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Comics and Graphic Novel Sales Top $1.2 Billion in 2019
According to new estimate by ICv2 and Comichron
Comics and graphic novel sales topped $1.2 billion in 2019, according to a new joint estimate by Comichron’s John Jackson Miller and ICv2’s Milton Griepp. Total comics and graphic novel sales to consumers in the U.S. and Canada were approximately $1.21 billion in 2019, an 11% increase over sales in 2018. The increase was due to continued rapid gains in graphic novel sales in the book channel and single digit growth in sales of periodical comics in comic stores.
“Print comics sales had never before topped $1 billion in current dollars, and one has to go back to the boom of the early 1990s to find sales at or above that level when adjusted for inflation.” Miller said of the new estimate.
“The massive shift to graphic novels as the preferred format for comics continued in 2019,” Griepp said, “bringing sales in the book channel above the comic store channel in North America for the first time in the history of the medium.”
“The comics industry has displayed resilience during many difficult times over the decades,” Miller said. “While the pandemic may prove its biggest test yet, 2019 provided the business with a strong base.”
The analysts made two changes in methodology that affected estimates for 2019. First, they began including an estimate of graphic novels sold by comic stores from sources other than Diamond Comic Distributors; past estimates had assumed that sales of graphic novels by Diamond accounted for nearly all of the graphic novels sold by comic stores. Second, they refined their estimate of Diamond’s North American sales to account for comics shipped from North America to locations beyond the continent, reducing the estimates of sales by North American comic stores accordingly. To some extent, these two changes in methodology offset.
As presented above and in the accompanying infographics, the analysis by Comichron and ICv2 was divided up between periodical comics (what some call “floppies” or “pamphlets”), graphic novels, and digital download-to-own sales. All print figures are calculated based on the full retail price of books sold into the market, and do not account for discounting or markup. Digital sales do not include subscription-based “all you can read” services.
The “Other” channel in our channel breakdown includes the Newsstand (periodical sales through specialty retail and mass merchant chains) and Crowdfunding (Kickstarter, etc.) channels. This year, those two channels each accounted for roughly half of the “Other” category.
Sources for the information include NPD BookScan, which collects weekly point-of-sale data on print books from over 16,000 locations including e-tailers, chains, mass merchandisers, independent bookstores, and more. NPD BookScan covers approximately 85% of the U.S. trade print book market. Some publishers classify titles that are primarily text, or art books, as graphic novels; those titles are removed from the analysis.
The analysis incorporates information released by Diamond, the largest distributor of English-language comics and graphic novels in the world, on sales to comic stores. Information is also gathered from a variety of other sources, including publisher, distributor, and retailer interviews.
This is the seventh joint market size analysis from ICv2 and Comichron; the first four reports were for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 sales. ICV2 and Comichron previously collaborated on revised estimates for 2011 and 2012.
Original infographic design by Kate Willaert.
DC ends distribution relationship with Diamond: Historical notes and future prospects
As announced to the general public in a report from Hollywood Reporter, DC has cut ties with Diamond Comic Distributors and will not solicit any titles after the June 1 Final Order Cut-off. This ends not just a 23-year period in which Diamond was the only source for comics periodicals from all major publishers, but also a sales relationship with Diamond owner Steve Geppi that precedes Diamond's Feb 1, 1982 founding. (Read more about the start of the DC/Diamond exclusive relationship.)
The report quotes an e-mail to retailers, saying that retailers who want new DC product must order graphic novels from its bookstore distributor, Random House. Periodicals must be obtained from Lunar Distribution and UCS Distributors, sister companies to two retail operations, DBCS and Midtown Comics, which it granted distributor status to in April during Diamond's Coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
It's not clear as yet whether retailers would be ordering Random House's books nonreturnably; it doesn't seem like there would be any reason for Random House to set up such an option, even though the nonreturnable system favors publishers by allowing them to control print runs.
DC's e-mail to retailers, according to THR (and depicted at right, as seen on UCS's website), said “We recognize that, to many of you, this may seem like a momentous decision. However, we can assure you that this change in DC's distribution plans has not been made lightly and follows a long period of thought and consideration. The change of direction is in line with DC's overall strategic vision intended to improve the health of, and strengthen, the Direct Market as well as grow the number of fans who read comics worldwide.”
One tip-off that something was coming was that this week's reorder and advance reorder charts were not released by Diamond on Wednesday; we expected that was an oversight or restart-related, but in fact it might well have simply been the case that any DC comics that were on the advance reorder charts — and it has had many there this month due to the fact that all its orders were canceled and resolicited — would not be coming out from Diamond.
The market share involved: DC in 2019 represented 30.74% of Diamond's comics and graphic novel units and 29.23% of its dollars. On the dollar side, that amounts to almost exactly $155 million at full retail. DC's share of that would have been in the $60 million neighborhood, with Diamond's fee — which Geppi has said hasn't changed in years — being considerably lower.
Comics and graphic novels are, it should be noted, only a portion of Diamond's sales, though certainly the largest portion. It's unclear what happens with regards to physical merchandise that might have been DC-branded.
For comparison, the DC share of Diamond's comics units and dollars is higher than Marvel's was when Marvel left Diamond in July 1995, but retailers had been either cutting their Marvel orders or moving to Heroes World Distribution in advance of that. The Marvel share of Diamond's print business in December 1994 — when the Heroes World news broke — was 30.9% of units, and 33.6% of dollars. Fairly close to the DC shares — though recall that Image had a much larger share in that era, 16% of the dollar market.
An interesting possible wrinkle: Nonreturnable comics = back issues. Another interesting matter is that Geppi had spoken in video podcasts — including one by Dan Shahin's Comic Book News — of Diamond possibly starting up a back-issue division that would serve only retailers. Diamond has always had older comics on its shelves, of course; unsold comics are shelved for months and months and sold by Diamond as new.
But a nonreturnable comic book becomes a back issue the second it reaches a retailer's store. There's nothing stopping Diamond from obtaining DC comics on the secondary market in bulk and making them available to other retailers; that's exactly the business DCBS and Midtown are in, only they sell to consumers as well. Diamond already carries collectible comics that have gone through the hands of a third party before — think the Dynamic Forces signed editions — so there would be little in the way of Diamond launching a category making comics DC has already sold to retailers available to its own shops as back issues.
That's speculation, but make no mistake — there is eighty years of history behind the idea that once a comic book has been purchased, it can be resold anywhere and to anyone. A seller doesn't even have to put it in a bag and board. You can't start a store or print something on bagged multipacks that violates a publisher's trademarks, but comics are absolutely tradable commodities.
And, as you'll see below, UCS's own charts demonstrate that no distribution agreement is required for a distributor to sell back issues to retailers.
The sales charts: As to the sales charts, we're back to July 1995, when Marvel shifted its sales to Heroes World, its own distributor, and DC moved its titles just to Diamond (though Capital did keep them for two extra months as a settlement to a lawsuit). For a year, it wasn't possible to see at a glance what all comics in the business were selling relative to one another. It should be noted that within a year, Marvel realized that not having unified charts was detrimental to the company — hence their agreement to provide sales charts from Heroes World to me beginning in September 1996, restoring a single sales chart to the business.
UCS launched its own bestsellers page in May, as seen here; we archived the earliest UCS chart when it appeared. It's a dynamically updated Top 10 mixing released and new material, and it now includes categories for Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and Dynamite.
It is not apparent that those companies have made sales agreements with UCS: all the books on the list for those companies are from 2019 and before — I was surprised to see a comic book I wrote in 2018 making the Dynamite charts (seen at left). This material would appear to be back issue stock from the Midtown Comics retail arm — purchased from Diamond — being reoffered to retailers, in exactly the manner I've described may happen with Diamond with regard to DC's comics.
For Comichron's purposes, there isn't really any information in this kind of chart that would be of use to readers collectors years down the line, nor is there any way to combine it with Diamond's information. Should UCS or Lunar — or even DC, as in the Marvel 1996 case — make available more specific data in a manner that accounts for all copies sold in specific time periods, Comichron will certainly add it to the archives.
So we've returned to the mid-1990s era, at least for the time being, when it comes to the charts. I've spent the last week researching DC's sales in the 1960s, and can say that the one thing that's constant about the business is that there are long periods where nothing seems to change — followed by big bursts where everything does. How big a burst this one will seem years from now may become more evident as the summer progresses.
Update, 5 p.m. CDT: UCS Distributors has acknowledged DC's break with Diamond, and notes that no new DC comics will ship the week of June 30 "to allow additional time for retailers to get approved for an account." Brian Hibbs points out that's already a skip week for Marvel, so there's no new Marvels or DCs in advance of the holiday week.
Update, 7 p.m. CDT: And now Diamond has responded, with Steve Geppi implying that DC's move was made on very short notice indeed.
Update, 10:30 p.m. CDT: And before this long day is through, a couple of charts for your perusal.
The first one suggests that DC's growth, while not exactly "stagnant" as its e-mail to retailers suggests, was not as robust during the mid 2010s boomlet as the other publishers'.
The other highlights that there were still an average of 375 non-DC comic books a month coming out from Diamond last year (variants not included) — and that while DC cut back something like a tenth of its line in 2019, Marvel absorbed all those rack spaces and more.
Note that 86 DC cardstock variants have been removed from the 2019 calculations. A small number of similar items could probably be culled, mostly from the "other" category, in a detailed accounting, but the fact remains that somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 unique non-DC comics hit the stands last year.
DISTRIBUTOR SALES FIGURE QUICKLINKS
Below are links to the distributor sales figure pages for all the years from 1991 onward here on site, aggregating unit and dollar sales and depicting the top-selling comic book from each month. Links can be found to individual months on most of the annual pages; all of them can be found here. You can also find earlier years in our Postal Sales Record section — and aggregated data from individual years on our Yearly Sales master page. More coming soon!