Sunday, July 12, 2009

Comics Market...worse than I thought.

I don’t pay much attention to the monthly releases of sales figures in the comics direct market. But this last month, I was interested because there was a new publisher launching and I was curious if their sales matched the expectations they had. I remember thinking at the time that their numbers were hopelessly optimistic and unrealistic…in fact, bordering on self delusion.

Of course, I was right. Not that I have any great insights but it’s just a case of how bad the market really is. And it’s worse than I thought.

I’m not going to go through all of the numbers as it’s easy for anyone to do simply by going to for the listings ( But I made a few notes about some of the sales. First off, I find it shocking that the highly covered Captain America #600 only did as well as it did. Is this where Steve Rogers returns???---I don’t keep up with it and the only reason I know of Cap’s death is because of all the coverage. Apparently this issue is only a teaser but it got incredible coverage. Marvel even broke the standard Wednesday release day and made provisions for a Monday release….apparently, it was that BIG of an issue. It sold about 112,000 copies.

Unbelievable. With all the coverage it had and it barely eked out over 100,000 in sales.

What I found in the lower tier of books was even more stunning. Now, being a publisher, I know what it costs to print books and the cost is considerably higher than it used to be when I was running Caliber and even back then on some of these numbers (and we printed in black and white), it would have been a struggle.

Mainly the books I looked at were generally licensed titles. Everyone knows that the Marvel and DC universe titles have their built in audiences (although I didn’t realize how small that was) but it’s the licensed titles with established properties that have the hope of bringing in new people to the stores or at least getting comic fans to venture into something different, depending on what their tastes run on these licensed characters. Not all of the titles I bring up below are licensed as there were some surprised in the traditional superhero titles as well.

Books selling in the 9,000 to 10,000 range include Star Trek and Transformers. If these can’t sell now after the incredible successes of the movies, when will they? I was also surprised to see Madame Xanadu and Authority in this range.

Under 9,000 but over 8,000 included popular characters such as Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Spirit, Incredibles, another Star Trek title, Simpsons, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Also in this range was the Amazing Spiderman Family title.

From 7,000 to 8,000 had Conan, StarCraft, FarScape, Riftwar, and Zorro. Those are some pretty big properties floundering at pretty low numbers.

6,000-7,000 sales included Fringe, Army of Darkness, Bart Simpson, Toy Story, and Battlestar Galactica. In the more traditional comics, I was surprised to see Gen 13, Savage Dragon, and Hack Slash.

The 6,000 to the 5,000 range included Terminator and Flash Gordon. It was stunning to see Mike Allred’s Madman Atomic Love.

Skipping to the under 4,000 but above 3,000 (which is the cut off for Diamond’s Top 300) there were some titles that I’m familiar with because of the coverage they get. Dynamo 5, Elephantmen, PVP, and Rex Mundi. Moonstone’s Phantom was here although that’s not a surprise as worldwide, Phantom is still a very popular character but in the U.S., he just never made the jump to an icon.

I realize that many of these titles will be reordered and sales will go up. Some have other forms of distribution but the fact is that these are what were the initial orders from comic book retailers.

Funny, if you were to browse all the websites, forums, blogs, and social sites, it would seem that things are doing well. But the comics market is pretty insulated and sometimes I forget that a lot of people don’t step back to see what kind of situation the market is in.

Is it any wonder that publishers are scurrying to find out what will work for them in the digital format. I know there are many retailers who are worried about the impact but I think that most of the switch to digital will be from smaller publishers and apparently, most of the retailers are not buying (whether justified or not) their titles anyway.

I bring up these numbers simply because I was surprised at just how low the numbers were. I think I go through this checking phase every year or so and it just gets worse.

Oh, that publisher that I wanted to see how he did. I saw his numbers. I have no idea of what he pays the talent and it’s a color book so that’s more expensive to print, of course. Based on the numbers, I don’t think his sales even cover the printing costs. I’m looking forward to the press release that announces what a success it was.

Next time I’ll give an update on the goings on with Deadworld and some news on upcoming conventions I’ll be attending.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I knew things were bad but didn't realize they were that bad. I guess my biggest question is how are the comic publishers managing to stay afloat with such poor sales?

Gary said...

That's what I'd like to know. Someone commented that these publishers were doing all right with these numbers.


They may have some hits that keep them going but that's not my point...I just was astonished at how bad "licensed" and well known properties were selling. It's no reflection on the publishers but rather the market...and no, I don't have an answer.

Wesley said...

It is disheartening to go into a comic shop (one which stocks indy titles as well as mainstream titles) and see some really great books and strong talent... but then you see the sales figures.

I would love to see comic shops (the ones which don't fit into the stereotypical comic shop model) grow and flourish because I think that is part of the reason sales are declining- people don't have access to one.

The rise of web and digital comics is changing the ballgame for everyone involved.

I don't think the direct market is going anywhere soon but I do think it will become less important as more indy publishers, self-publishers, and web comic publishers either bypass the DM directly or use it as a one of many ways of distributing their material as opposed to it being the distribution avenue to strive for.

Wesley Craig Green

Gary said...

You're right that the current direct market is NOT going to be the only target for many independent publishers.
What will be remains to be seen. The dynamics are changing and I don't think we can even predict where things will be in a few years.

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