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Thursday, January 25, 2018

20 years of comics sales


Now that the year-end results are in, we can take a look at the current state of the conventional comics industry. The data is flawed and incomplete, but vastly better than the data we use to analyze GDP or trade statistics, so it's a useful illustration of how the industry has changed over the last 20 years.

First and foremost, what this tells me is that ALL of the perceived growth in the market has been the result of price inflation. In 20 years, dollars are up 26.2 percent while unit sales are down 20.5 percent. Taken in combination, that is a very close match to the 56 percent inflation reported over the same time period for the Consumer Price Index. For all that fans understandably complain about 20-page books and the rise to $3.99 prices, the industry actually hasn't kept pace with general consumer inflation.

Second, the initial decline was the result of Marvel's failed attempt to enter the distribution business that was followed by Diamond establishing its monopoly over the comic book stores. My surmise is that the slow recovery in unit sales, from 67 million in 2001 and 69 million in 2010, is largely the consequence of Diamond using its monopoly position to force overstocking on the stores. (Remember, even though the dollars reported are retail, these units represent Diamond's sales into the stores, not actual sales to the final consumer.) This forced overstocking puts increased financial pressure on the stores and leads to periodic store failures. Given that 50 stores, representing between 1.5 and 3 percent of the total number of stores, failed in 2017 alone, that means those previous unit sale bottoms will probably be tested in 2019.

This store failure cycle will likely be exacerbated by the steep dollar decline from 2015, which is almost certainly reflective of the SJWs at the Big Two getting out of hand and reducing demand for the highest-priced comics that have been affected by their antics. Diamond's distribution policies are currently mitigating the effects of that reduced demand, but it is likely to start showing up in 2018. I would expect Top 300 unit sales to fall to 72 million next year; if they go below 70 million, things are going to get worse faster than anyone in the industry probably anticipates.

Past declines in unit sales exceeded the percentage decline in dollars. But since 2015, that relationship has been reversed, with dollars down 12.7 percent from 2015 to 10.6 for units. That means that it is the elite products that normally drive industry demand that are suffering the biggest decline.

This is an industry that is more than just ripe for disruption, it is practically screaming out for it. It's not dying, it is merely changing. And with your help, that's exactly what we're going to do: disrupt and change the industry. Note that with 494 copies sold, that would be enough to put Will Caligan's first graphic novel at #198 on the December 2017 chart. Three not-entirely-unrelated notes:
  • We're only $1,600 $800 $300 away from coloring Will Caligan's second graphic novel and three backers short of 500 have hit the 500 backers mark. We have a great colorist signed up for it, so let's nail that down today!
  • Yesterday, I received the first test print for QUANTUM MORTIS A Man Disrupted #1: By the Book. It looks great. It's not a true comic book, but a 24-page full-color trade paperback. So, it's a little smaller - the same royal octavo size as the ATOB paperback, only a LOT thinner - but is considerably more durable than the conventional comic book. And it will retail at a very competitive price of $2.99. By the way, that will not be the final cover, as we've revised it considerably and will do it glossy instead of matte as shown below.
  • As the backers know, we are making great progress on both Alt★Hero #1 and Chuck Dixon's Avalon #1. Both will be out in digital editions and possibly print editions in February.

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46 Comments:

Blogger Koanic January 25, 2018 7:14 AM  

Make comics Caucasian again.

It's the final battle of WWII in the Pacific. The Japs really did invade!

Blogger The Observer January 25, 2018 7:17 AM  

Meanwhile, our opposition at DC are busy killing themselves:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DUUZtYEVoAAbI8w.jpg (Batgirl #18)

With foes like these...

Anonymous Patron January 25, 2018 7:26 AM  

OT, but Steve Sailer on Trump quietly making IT great again:
http://www.unz.com/isteve/trump-administration-sweating-the-small-stuff-on-immigration

Blogger The Observer January 25, 2018 7:29 AM  

Addendum: I think I asked this before, but it may have been lost in the shuffle. For those who are unable to use Amazon/Kindle, will we be able to purchase comics directly from the Arkhaven website?

Blogger VD January 25, 2018 7:37 AM  

For those who are unable to use Amazon/Kindle, will we be able to purchase comics directly from the Arkhaven website?

Yes. Or from a comic book store. Or from a conventional bookstore.

Blogger The Observer January 25, 2018 7:39 AM  

Sorry, I meant the ebook versions.

Blogger Longtime Lurker January 25, 2018 7:42 AM  

$300 million in annual sales. Opportunity is knocking with a battering ram.

Blogger VD January 25, 2018 7:46 AM  

For those who are unable to use Amazon/Kindle, will we be able to purchase comics directly from the Arkhaven website?

No. Backers will get them before they go on Amazon, but KU is an integral part of our disruption strategy.

Anonymous JAG January 25, 2018 8:01 AM  

Just kinda thinking out loud here, but I'm hoping to one day have the opportunity to invest. A little money in the near future could turn into a considerable amount of money later.

Anonymous Critically Bent January 25, 2018 8:10 AM  

VD,

How does KU work with comics? I thought KU paid for page reads? Isn't that a crappy pay rate for a 24 page comic? Or is it the views of a quality product that you're wanting and not so much the money?

Blogger The Kurgan January 25, 2018 8:14 AM  

The Dark Lord brightens an otherwise rather grim day. Thanks.

Anonymous NH January 25, 2018 8:20 AM  

VD,

I've been hanging around here for around 10 years now, and even though you've had much success, this comic line has the most potential, in my humble but professional opinion. Especially given this data.

You've told me before that recognizing your momentum during endeavors is important, and I look forward to seeing data for your comics as they develop and also how you push this one forward.

In bocca al lupo

Anonymous CoolHand January 25, 2018 8:22 AM  

I do so love good news first thing in the morning.

Blogger pdwalker January 25, 2018 8:23 AM  

It’s true, the Dark Lord seeks to become the Comic King.

Anonymous Looking Glass January 25, 2018 8:26 AM  

A quick run of the numbers put the top 50 Manga volumes, in Japan, at 45 million units sold, and they have a higher average unit price. (Though I'm not sure how much higher. ~500 yen each for the most popular titles on Amazon right now.) So the top 50 in Japan is around 70% of the total revenue of the Top 300 in the USA.

The USA market has a potential customer base about 3 times larger than Japan's market. Along with those Manga Volumes being the compilation albums from the Weekly/Monthly magazines that the comics are printed in originally, thus being as much of a collectors/sharing purchase as an initial reading one.

One should always be careful when judging similar markets between very different countries, with very different reading cultures, but it's hard to miss that a much smaller country has a much larger market for their products. This has point, for a while, to how much room for disruption there is.

https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2017-12-06/top-selling-manga-in-japan-by-series-2017/.124894

If you want some real fun, here's the top 10 series of the year, with combined sales at nearly 53 million units. I'll briefly describe the list, just to also explain why Big 2 Comics are so pigeonholed.

1: One Piece - Zany action/adventure series with super-human powered nut-jobs. That are Pirates. (Will be the highest selling Graphic Story of all time in soon, passing Superman in total sales.)

2: Attack on Titan - A badly translated title for a Grim-dark action series where people are eaten by giant Titans and no one in leadership is competent. And the main character can transform into a Giant.

3: Kingdom - Fictionalized History series from ancient China.

4: My Hero Academia - Story of a boy that becomes a super hero and goes to super hero school. Big hit even in the States. 4 Volumes released in 2017, they averaged per-volume sales at over twice that of the highest selling Comic of 2017 in the States.

5: Tokyo Ghoul:re - Dark Action series with hard psychological trauma.

6: Haikyu!! - High School Boys Volleyball team's exploits. (That's not a joke. It sold over 5 million volumes.)

7: The Seven Deadly Sins - Western-style Fantasy Epic/Adventure series with a cast of crazy characters that have to save the world. Or destroy it by accident.

8: One-Punch Man - Super hero series that's also a deconstruction of the genre, as the main hero wins all of his fights in... one punch.

9: Food Wars - Food Battles w/ PG-13 porn. This is one of those "Crazy Japanese" type events, but there's a reason it's popular.

10: Magi - Western-style Action/Adventure set somewhat in an Arabian Knights world.

What do all of these have in common? Well-plotted Action or Adventure series with interesting characters that boys, of many ages, enjoy reading. (Haikyu!! is the one series with female direct female crossover appeal.) What is missing from modern comics? Well-plotted Action or Adventure series with interesting characters that boys, of many ages, enjoy reading.

Blogger AdognamedOp January 25, 2018 8:38 AM  

Got a buddy who does comic shows, and from what he tells me, they're pretty much dead zones, aside from the collector with a specific interest. And high prices are a big turn off for the younger crowd. Time for reformation!

Anonymous Frontier January 25, 2018 8:38 AM  

The upside is even bigger than people realize. Just look at the Japanese market for comics as an example of what the size of a healthy market might look like in contrast to the moribund NA market.

The 2017 NA market was $522 mil while Japan's (in 2016) was 3.91 billion. And that is with a smaller economy, 4.6 trillion GDP vs about 18 trillion for NA. Controlled for GDP the Japanese comic market is about 15 times larger.

So if the NA comic market was to become as healthy as the Japanese one, telling a variety of different genre quality stories people actually wanted, there should be around 7.3 billion of potential market growth.

Anonymous Looking Glass January 25, 2018 8:41 AM  

Last comment was a little longer than intended, but the market dynamics in all of this are quite fascinating. Yet, at the same time, they also point to why many have a much more fond memories of old comics, and those comics actually do hold up. The heroes used to be more relatable and less defined, which is almost that can't happen with big characters now. They're bound to their histories.

American Super Hero comics take a static view of the market, whereas everyone else takes a dynamic view of the market. There's a new crop of 10 year old boys to sell books to, each year, but they want something "new" and "exciting" for them to enjoy with their friends. The American comics industry stopped giving that to anyone somewhere near the turn of the millennium.

Blogger The Observer January 25, 2018 8:45 AM  

No. Backers will get them before they go on Amazon, but KU is an integral part of our disruption strategy.

Alas. May have to do good old dead tree, then.

Blogger James Dixon January 25, 2018 8:45 AM  

> OT, but Steve Sailer on Trump quietly making IT great again:

Being in IT (though hopefully I'll be retired before Trump leaves office), I cannot begin to express exactly how happy that story makes me.

Blogger VD January 25, 2018 9:01 AM  

How does KU work with comics? I thought KU paid for page reads? Isn't that a crappy pay rate for a 24 page comic? Or is it the views of a quality product that you're wanting and not so much the money?

Same as with books. It does. Yes, it's absolutely horrible. Nevertheless, it is an entirely new market, it's almost completely off-limits to the Big Two, and it serves as getting paid to advertise.

I'm also optimistic that as a result of buying Comixology, KU will eventually pay higher page rates for graphic pages than for text pages. We'll see.

Blogger James Dixon January 25, 2018 9:07 AM  

> Alas. May have to do good old dead tree, then.

The dead tree price is the same as the Kindle edition (unless you have Kindle Unlimited, in which case it's free). I don't think there's any DRM, so in theory you could buy the electronic edition from Amazon and convert it to the format of your choice. Doing so may not be trivial however.

Blogger The Observer January 25, 2018 9:16 AM  

The dead tree price is the same as the Kindle edition (unless you have Kindle Unlimited, in which case it's free). I don't think there's any DRM, so in theory you could buy the electronic edition from Amazon and convert it to the format of your choice. Doing so may not be trivial however.

The thing is that Amazon just opened its Asia-Pacific division last year - Amazon ebooks aren't sold where I live. Physical books ship just fine, though. I'm ok with buying the dead tree version, it just means it'll be a little inconvenient waiting for the shipping and finding a place to store everything. Not too big a deal.

Given the way things are going, I'll have plenty months' worth of reading from my backer rewards before I have to worry about other stuff; I'll pick up QM and anything else that catches my interest once I start buying the paperbacks. It's a bit of a pity I can't buy electronic versions straight from Arkhaven, but c'est la vie. Maybe Amazon will open up Asia-Pac to Kindle before the reading runs out.

Anonymous Causal Lurker January 25, 2018 9:59 AM  

Following up on Looking Glass' comment - it's the lack of good characters (evil, good or enigma) and the absence of good or even decent story lines, that makes a bigger market than expected (say, 8 to 38). I did some quiet market prep for Alt Hero with a number of guys I work with, over lunch or after work, for the past couple months. They all miss real comics or graphic novels, with plots and stories they liked. One guy avoids all the new Marvel movies becasue there's nothing there. His eyes got big when I mentioned that Chuck Dixon wrote Avalon and was building a cityscape, for the coming Alt Hero.

All of them have sons, and grouse about the lack of good stuff for their boys to read. They got the point of good writing and great story, then good graphics to go with it. I showed the Martel teaser, showed the Dynamique/Captain Europa samples. The EU sample got laughs because they live or see that kind of man and woman drama IRL; very believable situation for the captain, there. I showed Rebel. Explained Rebel and triggering - then demanded to show again. They like the triggering, but will need to keep the peace; fine, lots of characters are coming. They appreciate why Rebel is drawn that way. Of course Dad will have to review and refer to some of the comics, for Dad reasons.

Summary: Defined characters with strengths and flaws, great story and writing, good graphics, real or ideal men/women - cool, where do I get them? When do I get them by a channel I'm already familiar with, without need of stepping in a comic book store? - Drool slightly -

Blogger James Dixon January 25, 2018 10:05 AM  

> The thing is that Amazon just opened its Asia-Pacific division last year - Amazon ebooks aren't sold where I live.

How's that work? Does Amazon somehow block you from going to amazon.com and ordering with a credit card? I know my wife has ordered from amazonUK before and not had any problems, but those were hard copies.

Blogger YIH January 25, 2018 10:28 AM  

First and foremost, what this tells me is that ALL of the perceived growth in the market has been the result of price inflation.
Same thing's happened with movies, total number of tickets sold peaked in '02 and has been going steadily down ever since.
The difference is average ticket price has gone up by $3 each.

Anonymous E Deploribus Unum January 25, 2018 11:03 AM  

It's a bit of a pity I can't buy electronic versions straight from Arkhaven, but c'est la vie.

My problem too. Amazon.ca has Quantum Mortis, but only Amazon.com carries Right Ho, Jeeves. Can't get the Kindle version in Canada, and can't import it even using a U.S. VPN because Amazon has my actual address.

So dead tree it is (though to be honest I would have bought both in time).

Anonymous Brick Hardslab January 25, 2018 11:46 AM  

How do variant sizes do sales wise? When I collected I avoided them out of unfamiliarity. They smacked of off brand and foreign publishers.

Now I'm more sophisticated but are fifty something men the market? No one wants Arkhaven to succeed more than I do. After a year and change of personal losses I want a real win even Vicariously.

What's the strategy too get kids hooked?


Blogger James Dixon January 25, 2018 11:47 AM  

> My problem too.

I'm sure you can talk to some kindhearted Ilk who would be willing to order it for a "friend" and email you the copy. I won't be ordering it till it's actually released.

Anonymous Brick Hardslab January 25, 2018 11:56 AM  

Here's what my dream is. A martial arts series like Badger, Kung fu, or Iron Fist. A post apocalyptic like winter world, scout, or even Kamandi. A space opera like galaxy's edge or sword and planet and a Conan type like warlord, Conan etc. Just hoping

Anonymous Valiant January 25, 2018 11:56 AM  

@JAG I have been interested in investing since Castalia was a wee little baby. I think there are draconian issues with taxes and other laws, that make it better for Castalia to keep it in-house.

I too believed in Cadtalia, and wanted to have my share of eventual TOR ownership.

I would hope that if Catalina changes this policy, Brainstormers, vfm. Ilk and Dread Ilk, would be considered.

I believe in Castalia back at its infancy, and it's clear that it will reach its goals in time.

Anonymous vfm #0202 January 25, 2018 12:08 PM  

I have a few grand laying around that I'd rather risk on Arkhaven than on crypto. Getting it out of USD seems like a good idea.

Blogger Nate73 January 25, 2018 12:15 PM  

"Past declines in unit sales exceeded the percentage decline in dollars. But since 2015, that relationship has been reversed, with dollars down 12.7 percent from 2015 to 10.6 for units. That means that it is the elite products that normally drive industry demand that are suffering the biggest decline."

I don't understand this, can someone explain it to me?

Blogger VD January 25, 2018 12:21 PM  

What's the strategy too get kids hooked?

Free on KU. Hard to beat the price.

Anonymous Looking Glass January 25, 2018 12:35 PM  

@32 vfm #0202

We probably could have funded the entire Alt-Hero project if we'd started a ComicsCoin back during the campaign, lol.

Anonymous WaterBoy January 25, 2018 12:38 PM  

Nate73 @33: "I don't understand this, can someone explain it to me?"

Sales are rated in terms of number of units sold and in dollars sold. Cheaper products like regular comics would have to sell more units to make up the same amount of dollars that fewer units of graphic novels can generate.

If I understand it correctly, the part you quoted is saying that declines in unit sales which exceeded declines in dollars prior to 2015 were attributed more to lower-priced products, but that after 2015 it was largely driven by declines in higher-priced products such as graphic novels.

Anonymous KPP January 25, 2018 1:16 PM  

I haven't bought comics since my youth in the 1970s, so I was surprised by the comment that a comic is $3.99 today. In my day, my brothers and I were primarily DC guys, reading Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel (Shazam) comics, though we went through a fair amount of Dell titles as well. Marvel wasn't big on our list until they got the Star Wars rights. We also read a lot of Ritchie Rich and Archie.

Single issues went for 25¢ to 35¢ when I was buying and the big 68-page Superman Family, Batman Family, and Marvel Family titles went from 60¢ to $1.00.

Using the inflation calculator here: https://westegg.com/inflation/ a 30¢ single issue comic is worth $1.31 in today's dollars. The big 68-page giants at $1.00 are the equivalent of $4.38 in today's dollars.

I know there are differences in quality of paper used today, but you'd think that there would be reduced costs in other areas to offset this. Also, are comics even a kid thing anymore or are they all directed at adults?

Anyway, found this article about comic pricing that was interesting: https://www.newsarama.com/32826-what-price-is-too-high-retailers-talk-pricing-2017-state-of-the-business.html

Anonymous KPP January 25, 2018 1:28 PM  

How do variant sizes do sales wise? When I collected I avoided them out of unfamiliarity. They smacked of off brand and foreign publishers.

Foreign publishers, yes, as many Japanese manga are published is small sizes and have very good sales from what I read. The below info from 2016 shows growth of 26%. The charts for 2016 in the second link for the industry don't indicate if manga are considered in the North American totals.

https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2017-10-14/icv2-u.s-manga-sales-up-29-percent-in-2016/.122717

http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/industrywide/2016-industrywide.html

Anonymous E Deploribus Unum January 25, 2018 2:27 PM  

How do variant sizes do sales wise?

We're talking about 1/8" shorter and 1/8" less wide. They will still display virtually identically in comic shops, be able to be bagged the same way, boxed the same way, and have the advantage of square binding, which is hella classier. As someone who once ran a comic store, I see no downside.

Anonymous E Deploribus Unum January 25, 2018 3:37 PM  

Color!!!!!

Blogger The Observer January 25, 2018 4:07 PM  

How's that work? Does Amazon somehow block you from going to amazon.com and ordering with a credit card? I know my wife has ordered from amazonUK before and not had any problems, but those were hard copies.

They simply refuse to sell. "This item is unavailable in your country."

Like I said, hard copies are perfectly fine. It's ebooks they are wonky about.

Blogger James Dixon January 25, 2018 7:58 PM  

> They simply refuse to sell. "This item is unavailable in your country."

Thanks. I had never encountered the problem, so I had no idea how they handled it.

OpenID paulmurray January 25, 2018 11:37 PM  

Where can we get the raw numbers underneath this graph? I always think that growth-type data like this makes more sense on a log graph, and it would be interesting to plot inflation, and perhaps also unit price and total inflation-adjusted.

Blogger The Foolproof January 26, 2018 3:10 AM  

Question for the Dark Lord: would you ever publish manga if you could find an interested artist from Japan (or an unusually talented gaijin)? Geeks in my cohort (millennials) tend to prefer it to Western comics.

Blogger VD January 26, 2018 8:33 AM  

Where can we get the raw numbers underneath this graph?

From Comichron.

Blogger Anne January 26, 2018 2:12 PM  

At least for the ones Vox is publishing, he just mentioned that they are actually paperback quality rather than (cheaper) comic book quality. That could affect the reasonableness of the pricing.

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