Bouncing back from a down year in 2014, Diamond Book Distributors, the book trade unit of Diamond Comics Distributors and one of the largest distributors of graphic novels and pop culture merchandise to bookstores and the school and library market, reports that 2015 was the “second best year” in the history of DBD.
“And we expect 2016 to be our best year ever,” said DBD vice president Kuo-Yu Liang. The graphic novel market overall is improving: U.S. graphic novel print unit sales rose 22% in 2015 over 2014, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which reports on sales in about 80% the bookstore market.
“Last year was very good. And our sales were not driven by any one title or publisher but by everything, a wide range of titles and genres,” Liang said. Among the big sellers for DBD publishers in 2016 were the Saga series, Walking Dead Compendiums, March Books One and Two, and kids series such as My Little Pony, Grumpy Cat, and Princeless.
Liang credited the growth to a wide variety of popular titles and a supportive and stable retailing sector in 2015 “We had a year of great books in 2015 and an overall robust retail environment,” he said. He also emphasized the continuing growth of new bookstore customers curious about the buzz around graphic novels.
“Consumer interest in graphic novels keeps rising. That’s been a trend over the last 10 years,” Liang said, noting the impact of demands for diversity. “And there were lots of new customers—including women and minorities—asking about graphic novels in bookstores. The more people talk about graphic novels, the more people want to try one out.”
The diversification of genres beyond the superhero category is also a big factor. “There’s a graphic novel for everyone these days, crime, romance, adventure, kids books,” he said.
The U.S. market showed growth “in bookstores, on Amazon, and libraries,” Liang said. He took note of the recent expansion of Viz manga titles to more than 2,000 Wal-Mart stores, and said that there are ongoing discussions with the retailer to set up dedicated graphic novel sections. Liang called the deal, “a great example of a lot of comics people working behind the scenes toward a much bigger project at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart wants to be a part of this. Manga is first but other graphic novels are coming.”
Looking forward into 2016, Liang expects the third and final volume of March, Rep. John Lewis’s graphic memoir of the Civil Rights Movement (published by DBD client Top Shelf), to be “the biggest book of the year.” The series’s first two volumes were big bestsellers, driven in part by marketing the acclaimed memoir to colleges as required freshman reading.
“There are big movies and TV shows coming with tie-ins to comics. It’s the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, a Teen Age Mutant Ninja movie is coming,” he said. “There’s lots of fun stuff coming up, it’s a perfect storm. And graphic novels are now sold in museums, parks, the Smithsonian, and colleges. They’re sold in so many places beyond just bookstores.”
DBD distributes graphic novels and pop culture merchandise into the U.S. trade book and the international book market. DBD’s parent company, Diamond Comics Distributors, distributes exclusively to about 2,000 comics shops (known as the direct market within the comics segment) in the U.S.
DBD distributes titles from 45-50 comics publishers, among them, Image Comics, IDW, Top Shelf, Valiant, Dynamite Entertainment, and Z2 Comics. In addition DBD is the exclusive U.K. distributor for DC Comics, Boom! Studios, Fantagraphics and other houses.
On the international scene, Liang said graphic novel sales in the U.K. and Europe were growing “like gangbusters.” The Middle East market has been “fantastic. The number of retailers is growing, and also the school and library market,” he said.
Liang noted that graphic novels and pop culture merchandise “had a big presence at the Sharjah Book Fair. Comics and toys took up four aisles at the show.” Although comics/pop culture sales were down in Brazil, Malaysia and even Canada, Liang attributed the decline to “currency and economic issues that make everything more expensive,” to buy in those regions.