With March 2013 comics sales data soon to be reported (update: they’re here), let’s take a look at comics sales in previous Marches. Again, I’ve
added a snapshot of what one major retailer is charging for the top-sellers;
Comichron isn’t a price guide site, but 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.
March 2012 was a big month concluding a first quarter that topped $100 million in the Direct Market. Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 was the market leader, even though it didn’t go on sale until April. According to Diamond at the time, Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 was shipped to retailers a week before its
on-sale date and invoiced to retailers in March 2012 to facilitate
pre-launch parties for the book. Diamond Comic Distributors’ sales
figures are factored on the books invoiced to retailers during the
calendar month, not on the book’s on-sale date.
the title topped the charts, with sales of more than 203,000 copies; it
would end the year at nearly 265,100 copies, making it the third
best-seller for 2012. Avengers Vs. X-Men #0 would have been the month’s top-seller, otherwise.
The top-selling trade paperback or graphic novel was Walking Dead Vol. 1, with 5,880 copies. It ended the year with 74,700
copies sold in the Direct Market, topping the list for the year.
March 2008‘s top seller was was the Marvel’s Dark Tower: Long Road Home #1, with first-month orders of approximately 123,800 copies. Later orders brought it up to at least 126,700 copies, making it the 128th best-selling comic book of the decade of the 2000s. (See the whole list here.) The first quarter ended slightly off from the first quarter of 2007, presaging the end-of-decade slump.
As of the time of this posting, the main version of the Long Road Home #1 had an aftermarket price of $1.30 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
On the graphic novel front, the Batman: The Killing Joke hardcover topped the list, with nearly10,600 copies ordered.
March 2003 continued to find Jim Lee’s “Hush” topping the sales charts, with Batman #613 selling at least 133,600 copies to retailers in the month. Reorders in later months would take the issue to at least 146,200 copies, making it the 126th best-selling comic book of the decade.
Four titles topped the 100,000-copy mark, all the other three being Marvel “Ultimate” series.
At the time of this posting, Batman #613 had an aftermarket price of $10 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
On the graphic novel side, the top seller was Kia Asamiya and Max Allan Collins’ Batman: Child of Dreams hardcover with orders of 9,100 copies in its initial month.
The strong Batman performance resulted in a close month within overall dollar market shares, with Marvel at 31.86% and DC at 29.45%. The month would also result in the second-highest market share ever for CrossGen ever; its 4.48% dollar market share earned it fifth place among publishers, the highest ranking it would ever reach.
Check out the sales
chart for the month here.
The month of March 1998 closed out a “dead quarter” in comics that was truly deserving of the term. Unit preorders for the Top 300 comics were down 18% in both units and dollars — nearly three times worse than Q1 2008. Every quarter of 1998 was off by double digits (though none so bad as the first quarter). The market wouldn’t find a bottom for another couple of years, but the winter of 1998 was one of its periods of steepest decline.
The leading comic book for March 1998 was Marvel’s X-Men Vol. 2 #75, an anniversary issue with a cover price a dollar higher than usual. The issue had preorders of 146,000 copies, one of eight titles to top the 100,000 mark.
At the time of this posting, X-Men Vol. 2 #75 had an aftermarket price of $1.30 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
March 1998 was only the second month Diamond reported indexed sales figures for trade paperbacks — again in a catchall category called “books.” Diamond was still sorting out its standards for inclusion as the rankings included a number of what most might otherwise consider giant-sized comic books, such as Uncle Scrooge #309 and Walt Disney Comics #624, or the top two entrants on the list, Marvel’s six-dollar 2099 Manifest Destiny or Image’s five-dollar Witchblade Collected Edition #7. The leading trade paperback with heft would have been Tears of Dawn Vol. 2 from Sirius, which had preorders of 5,000 copies. This was the final month with rankings for only 10 books; in April 1998, Diamond went up to reporting the Top 25.
While Marvel took 17 out of the Top 25 slots in March 1998’s Top 300 list, trade paperbacks and a disproportionate number of releases helped DC almost completely close the market share gap. In the widest category, final orders for publishers, Marvel led DC in overall dollars 27.17% to 26.47%. Marvel fielded only 54 comic-book titles in the month, to DC’s 76.
Check out the sales
chart for the month here.
March 1993 was the month before Superman returned from the dead, the all-time peak for the comics market in dollar terms. 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 Comichron estimates overall direct sales to distributors of 31.7 million copies. (Readers are cautioned that while the estimate tracks with the source publisher’s own recorded sales, it is unknown how the publisher derived sales for its competitors.)
Capital City Distribution reported that the average cost of its top 630 comic books for the month was $2.56. That figure was probably slightly higher than the weighted average, taking account what comics were actually ordered. If applied to the above estimate, that overall direct market dollar sales would have been in the $70-80 million range.
March 1993 was the first month that Image was on its own, recorded apart from Malibu — and it was an Image title, Maxx #1, that led Capital’s list. Internal Capital City documents detail initial orders of 295,400 copies of the issue, meaning that one point on the March 1993 Capital chart equals 2173 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 Maxx’s total sale? Comparing the issue’s ranking with known direct-market sales for another publisher’s titles during the month, the issue appears to have sold in the 1 million to 1.1 million-copy range. But that estimate presumes that Capital’s share of sales was the same for both companies — an unlikely situation, as publishers saw some variation in their performance between distributors.
At the time of this posting, Maxx #1 had an aftermarket price of $2 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
The top-selling trade volume for the month appears to have been the Spider-Man: Venom Returns trade paperback.
Check out the sales rankings for the the overall year here.
Uncanny X-Men #231, mentioned here last month as a February item, appears to have shipped the third week of March — in which case it would be the likely leader for the month. Capital City was running rankings in 1988, although as it was running
lists of preorder data, there are some questions as to whether issues
shipped in the months it ranked them.
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 March 1983‘s leader was Uncanny X-Men #171, in which Rogue joins the X-Men. It is definitely known to have shipped in March 1983 — I have this from my own purchasing records, having picked it up at the comics shop on April 1, 1983. (Who thought I wouldn’t have records?) Statements of Ownership put that as the likely top-seller for the month, averaging 336,824 copies across all channels for the year, including newsstand and subs.
At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #171 had an aftermarket price of $22 in Very Fine/Near Mint 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 March 1978 would be Marvel’s Star Wars #12,
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 $4.80 in Very Fine at MyComicShop.com.
Back 40 years ago, there was no issue of industry-leading Archie in March. That’d likely put Superman #264, whose average annual sales were 309,318 copies per issue, on top.
And again, relying on the Postal Statements, for 45 years ago we’re likely looking at Superman #206 (636,000 copies average in the year). The issue has an aftermarket price of $6 in Very Good at MyComicShop.com.
And 50 years ago we don’t have Superman data, because DC didn’t publish any. But Superman #161, likely to have been the issue that shipped that month, would have led the market at around 640,000 copies.
To demonstrate that people have been talking about comics sales
figures for years, March 2013 also marks the 45-year anniversary of the
fanzine Newfangles #8, in which Don and Maggie Thompson
reported sales figures for dozens of titles and some of the speculation
surrounding them. The entire fanzine is republished as it appeared, here. (All the 1967 data it lists already appears here.)
the issue, reader Andy Zerbe points to the average 1967 sales of one
title at 115,040 copies and wonders how low sales can sink before its
publisher has to kill it. Which just goes to show — Internet or not,
some debates in comics have been going on for a very long time!
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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