Despite three very strong graphic novel/trade paperback quarters and one very strong comic quarter, combined comic and graphic novel orders from North American pop culture stores declined 3% in 2001 vs. 2000. The year-end trend was very positive, however, with 2001 fourth quarter comics and graphic novel orders increasing 9% over 2000. All indications are that those orders reflected improving sales and traffic in stores in the third quarter of 2001, so this growth trend is actually nearly a half-year old. And other factors may have pushed the total dollars in comic product sold in North America into positive numbers over-all. First, there was improvement in sales through other channels, particularly bookstores; and second, there was strong reorder activity beginning last summer as store traffic started to increase. There are also indications that European sales of U.S. editions were relatively strong, so the publishing tier may have been up over-all even if U.S. sales were not.
The move toward books as a preferred format of comics picked up steam, with graphic novels showing increases of 15% or more each of the first three quarters and 6% for the year.
Here are the numbers:
2001 vs. 2000 Rate of Change
Given the short period of increasing sales, it's probably too early to call the end of the period of declining comic sales that began in 1994 and continued through this year, but there are some positive underlying factors that may carry the positive trend into 2002 and beyond. In no particular order:
1.Demographics have turned. After the Gen X trough in the numbers of teenagers, the count has started to grow again, and this trend will continue for some time as the baby echo passes through that age level.
2.There are two high-profile events going on now that are drawing a lot of attention to comics -- Marvel's 9/11 projects and DK2 from DC.
3.The literary establishment at both the trade (Publisher's Weekly) and consumer (New York Times) levels has embraced graphic novels over the last year.
4.Publishers are actively working on products that are accessible to new consumers rather than simply trying to get more money out of the same customers.
5.Over-all creative quality has improved.
Other factors of variable positive impact are also present, along with some clouds on the horizon. Let's hope that the strong finish to 2001 portends an even stronger 2002.
The percentage change estimates given here are based on ICv2 estimates of initial raw orders to Diamond North America on titles scheduled for shipment in 2000 and 2001. There are some limitations to that 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, and Image 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.
The quantities above do not include advance reorders, late orders, or reorders.
Most of the titles on this chart are also distributed to Europe by Diamond UK, which can account for significant sales for the publisher, ranging from 3-20% of the US numbers. Sales by Diamond UK are not included in the numbers above.