June comics sales slightly up, led by Black Cat #1; DC released 24% fewer new comics in first half of 2019

We can say two things for sure about the first half of 2019: DC released a lot fewer comic books, and Marvel came close to taking every shelf space its rival vacated. The result was that Marvel beat its own dollar sales performance from the first half of 2018, though not by as much as all those new releases would suggest — whereas DC’s total dollar volume slipped during that period, but not by as much as its fewer new releases would suggest.

The upshot? A Direct Market almost completely flat at midyear, down less than one-half of one percent in dollars. It’s a slight improvement from the trajectory seen in 2018, which was down a whole percentage point; that year’s sales wound up being strongly up once channels outside comics shops were included.

June’s comics orders, as reported today by Diamond Comic Distributors, were slightly up; retailers ordered $42.3 million dollars of comics, graphic novels, and magazines in the month, an increase of 0.4%. The year-to-date total, $250.2 million, is down a little over a million dollars. The quarterly breakdowns this year are near inverses of one another, with the first quarter up year-over-year and the second quarter down. This is in some measure an anomaly: If Detective Comics #1000 had come out just a week later to land in the same quarter that Action Comics #1000 shipped in, both quarters’ performance would be close to even with 2018.

Comics had a better month of June relative to 2018 than graphic novels did, with dollar sales for comics up 3.6%. Nearly 40 million comic books shipped to retailers in the first half of 2019, down about 2 million copies — but there’s little doubt that DC’s slimmer-offerings approach under AT&T‘s ownership was a contributor. Because while Marvel, on paper, replaced many of the missing DC releases, many of those books were reprints priced at a dollar, which neither sell as many copies nor for anywhere near the value of a regular Big Two release..

Comparing the release slates. DC’s 374 new comics in the first half of 2019 was down 24%, or 115 comics, from the same period in 2018. Marvel’s 615 new comics in the first half of the year represent a 20% increase, up 102 releases — not quite enough to cover DC’s shortfall. Image published 301 new comics in the first half of the year, down from 376. The total number of new issues in the first half of the year stood at 2,704, down 3%.

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The new-title austerity accelerated for DC in June, as it published just 50 new comic books in the month, a new 28-year low for the publisher. Marvel more than doubled its total, with 104. Marvel also more than doubled DC’s total output of new graphic novels in the month, 43 to DC’s 20. June also saw DC’s smallest new graphic novel slate since March 2015, and that could be an echo of the smaller new comics slate: when there are fewer new titles out, logically there are fewer issues to collect into squarebound editions.

But, as mentioned above, there’s a difference in what each of the titles published contributed to retailers’ bottom lines. DC may have released 24% fewer new comics in the first half of the year, but retailers orders of DC publications in dollar terms were only down 5%, or about $4 million. It helps when there’s a Detective #1000 in the mix; if there had been two, it’d be up for the year.

Meanwhile, Marvel — which saw its June dollar sales up 13%, aided by the top-selling Black Cat #1 — has moved 7% more dollars worth of material into comics shops in the first half of 2019, an increase of about $7 million over the same period in 2018. Why isn’t it larger, given Marvel’s increase in releases? Again, it’s what many of them are. Marvel appears to have released 59 different True Believer comics in the first six months of 2019; they account for more than half of Marvel’s slate increase, even though their $1 price tag means they don’t add a lot to the dollar totals. (Update: Marvel also had True Believer titles in the first half of 2018, so the added number of True Believer books for 2019 is probably closer to 30.) 

That’s something to remember when looking at the stats below: not all releases are created equal.

The comparative sales statistics:

Dollars Units
June 2019 Vs. May 2019
Comics -6.44% -6.55%
Graphic Novels -18.39% -15.92%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels -10.09% -7.26%
Toys -2.86% -15.02%
June 2019 Vs. June 2018
Comics +3.56% -4.63%
Graphic Novels -7.11% -13.13%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels +0.36% -5.27%
Toys +35.23% +14.34%
Year To Date 2019 Vs. Year To Date 2018
Comics +0.21% -5.03%
Graphic Novels -2.25% -7.19%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels -0.49% -5.19%
Toys +24.92% +27.33%
Second Quarter 2019 Vs. First Quarter 2019
Comics +3.15% +6.51%
Graphic Novels +3.01% -3.86%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels +3.11% +5.72%
Toys -9.68% -11.18%
Second Quarter 2019 Vs. Second Quarter 2018
Comics -6.71% -7.62%
Graphic Novels -8.72% -16.49%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels -7.28% -8.29%
Toys +30.69% +24.68%

We don’t track the toy market here, but it’s clear it’s done very well for Diamond this year.

The market shares:

Publisher Dollar Share Unit Share
Marvel 43.38% 48.93%
DC 26.71% 26.44%
Image 7.58% 8.01%
Dark Horse 3.23% 2.16%
IDW 3.08% 2.83%
Boom 2.43% 2.31%
Dynamite 2.15% 2.02%
Viz 1.61% 0.59%
Oni 0.74% 0.53%
Archie 0.57% 0.60%
Other 8.52% 5.59%

Dark Horse‘s sales  saw significant improvement in the first half of the year, up $2 million year-to-date. Umbrella Academy and Stranger Things are both factors.

The top-selling comics by units:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by units) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Black Cat #1 $4.99 Marvel
2 DCeased #2 $3.99 DC
3 Silver Surfer: Black #1 $3.99 Marvel
4 Batman: Damned #3 $6.99 DC
5 Batman Who Laughs #6 $4.99 DC
6 Amazing Spider-Man #24 $3.99 Marvel
7 Immortal Hulk #19 $3.99 Marvel
8 Walking Dead #192 $3.99 Image
9 Batman #73 $3.99 DC
10 Batman #72 $3.99 DC

The top-selling comics by dollars:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by dollars) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Black Cat #1 $4.99 Marvel
2 Batman: Damned #3 $6.99 DC
3 Superman: Year One #1* $7.99 DC
4 Dceased #2 $3.99 DC
5 Silver Surfer: Black #1 $3.99 Marvel
6 Batman Who Laughs #6 $4.99 DC
7 War of the Realms #6 $5.99 Marvel
8 Immortal Hulk #19 $3.99 Marvel
9 Amazing Spider-Man #24 $3.99 Marvel
10 Walking Dead #192 $3.99 Image

The asterisk means that Superman: Year One #1 is returnable; its unit sales numbers would have been reduced slightly for purposes of the charts.

Image, which lately has a sizable portion of its line going to series with either “Die” or “Dead” in the title, saw Die Vol. 1 become the top graphic novel. The top-selling graphic novels by units:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by units) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker $9.99 Image
2 Detective Comics #1000 Deluxe Edition HC $19.99 DC
3 DC Poster Portfolio: Stanley “Artgerm” Lau $24.99 DC
4 DC Super Hero Girls: Search For Atlantis Tp $9.99 DC
5 Disney Descendants: Evie’s Wicked Runway Vol. 2 $15.99 Tokyopop
6 Disney Descendants: Evie’s Wicked Runway Vol. 1 $15.99 Tokyopop
7 Teen Titans: Raven $16.99 DC
8 Batman/The Flash: The Button $14.99 DC
9 Miraculous Tales: Ladybug and Cat Noir Season 2 Vol. 4 $8.99 Action Lab
10 My Hero Academia Vol. 19 $9.99 Viz

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by dollars) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Blackest Night Omnibus: 10th Anniversary Edition HC $150.00 DC
2 Dc Poster Portfolio: Stanley “Artgerm” Lau $24.99 DC
3 Batman By Grant Morrison Omnibus Vol. 2 HC $75.00 DC
4 Detective Comics #1000 Deluxe Edition HC $19.99 DC
5 Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 7 HC $125.00 DC
6 Disney Descendants: Evie’s Wicked Runway Vol. 2 $15.99 Tokyopop
7 Marvel Masterworks: Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2 HC $75.00 Marvel
8 Berserk Deluxe Edition Vol. 2 HC $49.99 Dark Horse
9 Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker $9.99 Image
10 Hulk By Loeb & Mcguinness Omnibus HC $100.00 Marvel

Finally, the chart discussed so much this year, the number of new items offered:

Publisher Comics
shipped
Graphic
Novels
shipped
Magazines
shipped
Total
shipped
Marvel 104 43 0 147
DC 50 20 1 71
Image 46 11 0 57
IDW 30 17 0 47
Dark Horse 19 22 0 41
Boom 20 11 0 31
Dynamite 18 7 0 25
Viz 0 23 0 23
Archie 11 2 0 13
Oni 5 5 0 10
Other 121 184 18 323
TOTAL SHIPPED 424 345 19 788

July 2019 is going to present one of the more peculiar chart comparisons we’ve seen in a while. It has an extra New Comic Book Day (which we give back in August), so you’d expect it to be up — but last July had Batman #50 and Amazing Spider-Man #1.

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But then on top of that, there’s Walking Dead #193, the surprise of the year; unannounced as the final issue, it went on sale July 3. It’s already been running above $20 in back issue sales (see eBay listings for the issue here), but since aftermarket sales aren’t captured in Diamond’s charts, that part of the dollar impact of the issue isn’t likely to be seen. The snap reprint, landing July 31, will be counted in July’s sales, and has already appeared in last week’s advance reorder charts in second place, behind only Power of X #1.

For those who’ve asked what impact the end of the series would have on Image’s market shares, it’s important to remember that the monthly comic book was an increasingly smaller portion of both the franchise’s revenue and the publisher’s business as more and more graphic novel collections came out. Image has more than tripled — sometimes quadrupled — its Direct Market dollar share from a dozen years ago, largely on the building of its graphic novel library.

The estimated sales data will appear on this page early next week. In the meantime, check out the comparative months’ data from five, 10, 20, and 30 years ago.

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