to the second annual review of the bookstore market.

“Direct Market” stores (also known as “your Local Comics Shop”) buy much of their material for resale from Diamond Comics Distributors (though, not, by any means, all – and many DM stores are also buying from book distributors). DM stores seldom have Point-of-Sales (POS) systems, and, because we buy non-returnable, what we track is what sells-in to the store, not what sells-through to the eventual consumer.

The bookstore market, however, buys their material returnable, where they can send back titles that don’t sell. Because of this, sell-through is the data that is tracked and trended. Bookstores that have POS systems are able to report their sales to BookScan, a subsidiary of Nielsen.

Each week, BookScan generates a series of reports detailing the specific sales to consumers through its client stores. The category we are most interested in is “adult fiction overall graphic novels”. Provided here is the BookScan report from the last week of 2004. 

For point of comparison, the 2003 BookScan report can be found here, with my analysis from last year here.

It is important to remember a few things here. First and foremost, this isn’t directly a list of the “year’s best-sellers” – this is a report of what sold best in the last reporting week of 2004. In order to make this list, a book had to sell 98 copies in the last week of 2004. If a book sold 97 copies this week, and otherwise sold 10,000 copies throughout the year, it will not appear on this report.

This is also not a list of every book that sold through every book store – the report is limited to those stores that report through BookScan. According to BookScan, more than 7500 venues are now reporting to them, but this still leaves many venues that don’t. Like I said in last year’s analysis:

But who are the retailers who report to BookScan? According to the list that I have, there are over 7400 potential BookScan venues. This list includes almost 300 independent bookstores, as well as chain retailers, B. Dalton / Barnes and Noble, Borders / Waldenbooks, Tower Music and Books, Musicland, Deseret Book Company (Mormon bookstores), Follett Stores (University bookstores), Hastings, Costco, K-Mart, and Target. BookScan also tracks online sales from Amazon.com, B&N.com, Borders.com, Buy.com, Fatbrain.com, and Powells.com.

That’s still a fair number of places that sell our product that aren’t represented – beyond traditional book retailers who don’t report to BookScan (Say, Baker & Taylor, or the rest of the indie bookstores), and mass market retailers like Wal-Mart, this is probably missing a big chunk of library sales, university sales, airport sales, etc. This Publisher’s Weekly article [from 2003] (you’ll have to subscribe to read it, sorry) says the following:

BookScan generally claims to represent between 70% and 75% of sales in the industry (Wal-Mart and some of the supermarket chains are among those who decline to report.) But a comparison with in-print figures supplied by publishers reveals that the numbers are more likely to represent about 65%, even after deducting for unsold books and returns.

For BookScan’s top ten nonfiction titles published last year – a list that include mass-market favorites like Phil McGraw’s diet books as well as indie hits like Benjamin Franklin: An American Life – no title had BookScan sales comprise more than 75% of total sales. For some of the books that had strong special-sales, they ran as low as 25%.

I really couldn’t tell you how much, if any, things have changed in 2004, but I’ll assume that things are about the same – these numbers are unreported by some potentially significant degree, and don’t, in any way, represent all “book stores” selling comic book material.

Further, there are indications that books occasionally get miscategorized – this ICv2 report says that the number one comic title for the first week of 2005 was mistakenly listed in the “Children’s Book” section, rather than with the graphic novels.

The scope of under- or mis-reporting is unknown to me, but it probably would dramatically change some specific rankings. So, be certain to understand what this 2004 BookScan report (MATT, Link it again, please) actually is – last-week-of-the-year sales only to that subset of non-DM stores that report to BookScan.

I definitely think you should not only look at the chart, as presented, but also save it to your own computer and sort it out in various ways: especially the year-to-date (YTD) column, and the “publisher” column (which is often the distributor, not the publisher).

We’ll talk some more about the DM and how it compares a bit further down in the column.

As always, I strongly encourage you to look at the BookScan numbers on your own and make your own conclusions – I’m trying to be balanced and fair, but, of course, I have huge bookshelves worth of biases I’m dragging around with me, and your analysis might be more correct than my own.

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So, preamble out of the way, let’s look at the most basic of information about the bookstore market. In 2003, the last-week-of-the-year report has 5,495,584 books being sold for a total gross dollar sales of $66,729,053. Again, it is very important to remember that this is not an “end of the year” report per se – it is entirely possible that there are books that sold, say, 10k copies over the course of the year, but didn’t sell enough copies the last week of the year to chart. There’s really no way to determine how much of the book market isn’t being reported in this format, but it’s probably safe to say that it is significant (I’d take a wild, stabbing guess at between 20 and 50%)

In 2004, the BookScan report totals out to 6,071,123 pieces sold for total gross dollar sales of $67,783,487. That is a growth of 10.5% in pieces, but only 1.6% in dollars.

That’s a phenomenal growth in pieces, really – some 600k more books being sold overall, and the growth is almost solely due to manga. 1.6% growth in dollars is also the manga effect – most manga is among the cheapest material available as a book, driving the disconnect between the two figures.

Another interesting place to look at the relative health of comics in book stores is the cut off threshold for appearing on the chart. The chart is ranked by that week’s sales. That’s really key because the year’s data is limited to the 751 items actually listed on the charts. In 2003, a book had to sell 68 copies during the last week of the month in order to place on the chart. A book that sold 67 copies that week, but had sold 25k the rest of the year would not appear on the chart.

In 2004 a book had to sell 98 copies, in the last week, to make it on to the chart. Looking at it that way, that’s a 44% growth in the cut-off “threshold” from 2003. That’s pretty significant, I think, because it shows comics material in general is selling stronger.

I’ve also arbitrarily divvied the list into one of five categories: Humor, Manga, DC, Marvel, and the ever-wonderful Everything Else. While such categorization is horrifically subjective (Is Asterix “humor”? Is The Simpsons? And that’s why I’m not showing that part of my work, to avoid such debates), I did it so to try and track the distinctions between “traditional” bookstore material (e.g., humor books like Garfield, or Far Side), and Direct Market-driven material (i.e., Marvel, DC, and most of the “Everything Else” group) and Manga.

So, here’s the year-to-year comparison between my categories:

For Humor, 2003 had 125 of the 751 spots, and sold 1,246,141 units for a total retail of $16,095,800. The average humor title on the list sold 9,969 units.

In 2004, the category took 108 spots, for 829,279 units and $11,460,533. The average humor title on the list sold 7,678 units.

Humor is the traditional bookstore sales for the “comics” category, and, on paper at least, it took a real beating. My guess, however, is that more than any of our other groups, it’s not as bad as it looks, we’re just getting fewer books passing the “threshold test” of 98-copies-sold-in-the-last-week. Given that we can still show Calvin & Hobbes and Far Side books selling 20k-30k this year, the “threshold test” seems like the reasonable expectation – though, certainly, there’s some significant weakening even looking at book vs. book (Far Side Gallery v1, for example, sold 26,966 in 2003 versus 18,371 in 2004.)

Also of note, 2003’s big winner (Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy) seems to have disappeared from BookScan. “Get Fuzzy Experience” sold an astonishing 76,672 copies in 2003, making it, hands down the #1 book of 2003, while “Blueprint for Disaster” moved 68,772, and “I Would Have Brought you a Cat” moved 29,635. In 2004, only the last one appears, and only sold 8624 copies. That’s a pretty implausible drop, and I frankly don’t know if this is explained by something prosaic like switching publishers and the books being OP, rather than being a decline in popularity. Still, just with those three titles, there’s a net loss of 166,455 books sold for the humor category – approaching half of the entire loss!

For Manga, 2003 had 447 spots, for 3,361,966 units and $34,368,409. The average manga title on the list sold 7,521 units.

In 2004, the category took 518 spots, for 4,603,558 units and $45,069,684. The average manga title on the list sold 8,887 units.

Manga is clearly the category killer. So much so that, were I a publisher, I’d be screaming that BookScan devised a way to separate Manga out from the rest. Nearly 70% of the titles making the BookScan list are Manga! Manga sold (at least, remember all of the caveats) 1.3 million more books in 2004 than 2003.

Last year I opined that my experience was that Manga sold more akin to a periodical than a perennial – that is to say that sales were front loaded in the first few weeks of release, then drastically dropped off from there. This does not appear to be case when comparing BookScan 2003 to 2004. In fact, if I counted right, there are 123 Manga titles (of 751 total) which appeared on both year’s lists. That means nearly 20% of the total manga titles appear to be perennials.

In many cases sales are substantially lower (c.f. Chobits v1 going from 38,951 to 24,956 or Love Hina v1 going from 31,290 to 20,830) – but the drops are nothing like I would have assumed from my own sales patterns. One possible explanation is that the charts are still reflecting stores bringing Manga in for the very first time, leading with the known commodities. It will likely take until 2005 to see if this is, in fact, the case. Possibly ’06.

In the Manga category, Tokyopop has 265 of the 518 slots, while Viz has 174 slots, with the rear being taken up by Dark Horse at 22 and Random House at 14. Diamond has 38 spots, some of those ADV, some of those CPM, but that’s more research than I want to make the time to break down. DC’s CMX line has only 1 placer, but more on that in a bit.

Some interesting things to consider – although Tokyopop has the bulk of sales, they’ve actually got the lowest performance if you take simple averages. For example, the 265 Tokyopop titles sum to 2,099,645 units sold, That is an average of 7923 per book. Viz on the other hand has only 174 spots and 1,850,877 units sold, but as an average, that’s 10,637 per book. Random House averages 12,488 per book, and Dark Horse hits 12,012. Less does appear, in fact, to be more.

Now, drawing conclusions through averages is probably bad math – I’m not doing anything to weigh the number of months on sale, for example, and perhaps someone who has statistician training wants to take a stab there – but it is one more way to see where general trends are. Certainly one of the biggest concerns for the category is a “glut” of product, and with new manga TP releases probably being around 1000 volumes a year right now, it does appear that a smaller, more focused line is the wiser proposition.

It’s also probably worth noting that despite last year’s monster success with “cine-manga” (Lizzie McGuire v1 was actually Tokyopop’s highest BookScan item in 2003 with 49,694 units sold), virtually none of it appears on the 2004 chart. There are 2 volumes of Lizzie (v6 and v8) listed, but even those sales look slightly blah at 7155 and 1737 respectively. No other “cine-manga” (fumetti-style movie stills with comic balloons on top) ranks at all. I’m going to assume that “cine-manga” is more expensive to produce, as well, given the supposition of having to pay someone to actually assemble the book (virtually all manga only needs to be lettered when published here), as well as licensing fees that would have to be paid. Last year’s Lizzie success seems to be a fluke, unless there was some kind of categorization mix up (Maybe they’re all under “children’s books” now?)

Wait, missed one. Upon further examination I spot The Family Guy in with 1324 copies. Not very good either.

I truly don’t understand why we’re seeing such drastically different results in the DM than in the bookstores with manga. The other places on the list where BookScan shows great sales, I’m doing well with that work – but not manga. I can barely give manga away. Sales are compressed in the first weeks, then I never sell another copy again. I’m stuck with a disproportionate amount of unsalable stock, and more product is being released than I could possibly rack, even if the sales were there. This perplexes me.

For DC, 2003 had 74 spots, for 336,569 units and $6,151,258. The average DC book on the list sold 4,548 units.

In 2004, the company took 39 spots, for 179,440 units and $3,135,983. The average DC book on the list sold 4,601 units.

There’s no easy way to put this: DC got its ass kicked in the book market. DC has lost something close to 50% of its dollars on the Top-750. Now, of course, there may well be things we’re not seeing because of the “threshold”, but even in what we can see, DC isn’t doing very well. Even the most “civilian friendly” titles like Sandman took a beating – Preludes and Nocturnes sold 15,091 copies through BookScan in 2003, but in 2004 that number drops to 8662. Perhaps even worse, the SC of Endless Nights sold a mere 4921 in the book stores from release, but the Direct Market had initial orders in August alone of 6643. Yeowch!

On the other hand, the average sales per title went up a small bit, go figure.

CMX, 2000AD, and Humanoids are all putatively “book store imprints”, yet of all of the 2004 releases, only one makes the chart – volume 1 of Land of the Blindfolded with a, frankly, pathetic 1270 copies sold. These non-existent showings for these imprints is nearly worse than embarrassing – it’s nearly criminal. One imagines this is one of the reasons new Senior Vice President Stephanie Fierman was just brought in. The Direct Market bought 2602 copies of Land of the Blindfolded v1 – more than twice as many, and that number reflects no reorders. Clearly, DC is doing poorly with new publishing initiatives in front of the customers these initiatives were aimed at, and that should be a very scary thing for them.

DC’s top seller is, somewhat surprisingly, Kingdom Come at 12,103 copies. We often talk about the insularity of super-hero comics, and Kingdom Come is about as insular of a comic as there is – set in the future, thick with in-crowd-only references – and yet it outsold everything else, by at least 20%. In point of fact, it even outsold 404 of the 518 Manga titles on the list. That’s kind of shockingly good for a book that I would never hand to a civilian as their first comic.

Another 11k+ copies of Watchmen sold, another 10k+ of League of Extra-ordinary Gentlemen, solid perennial performance, but down from 2003’s 14k+ for Watchmen and, *gulp* 38,714 for LEOG.

It seems clear to me that Manga’s growth is at the expense of rack presence for what we usually think of as traditionally Direct Market comics.

For Marvel, 2003 had 73 spots, for 455,553 units and $8,428,962. The average Marvel title on the list sold 6,240 units.

In 2004, the company took 50 spots, for 227,985 units and $3,756,764. The average Marvel title on the list sold 4,560 units.

What I said for DC goes just the same for Marvel: this is an ass-beating – plus, their line average plummeted as well. Half the units gone, more than half the dollars, and, hello, there was a little film some people might have heard about: Spider-Man 2? $373 million in domestic gross, and the sum of all Marvel comics appearing on BookScan are just 1% of that? Or, to perhaps put it more concretely, Marvel had its biggest amount of free advertising it has ever garnered in a year, and year-to-year sales declined.

Ultimate Spider-Man v1 in 2003 sold 11,460 copies, while in 2004 it did 10,149. No, that’s not a huge drop – but it is downwards. Only one volume of J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man charts in 2004 – and that at a meager 1463 copies – but how can that be? JMS is a well known creator, and that little movie was out. Where did that ball get dropped?

One possible answer may be that Marvel switched their bookstore distribution from CDS to Diamond beginning on October 1st. The period of transition between distributors could be responsible for some measure of lost sales. There’s really no way to know with the data at hand.

By a hair, Marvel’s best-selling comic is Gaiman’s 1602, at 10,183 copies – and it’s probably worth noting that’s higher than any DC Gaiman book, though I don’t think that will be a sustainable number for Marvel. Given the high performance at DC of Kingdom Come, one might expect that Marvels would be Marvel’s best seller, but it limps on the list with 2,564 copies sold. Same artist, twice as accessible, name of the company in the very title, and it only sells a quarter of Kingdom Come. Marvel might also want to look at their bookstore marketing.

There’s been a certain amount of talk that the wretched Direct Market sales of the “Marvel Age” periodicals are being “made up” by collection sales in the bookstores. Doesn’t seem like it, however – volume 1 of Spider-Man did respectably at 7613, but v3 is down to 1397, and Mary Jane only comes in at 1309. The FF volumes aren’t to be seen, nor are titles like Runaways or Emma Frost.

Other than that, there’s the usual “books about comics sell better than the comics themselves” – such a book, DK publishing’s Ultimate Spider-Man sold better, at 13,134, than any title published by Marvel itself.

For Everything Else, 2003 had 32 spots, for 95,355 and $1,684,624. The average works out to 2,980 units.

In 2004, Everything Else was 36 spots, for 230,831 units and $4,360,522. The average works out to 6,412 units.

You can put this mostly on the backs of three books: Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, and the late Charles Schultz’s Complete Peanuts v1. At sales of 43,333, 26,126, and 25,224 respectively, that’s 94,683 copies sold between those three, or 41% of the total for the category. Astonishingly good performance on each, and given my own very strong sales on them, it seems likely that the DM didn’t do enough to sell at least the first two books. (Peanuts came in at #97 on the Diamond chart — #28 for dollars) I’ve sold scores of both, but most of my copies, at least, were bought from Cold Cut and Last Gasp, neither of which issue annual sales reports. It is possible the DM did a better job than the reports would show in selling those books, but “mainstream” book publishers seem to be disinclined to work substantively with the direct market, which is a crying shame.

No Towers was the #5 book of the BookScan chart in units, and Peanuts was #37, but if you sort things out by dollars instead, they’re the #1 and #2 books, bringing in nearly $1.6 million between the two of them.

Dark Horse has 15 books in here (and with 22 in Manga, that actually puts them on par with DC – 37 to 39 in total charted titles), doing what looks to be very mediocre business with the probably very expensive Star Wars license. That theoretically should explode with Episode III being released, but in ‘04 it doesn’t look like it is that great of a deal. Hellboy does well with 16,355 of volume 1 sold, but v2 comes in miles lower at 8,702. Someone finally figured out that Joss Whedon did it, and Fray hits with 4,254 copies this year (it only sold 682 copies in ’03!), and Michael Chabon’s The Escapist comic TP did 5,884 – considerably lower than I would have thought. Frank Miller’s first volume of Sin City sold 2,655, but that will be much higher in 2005 with the relaunch and reformat and the film.

Slave Labor has three books on the list (Johnny, Squee, and Everything Can Be Beaten), and, most impressive, the first two showed healthy sales gains year-to-year. Up 55% (from 5063 to 7864) on Johnny, and 54% on Squee (from 3844 to 5924) – only a tiny number of titles showed growth, and SLG should be proud they’re in that club. I’m also pretty shocked by the 1979 copies of Everything Can Be Beaten, given Jhonen Vasquez’ name doesn’t appear on the cover, and that it’s in a tiny easy-to-steal format. It’s also a little surprising to see it on the list considering it is saddle-stitched (that is: stapled), and doesn’t have a standard book binding. It is the only “comic” on the list.

Fantagraphics has 4 books on the list. We’ve already discussed Peanuts, and there’s also Ghost World (4676), Jimmy Corrigan (4929), and Locas (only 889 copies here – however, I, as a single comic book store, sold better than 1% of that national number all by my lonesome). Jimmy is up a smidge from last year (4576 in 2003), which is a good sign, while Ghost World is down considerably (from 5899)

Jeff Smith’s Bone shows 4225 of the One Edition, which I would have thought would have been higher – the 2005 numbers on Scholastic’s version are going to be fascinating, I think – again, as a single comic shop, I’ve sold nearly 1.5% of that number on my own, and Diamond’s numbers show it as the #24 book of the year, #2 in dollars for the Direct Market. I believe that Cartoon had shipped it to the DM in priority over the bookstores, and, if that’s true, good for them it seems to have paid off.

Two last surprises for me in the “everything else” patch – a) 4120 copies of The Crow sold. Why is that a surprise? Because I haven’t been able to buy copies from any DM distributor in what feels like 6 months. Surprise b) is that only one Image title shows on the list – Walking Dead v2, and that at 402 copies sold in the 3 or so weeks of its release. That initialed more than three times higher in the DM with 1449 copies in December.

Overall, very little that’s not Manga, Humor, or from the “Big Two” shows on the BookScan chart, again leading me to the conclusion that, for the most part, the Direct Market is the name of the game for the bulk of “art comics”… or even “non traditional” sales. That’s not to say that a much much better job can’t be done in the DM, because it can – but specialists appear to do a better job selling specialist material than the generalist book store market does.

I really wonder if Persepolis or In the Shadow of No Towers had been “properly” marketed via Diamond, or if they’d been listed with the comics, instead of back in the “books” section of Previews, if the DM might not have done much better with them. By and large it looks like the mainstream book publishers don’t give a flying fuck about the DM, writing us off without trying to see where our ceiling might be. I don’t know if this is a problem with the publishers or with Diamond, but I’d be curious to see results of a dedicated marketing push into the specialist’s channel. I know that Comix Experience did great with both of those titles, and I imagine at least some portion of that success could be leveraged into other stores.

A few other general notes on the BookScan numbers: As far as I can remember, there were four Comic Book movies in 2004: Punisher, Spider-Man 2, Catwoman, and Hellboy. It’s hard to say if the presence of the films did anything significant whatsoever to shift any comics. Looking at Spider-Man 2, sales went down on Spider-Man comics, although, as noted above, this could be a function of distribution, rather than failure. Hellboy certainly seemed to get a bump from the film, and I’m going to be curious to see if it becomes a long-term perennial in the book channel.

Punisher and Catwoman appear to have done nothing for comics sales – there’s no Catwoman collections whatsoever in the year-end, and Punisher charts three times with Essential Punisher at 4346, and Max v1 at 1463 and v2 at 379. That’s not substantial better totals than 2003 which had 3 volumes of the previous Punisher comics series chart at 2472, 1403 and 204 copies. It looks to me that a comics movie, barring exceptional quality on either the film or comics end is really only good for a few thousand extra copies sold. Maybe.

What would help would be if I had data for whatever chart “movie tie ins” landed on – the novelizations, the “Making Of…” books – then would could at least see the relative weight of comics to a similar product. But I don’t have those charts, so blah.

Another observation: People who want Manga seem to only want real Manga – taking American comics and putting them in Manga format does not seem to adding sales. There are 5 manga-format American comics on the list, if I’m remembering everything right: the four Spider-Man related “Marvel Age” books and Michael Chabon’s Escapist v1. All of which, I think, would have appeared on the charts anyway, if they’d been in a more traditional format. Can’t prove it, however.

I do know that manga formatting hurts sales in at least my corner of the Direct Market. For example, I’ve yet to sell a single copy of any of the reformatted Elfquest books since they were released – despite having 2-3 people a month coming and asking for Elfquest. They simply don’t like the format. We’ve also seen underwhelming results of things ranging from My Faith in Frankie to Emma Frost and it’s my strong belief that “non standard” formatting isn’t a trick the public seems interested in falling for. It doesn’t track on BookScan either.

And I’m surprised that none of DC’s Cartoon Network books showed on the chart at all, given they had at least token placement last year, and should be among the most “civilian-friendly” material they publish.

What else did I have to talk about? Oh, yeah: Some of you with longer memories may remember that Tokyopop began a television advertising campaign in May of 2004. I don’t know if the program ran its full course (the ads were to run from May to September), but it definitely ran at least one spot featuring Sgt. Frog Volume 3, Psychic Academy Volume 3, and Saiyuki Volume 3.

The problem, for me, is figuring out the right way in which too judge whether the television advertising did any specific good. While 5 volumes each of Sgt. Frog and Psychic Academy, and 6 volumes of Saiyuki charted, they also appear to be all 2004 releases except for v1 of Saiyuki which came out in May of 2003. Basically, we don’t have any reference point against which judge. Still, the fact that every volume of each title charted might possibly be an indication that the commercial worked.

The only thing I could think to see was if they averages would change without those specific titles – as I said before, Tokyopop’s average book appearing on the chart sold 7923 copies by simple non-weighted division. When you remove Sgt. Frog, Psychic Academy and Saiyuki from Tokyopop, the average sale changes to… drat! 7907. These are apparently “average” selling books. Which would seem to be an indication that the commercial didn’t work.

Looking at the general series numbers, it also doesn’t seem to appear that those three titles had a substantially different sales pattern in volume 3 (the “advertised volume”) when looking at other Tokyopop series. Obviously, I’m looking at the wrong spread of numbers to come to any real conclusion about the success or failure of the advertising. There’s also intangibles like the general growth curve of manga, and the specific aesthetic value of these individual works so the best I can say about the value of television advertising to sales is “Reply Hazy, ask again.” Maybe Matt Brady or ICv2 can do a follow up interview with Tokyopop for some more specific detail.

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So, how does the DM compare to any of this? Well, that’s the million dollar question, and mostly the answer is the usual “dunno, we’re comparing apples to oranges”. Again, DM sales reports are focused on sell-in, while BookScan reports sell-through. DM sales reports only include Diamond, which, while largely accurate for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image, potentially are just a fraction of sales for publishers like Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly. Further, Diamond’s reports don’t actually list sales figures, it lists an “order index” where sales are compared to that month’s issue of Batman (the periodical). ICv2 appears very confident that its numbers are accurate, but virtually every publisher tells me they’re off by a significant factor.

To confuse things more, Diamond doesn’t even provide “order index” figures for their year-end reports. Just a straight list with no numbers attached. Diamond’s year-end reports are available on Newsarama. Follow these links for 2003 and 2004.

Still, there’s a certain amount of figuring it out that can be done. It is possible to sum up ICv2’s reports and draw conclusions from there. We have only one small problem this year – Diamond used to only list the “Top 50” books each month, but, in February 2004, changed that, thankfully, to “Top 100”. However, we still don’t have a full year’s data to figure things from, and any comparisons to 2003 become pretty suspect because we only have half of the figures, if that.

I had hoped expanding the list would minimize the “The Watchmen effect” from here forward — Watchmen placed at #23 for 2003 DM sales, yet had never appeared in any of 2003’s “Top 50” monthly lists — however it appears it has not. Watchmen placed #18 for 2004, yet it only appears on 5 of the 12 month’s top list. 841 copies in February, 1067 in March, 946 in May, 1337 in August, and 1358 in December – that’s 5549 copies we can track throughout the year. However, three places down, at #21 for the year, is Ultimate Spider-Man v10, and we can show 7862 copies of that in July and 853 in August, or 8715 that have reported numbers. Thus, Watchmen must have sold more than 8716 copies in 2004 through Diamond, but we can only track 64% or less of its sales! It’s likely, in fact, that Watchmen sold closer to 2003’s 11k copies, but only a fraction of the sales appear on the charts.

(This could also mean that either ICv2’s tracking methods or Diamond’s reports are incredibly suspect, though I think don’t think that’s it)

Diamond’s #1 TP for the year is said to be Batman: Hush v1, released in July. It appears on each month’s lists, except for October, from there out, for a sum of 18,332 copies. With no October reporting, that number is certainly low, and I’ll guess its closer to 20k copies sold.

A few other year-end facts about Diamond – and to be clear, this data doesn’t include “Diamond Book Distributors”, their bookstore arm — which I got from VP of Operations Cindy Fournier: the number of stores turning in an order form was flat this year. In 2003 I asked Cindy to pull the purely arbitrary month of September as our comparison, and 3300 had put in a form that month. In 2004 that number was slightly lower at 3275. This year she also compared year-to-year rather than month-to-month, and the year’s numbers were 3301 stores in 2003, and 3310 stores in 2004. That’s only a positive increase of 9 new DM accounts.

(Though, of course, this isn’t an exact science either – chain store [two or more stores with common ownership] ordering can change these things if a chain changes from consolidated ordering to individual store ordering, and vice versa. There doesn’t seem to be any easy method to figure out the number of successful new stores)

Encouraging new Direct Market stores would seem to be a clear priority in 2005 and beyond.

I also asked Cindy, like last year, to pull the number of stores ordering backlist items from the Diamond STAR system (as opposed to ordering their backlist through their monthly orders) – again, comparing September to September, 2003 had 1800 accounts ordering backlist, while 2004 had 2275. That’s a remarkable increase – up more than a quarter! – and I think that shows that stores are starting to do a much better job handling backlist.

I generally use “carrying backlist” as my working definition of whether or not a store is “real” – that is, not just a dabbler, or a card store that carries a few “hot” comics, or a game store that only carries Knights of the Dinner Table or something. And so, I think this “STAR penetration figure” is a really damn good sign for the DM in the future.

Also of note, since Diamond’s publicly-presented charts don’t include this kind of information, Cindy reports that in looking at 2003 vs. 2004, Diamond’s comic book periodical sales are up 4% in dollars and 0.5% in pieces, but more positively, TP/GN sales are up 11% in dollars and a whopping 22% in pieces.

Compare that to the BookScan numbers (1.6% in dollars and 10.5% in pieces), and even with the differences in reporting methodologies, I think it’s clear that there’s still lots of life (and growth!) left in the DM, and that the bookstore market is still not the panacea some think it is.


Brian Hibbs has owned and operated Comix Experience in San Francisco since 1989. Feel free to e-mail him with any comments. You can purchase a collection of the first one hundred Tilting at Windmills (originally serialized in Comics Retailer magazine) from IDW Publishing. An index of Tilting at Windmills on Newsarama can be found right here.