With May 2013 comics sales data forthcoming, let’s take a look at comics sales in previous Mays. 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.
May 2012 had Free Comic Book Day, the Avengers movie, Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-Men event, DC’s release of its first hardcover collections of its relaunch issues, and continued strong sales from Images Walking Dead trades. The result was a $44.7 million month for comics shop orders of comics and
graphic novels — which made it the single largest month to that point in
non-inflation-adjusted dollar terms since Diamond began reporting Final
Order data in 2003.
It was also, regardless of the overall estimate, the largest
year-over-year increase for any month seen since Diamond began reporting
Final Order data in 2003. Retailers spent 43.76% more on comics and graphic
novels in May 2012 versus May 2011. That percentage year-over-year
increase appeared at the time to have been the largest to date since 1993.
Avengers Vs. X-Men #4 led the market with 178,330 copies sold in its first month. By the end of the year, that figure would be 187,500 copies, and the issue would be the ninth best-seller of the year.
As of this posting, the main version of Avengers vs. X-Men #4 had an aftermarket price of $4 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
Trade paperbacks and hardcovers were exceptionally strong, too, with the DC reboot volumes topping the charts.
May 2008 was led by Secret Invasion #2, with 182,390 copies sold to the direct market in its first month. Later sales in the year would bring it up to at least 198,800 copies. It was Diamond’s second-best selling issue of the year — and the 30th best-seller of the decade of the 2000s. (See the whole
As of this posting, the main version of Secret Invasion #2 had an aftermarket price of $2 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
The month also included Final Crisis #1, Diamond’s ninth-best seller of the year.
The top graphic novel for the month was Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Vol. 2, with first-month orders of nearly 9,500 copies.
Find the sales
chart for the month here.
May 2003 was a slowdown overall from the previous year, when Transformers had been all the rage. For the first time in a while, a title overtook an issue of “Hush” in Batman — though it involved restarting a long-running series to do it. Wolverine Vol. 2 #1 was the top-ordered comic book for May 2003, at approximately 157,700 copies ordered in its first month. By contrast with May 2007, only five titles topped the 100,000-copy mark.
At the time of this posting, Wolverine Vol. 2 #1 had an aftermarket price of $2.30 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
The top-ordered trade paperback for May 2003 was DC’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Book 1, with first-month orders of 10,500 copies in the direct market.
Marvel had increased its output in the intervening years since DC led the market share race; in May 2003, Marvel accounted 35.62% of dollars sold versus 21.89% for DC. There were seven comics publishers above 2.5% shares, including Viz, Dreamwave, and Crossgen with the traditional Big Four.
Check out the sales
chart for the month here.
The month of May 1998 looked like a major disappointment when compared to the same month in 1997 — that had been Marvel’s “Flashback” month with its “-1” issues, when the market had sold nearly a million more copies. There were worse days to come, however, as the market would lose another half-million copies in the following May.
The top-ordered comic book through Diamond in May 1998 was Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men #357, with orders of approximately 143,000 copies. Seven items had preorders above 100,000 copies. DC’s top seller was JLA #20, just shy of 100,000 copies preordered in its first month. The month also saw the return of Thor, after “Heroes Return,” with a new #1 issue.
At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #258 had an aftermarket price of $2.60 in Very Fine at MyComicShop.com.
We run into definitional challenges when looking for the top trade paperback for the month. Made Men had preorders of 13,900 copies in its first month, but at $5.99 it may well have belonged in the comic book section. The Spawn VI trade, next down the list, had first-month preorders of 7,700 copies. Even with some comics items in the trade list, it’s noteworthy how the top 25 items in the category perform now versus then, bringing in more than double the dollars.
DC’s market share topped Marvel’s slightly, with 24.22% of final orders versus Marvel’s 23.67%. The fifth-largest comics publisher was Topps, although the X-Files phenomenon in comics had nearly played out by this time.
Check out the sales
chart for the month here.
Twenty years ago, May 1993 was a month after the peak of the boom times — but few yet knew it. Marketing to comics shops was big business. With Comics Retailer magazine a year old and trade publications coming from Wizard (Entertainment Retailing) and eventually Hero Illustrated publisher Sendai (Comic Book Business), distributors Diamond and Capital City added enhancements to their own retailer monthlies.
Capital City Distribution’s sales figures appeared in Internal Correspondence (the nominal progenitor to ICV2, incidentally), which had started as a small newsprint magazine several years earlier. With May 1993, Capital added a full-color art cover (the first, feting Malibu’s Ultraverse) and spot color inside. Diamond had added color already to Diamond Dialogue’s cover, and would soon take the entire magazine to glossy paper. The reporting of sales charts was only one part of those various publications’ missions, but for a time it had become a big business.
And while the Diamond and the Capital City sales charts did not always arrive at a consensus top-seller, in May 1993 — one month after the huge return-of-Superman month — they did agree on Image’s Spawn #13 as the market-leader. Capital sold 207,400 copies of that issue, and the direct-market sales for the issue overall may have been in the 700,000 to 800,000 copy range.
At the time of this posting, Spawn #13 had an aftermarket price of $1.49 in Near Mint at MyComicShop.com.
Capital reported sales on 676 comics-related items in the month, with an average cover price of $2.70. That figure is not a weighted average, and it is distorted by the presence of trade paperbacks in the listing. But eight out of Capital’s top ten items had $2.50 price tags — all from Image — and the other two were at $3.50. So the comics of 15 years past were not so cheap as one might imagine!
Capital co-owner Milton Griepp (who today runs ICV2), writing during the market peak month of April, expressed concerns about that month’s surge in orders, which he called the biggest he had seen in 20 years. “Overall, it seems inevitable that there is going to be unsold product in the marketplace when the dust settles,” he wrote. “Conditions will have to be exactly right for all the product ordered to be absorbed in a short period of time. Although the market is growing, it is hard to believe it is growing at the rate indicated by these orders.”
Griepp wrote that he hoped the slower May would allow everyone to sell out of their April product, but warned that the practices of many stores in this period were not helpful. “Encouraging speculation, bulk purchases, and touting investment value will invariably lead to long-term trouble for those retailers that use those practices.”
While certainly not the first warning in this vein, Griepp’s was unusual in that it came from a distributor. Capital ultimately became one of the firms that fell as a result of the market crash and the events that followed it.
Check out the sales rankings for the the overall year here.
The Capital City sales chart for May 1988 reported that Marvel Comics Presents #1 had taken its top slot. Marvel’s anthology series, its frequency was decided with input from retailers, who chose biweekly over weekly (which Action Comics had gone to the month before). Capital City sold 70,100 copies of the issue; Diamond did not yet publish indexed sales reports.
Statements of Ownership did not begin for the title until one published for 1989, which reported average per-issue sales across all channels of 163,525 copies. By 1990, Capital represented about a quarter of Marvel Comics Presents’ direct-market sales each month, which suggests direct-market sales of #1 may have been in the 280,000-copy range. At $1.25, it was one of the more expensive Marvel titles.
At the time of this posting, Marvel Comics Presents #1 had an aftermarket price of $2.40 in Very Fine at MyComicShop.com.
By this second full month of Action Comics Weekly, the individual issues of that title had dropped to the 40s in Capital’s rankings, selling a little less than third at that distributor of the copies that Marvel Comics Presents was selling. But DC’s sales at Capital were also disproportionately lower than they were at other distributors, by many reports. DC’s third-best-selling comic book for the month, according to Capital, was V for Vendetta #1, which placed 25th.
Capital reported 375 comics items that it had sales on, with an average cover price of $2.13. However, this figure was not weighted by orders, and the list included a handful of larger collections and even some posters. It’s not easy to pick out what would have been the top-selling collection, but it might have been Gladstone’s Disney Album #9.
We’re back before the Direct Market distributor charts — the ones I have from Capital start running data in 1984 — but May 1983‘s leader was Uncanny X-Men #173. 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 #173 had an aftermarket price of $5.60 in Very Fine at MyComicShop.com.
Once we get to 35 years ago,
the data is incomplete, 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 #14,
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, the top-selling issue was likely Archie #227. The title’s average monthly issue that year sold 345,087 copies.
And again, relying on the Postal Statements, for 45 years ago we’re likely looking at Superman #208 (636,000 copies average in the year).
And 50 years ago we don’t have DC data, because the publisher didn’t publish any. The best-seller would likely have been Superman #162, which was selling in excess of 750,000 copies. The issue has an aftermarket price of $35.10 in Fine+ at MyComicShop.com.
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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