Diamond has released some general mid-year category information, and while the shifts between categories are substantial year-over-year, the over-all business is stable with some positive underlying trends despite a tough economic environment in the 'real world.'  On the upside, graphic novels and trade paperback editions of comics rose 39% as a category vs. the year-ago period.  Anime was up around 35%, and toys were also up around 25%, with Diamond's Japanese import business as an especially strong contributor.  That means that two of Diamond's rapidly growing categories are being driven by Japanese pop culture products, and the third -- book collections of comics -- is probably also being helped by manga collections such as the Akira and Lone Wolf collections. 


Despite the strength of the graphic novel category and top producer Marvel's recent resurgence, comics as a whole (including both periodicals and books) were down somewhat for Diamond, reflecting weakness in the periodical segment.  Since comic material in book format is also growing in the bookstore channel, however, the downward trend in pop culture stores may mask a brighter picture over-all.  If the category shifts between comic periodicals and graphic novels continue at this rate, books could pass periodicals as the most popular format for comic material in the coming years, an astounding shift for a 65-year-old business that until 25 years ago had no book product at all. 


Weakness in the periodical business is not confined to comics or the pop culture retailers serviced by Diamond.  Magazines were also a soft category for Diamond, and in the magazine business as a whole (beyond the pop culture titles sold by specialty retailers) many magazines are now on the block or considering other strategic moves to weather tough times on both the advertising and circulation fronts. 


While these are aggregate trends that are only applicable to a degree to any individual store, they point out some important growth opportunities for pop culture retailers, including Japanese pop culture products in all their forms -- anime, manga, and Japanese toys -- and trade paperbacks as the growth area for comics.  Given the fit between those categories and the upcoming holiday season, it's likely that those trends will persist throughout the rest of the year.  Retailers that adapt to that changing mix most successfully will have the best holiday seasons in 2001, and the best opportunities for growth next year.