In an analysis of March orders to Diamond from comic stores, we've discovered what has long been talked about in general terms -- just how far comic sales have fallen from their once lofty heights. Ultimate X-Men #4, the top-selling book in March, received orders for only around 98,000 copies from comic shops ordering through Diamond. DC's top-selling book -- JLA #52 -- sold only a little over 67,000, and only thirteen books sold over 50,000 copies through Diamond.
We compared these to estimated numbers (based on a single distributor's orders and its estimated market share) from ten years ago, in March, 1991. We estimate that distributor orders to publishers for Uncanny X-men #276 in 1991 totaled around 308,000, as compared to around 96,000 for Uncanny X-Men #392 this year, a drop of nearly 70%. We estimate orders for Batman #462 in March, 1991 totaled around 188,000, vs. around 40,000 this year, a drop of nearly 80%.
A price point comparison to the books ordered ten years ago also tells part of the story. Both Uncanny X-Men and Batman sold for $1.00 in 1991, and for $2.25 in 2001 -- an increase of 125%. During the same period, the consumer price index went up around 30%. That's a disparity of 95%, meaning that the cover price of what are essentially the same comics nearly doubled after inflation. One can speculate as to whether that's cause or effect, but what's apparent is that comics are being sold in smaller and smaller quantities at higher and higher prices to fewer and fewer people. Extrapolating the trends out another ten years, in 2011, Uncanny X-men will be selling around 30,000 copies at around $4.39 retail in today's dollars. Similarly, in 2011 Batman will be selling 8,400 copies at the same $4.39 price.
There is a bright side to this story, and that's the growth of the graphic novel and trade paperback formats. There are currently hundreds of such books in print, compared to only a handful ten years ago, and the number grows each month. Looking at these numbers, we wonder why some companies bother to publish periodicals at all.
Here are the top 25 comic titles with their estimated comic store circulations for March, 2001:
97,985 Ultimate X-Men #5
96,271 Uncanny X-Men #392
93,428 X-Men #112
70,846 Ultimate Spider-Man #7
67,762 Wolverine #162
67,630 Ultimate Marvel Teamup #2
67,382 JLA #52
65,972 Green Arrow #2
64,771 Fathom Killian #1
62,732 Daredevil Yellow #1
60,378 Avengers #40
59,332 Daredevil #18
55,116 Spawn #108
48,993 Rising Stars #15
48,055 Fantastic Four #41
45,436 Amazing Spider-man #29
44,411 Superman #168
44,127 Universe X #8
43,963 Detective Comics #756
42,865 Peter Parker #29
40,046 Batman #589
39,405 Thor #35
38,837 JLA Black Baptism #1
37,756 Tomb Raider #12
37,599 Midnight Nation #6
Looking at the bestsellers from the first ten publishers to appear in this ranking is also instructive:
97,985 Ultimate X-Men #4 (Marvel)
67,382 JLA #52 (DC)
55,116 Spawn #108 (Image)
33,923 Just a Pilgrim #1 (Black Bull)
24,496 Star Wars Qui Gon... (Dark Horse)
18,650 First #5 (CrossGen)
16,295 Bone #42 (Cartoon Books)
16,030 Vampi #8 (Harris)
15,826 Lady Death River #1 (Chaos)
14,108 Sailor Moon #29 (Tokyo Pop)
Complete numbers for the top 200 comics are available at 'Top 200 Comics -- March, 2000.'
Our analysis was based on a combination of the information Diamond releases in Diamond Dialogue and actual order numbers provided to ICv2 from publisher sources. By plugging in the circulation numbers we know and using the Diamond order index, all of the circulation numbers for comics ordered through Diamond can be interpolated. There are some limitations to this type of analysis:
Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image distribute 100% of their comic store orders through Diamond. Some other publishers distribute directly to stores or through other distributors and as a result this analysis may underestimate their sales.
Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, and perhaps a handful of other publishers distribute some of their titles through channels other than comic specialty stores, e.g., newsstands and bookstores. These quantity estimates do not reflect distribution through those channels.