September 2006 sales: The difference a decade makes

by John Jackson Miller

The comics industry hasn’t yet caught up with where it was this time 10 years ago when it comes to comic-book sales — but it’s greatly narrowed, if not erased, that gap with trade paperbacks, according to my analysis of the sales reports released by Diamond Comic Distributors on October 13. See the charts here.

The September numbers mark 10 years of reports since my first monthly analysis appeared in Comics Retailer magazine. So I can now make decade-to-decade comparisons to go along with the annual comparisons.

Comics sales were already on the way down in 1996 — when our first analysis reported the performance of first month of Marvel’s ‘Heroes Reborn’ and events like DC’s “Final Night.” They would finally crater in 2000, before the industry, aided by a revitalized Marvel, would begin the long climb back.

Comic book sales today aren’t at the higher levels they were at in September 1996, as the comparisons below show — but the “overall” figure for today comes near the most inclusive figure available back in 1996, when trade paperback sales were not nearly the force they are today.

A notable difference can be found in looking at the market-share breakdown of the titles in the Top 300, which in 1996 was compiled by fusing statistics from Diamond with those of Marvel’s distributor, Heroes World. In September 1996, Marvel and DC together comprised 66% of Top 300 dollar sales. In September 2006, that figure is just over 86%.

Topps, Chaos, Homage, Maximum — these names from the 1996 list either don’t exist anymore, or have been absorbed by one of the Big Two (as in Homage’s case).

Comics unit sales: The Top 300 comic books had retailer orders of almost 6.61 million copies in September, off 2% from where they were in September 2005, which had the same number of shipping weeks (four).

To date in 2006, the Top 300 comics from each month have sold a combined 60.82 million copies, an increase of 7% over the 56.97 million copies sold in the period in the previous year. (Year-over-year statistics for 2006 are summarized here.)

I continue to believe that the industry can hit 80 million copies for the year just among the Top 300.

Marvel’s Civil War #4 topped the list, selling at least 272,500 copies. It’s the fifth consecutive month at least one issue has had sales over 200,000 copies, and the sixth time this year.

By comparison, comics unit preorders a decade ago for the Top 300 were 11.1 million copies. The top-selling title, Fantastic Four Vol. 2, #1, had preorders of 314,000 copies, and there were six titles over the 200,000 copy mark. There were 23 issues selling over the 100,000 mark in September 1996, versus 12 today.

It’s worth noting that the same measures five years ago find only 5.86 million copies preordered, with the top-selling title, Wolverine: The Origin #1 — considered a blockbuster at the time — gaining preorders only of 135,700 copies. Only four issues total were over 100,000 copies.

Comics dollar sales: The Top 300 comic books had sales worth $20.44 million in September, 5% more than September 2005.

To date in 2006, the Top 300 comics from each month have sold a combined $186.58 million, an increase of 14% over the $164.19 million worth sold in the same period in the previous year.

By comparison,comics dollar preorders a decade ago for the Top 300 were worth $25.89 million. Comics dollar preorders five years ago were worth only $16.36 million.

Looking just at the Top 300 sales, we appear to be about halfway between our lowest point, which would have been in 2000, and 1996.

Trade paperbacks: The Top 100 Trade Paperbacks and graphic novels reported by Diamond had orders worth $3.68 million at full retail in September, a drop of 5% from the same month in 2005.

To date in 2006, the Top 100 Trades for each month total $34.82 million, up 4% from the same period in the previous year, when sales were $33.5 million.

Adding the Top 100 trades to the Top 300 Comics for the month yields $24.12 million, an increase of 12% over the $23.3 million ordered in the same month in 2005.

To date in 2006, the Top 300 Comics and the Top 100 Trade Paperbacks from each month had orders worth $221.4 million, 12% over the $197.69 million ordered in the same period in 2005.

A decade ago, Diamond didn’t list its trade paperback sales whatsoever, indicating what kind of relative role the product category had in the scheme of things. The best guess is that all Diamond’s trades in September 1996 were worth at least $3.21 million, which sounds comparble to the 2006 figure until you remember that the 2006 number is only for the Top 100. The rest of the backlist is worth millions still. In 1996, the Top 100 trades would have covered close to everything the distributors were selling in any quantity.

Diamond’s “overall” sales: The September 2006 total was $30.81 million, which increases to $34.12 million, when Diamond’s estimated United Kingdom orders are added. The figure is up 5% from the $29.33 million ordered in the U.S. in September 2005. Overall, the year to date stands at $292.09 million, an increase of 13% over 2005’s total of $259.31 million.

We can still see a $400 million year with a strong holiday season.

A decade ago, the closest thing in the September 1996 to this total would be the estimate adding the dollar value of the Top 300 Comics to the dollars estimated for all trade paperbacks. That figure, $29.6 million, is likely to be not too much higher in reality. You’d add sales from comics not in the Top 300, reorders, and magazines, but you’d lose all the comics that didn’t come out, since these were preorders.

Market shares: The parity in offerings seen for months vanished, as DC placed 95 issues in the Top 300, versus Marvel’s 76; yet Marvel still led all categories tracked. Dark Horse nudged past Image for third place in overall dollars.

A decade ago, DC had 83of the comics in the Top 300; Marvel had only 55, its line already greatly pared down. But Marvel and DC together only accounted for 66% of the dollar sales in the Top 300; today, they account for more than 86%!

Price analysis: The average comic book on Diamond’s Top 300 list cost $3.21, up from $3.01 in September 2005.

The weighted average price – that is, the cost of the average comic book Diamond sold – was $3.09, up from $2.88 last year.

The average price of the comics that made the Top 25 was $3.03.

A decade ago the average comic book in the Top 300 cost $2.56. The weighted average price was $2.54. The Top 25 comics averaged a comfortable $2.18.

Unit Sales for Diamond’s Top 300 Comic Books (est.):

6.74 million copies

Dollar Sales for Diamond’s Top 300 Comic Books (est.):

$20.44 million

Dollar Sales for Diamond’s Top 100 Trade Paperbacks (est.):

$3.68 million

Combined Dollar Sales for Diamond’s Top 300 Comics and Top 100 TPBs (est.) :

$24.12 million

OVERALL U.S. Dollar Sales for Diamond’s Comics, Trade Paperbacks, and Magazines (est.):

$30.81 million

Average price of comic books in Diamond’s Top 300:


Average price of comic books in Diamond’s Top 300, weighted by orders:


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