It seems to me that the graphic novel and book store market is fast becoming the future of the comic book industry. It is happening whether we want it to happen or not and both Marvel and DC are certainly very aware of that market place.
Let’s review some of the numbers and when you review the top 300 sellers (estimates for March 2008) a few things show up that are astonishing to me.
First the bottom two books were terrific books and if the number of comic stores is around 3,000, then some stories did not even order one copy of these books. How could any ever have a chance to try the book out?
Next look at some excellent books and see what there sales numbers are, Goon is only selling a little over 10,000 units.
Next I choose books breaking certain sales marks, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 and we had to get to #46 to break 40,000.
A book I consider to be the best super hero book being published right now, All Star Superman sold only 73,552.
Thor shows that only 2 books sold over 100,000 copies in a country of 300,000,000. If you consider that only 1/5 of that number is a viable market and that you sold at best 125,000 units you now have maybe a 2% market penetration.
Rank Title Company Sales #
300 Circle Image 2,110
299 Cemetery Blues Image 2,125
239 Pax Romana Image 4,793
213 Locke & Key IDW 6,122
196 Scalped DC 7,001
161 Goon Dark Horse 10,396
98 War Is Hell Marvel 20,367
65 Star Wars Leg Dark Horse 30,219
46 Thunderbolts Marvel 40,161
15 All Star Superm DC 73,552
3 Thor Marvel 97,462
I know overall sales have increased in general and other stuff, but I can analyze this stuff in other ways and show you that in the long term the number of regular monthly comic book readers is declining.
I do not have access to all the book sales numbers but let’s face it Watchmen has shown the industry that a monthly comic book can sell like hotcakes for a month, but a good trade or hard cover can sell forever.
Vertigo is actively seeking original graphic novel material. Do you think Inconegro sold well at comic stories, I don’t, do you believe it was made for that market? I don’t.
Look at the type of mini-series being produced. “Spider-Man with Great Responsibility”, it is commissioned as a mini-series so the fans can underwrite the production, but the true goal is a graphic novel that sits on the book shelf at Barnes and Noble and can sell for the next five years. The type of story is the key to see what it is being produced for, this is Spider-man year one, that has no impact on anything else, but can be a book to introduce you to the character for years to come.
The “Last Son” story in Action Comics is looking to be that type of evergreen product for DC. I’m convinced that is why they did not care about the lateness of the book. They see it as a book that sits in book stores and sells forever. That story can be carved out and has Richard Donner’s name as an author and has the same artist all on the entire story line.
Image solicitations are full of original graphic novels as are many independents. It is really starting to make economic sense to move to publishing as a graphic novel first. You have Diamond and then book distributors to help sell your product and can get an Amazon listing as opposed to sitting on the book shelf at the local comic book store only.
This is not to knock the stores with so many titles out there and the addiction to the weekly income stream makes the stores almost all work from the some cycling sheets or ordering type system. Book A sold 50 units the last three months, so I will order 52 copies. Book B has sold out at 40 copies the last three months I will order 45, book C I do not know from Adam, it is not from DC or Marvel, it does not tie into anything and I do not know the creators, I’ll give it a chance and order 1 copy because a customer ordered it. Look at the diamond catalogue the stores are deciding on a ton of products and can not afford to order all of it. So the small guy gets a customers attention and one person orders it, it never sees the self. If orders are under 2,000, Diamond may refuse to carry it, the product goes to print on demand or disappears all together.
The little guy tries to publish his mini-series hoping to get to a graphic novel but puts a lot of his money into the monthly, that fails and he never makes it to the trade. I think a lot more people are going to go the graphic novel route first. You can distribute through more sources, and put up your own website to sell it directly.
The comic book specialty store market is too small to support all of the good projects out there especially with Marvel and DC flooding the market with so many series, The retailer has no choice but to bet on 15 copies or a new X-Men mini-series as opposed to ordering 3 copies each of book he does not know.
The graphic novel maybe a way around this dilemma and allow an artist to reach a wider audience. So many good projects have died or do not have sales numbers that will allow them to survive that we need a new paradigm if the market is going to grow.
I like what BOOM is doing. They are producing a series of great graphic novels that can sit on book store shelves forever. The packaging is great, the stories cross horror, spy novels, action/adventure, supernatural, mysteries, monster and more.
One thing that I do not understand is how some comic book stores present the trades and hard covers. I have seen many stores rack the trades like I would at my home, which is spine out. This way the store thinks they can get a lot more of these slow movers on their shelves. They are missing the point. Turn it so the cover faces the customer. This is a $15 to $50 (or more) price point item and your profit margin is greater on that book then it is on most of you last week back issues.
The trades are like the DVD editions of TV shows. You get the whole story is one package and no ads to spoil your enjoyment. The monthly book may not die out, but it is close to being put on the endangered species list.