Comic sales Q3 2010: downward trends continue

The retailer focused ICV2 website has posted the sales data for September 2010 and the numbers aren’t pretty as detailed in their overview report.

I would have to agree with the following:

Pricing may be part of the problem, but the real issue is a dearth of major hits.  Like all entertainment businesses, the comics category rises and falls on the strength of its strongest titles, and the strongest titles just aren’t that hot right now, especially in the core superhero lines of the Big Two.  Marvel took a break from major events this year and hasn’t had any big PR successes for a while, and DC has seemed like it was moving through molasses for much of the year as its New York staff waited for the other shoe to drop in the company’s ongoing reorganization.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow. DC and Marvel seem to be having a tougher time relying on old favourites to continually generate new sales… it just ends up being one rehash of the same concepts after another, that’s a huge problem with the mainstream companies… not a new one mind you, as most critics would be quick to point out.

So what’s going on? Why are comics fans dropping books?

A) It could be the economy, I get the impression that Americans have been harder hit than Canadians, so it’s unfortunate we can’t see a breakdown of Diamond’s sales to Canada and the UK to base comparisons on. With companies already reacting to the perceived negative impact that the inflated pricing they introduced a year ago by dropping prices in January 2010 we’ll see if the drop in prices brings buyers back. Somehow I don’t there will be much impact…

B) It could be the increased presence of digital comics and bootleg scan sites. Perhaps comics have been lucky so far and we are now seeing the impact that music and movie sales have had to deal with for over a decade, not to mention the effect on other print media like newspapers and magazines… file sharing, availability and digital piracy = lower sales. Lord knows every week the comics news sites are running preview after preview of upcoming comics — is that working for or against new comics sales? I would argue that the previews might be having a negative impact on sales – curbing interest instead of culling it.

C) Could it be that the genie is out of the bottle on the entertainment value of serialized comics? Is the only way to increase sales to rely on #1 issues and variants (it’s worked in the past I suppose) but they hit that well too many times every month and there’s no real excitement about variants and new issues as there once was. With the top selling comic book in September being another Wolverine #1 (and the only comic book to sell over 100,000 copies) and with another Wolverine #1 on the way soon are we now to expect that Marvel will introduce a new Wolverine #1 every other month in order to boost sales on their titles? (Well, Wolverine is Canadian and therefore dependable but there are rational limits…!)

D) I’d also hasten to point out there’s too much material coming out from Marvel and DC and that they continue to water down their successes. A third Green Lantern book, with readers expected to be following the GL themed weekly Brightest Day comic dilutes enthusiasm and budgets. With a zillion Batman books due this month and next (even though at least half of them expected to be very good) forces budget conscious fans to throw their hands up in despair and make forced cuts/decisions.

E) The quick dumping of modern books by retailers also hurts buyer enthusiasm. I might be a Flash fan, but do I want to pay $3-4 the week it comes out or would I rather wait a month or two until the copies the retailers didn’t sell end up in sale bins at a marked down price of $1-2? I see a lot more people expressing their interest in following that model and a lot more retailers despairing that it is the only way for them to move their backstock. As a person that also buys Blu-Ray movies I face the same dilemma — do I buy the week the new release arrives in stores for $30-40 or do I wait a couple of months until HMV or Futureshop or Best Buy mark it down to $10-20? It all depends on how badly I want to see the release. I think people are doing the same thing with new comics…. that is, those who buy new comics and don’t just wait for the collected editions… which is the next concern.

F) I generally prefer to wait for the collected editions of modern super-hero comics that interest me, and I’m certainly not alone. It’s becoming much more of the standard for readers to wait and order the book once a story arc is done and read it in graphic novel format. With so many books being collected so quickly, I personally end up with anywhere from 3-10 books arriving each week, so essentially I moved my comic purchasing budget away from periodicals towards graphic novels and in the long run I probably order more comics than I did when I was buying single issues.

So take your pick – one specific reason or a combination of factors. Here are the links to the lists:

‘Wolverine’ Tops September Charts (With Low Numbers)

Top 300 Comics Actual–September 2010 (Sales Estimates for September Based on Diamond Indexes and Publisher Title Data)

Looking over the list for sales featuring the work of Canadian creators, let’s take a look at the top seven:

#7 – New Avengers #4 at 77,479 featuring art by Stuart Immonen
#14 – Flash #5 at 62,063 featuring art by Francis Manapul
#37 – Birds of Prey #5 at 40,146 featuring art by Alvin Lee, cover by Alina Urusov
#40 – Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3 at 38,951 featuring art by Kaare Andrews
#47 – Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #3 at 35,817 featuring art by Dale Eaglesham
#52 – Red Robin #16 at 33,753 featuring art by Marcus To
#59 – New Mutants #17 at 31,684 featuring art by Leonard Kirk

Finally, the Top 300 Graphic Novels Actual–September 2010 (Sales Estimates for September Based on Diamond Indexes and Publisher Title Data)

Well, the Scott Pilgrim movie may have gone nowhere but SP reorders from August spill over into September’s sales of graphic novels making Bryan Lee O’Malley the Canadian star of the top graphic novels list:

#5 Scott Pilgrim 1 – 5,285 (reorder)
#11 Scott Pilgrim 2 – 3,513 (reorder)
#23 Scott Pilgrim 3 – 2,616 (reorder)
#29 Scott Pilgrim 6 – 2,315 (reorder)
#42 Siege: New Avengers HC – 1,988 art by Stuart Immonen
#57 JSA: Black Adam and Isis TP – 1,733 some art by Dale Eaglesham (previously available in HC)

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