Robot 6

Comics A.M. | February’s record low, skepticism about digital plans

Green Lantern #62

Publishing | February brought a noteworthy, if unwanted, record for the direct market: The lowest-ever top title on record. Green Lantern #62 led Diamond Comic Distributors’ Top 300 with an estimated 71,500 copies, 18,400 less than the previous record holder. Chart watcher John Jackson Miller writes, “For the first time, we probably cannot say that when all reorders and newsstand sales are added, the total will be above 100,000 — although we certainly would expect its eventual readership to go above that mark given reprint editions (to say nothing of digital).”

DC’s $29.99 Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne deluxe hardcover helped to push year-over-year dollars sales up 6.92 percent, offsetting a slight decline in periodicals to and nudging combined sales up .94 percent. “Sales of those ‘long tail’ titles below the Top 300 masked a weakness at the top of the list,” ICv2 notes. “Unit numbers at the top of both the periodical and graphic novel lists were some of the lowest since ICv2 has been tracking comic sales.” []

Retailing | Retailer Jack Rems’ plans to take over the lease for the space that once housed Berkeley, Calif., institution Comic Relief fell through, so he will open The Escapist two doors down from his Dark Carnival bookstore on Claremont Avenue. The new store, which Rems hopes to open on March 16, will be stocked with the inventory he bought from Comic Relief. [Berkeleyside]

Diamond Digital

Retailing | Wary direct market retailers discuss the potential impact of digital distribution and Diamond Comic Distributors’ new Diamond Digital program. “I question whether or not people who want digital comics are going to want to go into a store, purchase a code and go back home,” says Erin Tapker, owner of Alter Ego Comics in Marion, Iowa. “I think it’s wishful thinking.” [Eastern Iowa Business, Standard-Examiner]

Publishing | Katy Daigle offers another snapshot of the Indian comics industry. [The Associated Press]

Publishing | Dark Horse Manga Editor Carl Horn talks briefly about the publisher’s selection process, its big hits — like Lone Wolf & Cub and Blade of the Immortal — and titles that haven’t caught on. [Diamond Bookshelf]

Finder: Voice

Creators | Carla Speed McNeil discusses her new Finder graphic novel Voice, science fiction, her development as a writer, and leaving the “bimonthly treadmill”: Once I gave that up, I had the opportunity to take several months, six months at the most, and actually write the whole thing out as long as it needed to be. And do a second draft! Wow! And go back and fix things! And make sure that things had time to be seen and had their proper impact and everything. I was something approximating a real writer for the first time, instead of just throwing on a new pair of shoes and running out onstage and going ‘Da daaaaa!’ and then running backstage and going ‘My god, what am I going to do next?’” [Bookslut]

Creators | Paul Gravett profiles Milo Manara: “Unlike filmed images of reality, drawings always leave something to be interpreted by our imagination, which lets us make it closer our own reality. I think that is the absolute power of comics, and erotica too. We we must never forget that the most important sex organ is still the brain!” Note: The link contains NSFW images. [Paul Gravett]

Creators | Lucy Knisley talks about her love for Harry Potter, her Kickstarter-funded trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park attraction and the resulting comic documenting the experience: “I don’t want to step on J.K. Rowling’s toes of course, so this comic is about the park and our personal experiences. It’s a travelogue. A lot of people who read my comics are like me — young — and can’t afford to go. They’re really interested, but they don’t have the resources or time or motivation. A lot of people who donated were in that crowd.” [The A.V. Club Chicago]



And so continues the downward spiral of comic sales.

The slow-motion train wreck continues.

It’s sad, but the corporate overlords obviously are content to let the pamphlet division write their way to oblivion.

Sir Manley Johnson

March 8, 2011 at 7:46 am

Personally I don’t like digital comics, however I concede that it is the future. If I want a digital product one of the benefits of the format is that I can access it from anywhere. I don’t need to travel to a physical location (i.e. Comic Book Store) to purchase it. The Diamond Digital project is bizarre. I can’t think of any other model that works the way they propose. Certainly it doesn’t work that way for digital music or books in general.

I blame this on the creation of the direct market.
First there has been a concerted effort to marginalize kids comics. Most people look down on them , but forget that is what introduced most readers to comics back in the “hey-day” wehn sales were over a million. Archie, Casper etc.
Those same people think that the racier/grittier/bloodier a comic is the more mature it is. That isn’t the case.
There is definitely a place for those kinds of comics but the problem is that most titles are making or have already made the move towards this darker and grittier feel.

As a parent I don’t feel there isn’t an effort to recuirt new readers. The only place I can go to find kid friendly comics is the comic shop. I am a comic reader and have been for years. However My dad wasn’t and if I wasn’t able to pick up books off the spinner rack as a kid I would never have started reading them.

The price of comics is ridiculous when looking at inflation. I remember in the 70’s(after the great gas hikes and long lines at gas pumps that shot gas prices through the roof,) you could still buy 3 or more comics for the price of a gallon of gas. Now… most comics cost more than a gallon of gas. You think twice about wasting spending that much on an item that your kid is probably going to destroy anyway.
I know that everyone wanted glossy -paper, and better coloring but there was something to be said for those old newsprint/four color comics. I wish someone could crank those out at a buck a piece. it would be a great way to get kids reading again…

The void needs to be filled. New readers need to be culitvated or the print industry is going to wither away.


I wish there was a ‘like’ button because I couldn’t agree more.

My takeaway from that was: The industry is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. (not saying it won’t last another decade, but much longer than that? Probably not baring some massive influx or figuring out a new way of doing things in the digital world)

Collin Wiancko

March 8, 2011 at 8:15 am

I know these figures are never good news, but it would be interesting to see what the readership numbers on a title would be after incorporating collected editions and digital downloads – kind of like how television stations now factor in dvr numbers into their reporting. Although these figures are no doubt incredibly important, the way we read comics has changed and it would be nice to see what the overall numbers would be.

The industry’s not dying; it’s just changing. Because look. There are people who want to buy comics, right? And there are people who want to make comics, right? Neither of these groups are going away, right? Therefore the comic industry is not going away either. But who knows what it’s going to be like in a decade.

I agree with Rockhead in general. Comics have become far too specialized, selling to an ever narrower niche. The direct market has been around for decades now, catering to a dedicated customer base that was willing to go to special shops, preorder, etc. to support their hobby. Yet publishers have managed to run off even these “hard core” fans. So now there are less than 100k dependable buyers who want to read continuity-obsessed, gritty-toned, late-shipping, inaccurately solicited, event-driven comics where the creative teams and creative directions change at the drop of a hat. I hope that publishers will start to look at this problem rationally and professionally, stop trying to entertain themselves and start trying to entertain their customers. There needs to be someone in a position of authority who’s trying to expand the market, not just manage the decline.

Let’s all take a deep breath. Let’s continue to love comics. Let’s continue to buy comics. Let’s continue to sing the prasies of the comics that are good. Let’s continue to recommend those good comics to others who will enjoy them. Let’s continue to go to conventions and tell the creators of the books we like that we appreciate them. Let’s financially support those creators whose books we like. This is not the end. I’m in for life.

“We must never forget that the most important sex organ is still the brain!”

After hearing Jackie Treehorn say much the same thing in “The Big Lebowski,” who can ever forget that?

@ Chap

I think the problem is that most of us (myself included) are worried that with this declining trend, the hobby that we love so much may not be around in the not too distant future. Its hard NOT to worry these days.

Or people could actually read the articles linked in the above….

“But as mentioned here before, lower unit sales at the top of the list are being offset by higher unit sales further down. In February, retailers ordered 3% more copies of the Top 300 titles than they did in the same month 10 years ago, a month when the 300th-place title had preorders of only 1,081 copies (versus 2,860 today). And while we may have had 173 titles over 10,000 copies this February, ten years ago, that total was only 153.”

its not at ALL a downward spiral….. its actually moving upwards.

It’ would be interesting to see numbers of the comics in the 300 to 350 bracket soon too.

It is worth restating that while the low sales of the top-seller was a headline this month, it was only one of three: the Direct Market actually beat its performance in dollar terms from February 2010, and this despite the other newsworthy event, that $2.99 was the most common cover price again for the first time since last spring.

Periodicals are selling roughly the same number of units they were 10 years ago, just before the last recovery began. What’s different is that while the top-sellers aren’t doing as well, there are 20 more titles now selling over 10,000 copies than there were then (153 in February 2001, 173 now). Looking simply at the numbers, the underlying story here isn’t one of a rejection of comics — the aggregate unit numbers are the same — it’s a diversification of purchases across a wider variety of offerings, much as you saw in TV ratings as channels proliferated.

I can’t believe m local paper got my name wrong. Actually, yes I can.

Paul, Diamond did provide some extra data points, so that we know that #336 was at 1,863 copies:

We can fill in the blanks to a degree. I include those extra titles every time Diamond makes them available, but they only appear sometimes, when Diamond’s Top 50 Small Publisher list goes past the 300th mark.

Milton makes the point as well that the long tail is probably deeper in February as a consequence of retailers reordering from January. Several publishers had products that missed the Tuesday-shipping window in the first two weeks of the month, and that shifted a lot of volume later.

It doesn’t take an economic “rocket surgeon” to figure this out. The comic book industry is oversaturuated as it is. Smaller print runs is the answer. Pull the “Take Away” move to spurn demand. Everybody will want them when they’re no longer available. The books will retain their value longer this way as well since consumers won’t be able to hold out 6 month’s and then buy the book for a buck compared to those “suckers” who paid 3-4 initially. The other way would be to drop the prices. @rockhead makes a good point about the price vs a gallon of gas analogy.

Comics aren’t dead, and neither are kids comics. The comic book industry is going to survive this, its superheroes that aren’t, sadly. Trade paperbacks are going to be the future of kids friendly comics. I see them everywhere, stuff like Flight, and Flight Explorer and Bone and Jellaby and things like that which are being collected in cheap editions. Sure they’re expensive and kids can’t buy them but libraries everywhere are stocking them as they help kids get into reading and they’re always going to be available there.

There’s also the free to view internet comics all over the web. That later get collected into books … I think digital is the way of comics in the future but not the way most people think. I don’t think Diamond’s initiative is going to work … but buying comics online is going to be the way to go, or in trades. The floppy is indeed dying … unless they really do something to drop the prices and open the window for new readers, which they haven’t done and they have no plans of doing in any massive or concerted way.

John Jackson Miller, thank you for your rational comments in a sea of doomsayers.


March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I’d just like to echo Ryan Higgins’ comment: Thanks to John Jackson Miller for being the voice of reason here. It seems the nutshell is: The top comics are selling a bit less, but overall sales are about where they were 10 years ago.

Which is quite remarkable considering how many more options are at hand today; trades are a dominant method of buying comics now, unlike 10 years ago. I’m sure the advent of timely trades depresses the sales of the monthlies. And the rise of digital comics has likely had some (small?) impact.

But the fact that comics sales are in the same ballpark as 10 years ago, given all that, is both surprising and encouraging.

I’m sure the advent of timely trades depresses the sales of the monthlies.

Oh, definitely. I haven’t purchased a monthly comic in about 2-3 years, but I spend more than I care to admit on my monthly order of trade collections from DCBS. For example, I notice that I bought 7 of the top 20 trade collections for February and already owned an eighth, the Hellblazer book, in hardcover. But I didn’t buy a single comic book in pamphlet format.

There have to be many of us who still shell out cash to comic book publishers but don’t show up in the sales of their periodicals. I’ll echo the above comments praising John Jackson Miller for pointing out that things probably aren’t as bad as they seem in terms of the big picture.

Thanks, folks. I ran the industry’s retail trade magazine for most of the 1990s, so during that time I got to see what a real boom and bust cycle looks like from the inside. Having been through that, it’s sort of like going to work on an airliner every day — you begin to distinguish between normal turbulence and imminent disaster. Which is not to say that there aren’t troubling things out there; the top-seller number is just one of several. I’ve just seen the market go through worse, and come back from it.

The problem with doomsaying in general is that it’s easy to put together a scenario for an extreme result, but the system militates against extreme results. Because of the way retailers order inventory, the biggest determining factor for order levels three months from now is what they’re like today. You need big things to happen system-wide to move the needle a huge amount everywhere at once. In January, we had it, when some publishers missed their shipping windows in the first two weeks of the month; in the 1990s, we had it every time a distributor went under. The effects of things like pricing changes, meanwhile, tend to take longer to play out.

The effects of digital options, I would suggest, belong in this latter category. It’ll be a while before we can draw any direct conclusions about their effect on the market, one way or the other.

“But as mentioned here before, lower unit sales at the top of the list are being offset by higher unit sales further down.”

Well, that is good news. I’ll admit I did not read everything, I responded to the surface of the story. This ain’t my first day on the internet, so I should know better than to react to the “hot” part of a story. If comics buyers are actually buying a wider variety of comics instead of going away, that makes me happy.

Greed is the main and most recent cause for declining sales. Trying to increase the price from $2.25 to $3.99 within just a few years was a most predictable disaster. It has driven a lot of people from the market. Even the digital books are overpriced.
But greed has had some help. The decompressed storylines of the past many years have turned off a lot of people. Even if the book has a good artist, there are pages where there is simply nothing of interest to draw. Lack of continuity is another problem. Just when you get people to liking a book’s creators, boom! Six issues and they’re gone, replaced by some bums. Putting the worst artists on books that the companies think will sell no mater what is another tactic that always backfires.
I still buy some back issues, at greatly reduced prices, but I’m done with new ones, and I won’t be back.

Torsten Adair

March 9, 2011 at 8:46 am

“As a parent I don’t feel there isn’t an effort to recuirt new readers. The only place I can go to find kid friendly comics is the comic shop. I am a comic reader and have been for years. However My dad wasn’t and if I wasn’t able to pick up books off the spinner rack as a kid I would never have started reading them.”

The first sentence… you do feel there is an effort to recruit new readers? I agree… just take a look at the Free Comic Book Day titles listed in Previews! The majority are aimed at young readers!

The second sentence… visit a chain bookstore like Barnes & Noble. Or visit your local public library. They have lots of great, kid-friendly comics available. Start with Bone. Amelia Rules is another great title! There’s also a lot of nostalgic collections being printed, like Archie, Harvey, and Disney comics, as well as two anthologies of kids comics, one by Art Spiegelman, the other by Craig Yoe!

I wonder, Rock, if your local comics shop sells Wimpy Kid? Do they have a kids graphic novel section? A kids comics section?

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