Driven once again by the graphic novel format, combined sales of graphic novels and comics periodicals reached $1.21 billion in North America in 2019, a new record, according to a joint estimate by pop culture trade news sites ICv2 and Comichron. The 2019 sales figure represents an 11% increase over 2018 combined sales.

The 2019 sales figures were released by ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp during ICv2’s annual Insider Talks program, an annual trade event usually held during New York Comic Con. This year, due to the pandemic, the pop culture trade conference has been converted into a two-day online event called “The Business of Geek Culture in the Covid Era” which featured a gaming track on Oct. 28 and a comics track on Oct. 29. The event also included NPD BookScan analyst Kristen McLean, who presented data that echoed the ICv2/Comichron figures.

According to the ICv2/Comichron report, 2019 book format graphic novel sales totaled $765 million, while comics periodical sales were about $355 million, and digital sales about $90 million.

“Graphic novels are where its at," Griepp said, “they are driving the market.” According to Griepp, graphic novel sales were up 22% over 2018 while sales of periodicals were flat.

The bookstore channel, according to the ICv2/Comichron report, had comics sales of $570 million, surpassing sales in the comics shop market ($525 million in 2019) for the first time. The comics shop market (aka the direct market) totals about 2,000 retailers that sell comics periodicals (with a focus on superhero comics) as well as books and is served principally by Diamond Comics Distributors. The total figure for sales channels includes $90 million in digital downloads and about $25 million in sales via newsstands and crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter.

Griepp said the sales of graphic novels were growing faster in the book trade than in comics shops, observing that “the comics channel is not declining, but it is declining in importance.” Book channel growth, he said, was driven by middle grade and YA graphic novels, which grew by 43% in the book channel. Indeed, sales in both channels are being driven by the popularity of book format graphic novels and manga (for kids, teens, and adults), and a decline in demand for the superhero genre, long the dominant genre in American comics.

At the same time, Griepp’s report also surveyed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown on comics retailing in the first quarter of 2020. First quarter graphic novel sales, he said, were down 1.5% and periodical sales down 5.5% with overall sales via comics shops down 4.4%. But overall 2020 sales in the comics and graphic novel market in the aggregate, McLean said, “are strong.” Thanks to online sales, 2020 comics and graphic novel sales were up about 18% through September over the same period in 2019, despite the impact of the pandemic.

That doesn’t mean the pandemic hasn’t impacted comics shops. “Comics store sales were up until March,” Griepp said, until the market was hit by a seven week shutdown of Diamond Comics Distributors in April and May. The lockdowns and shutdown of Diamond’s warehouse left comics shops without deliveries of new periodical comics for nearly two months. The shutdown also affected Diamond Book Distributors, DCD’s trade book stores unit, which uses the same warehouse.

However he also noted that, much like indie books stores, comic shops are adapting to a new comics marketplace by adding more graphic novels, diversifying their distribution vendors beyond Diamond, adding or enhancing their online efforts, and focusing on using social media.

“Comics shops need to adapt, retail is no longer about a place to go and buy stuff. Stores have to offer consumers a community space that includes commerce among its other activities,” Griepp said.