With February 2013 comics sales data soon to be reported, let’s take a look at comics sales in previous Februaries. (Update: 2013 data is now out: Justice League of America #1 led the pack.)
added a snapshot of what one major retailer is charging for the top-sellers;
Comichron isn’t a price guide site, but sometimes it’s interesting to
see how once-popular titles held up.
As always, this
reflects what Diamond Comic Distributors (and, in earlier times, other
distributors) sold to retailers, not what the retailers themselves sold.
In recent times, retail inventory is much more tightly controlled, so
the numbers are more representative of actual sales. In the distant
past, not so much.
February 2012 was an unusual month in that it was a Leap Year in which February included five New Comics Days. Justice League #6 continued the momentum of the DC relaunch, selling 135,400 copies (excluding the Combo Pack) in its first month. It would close out the year with 145,200 copies sold, making it the 26th best-seller of 2012. DC again took all top 10 slots in the charts, while Marvel took the dollar and unit share titles for the month due to the Avengers Vs. X-Men build-up.
The top-selling trade paperback or graphic novel was the Batman: Gates of Gotham collection, with orders of 4,390 copies. It ended the year with 8,500 copies sold in the Direct Market, making it the 54th best-selling book.
February 2008‘s top seller was was the relaunched X-Force #1. One of only three titles to break the 100,000-copy barrier that month, it came in at approximately 105,000 copies in its first month’s sales. After a relatively long stretch of event-driven top-sellers, it was actually the lowest-selling top-seller at Diamond since February 2001, when Uncanny X-Men #391 topped the list with 102,400 preordered copies. (Comparing apples to apples, reorders for that issue probably would have resulted in a higher total.) As of 2008, no top-seller in the Diamond-exclusive era had ever had orders or preorders below 100,000 copies.
The identically named 1991 X-Force #1 phenomenon, incidentally, had orders of 3.18 million copies, a staggering 3 million of which went into the direct market. Capital City Distribution alone had orders of 806,100 copies of the issue, which had five variant covers and relaunched the New Mutants title under Rob Liefeld.
As of the time of this posting, the main version of the 2008 X-Force #1 had an aftermarket price of $8 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
On the trade paperback front, Boys Vol. 2 topped the list, with more than 7,000 copies ordered.
Febuary 2003 was a big month for comics sales analysis. Since the beginning, Diamond had published its preordered comics sales figures, just a Capital City had before it. The consequence was that the sales charts were usually out in the same month the charts were for, presenting a curious picture for anyone who didn’t know the charts ranked preorders. The charts both overstated and understated comics sales. Publishers still got rankings for books that did not ship, or that never shipped — and as reorders were not included, books that performed better after the preorder window got no benefit.
But in the the late 1990s, Diamond had begun calculating market shares based on aggregated final orders, and for February 2002 — after it had already released preorder reports some time earlier, Diamond returned to release indexed final order calculations for its major categories. It has published final order statistics ever since.
Jim Lee’s “Hush” continued as the top seller in February 2003: Batman #612 topped the list with orders of approximately 145,400 copies. Marvel held the next 12 places in the charts, its various “Ultimate” titles riding high. Batman #612 would sell 169,700 copies in all, making it the 54th best-selling comic book of the decade. Click to see the top-sellers for the 2000s.
At the time of this posting, Batman #611 had an aftermarket price of $2.40 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
On the trade paperback side, the top seller was Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 5: Public Scrutiny with orders of 9,800 copies.
Check out the sales
chart for the month here.
The energy from the return of its characters from the “Heroes Reborn” experiment faded a bit in February 1998, with Uncanny X-Men #354, X-Men #74, and Spawn #71 settling in at the top three spots. Uncanny had preorders of approximately 142,400 copies, and seven titles crossed the 100,000 threshhold.
Having left “Heroes Reborn,” Rob Liefeld returned to the Top 25 with the new Youngblood #1 placing 22nd, this time published by Awesome.
At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #353 had an aftermarket price of $2.30 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
February 1998 marked Diamond’s first publication of indexed trade paperback figures — albeit in a catchall category called “books,” where the top-ranking item was the Overstreet Price Guide. Diamond was also still unsure of what to include in the category, including the $5.99 price point Silver Surfer: Parable. The top product, thus, was probably Preacher: Ancient History, with its preorders of 6,700 copies.
Check out the sales
chart for the month here.
In February 1993, nearly a dozen different distributors sold comics in the direct market, making overall calculations based on individual distributor figures more difficult. Publishers were able to look at their own sales and make market estimates based on those: One internal publisher report made available to The Comics Chronicles estimates overall direct sales for the month of 25.8 million copies. An astronomical number by today’s terms, that figure would nonetheless be bested on the way to the all-time peak of April 1993, when Superman returned from the dead. Readers are cautioned that while the 25.8 million copy estimate tracks with the source publisher’s own recorded sales, it is unknown how the publisher derived sales for its competitors.
Capital City reported that the average cost of its top 520 comic books was $2.32. That figure was probably a bit above the weighted average. If applied to the above estimate, that overall direct market dollar sales would have been in the $50-60 million range.
Capital City and Diamond both published indexed sales figures, and for both, February 1993 found Stormwatch #1 from Malibu/Image as the #1 title. Internal Capital City documents detail initial orders of 220,575 copies of Stormwatch #1, meaning that one point on the February 1993 Capital Chart equals 1,238 copies sold by Capital. That does not include Diamond or other distributors, however; the order index number at Diamond would be different, and adding sales for any title at both would still not result in total direct market orders.
What was Stormwatch’s total sale? According to documentary sources obtained by The Comics Chronicles, the top-selling Marvel title at Capital for the month, the fifth-place Venom: Lethal Protector #3, had direct-market sales of 633,850 copies across all channels, including 150,020 copies at Capital City. If that Capital-to-direct-market ratio obtained for Stormwatch #1, we might expect total direct market sale to be near 935,000 copies. But that total presumes that Capital’s share of sales for both titles and both companies was the same — an unlikely situation, as publishers saw some variation in their performance between distributors.
At the time of this posting, Stormwatch #1 had an aftermarket price of $1.10 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
Marvel had at least 98 items on the stands in February 1993, including nine Marvel UK titles and an Uncanny X-Men Masterworks, its top-selling of three trade volumes.
Check out the sales rankings for the the overall year here.
With multiple distributors and few reporting sales, determining the top comic book from sales charts is not straightforward, but the top comic book for February 1988 was likely Uncanny X-Men #231.
Marvel sold 260,800 copies of the issue to direct market distributors. Initial orders from Capital City Distribution are known to have been 67,200 copies, or 25.8% of the total direct market orders. The direct market accounted for 64% of Marvel’s sales of the issue, which had final newsstand sales of 99,800 copies of the issue and 48,900 copies in subscription, foreign, and other special markets sales. The total sales for the issue, 409,500 copies, was very close to the average of 408,925 copies Marvel reported to the Postal Service for all Uncanny X-Men issues in 1988. Average print runs for the title for the year were 633,760 copies, suggesting that wastage for Uncanny X-Men #231 in the newsstand market was on the order of 69%.
Marvel printed approximately three copies to sell one.
Marvel had just gone from 75¢ to $1 on its most popular titles, so if the average comic offered wasn’t above $1 before, it certainly was in 1998.
At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #231 had an aftermarket price of $1.60 in Very Fine at MyComicShop.com.
We’re back before the Direct Market distributor charts — the ones I have from Capital start running data in 1984 — but February 1983‘s top seller was likely Uncanny X-Men #170. The title was averaging 336,824 copies that year across all channels, including newsstand and subscription copies)
At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #170 had an aftermarket price of $3.40 in Very Fine at MyComicShop.com.
Once we get to 35 years ago,
the data is spare, and it becomes trickier to judge what items came out
in the same month. (I’m not looking at cover dates here, but likely
ship dates, to keep things squared up with present practice.) The known
information is incomplete enough that most of what follows is
conjecture. A good guess for February 1978 would be Marvel’s Star Wars #11, which between newsstand and Whitman bagged editions would have likely sold between 350,000 and 400,000 copies. The issue has an aftermarket price of $1.20 in Fine at MyComicShop.com.
Back 40 years ago, there was an issue of Archie in February —likely Archie #225. Archie appears from postal statements to lead the industry in 1973,
still hanging onto its cartoon publicity. Archie averaged 345,087 copies across all channels back then.
And again, relying on the Postal Statements, for 45 years ago we’re likely looking at Superman #205 (636,000 copies average in the year). The issue has an aftermarket price of $15 in Fine at MyComicShop.com.
And 50 years ago we don’t have Superman data, because DC didn’t publish any. But Superman #160, likely to have been the issue that shipped that month, would have likely led the market at around 640,000 copies.
Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 years, including a decade editing the industry’s retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises.
He is the author of novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Dawn, Star Trek: Discovery – The Enterprise War, and his latest release, Star Trek: Discovery – Die Standing. Read more about them at his fiction site.
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