Of order minimums and the charts

News circulating that Diamond has increased its minimum purchase order for comics from $1,500 to $2,500 has generated a lot of discussion on the Web, with speculation on where the dividing line might fall. Past estimates on The Comics Chronicles suggest some possible, if partial, answers.

First, sorry, Chevy Chase, there will be math. First, according to Dan Vado of Slave Labor from one of the above links, that $2,500 doesn’t appear to refer to the total dollar value of the order, but rather what the publisher will realize from the sale after Diamond and the retailers’ share is accounted for. Let’s take 40% for the sake of argument. The total value of dollars at retail for a purchase order to be generated for a single item would be $2500/0.4, or $6,250.

This means this many copies at the following comic book price points:

$2.99: 2,090 copies
$3.50: 1,785 copies
$3.99: 1,566 copies
$4.99: 1,252 copies
$5.99: 1,043 copies
$6.99: 894 copies
$7.99: 782 copies

…and then moving up into trade-land…

$12.99: 481 copies
$13.99: 446 copies
$14.99: 416 copies
$15.99: 390 copies
$16.99: 367 copies
$17.99: 347 copies
$18.99: 329 copies
$19.99: 312 copies

So where does the end of the monthly Top 300 comics list fall? We’re still awaiting data for the bottom of the list for December 2008, but the average estimated 300th place item for the first 11 months had sales of 2,779 copies, well above the mark for books at $2.99. Looking back, though, earlier years had lower numbers:

2007: 2,069 copies
2006: 1,796 copies
2005: 1,427 copies
2004: 1,238 copies
2003: 1,403 copies
2002: 1,050 copies
2001: 1,017 copies
2000: 1,758 copies

…and so the average 300th place book would have come in just slightly under $6,250 at $2.99 in 2007. I have added a quick page (which requires a little formatting yet) of the 300th place items from the last 10 years to Comichron, to go alongside the generally more trafficked page listing the Top Sellers Monthly since 1996.

But now for Caveats Gone Wild:

First, as has been noted often this year, part of the reason the sales numbers have increased at the “bottom” of the list is that the bottom is now closer to the middle. As the slates of the major publishers have increased, mainstream books have been moving into the lower end of the list, either first-run or reprint. Six out of the eleven months of 2008, the 300th place item has been from Marvel, DC, or Image. So the independent publishers more likely to be concerned by a new order minimum may be less likely to reach the Top 300 than before.

Second, $2.99 is really not the right price to be talking about for indie publishers. I haven’t done a full-scale analysis, but the 300th-place item averaged $3.59 in 2007 and $3.72 in 2008 — and again, in 2008, half of ’em were from the big publishers. I would bet that $3.99 is closer to the mode for independent publishers.

Third, looking at the Diamond Top 300 is not necessarily representative of all that a publisher will realize on a book in its initial order period. We’re not seeing reorder activity reflected in those charts for books shipping the last week of the month; that activity winds up in the next month’s chart (and results in repeat appearances for some of the larger titles). That may or may not coincide with the accounting period that the distributor would be looking it — so a fifth-week ship book coming in under the threshhold might well have reorders bringing it above in the next month. I’m not a publisher, but I do know from dealing with them in producing my estimates each month that the public charts are just one way to group the month’s sales, and not necessarily the same one being used for the fiscal calendar.

Finally, Diamond has indicated in the past that the minimums are used as guidance, and not necessarily the only factor involved in deciding what gets stocked.

What about trade paperbacks and the order cutoff? Diamond helped us a bit here by going to the Top 300 reporting for November 2008. A total of 256 of the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks listed sold more than $6,250 at full retail. All of the items on the chart coming in below $6,250 were priced at $14.95 or below — and more than half were priced below $10, mostly manga.

What does that mean? It’s hard to look at the Top 300 TPBs chart and know whether you’re looking at first-month sales or not — many items on there are a repeat, backlist appearance. Diamond has just added a column to its Top 300 Comics report flagging what is new to the charts, so we’ll see if that gets added to the trades list. It’d surely be a help!

Again, this is just math based on several requests I’ve gotten to run some numbers today based on the $2,500-at-40% level — this is absent official word from Diamond as yet, and is subject to revision as further information becomes available.

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