Combined sales of comics periodicals and graphic novels in North America continued to climb in 2020, reaching approximately $1.28 billion, according to a joint estimate by pop culture trade news sites ICv2 and Comichron. The new estimate represents a 6% increase over 2019 combined sales.

ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp said that in the face of a global pandemic, lockdowns, and widespread economic dislocation, consumer demand for comics and graphic novels continued to grow. “The challenges of retailing in the pandemic had profound impacts on the market, including the acceleration of trends that have been in place for years,” he reported.

2020 sales of graphic novels via the bookstore channel were $645 million, while comics shops sold about $440 million, and digital downloads were about $160 million. By format, 2020 graphic novel sales (book format comics) were $835 million; comics periodical sales (traditional comic books) were $285 million; and digital comics sales were about $160 million.

According to the ICv2/Comichron report, sales in the bookstore channel (which includes physical stores and online retailers) increased “dramatically” over comics shop market share; digital sales were “turbocharged,” and the popularity of graphic novels (or book format comics) over periodical comics also continued to grow.

Sales of children’s and young adult graphic novels by mass market and online retailers fueled sales growth in the early stages of the pandemic and as the shutdowns continued, streaming anime drove manga sales to new highs, the report said. Despite high demand for comics early in the year, comics periodical sales were disrupted by the seven-week shutdown of Diamond Comics Distributors, the comics shop market’s principal distributor, and by subsequent production cutbacks by comics periodical publishers.

Although comics shops sales were down, independent bookstores and comics shops were helped by strong consumer demand, support from their communities, local government support and grants from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc). Comichron CEO John Jackson Miller said, "The fact that new comics sales were down by only 20% suggests that retailers did well with what they were able to get."

Sales data for these estimates were calculated based on full retail prices without discounts. Sources for the data used to compile this report come from NPD BookScan, ComicHub, a point of sales platform for comics periodicals used by about 100 stores, figures from newsstand sales, and crowdfunding channels such as Kickstarter, which reported that comics funding in 2020 had grown 20%. Estimates of digital sales do not include subscription services such as Comixology Unlimited.

"I’m encouraged by the way independent retailers selling comics and graphic novels are coming out of the pandemic shutdowns," Griepp said. "Combined with the robust growth in other channels, the business is in overall good condition to serve the many new consumers that started enjoying comic-form entertainment over the past year."