February sales dip on lean new comics slate, but per-title sales improve; Marvel sees growth

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For decades in the comics industry, the winter has often earned the monicker “Dead Quarter” — not so much for sales, which have often been strong, but because publishers, anticipating bad weather,  simply don’t release much into the market. That dynamic, combined with DC’s stated plans to reduce its new comics offerings by 10-15% over the past year, has seriously reduced new offerings in three of the last four months. November had the smallest new release slate for comic books since before DC’s Rebirth; December, truncated by the holidays, had even fewer new releases, and the smallest DC periodical slate since 1991.

After a rebound in January, February 2019 returned to the trend, with the smallest number of new comics releases since Diamond Comic Distributors began reporting overall figures in July 2013. There were no first issues in the Top 9 at all, indicating few publishers were interested in launching big projects into the month. Sixty fewer new comics were released versus the same month in 2018, a drop of 13%; new comics unit sales were consequently off 8.47% to 5.77 million copies, the lowest figure since May 2011. Dollars were down just 6.06%. Retailers ordered $34.73 million in comics and graphic novels overall, down 5% and the lowest figure since March 2012. Click to visit our page for February 2019 comics sales estimates; the figures will be posted next week.

DC was responsible for nearly half of the drop in the number of new comics periodical offerings: its slate was chopped a full third, from 88 comics last February to 59 this February. Graphic novel new release volume was less severely cut, from 318 new releases last February to 304 this February; there, DC only shipped five fewer graphic novels than in the year before.

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DC’s stated goal in cutting back its offerings was to improve the performances of individual titles; it was at least partially successful in this, with the publisher’s overall dollar sales of comics and graphic novels down 15% in a month when the number of new offerings had been cut by twice as much. (The market-leading Batman Who Laughs #3 helped that cause.) Image likewise offered many fewer new comics, dropping from 70 last February to 47 last month; its year-to-year drop was similar to DC’s. Marvel, meanwhile, grew its slate, with five more comic books and nine more graphic novels released than in the previous February — and it appears to have benefited from it, selling 9% more dollars worth of material versus its performance then.

We thus see competing strategies at work: attempting to maximize the benefits from a smaller number of titles versus business-as-usual. The net impact on the charts this month was a low-single digit loss, but there is some evidence that leaner may be working. The number of new offerings in the past year has dropped, and average sales per title — the number of comics bought divided by the number of new titles offered — has increased eight of the last 12 months versus the previous year. Regard the chart, which looks at year-over-year changes to sales of the average comic book offered:

The average new release in February 2019 had orders of 14,830 copies, up from 14,038 in February 2018. That’s an increase of 6% in copies ordered per new release; the fact that there were 60 fewer releases is what pulled the market lower overall. There’s a “sweet spot” between the number of new releases and sales-per-title for each publisher; finding that is always the trick.

So we’ll see if there’s additional fine-tuning to new-release totals as we head out of what was, for much of North America, a particularly harsh winter. And no matter what else happens, the presence of Detective Comics #1000 in March seems pretty likely to improve DC’s average-title sales considerably, just as Action #1000 did last April.

The comparative sales statistics are up first. Comics and graphic novel units were off by exactly the same amount, something we have never seen before:

February 2019 Vs. January 2019
Dollars Units
Comics -21.31% -18.10%
Graphic Novels -26.09% -25.43%
Total Comics/GNs -22.71% -18.65%
Toys -19.93% -35.10%
February 2019 Vs. February 2018 Dollars Units
Comics -6.06% -8.47%
Graphic Novels -3.16% -8.47%
Total Comics/GNs -5.27% -8.47%
Toys +20.34% +18.44%
Year-To-Date 2019 Vs. Year-To-Date 2018 Dollars Units
Comics +4.82% -1.51%
Graphic Novels +5.00% -2.56%
Total Comics/GNs 4.87% -1.59%
Toys +27.83% +39.44%

The market shares reflect the very lean offerings by the major publishers; the mainstream book channel publisher St. Martin’s Press has never made the Top 10 before.

Publisher Dollar Share Unit Share
Marvel 40.20% 44.48%
DC 28.69% 30.64%
Image 9.49% 9.30%
Dark Horse 3.25% 2.58%
Dynamite 2.58% 2.35%
IDW 2.55% 2.20%
Boom 2.38% 2.26%
Viz 1.78% 0.67%
St. Martins 0.60% 0.16%
Oni 0.56% 0.39%
Other 7.91% 4.96%

Batman Who Laughs continued its run atop the charts, for the third issue in a row. The top-selling comics by units:

1 Batman Who Laughs #3 $4.99 DC
2 Batman #64 $3.99 DC
3 Batman #65 $3.99 DC
4 Venom #11 $3.99 Marvel
5 Heroes In Crisis #6 $3.99 DC
6 Amazing Spider-Man #15 $3.99 Marvel
7 Uncanny X-Men #12 $3.99 Marvel
8 Flash #64 $3.99 DC
9 Uncanny X-Men #11 $7.99 Marvel
10 Avengers No Road Home #1 $4.99 Marvel

The $7.99 Uncanny X-Men #11 bounds up the charts when we look at the top-selling comics by dollars:

1 Batman Who Laughs #3 $4.99 DC
2 Uncanny X-Men #11 $7.99 Marvel
3 Batman #64 $3.99 DC
4 Batman #65 $3.99 DC
5 Venom #11 $3.99 Marvel
6 Amazing Spider-Man #16 $4.99 Marvel
7 Heroes In Crisis #6 $3.99 DC
8 Return of Wolverine #5 $4.99 Marvel
9 Amazing Spider-Man #15 $3.99 Marvel
10 Uncanny X-Men #12 $3.99 Marvel

Mister Miracle performed well in reorders all month, and led the top-selling graphic novels by units:

1 Mister Miracle $24.99 DC
2 Spider-Geddon $24.99 Marvel
3 Infinity Wars $34.99 Marvel
4 Immortal Hulk Vol. 2 Green Door $15.99 Marvel
5 My Hero Academia Vol 17 $9.99 Viz
6 Deadpool Secret Agent Deadpool $14.99 Marvel
7 Man-Eaters Vol. 1 $12.99 Image
8 Infinity Gauntlet Deluxe Edition $34.99 Marvel
9 Captain America Vol. 1 Winter In America $17.99 Marvel
10 Amazing Spider-Man By Nick Spencer Vol. 2 $15.99 Marvel

The book also led the top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

1 Mister Miracle $24.99 DC
2 He Man & The Masters Of The Universe Omnibus HC $150.00 DC
3 Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel A Hero Is Born Omnibus HC $100.00 Marvel
4 Venomnibus HC Vol. 2 $125.00 Marvel
5 Infinity Wars $34.99 Marvel
6 Infinity Gauntlet Deluxe Edition $34.99 Marvel
7 Spider-Geddon $24.99 Marvel
8 Star Wars By Jason Aaron Omnibus HC $125.00 Marvel
9 Mmw Luke Cage Power Man HC Vol. 3 $75.00 Marvel
10 Wonder Woman By Phil Jiminez Omnibus HC $75.00 DC

Finally, the aforementioned number of new items offered. Again, this is a six-year low, at least:

Marvel 86 40 0 126
DC 59 28 1 88
Image 47 19 0 66
Dark Horse 24 13 0 37
IDW 22 11 0 33
Boom 21 10 0 31
Viz 0 27 0 27
Dynamite 20 1 0 21
Seven Seas 0 21 0 21
Oni 4 3 0 7
Other 106 131 22 259
TOTAL SHIPPED 389 304 23 716

We’ll have the full estimates along next week. In the meantime, you can find me this weekend appearing at Midsouthcon in Memphis, where I’m toastmaster this year.

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