Recently, I happened to look at the sales charts for graphic
novels for April 2007 (courtesy of icv2.com ). I don’t do this every month, but I like to check in from time to time to
see how the industry is doing. I find it
helps to have facts in order to fend off the Chicken Littles and other dark
prophets of doom. I found this month’s
sales chart to be particularly interesting and I thought I’d share a few
thoughts with the rest of you.
The big news this month is Civil War. Marvel wrapped up their big crossover in March and started releasing Civil War-related trade paperbacks in April. And Civil War dominated. The main trade, Civil War itself, brought in 19,215 sales for the month. That makes it not only the biggest graphic novel in April, but it also makes it the biggest debuting graphic novel of the year by nearly 10,000 copies. For the sake of comparison, the top-selling trades in January, February and March were Astonishing X-Men Vol. 3, Civil War: Road to Civil War and 300 with sales of 8.874, 9,340 and 8,726 respectively. It’s safe to say that Civil War killed the competition.
However, the good news for Marvel doesn’t stop with the main
title. The Civil War tie-ins and related books took the top four spots and six
of the top eight in April. Thanks mainly
to the many Civil War books released,
April 2007 experienced a whopping 44% growth over the sales of April 2006.
I think this underscores a point I’ve made often over the years: single issue comics and trade paperbacks are not in competition with each other; instead, they are complementary pieces of the same market. The biggest selling single-issue comic of 2006, Civil War, becomes the biggest selling trade paperback of 2007. The sale of singles drives the sale of trades.
This isn’t unusual. We see similar things in the music industry, in which musicians with the best-selling singles are often the same musicians with the best-selling albums. We see similar things in the movie industry, in which the biggest blockbusters in theatres also become the best-sellers in video rentals and DVDs. Admittedly, there’s not a perfect correlation. Some artists sell comparatively better in singles than they do in albums. Some movies, especially family films, sell better in the secondary market of DVD sales than in the primary market of the theatre. But there is a high correlation- the best-selling singles come from the best-selling albums, the best-selling DVDs come from the best-selling movies.
And the same is true in comics: the best-selling comics make for the best-selling trades. There’s not a perfect correlation. But it’s close enough to show that the singles market is capable of driving the trade market and to show that the two formats work together in a complementary fashion, rather than work against each other competitively.
After a top four filled with Civil War related titles, the next two trades were All-Star Superman Vol. 1 and Fruits Basket I don’t have anything interesting to say about All-Star Superman right now, except to note that it’s another title that does well in single issues before doing well in trades. However, I was intrigued by the presence of Fruits Basket, which happened to be the highest-selling Manga of the month. Vol. 6.
A number of years ago, Manga titles were selling at an exponential rate and some observers predicted that Manga would completely overtake superhero comics. It hasn’t happened yet. Manga is a strong presence -after all, Fruits Basket was the sixth best selling trade of the month- but it isn’t the dominant presence it was predicted to be. There were six Manga titles in the top 50, ranking from Fruits Basket at #6 to Inu Yasha Vol. 29 at #45. We see a similar picture in January, with 7 Manga titles in the top 50, in February with 5 and in March with 4 (although 2 more charted at #51 and #53). Some titles, like Death Note, are growing in sales from one volume to the next. Others, like Inu Yasha and Battle Club, are experiencing small declines. Manga is a steady seller, but it no longer appears to be growing exponentially.
Of course, that’s only looking at the sales charts for the direct market and Manga is a much bigger presence in the bookstores than it is in the local comic shop. I’m certainly not the expert in this area but, thankfully, I don’t have to be. Brian Hibbs, a retailer and columnist at Newsarama has already done the research. The best-selling Manga title of 2006 was Naruto Vol. 9, which sold 101, 457 copies. That’s pretty impressive. It’s even more impressive to know that the 12 volumes of Naruto ranked 1-11 and 16 for the year (the final volume was released in December and ranked 16th with only one month’s worth of sales). The 12 volumes combined to sell 917,115 trades or an average of 76,426 per volume. That’s some pretty hefty sales.
However, it still doesn’t match the best-selling comic book. The seven issues of Civil War have combined to sell 2,154,641 copies so far. That’s an average of 307,805 copies per issue. Now, that’s not the complete picture. We didn’t look at how well Naruto sold in comic book shops. And we aren’t able to know how well Civil War sold via newsstands. But the partial picture we have shows us this: Civil War sold better in comic book shops than Naruto sold in bookstores.
I didn’t write this to denigrate Manga. I have nothing against Manga and I hope it continues to sell well. But the idea that Manga sales completely outstrip superhero sales is not borne out by the numbers. Manga outsells comic books in bookstores. Comic books outsell Manga in comic book stores. And, currently, comic books sell better in comic book stores than Manga sells in bookstores. Yet, I think that’s okay. Once again, I don’t think that superhero comic books and Manga are competing with each other. They’re part of the same medium, and what’s good for one isn’t automatically bad for the other. After all, the period of exponential growth for Manga happened to coincide with a period of sustained growth for comic books. They can both be healthy at the same time.
Earlier I noted that single issue sales tend to drive graphic novel sales. However, I will readily admit that there isn’t a perfect correlation. Some titles simply sell proportionally better in trade paperbacks and digests. Exhibit A is Runaways. The #5 trade in April was All-Star Superman which sold 6,675 copies. The #9 trade (and the third non-Civil War trade) was Runaways which sold 5,420 copies. In single issues, All-Star Superman averages sales of about 110,000 copies. Runaways averages about 25,000 copies. Yet despite that large difference in single issue sales, the All-Star Superman trade sold only 1,255 more copies than the Runaways trade.
Admittedly, that number is misleading. For one thing, this is the $20 hardcover of All-Star Superman and the $8 digest of Runaways so we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples. Presumably, All-Star Superman will sell some more copies of a soft-cover trade somewhere down the line (I know I’m waiting for one). And, presumably, not as many people would have shelled out $20 for a Runaways hardcover as were willing to shell out for an $8 digest. However, it does show that certain titles have a stronger secondary market presence than others. Runaways is one of them. Looking further down the list, the Runaways digest outsold a volume of Batman: Detective and Wolverine: Origins despite selling significantly fewer copies of single issues.
The Walking Dead
The next thing to catch my eye was barely in the top half of
the sales charts. It was the 43rd
best selling comic of the month: Walking
Dead Vol. 6. What is noteworthy is
not that Walking Dead Vol. 6 was
sitting at #43, but that Walking Dead
Volumes 1, 5 and 2 were also on the chart at numbers 65, 80 and 96. And it wasn’t just April. I looked at the earlier sales charts as
well. Volumes 1, 3, 4 and 5 all charted
in January and again in March. Volumes 1
and 5 both charted in February. Somewhat
quietly, Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead
has become one of the most consistent selling trades in the market.
These trades aren’t simply selling in the first month of
their release, and maybe the second, before fading away from the charts. No, they’re charting again and again, selling
more than 1,000 extra copies month after month. I have seen this before. I have
seen series that would ship multiple volumes month after month after month, but
they were series like Swamp Thing and
Sandman Now, apparently, the Walking Dead has entered their ranks. Furthermore, the Walking Dead is currently outdoing them as no other series- Swamp Thing, not Sandman is shipping multiple volumes month after month. There are some other consistent sellers, but
they’re Manga or single volume trades like The
Watchmen or 300. Even so, it’s almost odd to think of the Walking Dead as a title that sells as
consistently as The Watchmen and 300.
I mentioned in my last column that I had grown bored with The Walking Dead. I may not be reading the title anymore, but I can't help but be impressed by its success.
Originally Published at CaptainComics.us, on June 1, 2007