Beginning this month, we're beginning a new phase in our reporting on top comic and graphic novel sales. Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest distributor of comics in the U.S., has changed its sales reporting methodology; it's switched to basing its relative sales indexes on actual sales instead of preorders. They've done this because Marvel Comics, one of its largest suppliers, recently altered the way it's taking orders from retailers to a shorter order cycle than the previous monthly Previews method (see 'New Marvel Trade Terms Rationalize Order Cycle'). Because Diamond felt that the advance order numbers no longer accurately reflected comparable numbers on all of its publishers (since most publishers still took orders far in advance, but Marvel encouraged retailers to place or alter orders closer to ship date) it made the change to reporting relative sales on comic and graphic novel titles based on actual calendar month sales. Accordingly, we've got to follow suit with our estimates of comic sale quantities. For March 2003, we've reported our estimates of March sales by Diamond U.S. on the Top 300 Comics ('Top 300 Comics Actual--March 2003') and the Top 50 Graphic Novels ('Top 50 Graphic Novels Actual--March 2003').
We are using a similar methodology to the one we've used in the past to estimate comic sales. We use the Diamond indexes and publisher sales data to estimate a sales number for Batman (the anchor title Diamond uses in its calculations), and use that number and the indexes to estimate Diamond's sales on the remaining titles.
One unfortunate aspect of this change in methodology is the lack of comparability between the new and old dollar numbers, which means that as things currently stand we will not be able to provide year over year data until March 2004.
Because Diamond provided both kinds of numbers (preorders and actual sales) for March, we've been able to compare estimated preorders to estimated actual sales. This shows us advance orders plus reorders in the first few weeks. We looked at both piece comparisons on specific titles in the top 25 comics and graphic novels and dollar comparisons for the top 300 comic titles and the top 50 graphic novel titles. These numbers were dramatically different for comics and graphic novels for both comparisons. Advance reorders and reorders made up 4-5% of comic sales, and around 30% of graphic novel sales. This probably reflects the influence of three different factors, including the higher cover prices on graphic novels, which cause retailers to order them more thinly and reorder more heavily; the longer shelf lives of graphic novels, which cause retailers to reorder them over longer periods; and the macro trend away from comic periodical sales and toward book format products.
We did not attach particular significance to switches in rankings between preorders and actual sales, or to differences in percentage reorders between individual titles because of the influence of when a title was released during the month. Specifically, if a title was released early in the month, Diamond's sales indexes reflect three weeks of reorders, while if a title was released late in the month, only one week of reorders is reflected. But of note because of their size were the reorders on Batman #613 and GI Joe #15, both at around 9% or double the average.
Watch ICv2 for our estimates of Diamond sales on comics and graphic novels in the coming months, and for our analysis of what those numbers mean.