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What We Talk About When We Talk About Comic Book Sales – Comicbook.com


(Photo: Image Comics)

Even in today’s culture where we can find numbers and analysis on almost any topic, Mark Twain’s old line about there being three sorts of lies, “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” still rings true. The display of numbers simply isn’t enough to make a point; what’s important is where those numbers come from and how they are being used. In some fields, that has made all the difference as journalists pull from the best sources and utilize the best methods. Sites like FiveThirtyEight and Vox have established a high bar for the topics of politics, policy, and polling. Unfortunately, the world of comics doesn’t have quite as much data available, making any effort to deliver accurate analysis much more difficult. That is where we, ComicBook.com, come in.

Our goal when looking at sales numbers is to provide readers value based around what facts we possess, what we are aware of not knowing, and decades of collective experience in the fields of comics retail, marketing, and journalism. We believe editorializing comics data shouldn’t be about finding the hottest take, but striving for ideas that are grounded in analysis. That means drawing a clear line between what we know and what we think, making it clear how we constructed an opinion based upon some well-understood facts.

Therefore, it’s useful to lay down some standards for our approach to comics sales analysis, rather than reiterate a variety of supplements and codas with each new piece. So with that in mind, this is what we are talking about when we talk about comic book sales.

Unless stated otherwise, all sales figures are reflective of something called the direct market. This refers to the distribution and sale of comics directly to retailers in North America through Diamond Comic Distributors. This is primarily because this segment of the market provides the best data to measure dollars and units sold for individual series. It’s also valuable to note what figures this excludes.

The Direct Market, and therefore most of our analysis, does not include international sales, book market sales, and digital sales. Each of these represent a massive amount of purchasing power, unique readerships, and evolving markets with their own rules. In order to understand how the medium of comics is faring, it would be essential to look at all of these markets in combination. However, there is very little specific data for these other markets, making it difficult to analyze anything beyond general trends.

Using specific direct market data provided by Diamond allows for a more nuanced analysis of both the sales of individual, physical issues and the local comic shop (LCS) market. Ultimately, all of Diamond’s figures represent the number of issues sold to these LCS locations, as most issues are non-returnable. So we are looking at this specific segment and the purchasing power of stores, rather than the total readership for any given issue.

It is worthwhile to note the specific limits placed on analyzing individual issues and series due to a lack of data on digital sales. Almost all offerings in the direct market are offered digitally on the same day, typically at the same price and sometimes at a discount. It was estimated that in 2018 approximately $100 million was spent on digital comics annually in the North American marketplace. Digital comics compose a significant dollar share, but still do not approach being the majority of sales on new monthly releases.

This does suggest that the sales trends for any given series are worth considering with a grain of salt (or maybe a heaping dash). It has been suggested that series targeted towards a younger audience like Ms. Marvel and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl both fare better in digital sales as younger readers are more likely to purchase outside of the direct market. It is incredibly difficult to estimate these sales, especially for individual series, which is why some skepticism is healthy regarding any sweeping statements on the health of any series sales numbers. It also makes this sort of analysis more valuable for speculators and collectors, as digital sales and collections do not impact the rarity or price of individual, physical issues.

Given all of those limitations, we are approaching analysis of direct market sales figures using two valuable strategies:

  1. Finding strong points of comparison.
  2. Seeking out long-term trends.

First, it is difficult to assess anything in a vacuum. Looking for other series with distinct similarities can provide a better sense of how any one title is faring. These points of comparison can come from a variety of perspectives, including release dates, longevity, and genre or featured character. It is more useful to look at series that were released in the same year (or even the same season); it is more useful to look at series that have been continuing for similar lengths of time or issues; it is more useful to look at series that are in direct competition with one another. These metrics will guide how we compare different comics in order to find and assess specific trends.

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Second, it is easy for publishers to manipulate the sales of a single issue. We will provide a more in-depth analysis of different tactics in a future article. However, outsized sales of a #1 issue or a radical jump in sales often indicate something beyond market interest. Therefore we will look to larger trends in order to speculate on a given topic. This might function by including lots of series over a few months or by looking at only a few series over the course of the year. In either case, it is much more difficult to manipulate the sales of any given series, creator, or character in the long term.

Finally, it’s worth noting our sources. None of our analysis in the past or future would be possible without the dedicated work of two sites: Comichron and ICV2. Comichron provides the most comprehensive collection of comics sales data for the direct market, and does so with an eye for clarity on their methods and reasoning. ICV2 provides broader coverage that includes some of the best available analysis of other markets. Both of these sites have collaborated with one another to offer annual reports and offer a worthwhile foundation for anyone seeking to provide analysis and editorials on comics sales. This report on 2018 sales is just one example of how they are reliable, comprehensive, and capable sources.

It is our hope that these brief notes and explanations serve as a foundation for quality, engaging coverage on a market where reliable data is hard to come by. A lack of data is not a reason to forego coverage, but a call for writers to be more careful and observant in how they cover a topic. It is our goal to provide the best possible analysis of comics sales without ever overstating the case or engaging in the hype that often formulates press releases. As we continue to discuss and dissect comics sales, we will endeavor to draw a clear line between what we know, what we don’t know, and how we are using that to provide analysis and speculation.

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