Sales of graphic novels continue to grow—with kids and YA graphic novels the fastest growing segment—but the entire marketplace for comics is being "disrupted" and transformed by an influx of new readers and consumers looking for new kinds of comics content as well as new retail options. This was the main takeaway from Milton Griepp, who presented his annual white paper on the comics industry during the first day of New York Comic Con, held October 5-8 at Javits Center.
Griepp, CEO of ICv2, a pop culture trade news site, presented his annual overview of comics and graphic sales and trends at the NYCC Insider Sessions. His presentation was also echoed by NPD BookScan executive director of business development Kristen McLean's presentation "A Tale of Two Cities." In her talk, McLean described the comics/graphic novel marketplace as being divided between a flat and struggling comics shop market and a “strong bookstore” channel.
Griepp described a series of market disruptions including “rapid change” in a comics marketplace that is being driven by the declining popularity of traditional periodical comic books and the explosive growth and popularity of book format graphic novels.
“Comics are struggling to accommodate their legacy consumers while appealing to new readers who want a different format and shop at different markets,” Griepp told an audience of publishers, retailers and journalists.
Year to date in 2017 graphic novel sales are down about 11%, while comics are down 9.9%. Combined comics periodical and graphic novel sales in 2016 totaled $1.085 billion. Sales in the comics shop market, Griepp said, where periodical comics are still the main product, are down nearly 10% for the year.
Challenges facing the periodical market include comparatively high prices for 24 page periodicals; a reliance on serialized stories, and a continued perception of comics shops as “man caves” unable to shift to selling merchandise that appeals to women and children. By contrast, the graphic novel format—books that offer complete stories in a variety of genres--are far more established in both bookstores, chain stores and mass market retailers such as Target.
“If current trends continue, the channels will flip power,” he said. “The book channel will be equal to comics stores in 2019 and pass it in 2020.” This would be the first “channel power flip,” he said, since comics shops overtook newsstands as the primary sales channel in the 1980s.
Despite the challenges of a comics and graphic marketplace that is in transition, Griepp told audience members not to "panic." Griepp said he's seen "a lot of ups and downs in the industry" and he believes this trend "will correct itself over time.”
McLean, in her presentation, brought a wealth of data in support of many of Griepp's points. She also identified a a shift by consumers, especially women, to chain bookstores and online retail outlets, a trend she described as “an emerging new demographic” of consumers. While men aged 30-54 continue to dominate sales in the comics shops market, McLean's data shows that new comics consumers are largely juvenile and YA readers (or their parents) looking for new kinds of comics content at places other than comics shops.
This new emerging demographic, aged 18-29, includes a significant faction of women who shop primarily shop at chain bookstores, as well as online retailers, and buy graphic novels for themselves and their families.