The Big Two comic publishers, Marvel and DC, increased their title counts dramatically this fall, but dollar sales didn’t follow, according to an analysis by ICv2 based on information provided by Diamond Comic Distributors.  According to Diamond title counts, Marvel released 382 comics and graphic novels in the September – November period in 2016, up from 315 releases in 2015; while DC released 352 comics and graphic novels in Fall 2016, vs. 312 releases in 2015. 

That means the Big Two comic publishers released 107 more titles in September through November 2016 than they did in the same period in 2015 (734 vs. 627).

That’s a 21% increase in title count for Marvel and a 13% increase in releases for DC in the September through November 2016 period vs. the same period a year ago, a 17% increase overall.

During that same period, Diamond reported that North American sales of comics and graphic novels to comic stores were roughly flat:  2.2% increase in September (see “DC Wins Third Month”), 1.09% increase in October (see “Marvel Returns to #1 Comic Publisher in October”), and a 4.25% decline in November (see “Comic Sales Slide in November”).

To see whether cuts in production from smaller publishers were leaving room for the Big Two in the market, we also looked at the releases from the next three publishers (Image, IDW, and Dark Horse), and there were net cuts in production from those publishers.  The total number of titles from those companies in the September through November period went down 35, from 591 releases in 2015 to 556 in 2016 (Image and Dark Horse cut production; IDW’s increased). 

There have also been price cuts by DC to $2.99 from $3.99 with its Rebirth launch, which certainly helps, and in fact, DC sales do seem to be holding up better than some others.  We took a quick look at November numbers and found 24 DC titles with sales over 50,000 copies in November of 2016 vs. only five with sales over 50,000 copies in November of 2015.  The reverse was true for Marvel, with 19 Marvel titles over 50,000 in November 2016 vs. 32 over 50,000 in 2015.

But neither title cuts from small publishers nor price cuts from DC can completely balance out the fact that the market is being asked to absorb a much bigger increase in the number of titles than the increase in dollars.  Even with the ameliorating factors noted above, that produces downward pressure on per-title sales, and we’ve definitely heard from at least some retailers that they are seeing sell-throughs under pressure, which is producing cuts in future orders (see, for example this Talk Back from Chris Butcher of The Beguiling, see “Chris Butcher of The Beguiling Books & Art on Q1 Comics”).

Of course, all of these data points are limited, and longer-term trends take time to develop.  But production increases from the Big Two are certainly putting pressure on per-title sales this fall, especially at higher price points, and orders coming in for future months may reflect that.  Stay tuned.

For sales estimates on individual titles by month, see “ICv2’s Top 300 Comics & Top 300 GNs Index”).

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