December 2018 sales slightly off on smallest new comics slate in years; DC’s 52 new comics its fewest since 1991

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The December report for comics sales is always a strange one, because the annual report from Diamond Comic Distributors, which these days gets released before it, obviously has December data baked into it. From the annual report, we already know many of the top entries in the charts—and from the indexed charts, we know how many copies those issues sold. (Click to see the Top Thousand Comics and Graphic Novels for 2018.)

The annual report also sometimes includes metrics, and while often they come from the monthly change tables, at other times they’ve reflected more complete information, factoring in sales not included in the monthly reports. (Read more about that dynamic here.) So it is that the December 2018 report arrives with some information already known, and a little more explanation than usual on a few fronts. (UPDATE: The sales estimates for all comics in the month are now online here.)

Batman Who Laughs #1 was the top-selling comic book in December, with orders (already known from the annual report) of more than 226,000 copies. DC had all five of the top five comics — yet in a month that was down 2% for the business overall, the publisher was down 11% in dollar orders versus December 2017.

A possible contributing factor: DC only released 52 new comic books in December, which appears to be the lowest number in any month for that publisher since September 1991. (Click to see our 1991 page.) Meanwhile, Marvel, which had 90 comic books out, slightly over its annual average for 2018, was up 12% in dollars year-over-year in December.

The fact that more new titles being offered often correlates with higher overall sales may not be much of a surprise; at the same time, it wouldn’t be strange at all for publishers and retailers to prefer to have more profit coming in from a smaller number of titles that perform better on average. In December 2018, they got their way in that fully 11% fewer comic books came out versus the same month last year; at 398 releases, it was the smallest number in any month in at least four years. Yet the number of units sold in the month was only slightly down versus December 2017.

However, that was not the rule during 2018 overall: we now know that 5,553 new comics came out in 2018, down 6% from the 5,919 in 2017 — and comics unit sales were down for the year by 6%. In 2018, lighter new release volume coincided with an equally lighter number of copies sold.

The usual caveats with new-release volume measures apply. They count the number of unique comic book interiors, regardless of variant covers; the number of stories, if you will. Retailers actually were coping with many more specific items to order and stock; 87% of the Top 1,000 comics of 2018 had variants, and 97% of the Top 100. But the median number of copies of a single comic book purchased by individual consumers is still one; total purchases do not increase in parallel with the number of variants, because most people just want one copy to read. It’s the fact that that “one copy” might not be the main cover that makes retailers’ lives more complicated.

(The holiday schedule did play a role in output in December; Diamond limited Christmas week to a book apiece from major publishers. It did reduce slates overall, but not everyone’s: Marvel’s 90 releases were 11 more than November, and several other publishers were above their 2018 averages. The other weeks were just heavier.)

Analysis of the monthly table grids suggests that the month came in at $37.61 million in comics, graphic novels and magazines shipped — slightly less than December 2017, possibly due in part to the unexpectedly small number of releases. That puts the year-end at nearly $517 million at full retail. The aggregate charts:

Dollars Units
December 2018 Vs. November 2018
Comics -3.53% -3.58%
Graphic Novels -17.46% -17.18%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels -7.35% -4.55%
Toys -58.05% -53.99%
December 2018 Vs. December 2017
Comics +9.29% -0.42%
Graphic Novels -26.35% -35.98%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels -2.26% -3.72%
Toys -44.01% -47.06%
Year 2018 Vs. Year 2017
Comics +2.04% -5.67%
Graphic Novels -8.22% -9.71%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels -1.08% -5.98%
Toys -6.39% -6.48%

(Update: Diamond has issued corrected charts, above; a previous version included the numbers reported in the 2018 end-of-year press release; which we assumed were reflective of a larger and more accurate data set in our Monday analysis; those figures have been corrected in the Diamond release as well.)

Diamond did not release quarterly and half-year information in its grids, but we calculate that were one to go just from the monthly charts, the quarter was slightly down, and the second half of the year was slightly up.

The market shares:

Publisher Dollar Share Unit Share
Marvel 38.57% 44.09%
DC 31.51% 30.75%
Image 8.73% 9.06%
IDW 4.10% 3.66%
Boom 2.98% 2.38%
Dark Horse 2.82% 2.37%
Dynamite 2.11% 2.10%
Viz 1.03% 0.38%
Titan 0.82% 0.59%
Valiant 0.71% 0.78%
Other 6.62% 3.85%

The top-selling comics by units:

1 Batman Who Laughs #1 $4.99 DC
2 Batman: Damned #2 $6.99 DC
3 Doomsday Clock #8 $4.99 DC
4 Batman #60 $3.99 DC
5 Batman #61 $3.99 DC
6 Amazing Spider-Man #11 $3.99 Marvel
7 Fantastic Four #5 $7.99 Marvel
8 Amazing Spider-Man #12 $3.99 Marvel
9 Batman Annual #3 $4.99 DC
10 Shazam #1 $4.99 DC

The top-selling comics by dollars:

1 Batman Who Laughs #1 $4.99 DC
2 Batman: Damned #2 $6.99 DC
3 Doomsday Clock #8 $4.99 DC
4 Fantastic Four #5 $7.99 Marvel
5 Batman #60 $3.99 DC
6 Batman #61 $3.99 DC
7 Batman Annual #3 $4.99 DC
8 Shazam #1 $4.99 DC
9 Infinity Wars #6 $5.99 Marvel
10 Fantastic Four Wedding Special #1 $4.99 Marvel

The top-selling graphic novels by units:

1 Paper Girls Vol. 5 $14.99 Image
2 Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days $16.99 DC
3 Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance Part One $10.99 Dark Horse
4 Saban’s Power Rangers: Soul Dragon Original $19.99 Boom
5 Star Wars Vol. 9: Hope Dies $19.99 Marvel
6 The Flash Vol. 8: Flash War $16.99 DC
7 My Hero Academia Vol. 16 $9.99 Viz
8 Thor Vol. 1: God Of Thunder Reborn $17.99 Marvel
9 Venom: First Host $15.99 Marvel
10 Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: On The Outside $16.99 DC

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

1 Paper Girls Vol. 5 $14.99 Image
2 Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 6 HC $125.00 DC
3 Fantastic Four By Waid & Wieringo Omnibus HC $100.00 Marvel
4 Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 20 HC $75.00 Marvel
5 Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale: Yellow, Blue, Gray & White Omnibus HC $100.00 Marvel
6 Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days $16.99 DC
7 Saban’s Power Rangers: Soul Dragon Original $19.99 Boom
8 Marvel Universe By John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 2 HC $125.00 Marvel
9 Before Watchmen Omnibus HC $125.00 DC
10 Wonder Woman Diana Prince: Celebrating The 60S Omnibus HC $125.00 DC

Finally, the number of new items offered:

Publisher Comics
Total shipped
Marvel 90 38 0 128
DC 52 37 1 90
Image 52 10 0 62
IDW 32 10 0 42
Boom 24 16 0 40
Dark Horse 21 11 0 32
Viz 0 23 0 23
Titan 8 7 2 17
Dynamite 13 1 0 14
Valiant 5 2 0 7
Other 101 113 9 223
TOTAL SHIPPED 398 268 12 678

No videos right away this month, as there’s still a lot of data to digest, and the December estimates are yet to be done. Those estimates should appear here soon.

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