Despite a slight softening of the comics market over the summer, sales are still on the rise for the graphic novel category, according to Milton Griepp’s annual ICv2 white paper on industry numbers. The figures for 2014, along with the forecast for 2015, were revealed at a presentation on Thursday, during the first day of New York Comic Con.
The graphic novel category had its biggest year ever in 2014 with an estimated $460 million in sales, via both comics shops and traditional retailers. Bookstore sales hit an all-time high at $285 million, surpassing even the manga boom of the mid Aughts.
Manga sales also enjoyed a modest resurgence in 2014, up 7% from 2013. It was the second year of growth, reflecting the runaway success of Kodansha’s Attack on Titan and continued strength of perennial favorites such as Naruto. Digital manga sales are also on the rise, and simultaneous print and digital releases have helped quell the rise of piracy, which has eroded the market in Japan.
A more diverse readership has also had an impact, Griepp noted. Kids graphic novel sales are on the rise—up 35% year-to-date—behind licensed titles. Griepp added that Raina Telgemeier, author of the 2010 graphic novel Smile (Graphix), has “become a major superstar along the lines of Neil Gaiman or Marjane Satrapi" whose "name alone will sell books.” Female comics readership also continues to grow: Comixology, which co-sponsored the event, reported that the percentage of their new customers that was female had doubled over the last two years, up to 30% of new customers, from 20% in 2013.
After highlighting the strong figures for 2014, Griepp did address the recent softening the comics market saw this summer. He attributed the downturn, which he called "a soft patch," to a slight flattening of periodical comics. Contributing factors included DC’s cancellation of several New 52 books, and Marvel’s ongoing problems with shipping product on time. Marvel’s Star Wars comics and DC’s Dark Knight III are expected to drive fall sales.
While digital comics sales have also matured, they emain a robust part of the business, estimated at $100 million in 2014. Several streaming services aiming to be the so-called "Netflix of comics" have launched over the last two years including Scribd, Crunchyroll and, most recently, Comic Blitz. However, Griepp pointed to Marvel’s Unlimited program, which launched in 2007 and offers an all-you-can-read service for $9.99 a month. While the service touts a large subscriber base, it does not account for the bulk of Marvel's digital sales. Given this, Griepp warned: “Based on Marvel’s experience, you wouldn’t expect streaming to be a dominant part of the business.”