The Diamond Comic Distributors sales report for the middle of the comics year always hits right before Comic Con International: San Diego, which itself is about the future of the business; we see where we’ve been right before we see where we’re going. Last year, the industry arrived in San Diego with the first half of 2011 off 8% versus the year before; this year, orders by Direct Market comics shops in North America are up more than 18% year-to-date. It’s quite the turnaround. Retailers have already ordered more material through June — nearly $223 million in retail dollars— than they did in last year through July.
Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-Men #6 led the charts, with four DC Before Watchmen debut issues landing in fifth through eight place. Click to see the preliminary top sellers for June. June 2011 was a five-week month versus four shipping weeks for June 2012, and the beats were a little smaller than we’ve seen — but periodical units and dollars were still up double-digits. All the comics in the Top 10 were priced at $3.99.
On the trade paperback side, the release of Walking Dead Vol. 16: A Larger World both topped the charts. There was a slight year-to-year drop in graphic novel units, but not dollars — suggesting that maybe with the DC hardcovers and a new Walking Dead release priced higher than some of the earlier backlist releases, the average price for each graphic novel ordered increased some.
Retailers appear to have ordered $40.5 million in comic books and trade paperbacks from Diamond in the month, a sum that brings the second quarter orders to more than $20 million higher than the same three-month period last year. For the year to date, all Direct Market sales are more than $34 million ahead of the first half of 2011.
But the comparison observers may be more interested in isn’t between the first six months of this year and the first six months of 2011 — but rather, with the last six months, which included the DC reboot. Direct Market orders were $224.92 million from July 2011 to December 2011 — so even with the reboot titles reaching double-digit issue numbers, the market is down less than 1% from that blockbuster six-month period. The reasons are several: Marvel has Avengers Vs. X-Men on the playing field, and graphic novels are rebounding with the DC hardcovers and Walking Dead. But the fact we can compare at all is significant, because the second half of the year has outperformed the previous first half every year for the last 10 years — and by an average of 10%.
As reported on Friday, led by Avengers Vs. X-Men #4, the comic book Direct Market’s orders of $44.68 million in comics and graphic novels (at full retail value) is the largest sum seen in a single month since Diamond began reporting Final Order data in February 2003, and it’s probably a higher figure seen in any month since 1995 in un-inflation-adjusted dollars.
Now, with the estimates out, we can see that two other Diamond Exclusive Era records have been set. Diamond’s Top 300 comics had orders totaling $25.72 million, an increase of 44% over last May and the highest total since Diamond became the sole distributor in 1997. It beats the total of $25.37 million set in December 2008.
Trade paperbacks and hardcovers were exceptionally strong, too, with the DC reboot volumes topping the charts; the Top 300 accounted for $8.27 million, just missing the one-month record from November 2008. That combined with the comics figures to break the other record this month: the Top 300 comics plus the Top 300 graphic novels combined for sales of almost exactly $34 million, beating the previous record from December 2008 by nearly $2 million.
These are dollar sales and not unit sales — though the unit figures came close to setting records, and inflation is not really a huge factor in comparisons over the last two or three years. As we can see on this table of average comics prices, that December 2008 peak found the average weighted price of comics in the Top 300 to be $3.31; this month, the average weighted price was $3.53. That’s less than a 7% increase over three and a half years.
ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +44.24% YEAR TO DATE: +20.89%
TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2012: $25.72 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +44%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +60%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +36%
YEAR TO DATE: $108.66 million, +20% vs. 2011, -2% vs. 2007, +39% vs. 2002, +8% vs. 1997
ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +45.12% YEAR TO DATE: +21.77%
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2012: $8.27 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +47%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -17%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +47%
YEAR TO DATE: $33.16 million, +28% vs. 2011
ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +41.14% YEAR TO DATE: +16.22%
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2012: $34 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +45%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +1%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +36%
YEAR TO DATE: $141.83 million, +22% vs. 2011
ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +43.76% YEAR TO DATE: +19.95%
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
May 2012: approximately $44.68 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +44%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +9%
YEAR TO DATE: $182.49 million, +20% vs. 2011, +4% vs. 2007
The average price of comics in Diamond’s Top 300 was $3.53 as was the cost of the average comic book retailers ordered. $3.50 was the median price of all comics offered in the Top 300, while the most common price remained $2.99.
The numbers already show it, but there’s increasing anecdotal evidence of a turnaround out there — including this piece in yesterday’s Ventura County Star. The headline alone is of a sort we haven’t seen in the business in a long time. Brian Jacoby from Secret Headquarters in Tallahassee, Fla., also provides a very positive view in the comments thread of this ComicsBeat post. “My subscriber list has grown 20% in the past 9 months, beginning on the strength of the excitement for the New 52, and bolstered by other great launches since, like (Miles Morales as) Ultimate Spider-Man and Saga, and the continued influx of Walking Dead– and Avengers-curious people brought in by other media.” That’s how recoveries have worked in the past: one thing leads to the next.
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This November had one more shipping week than last November, and that results in a unit sales bias of about 11%. However, September, the first full month of the relaunch, had one less shipping week than the previous September, so the timing balances out when you look at all three months together. The “DC Relaunch Quarter” from September to November saw retailers order 21.87 million copies of the Top 300 comics, an increase of 26% over the 17.34 million comics ordered in the same period in 2010.
The number of offerings from each publisher that made the Top 300 seems to have normalized in November after October’s boom of DC relaunch reorders; reorders for a few of the #2s made the list again, but nothing like in October. Marvel had 90 entries in the Top 300, versus 86 for DC. (Find breakdowns by publisher for offerings in the Top 300 since 1997 here.)
But while there aren’t as many DC repeat performers on the list, the number of Top 300 comics ordered topped 7 million copies again for the second time in three months, something that hasn’t happened since 2008. And the 300th place title, which was boosted to record levels in October due to the reorder wave, remained at a high level: 4,330 copies.
November’s Top 300 unit sales were up 28% over last November, and only off 12% against the five-year-comparative, November 2006, the best month for comics unit sales this century. That month saw orders of 7.96 million copies, so being in the 7 millions, even barely, puts the market in a nice range historically. The unit orders are still much less than the 11.29 million copies seen exactly fifteen years ago in November 1996, which featured the wedding of Superman; there were at least two thousand more comics shops then.