Two to three years ago, it seemed inevitable: Single issue comic books, derisively called “floppies,” were on the way out. Graphic novels were the future for most publishers, and floppies weren’t even working as loss-leaders. But over the past year, the single issue is on the rebound and flourishing.
While I love graphic novels, the episodic consumption of comics is one of its unique strengths. Comics can excel in either form, but they aren’t interchangeable. Just as TV shows and movies present stories differently, so too do comic book series and original graphic novels. For a time, it seemed like The Walking Dead was the last great monthly comic book because it knew how to grab with the first issue, it knew how to use the monthly cliffhanger, it knew how to utilize those 30-some odd pages, it knew how to keep the status quo shifting. It still does, and now it’s being joined by more and more comics that are embracing the episodic nature of the format. It wasn’t always that way, though, in part due to creative patterns and economic changes in the industry.
In 2010, only an estimated 69 million comic books were ordered by North American specialty stores, the lowest quantity in nearly a decade. For publishers not backed by large entertainment corporations (i.e., not Marvel and DC), single issues were starting to look like the next horse and buggy, something from a soon-to-be bygone era.
Taking into account the Bookscan figures supplied last week by CBR columnist Brian Hibbs, numbers-cruncher John Jackson Miller estimates that print sales in North America of comic books and graphic novels reached $715 million in 2012, a high not seen since 1993 or 1994.
Miller breaks down his math, so there’s no great mystery as to how he arrived at that number: Bookscan tracks about 75 percent of bookstore sales. Add to that the rest of the book market, direct market sales of periodicals and graphic novels, and newsstand estimates, and voila. He acknowledges it’s a little rough, and doesn’t take into account graphic novel sales to libraries (or, clearly, the digital and U.K. markets); there’s also the big caveat, the rate of inflation that would put those 1993-1994 sales at about $1.1 billion in 2012.
Stills, it provides a fascinating snapshot of the state of the North American comics market last year, which grew by about $35 million from 2011.
Jackson also singles out another interesting number: “For what I think may be the first time in years, the Direct Market’s graphic novel dollar orders exceeded the value of the Bookscan orders (but not the entire mass market). I attribute it at least in part to the huge traffic in Walking Dead trades: comics shops ordered at least 74,000 copies of the first volume in 2012, versus 38,000 copies through Bookscan’s retailers. That’s a big difference.”
There have been some hearty proclamations recently that everything’s coming up Milhouse for the sales end of comics: “the best quarter in a decade” and “everyone up [in sales],” celebrates expert numbers-cruncher John Jackson Miller. ICv2′s recent market white paper concluded they were “bullish on the business.” I’m not denying there have been some encouraging signs. But when a highly acclaimed and savvy publisher like Archaia Entertaiment nearly disintegrates right under our noses because it switched bookstore distributors last year, then clearly not everyone is up. And not everything is quite as rosy as is being suggested.
Comic Book Resources’ recent interview with new Archaia President Jack Cummins should’ve turned more heads. This should have been a cold, hard reminder that small- and even medium-sized publishers frequently dance along a thin line between success and failure.
In the nearly two weeks since Barnes & Noble drew a line in the sand, pulling 100 of DC Comics’ top-selling graphic novels from its shelves to protest the publisher’s exclusive agreement with Amazon’s new Kindle Fire, there’s been little visible change in the tablet wars. That is, unless you count the decision by Books-A-Million to follow the chain’s lead.
Both sides appear to have dug in, with Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million insisting that books be available in all formats to all customers — specifically, their customers and their e-reader — and DC and parent company Warner Bros. insisting they’re misunderstood, and more than a little disappointed.
There are hints, however, that behind the scenes things may be a bit less … concrete.
Although there’s been some indication that DC’s exclusive arrangement with Amazon will last just four months, meaning graphic novels like Watchmen, Fables, Y: The Last Man and The Sandman could be available digitally for other platforms by mid-March, the publisher has yet to say so, much to the frustration of some fans (and, I would imagine, certain retailers).
In its overview of the dispute, The New York Times notes the DC website trumpets the books are available “exclusively to Amazon’s newly announced Kindle Fire,” period. No qualifiers. But comments for DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee lend credence to reports that the Amazon exclusivity is for a limited time.
Although he cited a nondisclosure agreement with the online retail giant, Lee still told the newspaper that, “Just because we’re starting with Amazon, this is not the be-all and end-all of our digital strategy and distribution.”
And to DC readers frustrated by the deal? “We say to our fans, have a little patience.”
Retail chain Books-A-Million has followed the lead of Barnes & Noble, pulling from its shelves the 100 graphic novels DC Comics plans to sell exclusively on Amazon’s new Kindle Fire.
Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the United States, removed the top-selling titles late last week — they include The Sandman, Fables, Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — citing a policy “that unless we receive all formats of a title to make available to our customers, we will not sell those physical titles in our stores.”
Publishers Weekly reports that Books-A-Million, which operates 211 stores in 23 states, has taken the same position, with CEO Terrance Finley saying in a press release that supporting a publisher that “selectively limits distribution of their content” isn’t in the best interest of the store’s customers.
“We will not promote titles in our stores showrooms if publishers choose to pursue these exclusive arrangements that create an uneven playing field in the marketplace,” he continued.
DC’s deal with Amazon apparently only lasts for four months, beginning Nov. 15, so it remains to be seen whether Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million will return the graphic novels to their shelves when the exclusive arrangement lapses in mid-March.
Retailing | Although the 14th volume of The Walking Dead wasn’t released until June 21, it still managed to secure the No. 2 spot on BookScan’s list of graphic novels sold in bookstores that month, behind the 51st volume of Naruto. It’s the ninth consecutive month that at least one volume of the horror series has appeared in the BookScan Top 20, a run that began as marketing geared up for the AMC television adaptation. [ICv2.com]
Publishing | Darwyn Cooke has announced that the release of Parker: The Martini Edition will be postponed for a few months, and takes full responsibility for the delay. The book is now scheduled to debut at the Long Beach Comic Con in October [Almost Darwyn Cooke's Blog]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller looks at the history of comics numbering, which he traces back to dime novels of the 19th and early 20th centuries: “Comics are anomalous in American magazine publishing because most comics don’t use volume numbers and issue numbers that roll over ever year; rather, the numbers keep on going. In that, our numbering is much like that used for the cheap, disposable fiction of the earlier days.” [The Comichron]
Publishing | In a wide-ranging interview with retail news and analysis site ICv2, Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson discusses the state of the market, the potential impact of Borders’ bankruptcy, digital comics, the decline in manga sales, the success of Troublemaker and more. Of particular note is Richardson’s confirmation that Apple’s stricter enforcement of a prohibition on in-app purchases outside the iTunes store was behind the delay of the planned January launch of Dark Horse’s digital comics program. He also says that Frank Miller is working on the third issue of his 300 prequel Xerxes, which is expected to be “roughly six issues, but he hasn’t exactly decided yet.” [ICv2.com]
Publishing | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson provides an overview of recent changes to BOOM! Studios’ kids’ line, from the loss of the Pixar licenses to a new imprint name — changed from BOOM! Kids to kaboom! — to the announcement this week of a Peanuts original graphic novel. “BOOM Kids! was designed to publish children’s comics — kaboom! is designed to be a true all-ages imprint, and for that reason Peanuts is the perfect launch title, the sort of material that adults and kids read alike,” CEO Ross Ritchie said. “Roger Langridge’s Snarked! is along these lines, as is Space Warped and Word Girl. I put the Word Girl announcement on my wall on Facebook and immediately there were a zillion adults commenting, ‘My child loves this show but I’m buying this comic book for myself!’ The title mix will be broader for kaboom! than it was for BOOM Kids!” [Publishers Weekly]
Retailing | The financially troubled Borders Group reportedly could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as soon as today or Tuesday, setting the stage to close about 200 of its 674 Borders and Waldenbooks stores and eliminate thousands of jobs. [The Wall Street Journal]
Retailing | Diamond Comic Distributors revealed that 98 percent of the more than 500 direct market stores visited by secret shoppers during the first month of day-early delivery were found to be in compliance with the program’s street-date requirements. According to Diamond, of the 10 stores discovered to be in violation of the agreement, one was reported by another retailer while the others were discovered by secret shoppers. [ICv2.com]
Beginning in September, Marvel’s titles will be distributed in the book market by Hachette Book Group. Diamond Comic Distributors will continue to carry Marvel products to the direct market.
The announcement, made this morning in a press release from Hachette, ends months of speculation as to whether Marvel, now owned by Disney, would end its five-year-old agreement with Diamond Book Distributors. As Heidi MacDonald notes, many expected Marvel to sign with HarperCollins, which distributes Disney’s book divisions.
MacDonald speaks to DBD’s Kuo-yu Liang, who assures her the distributor will survive the loss of Marvel.
Read the Hachette press release after the break.
• According to The Media Is Dying, Viz Media laid off “multiple people” on Friday. No details were available.
• Advertising Age’s Chicken Little-style report from New York Comic Con, which centered on the curious comments by DC’s John Cunningham about the apparent dangers e-devices pose to the comics industry, has gained a little steam: Radar (“The end of comic books?”) and The Christian Science Monitor (“Are comic books really at risk?” both have picked up on it.
“If 10% of the readers migrate to an e-device, that is gonna throw off the economics for 60% of the (comic) books that are published in this country,” Cunningham, DC’s vice president of marketing, said at a convention panel.
But John Jackson Miller calls shenanigans: “Fair enough, and possibly true. But it’s incorrect for the reader to infer that online migration is a flat loss to the publisher, since the publisher does play a role in determining both the economics and the timing of the online migration. Ten percent leaving to read bootleg is not the same as 10% being otherwise monetized by the publisher …”
• At ICv2.com, DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz considers a changing comics market in the face of a recession: “The core customer that we’ve had for many years who spends a thousand plus dollars a year, if he’s lost his or her job and it’s food or comics, I kinda hope they pick food, so they can last long enough to come back when they have a new job. We know some of them have gone through that and that we’ll take some hits from it. My hope is that the number of new customers that we’re attracting to the graphic novel side of the business where the typical customer to us seems like a three, four hundred dollar a year customer, a more sustainable kind of habit, will be growing at a fast enough pace to make up for the number of core people who have to put the hobby aside for a period of time or cut back radically in what they do.”
• In his weekly “MySpace Cup O’ Joe” column, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada discusses the thinking behind comics pricing: “Today, comic talents have many more places where they can earn a living, and sometimes a better one, than in comics. You take any artist who sits in his room for 10, 12, 14 hours a day to do one page and ask him, ‘Hey, do you think those 22 pages, that month of your life, do you think $2.99 to $3.
99 is a fair price for your artwork?’ They’d probably have to really think about it for a bit, especially when they know they could probably get more in other industries.”
ICv2.com asks Nielsen Bookscan to revise its list of the Top 20 graphic novels sold in bookstores in 2008 to include kids and young-adult rankings. The result places two Scholastic volumes of Jeff Smith’s Bone series — Vols. 1 and 7 — at Nos. 10 and 12, respectively, Marvel’s The Dark Tower: The Long Road Home hardcover at No. 13, Tokyopop’s Warriors: Warrior’s Refuge at No. 15, and Viz Media’s Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Adventures, Vol. 1, at No. 16.
The reshuffling means that two volumes of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto get squeezed off the list. So now there are seven volumes in the Top 20 instead of nine.
With the buzz surrounding the Watchmen adaptation and The Dark Knight, it’s not surprising that the Watchmen collection is at the top of the chart — as it has been for the past six months — or that a couple of Batman books rest comfortably on the list. What’s impressive, and encouraging, is that the first volumes of Bone, Naruto and Death Note are still picking up new readers in substantial numbers years after their release.