Relaunch takeaways: Everyone up, but DC boosted industry most

With the release of the August sales estimates for the comic-book direct sales market, we now have a full year of data following the DC relaunch to compare with the year prior to the relaunch. The Comics Chronicles does very little in the way of horse-race analysis, breaking out individual publishers’ performance — but this is a topic of certain historical interest for the field, and the new data points allow us to do some calculations that are different from the “year-to-date” ones. We can compare relaunch to pre-relaunch months individually, and together, seeing what change occurred, and which publishers contributed the most to the change. Several takeways:

Overall sales were up significantly. Direct Market orders for comic books and graphic novels from September 2010 to August 2011 (a month that admittedly included the first day of relaunch sales, with Justice League #1) were $405.65 million. From September 2011 to August 2012, that sum was $461.42 million, an increase of nearly 14%. Justice League #1 itself accounted for around $760,000 on Aug. 31, 2011, so if we shift those sales into September 2011, that takes the increase to just over 14% — with retailers ordering about $57.34 million more in printed merchandise than they did the year before. The chart at right compares the months to the year previous (and there we left Justice League with August 2011). As we can see, only in three months did the pre-relaunch months’ top those for the same month in the year following — and in all three of these months, we were comparing a four-ship-week month now to a five-ship-week month then.

All major publishers improved. By applying the individual publishers’ market shares to Comichron’s estimated overall orders for comic books and trade paperbacks in the two periods, we find that every major publisher —Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and “everything else” grouping — saw retailers order more material by dollars from September 2011 to August 2012 versus the year before. So there’s something to the “rising tide” theory — but not all ships were raised by the same amount, as we see next: 

DC is responsible for two-thirds of the increase in overall sales. Including Justice League #1’s August 2011 numbers in its post totals, we find that the increase in DC’s overall orders accounts for around 67% of that $57.34 million increase. Again, every publisher finished ahead some — and some, as we’ll see, were ahead a lot — but DC’s totals contributed the most to the overall change.

You can see its relative performance versus the market in the table below….

Overall comics and graphic novel sales in the direct market, versus one year before
Industry-wide DC All but DC
Sep-11 -1.8% 37.2% -15.3%
Oct-11 11.0% 48.8% -6.6%
Nov-11 18.4% 24.2% 15.6%
Dec-11 -4.8% -2.8% -5.7%
Jan-12 27.5% 62.1% 15.1%
Feb-12 20.1% 27.6% 17.2%
Mar-12 -2.6% 9.1% -7.1%
Apr-12 15.2% 28.1% 10.4%
May-12 43.9% 76.5% 32.0%
Jun-12 10.8% 30.6% 3.1%
Jul-12 20.3% 28.8% 16.6%
Aug-12 17.8% 28.2% 13.2%
12-MONTH TOTAL 13.7% 31.3% 6.5%
From this table — which is partially distorted due to differences in shipping weeks compared to the previous year, most notably in December, March and May — we can see that there has not been a post-relaunch month when DC underperformed the market as a whole. And while there was no month that DC turned what would have been a down month for the rest of the market into an up month overall, it did move the needle by as much as 17 points, in October 2011. We also see that the non-DC sector has been positive for all but one month in 2012. And digging into that sector, we find some other interesting things:
Image, not DC, has bettered its past performance by the most. While Diamond's reported sales of DC products (including Justice League #1) for the past year improved by nearly 33% in dollar terms over the preceding 12-month period, one publisher has actually done better, relative to its past sales: Image. Powered by Walking Dead, Image's post DC-relaunch orders of comic books and graphic novels are up by 36.3% in dollars over the past year. Image's improvement explains 14%, or the second largest amount, of the industry-wide gains in the 12-month period. Among other publishers, IDW is also up by a lot, the third most-improved large publisher with gains of nearly 29% over the pre-relaunch period. IDW's sales gains account for about 10% of the difference between pre-relaunch and relaunch dollars sold. Marvel's gain was the smallest of all major publishers by ratio, staying relatively nearer to its past performances most months. But we may be doing this same type of comparative report in another year, as following Marvel's new publishing effort. Periodical sales were up a lot, mostly due to DC. Again, moving Justice League into the post-relaunch grouping, retailers ordered 80.5 million Top 300 comic books in the post-relaunch period, an increase of 20%, or nearly 14 million comic books. DC alone accounted for more than 10 million of those added comics sales, comparing its pre-and post-relaunch totals. Note that the Top 300 measure fails to capture a small percentage of comics sales bubbling under the Top 300 each month — and this too could show disproportionate gains for DC, since it had many titles with heavy reorder activity. Note that this analysis only takes into account print sales through Diamond to retailers in North America. Bookstore sales, overseas sales, and digital are not accounted for. All individual months can be found here. In four months, we'll have the full-year comparison ready for 2012 — but the past 12 months are of particular interest, and will likely be referred to again.

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