Although the shutdown of Diamond Comic Distributors’ new product operations has stopped its flow of new comics and graphic novels to comic stores (see “Diamond Halting Distribution of New Product”), the graphic novel business was still functioning at a fairly high level in the book channel through April 4, according to NPD BookScan numbers for March (3/1-4/4) provided to ICv2.  Graphic novel sales are taking place through an unusual mix of retailers and publishers, with the coronavirus crisis shutting some down while others are taking advantage of the circumstances and enjoying higher sales. 

BookScan numbers we reported on the ICv2 Pro site over the past few days show that sales of the top 20 adult graphic novels in March were similar to sales of the top 20 titles in March 2019 (see “Pro: March 2020 NPD BookScan – Top 20 Adult Graphic Novels with Actual Sales”), while sales of the top 20 kids graphic novel titles were actually up substantially over the previous year (see “Pro: March 2020 NPD BookScan – Top 20 Kids Graphic Novels with Actual Sales”).

At the publisher level, we’d previously reported that Viz (see “Viz Continues Shipping Manga to Book Channel”) and Dark Horse (see “Dark Horse Producing for Book Channel”) were continuing to ship new titles to the book channel, while we know that Image and Dynamite were not, due to the shutdown of Diamond Book Distributors (see “DBD Confirmed Closed”). We reached out to the remainder of the top seven publishers in comic stores to see how they were handling their graphic novel releases. 

BOOM! Studios and IDW Publishing are both continuing to publish new graphic novels and distributing them through the book channel, and both provided ICv2 with statements on their decisions, which emphasized that comic retailers could also access their titles through book distribution.

BOOM! Studios President, Publishing and Marketing Filip Sablik responded on behalf of the company.  "We are evaluating our 2020 release schedule to best balance the needs of our team, partners, and customers while following guidelines from local, state, and federal government officials in this unprecedented time,” he said in an email.  “At the same time, many distributors in the book market-- including BOOM! Studios' distributor Simon & Schuster--are still fulfilling orders. We currently plan to continue shipping new graphic novels to the book channel, and retailers with accounts at Simon & Schuster, or at other wholesalers like Ingram, may continue to order new and current BOOM! Studios original graphic novels or collections, in addition to ordering previously released BOOM! Studios books from Diamond Comic Distributors.”

IDW also provided a response via email.  “IDW Publishing continues to make necessary adjustments to adapt to a rapidly changing global situation,” the statement said. “We outlined a plan recently for the Direct Market that included returnable terms for retailers, the suspension of May releases, and a reduction of our overall publishing line through July. At this time, we would like to clarify that the suspension of May releases will apply specifically to individual comic book issues. IDW Publishing will continue to release graphic novels and collections corresponding to previously solicited release dates, barring any distribution disruptions due to COVID-19. IDW graphic novels are distributed to the book trade via Penguin Random House, a distribution option that is available to comic retailers in the temporary absence of traditional Direct Market fulfillment.”

Neither Marvel nor DC responded to multiple inquiries on this topic. We took a look at both publishers’ current graphic novel releases to see what was visible.  DC is continuing to release some new graphic novel titles not distributed by Diamond and rescheduling others.  For example, Gotham High, which Diamond was scheduled to distribute April 1, is currently available at both and Amazon, although Amazon says it can’t deliver until May 1(!).

Several other titles, including Batman Vol. 12: City of Bane Part 1 and Batman TMNT III, are being released on their originally scheduled dates this month.

Another April title, Batman: Kings of Fear, is now being released in August, according to the Amazon and websites.   

Marvel is also releasing at least some graphic novel titles not distributed by Diamond into the book channel.  Ghost Rider: King of Hell and Conan: Book of Thoth, which were due to be released April 1 by Diamond, are being released this Tuesday, April 14, in the book channel, according to the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.   

So of the top seven graphic novel publishers in comic stores, five (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, and BOOM!) are continuing to release at least some new graphic novel titles into the book channel; only the DBD publishers (Image, Dynamite) have totally shut down their graphic novel shipping.  Meanwhile the two largest graphic novel publishers, Scholastic and Viz, are both enjoying substantial sales in the book channel, according to BookScan charts. 

Where are these books being sold? During the first two weeks of March, brick-and-mortar stores were open everywhere except in Washington state, where the first cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus appeared.  Then as stay-at-home orders started to hit more locations the week of March 16, brick and mortar stores selling books enjoyed something of a surge, according to anecdotal reports, as people tried to stock up on reading material before they were forced into quarantine.   What remains now are a small minority of brick and mortar bookstores (for example, as of about 10 days ago, Barnes & Noble still had 120 stores open, see “Barnes & Noble Has 120 Stores Open”), mass merchants including Walmart and Target, which remain open because they sell food and other essential goods, and some online retailers.

Even mighty Amazon has been humbled by the coronavirus crisis, with shipping delays of several weeks now common on graphic novels as the online giant focuses on essential product categories and de-emphasizes both its own orders for non-essential goods and its handling of non-essential goods for third-party retailers (see “Amazon Ends Non-Essential Incoming Shipments”).  Meanwhile the Barnes & Noble website and the websites of Walmart and Target (both of which offer more graphic novel titles than are available in their stores) are all shipping graphic novels with normal fulfillment times. 

Graphic novels are now the dominant form for comics material, sold in far more outlets than periodical comics are, so perhaps it’s not surprising that in a crisis that’s the part of the business that’s still functioning at some level.  And it’s great to see a demand surge, with graphic novels apparently a key way for both kids and adults to spend time as they’re quarantined.  Let’s hope that independent stores can regain their share of that business in the coming weeks and months.