Comics Sales to Comics Shops
Graphs tabulating comic books and graphic novels bought by comics shops in North America from 1996-present
Diamond Comic Distributors, the sales agent for most North American comics publishers serving the comics shop "direct market," reports monthly market shares for its sales of comic books, trade paperbacks, and magazines Using those ratios and publisher information detailing the exact amounts Diamond sold, Comichron projects below the overall sales for each month since January 2003:
Estimated Overall Sales of Comic Books, Trade Paperbacks, and Magazines from Diamond Comic Distributors to Comics Shops in North America
As the calculation includes non-comics magazines, the true figure is slightly lower each month.
The above figures include several important components. Much of the comics industry's sales come from comic books in periodical form.
Beginning in the 1980s, comic book distributors Capital City Distribution and, later, Diamond, began reporting indexed unit sales for the comic books they sold. While the distributors did not make the actual sales figures public, publishers often provided analysts with issue counts ordered by those distributors, thus unlocking the entire sales chart. Beginning in September 1996, I began producing estimates based on Diamond's indexed sales; for the period up until April 1997, I also included actual sales of Heroes World Distribution, which had for a time served as Marvel's sole distributor.
The chart below depicts that analysis:
Comic Books Ordered by Comics Shops in North America (in units)
The overall unit total is represented by the white line; the component portions represented by the top four publishers appear below. A dashed regression line indicates the general trend across the entire period.
The tabulations are not complete for each month in a couple of ways. Diamond only announces sales of its Top 300 comic books each month; while this accounts for the vast majority of new comic books, it also sells smaller numbers of other comics (including reorders of comics shipped in earlier months). The Heroes World period (late 1996-early 1997) is larger in part because the lists for that period are closer to 350 issues — the Diamond 300 plus Marvel's titles.
Diamond is also not the only distributor of comic books, although it ships the vast majority. Small reorder distributors such as Cold Cut and FM International have participated in the market — and Diamond's sales do not account for the comics sold returnably through the newsstand market. Again, though, the above figures account for most of the comic book units moving through the system.
Another caveat: Before February 2003, Diamond was reporting preorders of comics sold in its Top 300 list, rather than the actual final numbers of copies shipped. This means that the pre-2003 figures shown could be higher than they actually were (since many comics were ordered that never came out) or lower (since reorders were not made public). The margin of error plummets in the Final Order era; the figures for 2003 and later are much more reliable.
By multiplying the number of units sold with the price of each individual comic book, we arrive at the dollars represented by the top-seller lists:
Comic Books Ordered by Comics Shops in North America (in dollars)
As this calculation is derived from the unit reports, it requires the same caveats. But it should be apparent here how the increase in unit prices has impacted the trendline.
In February 1998, Diamond began publishing indexed orders for its trade paperbacks — graphic novels and bound reprint collections of comic books. The dollar amounts represented by those sales appear here:
Trade Paperbacks Ordered by Comics Shops in North America (in dollars)
The amount of information Diamond has released has increased over time, affecting the sizes of the totals depicted above. Diamond published only its Top 10 for the first two months, followed by the Top 25 until February 2002. The list then expanded to 50 items until February 2004, when the list grew again to include the Top 100. Finally, in November 2008, the list grew to include the Top 300.
By then, the dollars represented by trade paperbacks not on the list were larger than the amount on the list — such was the size of the expanding backlist library. But the chart still provides a useful look into how the most popular trade paperbacks have fared over time.
I do not provide a unit count chart for trades, as trades vary widely in price and overall dollars are more representative of the market's health.
Adding the Top 300 dollars lists seen above and the Top Trade Paperbacks yields the final grouping:
Top-Selling Comic Books and Trade Paperbacks Ordered by Comics Shops in North America (in dollars)
This grouping was the largest calculation derivable from the Diamond charts from 1999 to 2002 — and it still accounts for more than half the overall total.
These graphics are updated semiannually. For charts depicting the numbers to the beginning of the data set, click here.