Despite perceptions of a low turnout for Reed Exhibition's newly launched comics and pop culture convention, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, or C2E2, the show drew just under 30,000 attendees to Chicago's McCormick Place, according to preliminary reports from the show's organizers. Nevertheless, despite the strong turnout for a new show, in its annual report, the pop culture news website, ICv2 reports that 2009 graphic novel sales in the U.S. and Canada declined 6% to $370 million, down from $395 million reported in 2008.

Indeed, in his annual white paper on the size of the comics and graphic novel marketplace, ICv2 publisher Milton Griepp reports that 2009 sales of manga, usually the strongest category of graphic novels sales, were $140 million, a decline of 20% from the $175 million in sales in the category in 2008. This is the second year in a row in which the category has shown a decline. Sales of comics periodicals also declined 3% to $310 million for combined comics and graphic novels sales in 2009 of $680 million, a total decline of 5% from 2008. Griepp attributed the declines in graphic novel sales to the ongoing effects of the general economic downturn, the closing of stores by Barnes & Noble and Borders and more selective buying by retailer and fans. "Book chains have reduced their inventory and thenumber of places to buy graphic novels have declined," Griepp said.

Held over a weekend blessed with balmy good weather, the inaugural C2E2 offered a conventional mix of comics and book publishers, comics retailers and pop culture merchandise dealers as well as an extensive programming slate of panels and events in an expansive sunlit hall very much unlike the usual venues for comics shows.

But despite praise for the venue and the show's overall organization and management, exhibitors contacted by PW, while supportive of the show in general, were generally concerned that attendance was not at expected levels and many publishers and dealers reported that sales often did not meet their expectation as well. Reed Exhibitions v-p and show manager Lance Fensterman acknowledged that, "many dealers did not move as much product as they expected too." Nevertheless, the unofficial attendance report of 27,500 is very close the attendance projections offered by Fensterman and puts C2E2 very close to the debut of New York Comic Con in 2006, which drew just over 30,000 fans to New York City's Javits Center. The number makes C2E2 the fourth largest comics show behind the San Diego Comic-Con International (126,000), New York Comic-con (77,000) and San Francisco's Wonder Con (39,000).

In addition to the launch of C2E2, Diamond Comics Distributors held a one-day retailer meeting the day before C2E2, bringing together several hundred retailers to meet with publishers. While several new projects were announced by sponsoring publishers--including Marvel, DC, IDW, Dark Horse and Dynamite - the main focus was on the challenge of keeping brick and mortar stores strong in the face of the digital revolution. Publishers were quick to reassure retailers that they remain committed to the direct market. But the feeling overall was that digital is here to stay, and working with it and not against it is the best survival strategy. Diamond also floated several changes to the way they do business, including lowering their reorder fees, and the possibility of changing the traditional day that new comics go on sale from Wednesday to Tuesday.

Look for a full report on C2E2 and the retailer summit as well as more details from Griepp's annual report on graphic novels sales in PW Comics Week's show report tomorrow.