New York Comic Con 2019, held October 3–6 at the Javits Center in New York City, sold upwards of 210,000 tickets this year, according to show organizer ReedPop. Against that backdrop, ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp delivered his annual white paper on the comics industry during Insider Talks, an annual ICv2 conference held during NYCC; the highlight of the report: graphic novel sales so far in 2019 are up by “substantial double-digit” figures over last year in the book retail channel (which includes bookstores and online retailers).
Although there were more than 230,000 tickets sold at last year’s NYCC, ReedPop event director Mike Armstrong said the number of fans attending the show has not declined. This year, he noted, ReedPop returned to selling four-day ticket plans, which it had eliminated last year. He cited popular demand for the passes, which depress the number of single tickets sold but not the number of fans on the show floor.
There was also change at ICv2’s annual Insider Talks B2B event. Usually held the day before NYCC, this year the event was held at Pace University the day after NYCC. Titled The Future of Comics in the Age of Streaming. the event showcased the retail market channels for comics and graphic novels (bookstores, comics shops, and digital download) and changing consumer taste and demographics of comics readers.
This year’s ICv2 Insider Talks surveyed the steady increase in graphic novel sales over the past 10 years; sales have grown about 60% since 2009, though the rate of growth has slowed recently. The event also examined the impact of comics as “source material for all kinds of binge viewing,” Griepp said in his opening remarks, which highlighted the proliferation of streaming media and even merchandise—all of which are driven by some connection to comics content. “The entertainment consumption of comics has been driven by streaming media, spurring even more consumer demand for serialized works,” he noted.
In the white paper, which looks at sales and trends in the North American graphic novel market, Griepp said that in 2019, children’s and YA graphic novels reflecting a wide variety of genres have been more popular than superhero comics, which had dominated American comics sales for decades. So far this year, he added, sales of manga and kids’ comics are up about 30% in the book channel over the comparable period in 2018, and up nearly 100% in direct-market comics shops. Graphic novels aimed at middle grade and young adult readers, he noted, continue to drive the overall growth of the comics market in the U.S.
Griepp said he expects that, sometime in 2019, sales of graphic novels in the book channel will surpass combined sales of comics periodicals and graphic novels in the comics shop market for the first time. In 2018, graphic novel sales in the book channel were $465 million, and combined periodicals and graphic novels in the comics shop channel were about $510 million.
The popularity of graphic novels and manga for children and teens, and the prevalence of comics as source material for every other media, bodes well for the category. Griepp cited works by Dav Pilkey, creator of the Dog Man series, whose titles have sold more than eight million copies, and Raina Telgemeier’s new book Guts, which sold 75,000 copies in two weeks. “Amazing things are happening in comics,” he said. “It’s great for the future of the category and for attracting new readers.”
NPD BookScan executive Kristin McLean’s presentation also focused on the role graphic novels play in the pop culture retail landscape. In her presentation, she cited the rebound of print sales, the rebound of manga sales, and the binge consumption of anime on streaming sites such as Crunchyroll and its impact on print sales. “Binge-watching anime and spikes in manga sales are tied together: fans find the anime and then go and buy the print,” she said, adding, “Comics and graphic novels are the fastest growing category we track at BookScan.”
McLean also cited ComicHub, a new point-of-sale software platform designed for comics shops, presented at the event by ComicHub spokesman Atom! Freeman. Beginning in January 2020, ComicHub will begin to supply sell-through data direct to BookScan from comics shops that use the platform. Comics shop inventory is nonreturnable, and sales data has generally been sell-in, not actual consumer sales; this new deal with ComicHub is likely to change that as more stores adopt it. ComicHub software is being used by about 90 comics shops in four countries.
The Insider Talks conference also featured an onstage interview with Chris Powell, newly appointed chief relationship officer at Geppi Family Enterprises, the newly-formed parent company of Diamond Comics Distributors, the dominant distributor of comics in the U.S. Interviewed by Griepp, Powell was candid about the future of comics shops and the challenges they face. He addressed the decline in popularity of the superhero genre and the periodical format—mainstay products of the direct market—and their dependence on a monthly selling cycle. He also acknowledged the popularity of book format comics (graphic novels) and the challenges involved in rethinking how comic shops function in a rapidly changing pop culture retail landscape.
“Comic shops still have a place; they excel selling periodical comics, and community building will be key for stores,” Powell said. “We need to offer tools to help comics shops distinguish themselves. Books will be more important than comic books, but we love periodicals and we need to find ways to make them more desirable.”
Interviewed by Forbes pop culture writer Rob Salkowitz, Comixology CEO David Steinberger described how the digital comics market functions as sampler service, offering easy access to thousands of comics and sending new readers to stores looking for the physical books. Comixology Unlimited, a comics subscription service, gives readers 30 days of free unlimited reading before charging $6 a month for access. While some observers are wary of subscription services (especially if owned by Amazon), believing that they devalue books, Steinberger criticized the pricing of print comic books. Comixology Unlimited, he said, “creates more fans and meets consumers wherever they are as comics fans and offers good content at a good price.”
This reporter interviewed David Saylor, v-p, creative director of Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, on stage about the growth and development of Graphix and its lineup of blockbuster authors, including Pilkey, Telgemeier, and Kazu Kibuishi.
Asked what is the biggest change he’s seen over the course of 15 years publishing graphic novels for young readers, Saylor said it was the transformation of the commercial and cultural response to the comics medium. “[In 2005] the major comics publishers had abandoned children and weren’t paying attention to where the market would be in five or 10 years,” he noted. “We needed to publish more comics for children. That was a tidal wave shift. What’s gratifying about the embrace of graphic novels is that it actually occurred. There’s much less resistance to the medium, and people don’t believe that graphic novels are going to ruin a kid anymore. Seeing something I thought about come to fruition in the way it has—it’s been amazing. The world has absolutely changed from where we were in 2005 when we launched Graphix.”