ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp presented the ICv2 White Paper at New York Comic Con at an invitation-only event on Thursday (see “ICv2 Hosts White Paper Happy Hour”), reporting on the latest trends in the comics, graphic novel, and digital markets.

The title of the presentation, “The Good Times Roll On, Mostly,” reflects a market that’s doing well.  Comics and graphic novel properties have the highest profile they’ve had since the early 50s, and while the sales now don’t compare to that period, they’re very good overall, and it’s a good time to be in the business.  The “Mostly” part reflects some challenges that have hit the comic store market in the last few months, which we’re hoping are short-lived.

Looking back at 2014, manga sales grew again last year, stringing together two positive years in a row for the first time since 2006-2007.  It wasn’t big growth, but it was solid, and sales are slowly increasing again behind Attack on Titan as well as perennials like Naruto.

ICv2 also did its annual analysis of the number of graphic novel releases in 2014, doing a count of new releases as documented by Diamond Comic Distributors’ weekly list of products shipped to comic stores.  The overall number of graphic novel releases increased about 8% last year, to 3377, from 3126 the year before. This is the biggest number of releases since 2008, which had a lot more manga titles.  The category with the biggest increase was in the number of manga releases, which hit nearly 800 last year, up 25% from the year before.  Kids graphic novel releases were up to a new high, with Diamond distributing 400 titles in 2014, up 14%.

Looking at 2015, there are some troubling short term trends in the comic stores.  Retailers are still pretty positive about the market overall, but problems at the Big Two comic publishers, Marvel and DC, are driving sales down.  At DC, the problems started with the company’s move to the west coast.  The two month Convergence event sold in strong, but had weak sell-through, and sales on DC’s post-Convergence titles have also been weak.  While DC has some bigger titles in the pipe, including Dark Knight 3, right now its editorial product is just not selling as well as hoped.

On the Marvel side, the core title of the company’s big 2015 event, Secret Wars, is late, and with tight editorial continuity, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.  In this case, delays on the core book means Marvel can’t put out the rest of the Secret Wars titles on time either, which has led to scores of delays over the past few months (see “Delays Hit ‘Secret Wars’”).  The last couple weeks of September, for example, had very light Marvel releases.  The delays are having two impacts on sales:  not only are books late, which pushes sales into later periods, but Marvel is also shedding readers for the Secret Wars titles other than the core title. There’s also concern about the planned rolling start for launches scheduled after the Secret Wars event:  the rolling start has been complicated by Secret Wars delays.

We also took a look at some 2015 graphic novel trends, for which we broke down a large sample of graphic novel sales for the first eight months of the year in both comic stores and bookstores into four categories—manga, author, superhero, and kids.

Sales on kids graphic novel titles were up 35% in the first eight months of 2015, with a big part of the increase due to one word:  Raina.  There are a lot of other good things happening in the kids graphic novel space, from a wide variety of publisheers (IDW, Dark Horse, Papercutz, Viz, BOOM, Abrams, to name a few) but Raina Telgemeier has become a cross-over superstar in ways that we see only rarely in the graphic novel business.  Her popularity, albeit with a different audience, is comparable to creators like Neil Gaiman and Marjane Satrapi.

Manga sales are up 13% in 2015, author (creator-owned) titles were up 6%, and superhero titles were up 4%, with a 9% over-all growth rate in graphic novel sales in the first eight months of 2015.

There are some headwinds for the digital comics market, which went from hypergrowth in the first part of the decade to slower growth last year.  And now it’s slowing more this year—our reports range from slight growth to declines.  There are a number of factors driving this change, including the recent softness in new comic sales, the overall trend of ebook growth slowing, reduced catalogue sales as new digital consumers complete the building of their digital backlist libraries, and slower device growth.

We’re still bullish on the opportunities for digital, especially for broadening the readership of comics, and there are some positive trends in that regard.  ComiXology announced at the ICv2 event that 30% of its new customers are women, compared to 20% just two years ago.  We also see broader and broader content available digitally, with more manga, more bandes dessinees, and more author titles hitting the market every month.  There’s also an opportunity, still mostly nascent, for kids comics in digital formats.

Despite the problems in one sector of the market, we’re still positive overall.  Star Wars is going to be a huge phenomenon and Marvel appears to be ready with numerous collections.  DC is launching its new Dark Knight series in two formats, which gives the opportunity to reach different kinds of customers.  There’s still a strong graphic novel environment, with growth across channels and product categories.  And the fact that the kids market is growing rapidly, especially for girls, gives a strong runway for future growth.