CBG analysis: May comics orders “the best in a decade”

Comic-book orders in the direct market in May were higher than they have been in nearly a decade, according to Comics Buyer’s Guide?s analysis of the sales reports released by Diamond Comic Distributors on June 16.

Among Diamond’s Top 300 comics, unit orders were up 23% over last May, and dollar orders were up 28%, said John Jackson Miller, F+W Publications editorial director for collectibles and compiler of the world?s largest collection of comics circulation figures, the CBG Standard Catalog of Comic Books. CBG ?s chart analysis for May appears here.

And in the widest category Miller tracks, Diamond’s overall sales including all comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines rose an astounding 40% over May of the previous year to $37.58 million. Year-over-year increases of that magnitude have not been seen since the beginning of the 1990s color comics boom ? yet Miller said it’s not yet something to be nervous about.

“There are a few key differences with these figures,” he said. “There were only four shipping weeks in May 2005; this year there were five. While New Comics Day wasn’t until Thursday, June 1 in most places because of Memorial Day, those sales are all counted as part of May. When we compare four-ship-week June 2006 with five ship-week June 2005, we’ll see how well they stack up.”

Another difference is there are fewer comics stores this time around, Miller said, and without a major proliferation in the number of stores, there’s a natural check to the speed with which the market can accelerate. “If we were seeing the number of shops doubling or tripling, as it did back then, we would be more likely to see the year-to-year doublings of sales we saw back then. But for now it appears that we simply have stores which are doing higher numbers in their existing locations.”

Comics unit sales: The Top 300 comic books had retailer orders of 7.58 million copies in May, a whopping 23% more than May 2005, which had one less shipping week. That’s the highest total seen in that category since December 1997, the month that Image‘s Darkness #11 and its11 covers had pre-orders of 357,000 copies.

For the first five months of 2006, the Top 300 comics from each month have sold a combined 32.44 million copies, an increase of 10% over the 29.47 million copies sold in the  period in the previous year. (Year-over-year statistics for 2006 are summarized here.)

Civil War 1 cover.jpgMarvel’s Civil War #1 led the list, selling at least 260,700 copies and missing the 21st-century record held by July 2005’s All-Star Batman and Robin #1 by a mere 400 copies. DC’s Infinite Crisis finale narrowly missed the 200,000-copy mark. Orders for DC’s first four issues of 52 were only estimated by Diamond, owing to that title’s returnability — but estimates for all four were above 120,000 copies.

The powerful sales coming from the major publishers resulted in not a single new publisher appearing on the list in May. “The bottom of the Top 300 chart is at 2,800 copies,” Miller said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the bar set so high.”

Nonetheless, the independent title reported by CBG as having serious after-market heat, Archaia’s Mouse Guard, saw its second issue vault up to 201st place and 7,900 copies.

Comics dollar sales: The Top 300 comic books had sales worth $23.54 million in May, a huge 28% more than May 2005. That’s the highest total seen in that category since December 1996.

For the first five months of 2006, the Top 300 comics from each month have sold a combined $99.34 million, an increase of 18% over the $84 million worth sold in the same period in the previous year.

Trade paperbacks: The Top 100 trade paperbacks and graphic novels reported by Diamond had orders worth $3.65 million at full retail in May, an increase of 3% over the same month in 2005. For the first five months of the year, the Top 100 trades for each month total $18.24 million, off 2% from the same period in the previous year, when sales were $18.69 million.

Adding those to the Top 300 comics for the month yields $27.19 million, a big increase of 24% over the $20.6 million ordered in May 2005. That, also, is the highest total seen in that category since December 1996.

For the first five months of 2006, the Top 300 comics and the Top 100 trade paperbacks from each month had orders worth $117.58 million, 15% over the $102.69 million ordered in 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 May 2006 total was $37.58 million, which increases to $41.61 million, when Diamond?s estimated United Kingdom orders are added. The figure is a gargantuan 40% over the $26.75 ordered in the U.S. in May 2005. Overall, the last five months stand at $156.87 million, an increase of 16% over 2005’s total of $135.61 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: DC led Marvel among both Diamond?s reported overall unit and dollar market shares ? as well as every narrower category we track. DC had 102 comics in the Top 300 versus Marvel?s 89.

Price analysis: The average comic book on Diamond?s Top 300 list cost $3.24, up from $3.12 in May 2005.

The weighted average price ? that is, the cost of the average comic book Diamond sold ? was $3.11
RONG>, up from $2.95 last year.

The average price of the comics that made the Top 25 was $3.03.

Historical context: Increasingly, Comics Buyer?s Guide is adding to its online library of past sales figures.  The archive of all months posted from September 1996 to the present appears here.

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 772 comic books ? with a 95% probability that the real figure was between 771 and 773.

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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6 Responses to CBG analysis: May comics orders “the best in a decade”

  1. John Jackson Miller says:

    The above article has now been updated with the final stats.

  2. Michael Tierney says:

    Retailers are definitely ordering from Diamond with confidence.

    Now… if all that product will only sell!

    (Spoken as a survivor of the Black & White crash of the mid-Eighties, and the Dark Ages of the Nineties)

  3. Corey says:

    Excellent analsys as always, however….

    “Comics unit sales: The Top 300 comic books had retailer orders of 7.58 million copies in May, a whopping 23% more than May 2005, which had one less shipping week. That’s the highest total seen in that category since December 1997, the month that Image’s Darkness #11 and its11 covers had pre-orders of 357,000 copies.”

    It’s actually the highest since the more recent September 1998’s 7.74 million copies.

  4. John Jackson Miller says:

    Actually, it’s the web page for September 1998 that was wrong — it wasn’t 7.74 million, but 7.44 million.

    I drew those overall numbers for the web pages from the Comics & Games Retailer magazine from the time, so the original transcription error might have been there — I don’t know. The overall spreadsheet I use had the correct figure (and, if you add up all the Top 300 on the September 1998 page, you’d also get right around 7.44 million — off a smidge for rounding).

    So the statement is correct, but, still, thanks for the heads-up — I have corrected the September 1998 page online. (Don’t we have the most eagle-eyed readers in the world?)

  5. PM says:

    Haven’t even seen a copy of Civil War on the stands at the LCS.

  6. Corey says:

    Thank you John! That does make more sense.

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