Comics Sales to Comics Shops
Graphs tabulating comic books and graphic novels bought by comics shops in North America from 2003-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 the start of 2003:
Estimated Overall Sales of Comic Books, Trade Paperbacks, and Magazines from Diamond Comic Distributors to Comics Shops in North America
The dataset currently ends in March 2020, which was the last month in which Diamond released the statistics necessary to compute overall sales. 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, beginning with February 2003, which was the first month in which Diamond reported actual copies shipped. Previous data was based on preorders, which included many comic books that never came out. There is a gap from March 2020 to June 2021, due to Diamond not reporting the underlying data. The sales for DC comics beginning in June 2021 that are included here projected, as they were distributed by Lunar Distribution in that time:
Top 300 Comics Each Month 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 2021 figures are actually lower than what they were in reality, as we do not have the ability to capture DC's reorders at present.
Note that these are only the Top 300 comics each month; a small but significant percentage of sales comes in under 300th place. Also, the 300th place level rose over the course of the data set, as more publishers participated. See sales for the 300th place comic book across time.
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.
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:
Top 300 Comic Books Ordered by Comics Shops in North America (in dollars)
Again, it is missing era from the COVID pandemic, when Diamond did not publish full statistics. 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. In February 2003, final orders began being reported. 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. 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. The data set ends in March 2020, when Diamond suspended reporting due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
We 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)