October 2010 comics data reveals much about industry

A week ago, I posted an analysis of Diamond Comic Distributors‘ Top 300 Comics list for September — and my assertion that the number of lower-ranking comics constituted sales of increasing importance. I had also observed throughout the year that my “Overall Comics Sales” model, which integrates complete publisher sales data with Diamond’s market shares to find total Direct Market orders for everything, frequently found the market performing slightly better than some of the narrower categories indicated.

Two years ago, Diamond increased the number of trade paperbacks it reported on from 100 to 300. On Friday, Diamond again added to our understanding of the comics industry by releasing, for the first time, comparative sales statistics which described how its overall comic-book unit and dollar sales and overall trade paperback unit and dollar sales compared from month to month and year to year. These figures have been incorporated into my estimates for the direct market for October 2010, now online.

The new Diamond measures provide specific percentage increases and decreases for the categories, so they’re especially helpful; we now know what’s going on outside the Top 300s. Perhaps more importantly, Diamond’s new information gives us something that we haven’t had from Diamond since 2001. Diamond used to publish what part of its sales came from comic books as compared to what came from trade paperbacks and other categories; that product breakdown data is republished here, beginning with September 1996. Diamond stopped publishing the category breakdowns around the time it switched to running final orders, in early 2003, so it became impossible to know how overall trade sales related to overall comics sales.

But we do now know the monthly year-to-year and year-to-date changes in orders for comic books, for trade paperbacks, and for the two categories together. And with some rusty algebra, that allows us to see the sizes of the comic book and trade paperback categories, relative to each other. October 2010 overall comics dollar sales are off 1.7% versus last October, but trades are up 13.04% — and comics plus trades together are up 2.77%. That means that comics sales are 69.6% of the total, versus 30.4% for trades. If the comics share were larger or smaller, it wouldn’t add up. This method finds a similar year-to-date breakdown: 69.23% of comics-and-trade dollars came from comics, versus 30.77% coming from trades. Put another way, this year Diamond has grossed from comics 2.25 times what it’s grossed from trade paperbacks.

This is a useful statistic to have — and it lines up interestingly with October 2002, when Diamond made 78% of its comics-and-trade money from comics, versus 22% from trades. We’ve gone from comics being three-and-a-half times the size of the trade market to just two-and-a-quarter times its size, in just eight years. But let’s talk now about the size of those markets. Which we can, now — by applying the new ratios to the “Overall Sales” model used here at The Comics Chronicles. Using the new category breakdowns, we’re able to roughly estimate that the roughly $35 million in Direct Market orders in October breaks down to about $24 million for comic books, and $11 million for trade paperbacks.

That means that the “long tail” in comics amounts to between $3-4 million this month; applying the average weighted cover price, that’s close to a million more comic books falling outside the Top 300. That’s higher than even I would have expected, but remember that the table includes reorders, now, and so basically all of September’s and August’s Top 300 chart items are still there, selling copies, out of sight on the current month’s table. Historically, a rate of 8% is an often-cited figure for typical reorders; that, plus new comics not reaching the Top 300, could easily make up the unseen balance.

And this, in the Top 300 for October, is a case where the bubbling-under books made a difference: the Top 300 comics alone were off 7% and 3% respectively in units and dollars, but including all comics, those drops shrink to 5.26% and 1.7%. Year-to-date comics units improve by a percentage point over the narrower category with the extra data; year-to-date comics dollars actually get worse, by less than a point. On the trade paperbacks side, October was already a good month compared to a weaker month last year; looking at the entire long tail, as Diamond does, shows us that trades as a category are only off 4.56% year-to-date, versus the 6% that the Top 300 trades are off year-to-date.

The aggregate figures:


October 2010: 5.79 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: -7%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -6%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +3%
YEAR TO DATE: 58.16 million copies, -7% vs. 2009, -8% vs. 2005, unchanged% vs. 2000

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES (reported by Diamond)
October 2010: -5.26% (projected total: 6.8 million copies)
YEAR TO DATE: -6.05% (projected total: 67.8 million copies)


October 2010: $20.82 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: -3%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -15%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +30%
YEAR TO DATE: $205.15 million, -4% vs. 2009, +13% vs. 2005, +29% vs. 2000

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES (reported by Diamond)
October 2010: -1.7% (projected total: $24.5 million)
YEAR TO DATE: -4.82% (projected total: $238.6 million)


October 2010: $7.11 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +20%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +24%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +89%
YEAR TO DATE: $62.59 million, -6% vs. 2009

October 2010: +13.04% (projected total: $10.68 million)
YEAR TO DATE: -4.56% (projected total: $106.06 million)


October 2010: $27.94 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +2%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +16%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +29%
YEAR TO DATE: $267.69 million, -4% vs. 2009

October 2010: $35.13 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +2.77%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +21%
YEAR TO DATE: $344.71 million, -4.74% vs. 2009

As we’re integrating the Diamond ratios into the Overall Sales model, those numbers will be subject to change; those figures refine as more publisher data comes in during the month. That means that the projected totals for comics units, comics dollars, and trade paperback dollars are also subject to change. One thing that will change every month is the ratio coming from comics versus what’s coming from trades — although I expect the figures will be similar.

You’ll note that I’m not reporting Diamond’s month-to-month sales, which compared October to September; that’s a category which doesn’t add much, ultimately, given how the calendar creates month-to-month volatility. It can still be seen at Diamond’s site. I am also not reporting unit sales of trade paperbacks, which vary wildly because the cover prices vary so much. For the curious, Diamond appears to have sold 12.4 times as many comic books in October as it sold trade paperbacks; this would be consistent with the revenue breakdowns, reflecting the fact that the average trade paperback costs four to five times what the average comic book does. It also suggests that Diamond moved about half a million trade paperbacks this month, nearly half the volume of which was outside the Top 300.

As to October itself, it’s another month with no title topping 100,000 copies — Uncanny X-Force #1 led the market at 95,600 copies. Marvel had 13 fewer entries in the Top 300; DC had more than 100 entries placing. The average comic book in Diamond’s Top 300 cost $3.72, a new record for the comic-book industry by more than a dime. The average Top 300 comic book that retailers ordered from Diamond cost $3.59. The median comic book price in Diamond’s Top 300 was $3.99, and the most common cover price on Diamond’s list was $3.99.

This has been a lot of data to digest, and I suspect it will be easy to transpose some numbers here and there — so I caution that there may be some corrections in this and future reports. The Flashbacks for October are coming soon — and don’t miss our new Flashback Friday feature.

Support research by Comichron on Patreon!