Sunday, August 13, 2017

Weekend Headlines - Comic Books Sales Pt. 1 of 2

Sales of comic books and graphic novels in the Direct Market for July 2017 fell over 11% versus June and over 19% versus July of 2016, according to figures released by Diamond Comic Distributors Friday morning.

DC's Dark Days: The Casting #1, the prelude to their Dark Nights: Metal event, was the best-selling comic book of July, with Batman #26 and #27 also cracking the Top 5.

Marvel Comics had six titles in the Top 10, including Charles Soule and Jim Cheung's Astonishing X-Men #1 in the #2 position, and Secret Empire #6 and #7 as the fifth and six best-selling books, respectively.

Image Comics' The Walking Dead #169 at #9 was - as usual - the lone non-DC or Marvel title in the Top 10.

Monstress Volume 2 was July's best-selling graphic novel.

Marvel was July's top market share publisher with a 36.89% dollar share and a 39.53% unit share. DC was second in July with a 26.94% dollar share and a 31.15% unit share. In third was Image with an 11.47% dollar share and a 9.73% unit share.

Comparatively July's figures versus July 2016 (both four-week shipping months) don't look pretty, with comic book sales down 23.18% and overall sales down 19.31%, leaving 2017 now down 8.69% year-to-date compared to 2016.

What is it all mean?

The comparative month, July 2016, was incredibly strong - and this July, without an event of the same magnitude on the scene, lost a significant amount of ground for the year. The 8.69% decline year to date is (just barely) the lowest position the market has been relative to the previous year in July that we’ve seen since Diamond began reporting final sales data in 2003. The market is now around the size it was in the summer of 2014, near the end of a very successful run but before the booster shots that were the Marvel Star Wars return and DC

The last real period of decline in comics began in earnest in 2009. The first decade of the 2000s had seen a vibrant recovery after the disaster of the 1990s; the graphic novel format surged to first supplement the periodical sector - and, with sales outside the Direct Market, surpass it in dollar terms. The Great Recession of 2008, however, combined with escalating prices and creative exhaustion to produce three years that were off - though very slightly: low single digits, percentage-wise.

The trajectory changed in the fall of 2011 with DC’s "New 52" relaunch, which spurred several years of strong growth. By 2014, that rate of growth was leveling off - but in January 2015 another shot of adrenaline hit, with Marvel getting Star Wars, which added more than $30 million to the Direct Market that year on its own. And when the pace again began slowing down in the spring of 2016, DC’s "Rebirth" provided another booster shot.

There has been no booster shot in 2017 so far; not many big launches. In July 2016, a $50 million month, the average issue number in the Top 10 was 1.8, and the median was 1. Almost everything was a first issue, thanks to "Rebirth." In July 2017 " With no "Marvel Legacy" titles increasing the numbering, in July 2017 the average issue number in the Top 10 was 27.2, and the median 6.5.
As of this point in 2017, we’re back to the size of the Direct Market at the same time in 2014.

The last couple of injections, so to speak, have worn off, but the gains of the early part of the decade remain secure. It’s worth noting that even in the depths of the 2009-2011 slowdown - when the first top seller dropped beneath 100,000 copies, bottoming out in February 2011 with a bestseller only at 71,517 copies - conditions were still better than they’d been at the end of the 1990s, because we had the burgeoning trade paperback sector and a much stronger slate of middle-tier publishers. If hyperbole and panic were inappropriate then, they are more so, now - but it is an honest assessment to say that 2017 has been significantly underperforming, and by a rate that makes it less likely that the year will get back to even in the months remaining.

While 2011 clearly did rally from nearly the same July level to get back almost to even, the 2017 market continues to face some challenging comparatives. The main one is next month: August 2016 saw more periodical comics shipped than any time in the Diamond Exclusive Era, so odds favor a repeat of this month's story. By September, however, the comparatives get somewhat easier; a string of $48 million months would mean no further year-over-year losses, and could bring the dip for the year back into line with the low-double-digit drops earlier in this decade. We just had a $48 million month in May, so it’s doable.

Also, where earlier this year Marvel accounted for 100% of the market's shortfall, now DC is behind for the year, too, because of the Rebirth numbers this year is comparing with. Graphic novels actually performed relatively the best in July, while still being off; we see very little deep discounting going on at the publisher level, which usually adds an artificial boost when it happens. The GN orders in July are closer to the real retail demand.