CBG analysis: Industry extends sales gains in February

The lack of an issue of Infinite Crisis shipping in February proved no crisis for the comics industry, which racked up yet another month of year-over-year gains in most categories, according to CBG?s analysis of the sales reports released by Diamond Comic Distributors on March 17.

?The industry continues to do well in a time of year traditionally slow for comics shops,? said John Jackson Miller, F+W Publications editorial director for collectibles. ?In units, this was the best February for the Top 300 comics since 1998 ? and in dollars, since 1997.? Miller is the compiler of the world?s largest collection of comics circulation figures, the CBG Standard Catalog of Comic Books (fourth edition now available at retail stores and here.).

CBG‘s charts for February appear here.

The archive of all months to date appears here and now includes all months from 1998.

Comics unit sales: The Top 300 comic books had retailer orders of 6.05 million copies in February, 3% more than in the same month in 2005, which had the same number of shipping weeks. For the year to date, Top 300 comics unit sales stand at 11.62 million copies, up 7% over last year?s 10.84 million copies.

With Infinite Crisis shipping on March 1, the road was open for Marvel to take the top slot on the charts ? which it did with Astonishing X-Men #13 (below), selling approximately 140,600 copies.

Astonishing X-Men 13.jpg

Publishers appearing for the first time on the charts included Creative Talent, whose When Zombies Attack #1 placed 267th with approximately 2,300 copies sold; and Markosia, whose Abiding Perdition #5 hit the charts at 288th place and 1,700 copies.

Comics dollar sales: The Top 300 comic books had sales worth $18.18 million in February, 8% more than February 2005?s total of $16.77 million.

For the first two months of 2006, the Top 300 comics from each month have sold a combined $34.79 million, an increase of a whopping 14% over the same period in the previous year.

Trade paperbacks : The Top 99 trade paperbacks and graphic novels reported by Diamond (the listing for the #71 item was somehow skipped) had orders worth $3.45 million at full retail in February. That figure is off 8% from the February 2005 total of $3.75 million.

Adding those to the Top 300 comics for the month yields $21.63 million, an increase of 5% over February 2005.

For the first two months of 2006, the Top 300 comics and the Top 100 trade paperbacks from each month had orders worth $41.78 million, up 11% over the same period in 2005.

Exclusive: Diamond?s ?overall? sales: In the most inclusive category calculated by anyone in comics, CBG is able to estimate Diamond?s total sales for comics and trade paperbacks, including all those not in the Top 300/100 every month.

?Diamond publishes dollar market shares for its top 20 publishers across all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines,? Miller said. ?Knowing the exact total orders of any publisher on that list right down to the oldest backlist item allows you to calculate Diamond?s total orders across these product groups.?

The February 2006 total was $28.64 million, which increases to $31.86 million, when Diamond?s United Kingdom orders are added. The figure represents an increase of 8% over February 2005. Overall, the last two months stand at $54.2 million, up 9% over 2005?s total of $49.85 million.

CBG cautions that the ?overall? category overstates comics? actual performance to the extent that magazines that do not have comics content are included. The comics publishers? market shares would actually be slightly higher, if ancillary items were removed.

Market shares: Marvel led DC by nearly a 5-to-4 margin in Diamond?s reported overall unit and dollar market shares. Notable is the number of comics both publishers placed in the Top 300: 96 for Marvel and 91 for DC. ?That Marvel number includes reordered items,? Miller said, ?but is beginning to get into territory not seen since the mid-1990s.?

In an unusual turn, Dark Horse led Image in all categories including unit sales in the Top 300, where Image?s greater output of titles ? 24 comics to Dark Horse?s 12 in February ? usually gives it an edge.

Also influencing market share for comics publishers was the declining contribution coming from the magazine portion of the market, where the Top 15 magazines dropped under 100,000 copies combined. Wizard?s unit share stood at 1.06% in February, a full third less than it was two years ago. (Inquest, which was off more than 60% from last February?s orders, dropped under 1,900 copies and has already been announced for a May relaunch at a cover price of $1.99.)

Price analysis: The average comic book on Diamond?s Top 300 list cost $3.25 up from $3.10 in February 2005.

The weighted average price ? that is, the cost of the average comic book Diamond sold ? was $3.01, up from $2.86 last year.

The average price of the comics that made the Top 25 was $2.90.

Historical context: Increasingly, Comics Buyer?s Guide is adding to its online library of past sales figures. Sales figures from this month in 2001 can be found here.

Again, the archive of all months to date appears here and now includes all months from 1998.

Methodology: Diamond keys orders for all comics it lists sales for to Batman, with one ?order index point? being equal to 1% of that title?s orders. Using actual Diamond final orders from titles accounting for more than 25% of Diamond?s Top 300, CBG determined that one point on Diamond?s order index was likely to equal 664 comic books ? with a 95% probability that the real figure was between 663 and 665.

For more information: Historical graphics for several categories tracked above appear in Comics & Games Retailer magazine. Also, check issues of Comics Buyer?s Guide and CBGXtra.com.

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8 Responses to CBG analysis: Industry extends sales gains in February

  1. PM says:

    If all comics were priced the same it would make for a simple apples to apples comparison.

    The 3% unit volume is a better indicator than the retail value in the sense that it reflects an increase in volume.

    Of course on some level that too is meaningless as for example “event” comics skew the numbers. And if certain popular titles fail to ship in a given month that also skews the year to year comparison.

    The price increases are responsible for increased profit and that’s really the story. Well and sales continue even though prices have jumped to $2.99.

    And of course we’re seeing $3.99 and $4.99 comics.

    Sales could have dropped with the price increases.

  2. John Jackson Miller says:

    If this was a blip for an individual month, I might agree — but unit sales have been going up in general: See the broader measure covering all months of 2005. Diamond sold nearly 2 million more comic books in 2005 than it did in 2004. (The dollar spread was indeed higher, reflecting how much more those purchased comics cost.)

    I guess you could view months with “event” comics as outliers, but since there are “event” comics coming out just about every month, I’m not sure how much meaning that would have. Having one or two books a month ordered in nearly double quantities of the other “top sellers” seems to be a fixture of comics in this era.

    I will be looking at issue prices and how they have changed in “Longbox Manifesto” (scheduled for CBG #1619, tentatively). Running the numbers, I have found a few things I didn’t expect to find…

  3. PM says:

    I may have given a wrong impression.

    I guess I may appear to be saying contradictory things.

    Publishing profits were up and that’s critical. Regardless of whether sales volume was also up. Sales volume was also up. However given all of the issues that are being sold at a large discount that would seem to inflate sales volume.

    Given the price increases for some other titles that would perhaps depress sales. But then again are customers actually taking advantage of greater discounts through online retailers and actually spending less per title but buying more?

    These are to me difficult questions.

    But given profits and the non-stop barrage of new product readers and publishers are all winners…

  4. John Jackson Miller says:

    >>But then again are customers actually taking advantage of greater discounts through online retailers and actually spending less per title but buying more?

    I’m not sure there will ever be a way to know that.

    On the other hand, I do think we can safely say that, even with the Internet, the average discount consumers are receiving in 2006 is less than it was in the boom period of the early 1990s. It was not uncommon to get 30% or 35% off — I even saw 45% once — back in the days when there were comics shops across the street from each other. I don’t think we’ve seen that level of deep discounting from mail-order — unless you count eBay for back issues.

  5. PM says:

    I don’t know what the online retailers are doing in terms of total sales but I know at least a few who are offering 35%-40% preorder off most titles with a few 75% off issues each month. Those are the comics. The trades are typically in the 40-50% range.

    Then there’s Amazon.

    Unfortunately I’m accustomed to retailers that either offer low or no discounts. And I fail to understand how that’s going to work for them long term against those who discount.

    But I’m curious as to whether retailers find that they make more by discounting…

  6. John Jackson Miller says:

    It shouldn’t be possible to make more selling individual comics at 75% off, because Diamond doesn’t even get the comics at 75% off. The biggest of the big retailers are getting comics in the 55-59% range.

    Obviously, the less margin you save for yourself, the less margin of error there is. A retailer who buys 10 comics at 50% off and sells them at 40% off doesn’t make a dime until he sells his ninth copy. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a retailer to order correctly — and as we saw in the early 1990s, many failed to do so. And then they failed entirely.

  7. Michael Tierney says:

    John’s assessment of the failure of discount stores is very accurate.

    I’ve been around nearly a quarter of a century, and in my county alone I’ve seen something like 60 competitors come… and go.

    The first thing that a new competitor ALWAYS tries to do is beat me with discounts. Only after they’ve gone out of business with a huge pile of debt do they realize the problem of profit margin.

    The cost of the comic is only the beginning of a retailer’s expenses. Then you’ve got building rent, utilities, payroll, taxes and fees. Then there are losses from customer damages and shoplifting. The list seems to go on forever.

    The only exception to all the above expenses would be mail order subscriptions. When a person operates out of their basement or garage, they don’t have all the expenses that a legitimate business has.

    Do I lose customers to deep mail order discounters? Sure I do. I’ve even had good, long-term customers come up to me and talk numbers before they switched. But for me, it’s a simple matter that there is some business that I can’t afford. One; I’m certainly not going to have a sliding scale where some customers get better pricing than others. And Two; when you operate on a 1 or 2 % profit margin, it makes no sense to sell comics at a loss.

    It all comes down to what’s important to a customer: Getting the product at the cheapest price? Or shopping at a bricks & mortor location that offers a wide selection and customer service?

    The latter is what will always keep me in business.

  8. PM says:

    It makes me wonder too but when multiple retailers are offering the same monthly titles for .75 then I have to assume that DC and Marvel have worked out some sort of deal with them.

    Granted it’s only a few titles each month but it’s typically an issue #1. Something’s up.

    I do wonder how many buyers actually take advantage of this opportunity as it could certainly skew the numbers. Part of it is obviously the title being the first issue but .75 is an attractive price.

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