Despite increasing softness in the book market as the two-year sales bump that characterized the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic dies down, sales of graphic novels continue to buoy—albeit less drastically—a healthy comics business as interest in manga soars.

At this year's annual ICv2 Insider Talks, the long-running comics business conference, held for the second time since 2019 at New York Comic Con on October 12, ICv2 founder and president Milton Griepp presented his annual white paper, which found total comics industry sales in 2022 up by roughly 4% over 2021, with a slower second half reflecting the "crest of the Covid surge" in book purchasing around the late first or early second quarter of last year. (ICv2's sales model is built using information provided by Circana BookScan, ComicHub, Scholastic Book Fairs, and Kickstarter.) The increase showed a significant drop from the 62% jump in sales in the comics segment in 2020, but still amounted to $2.16 billion.

The books channel remained the fastest growing part of the sector, with 6% growth during the year, amounting to $1.2 billion in sales. Print comics sales also grew in the year, but digital comics sales were down "a little," Griepp said, and "sales in all channels slowed down."

In contrast to the late twenty-teens, when children's graphic novels drove growth, manga sales have become far and away the primary sales driver in the comics world, due to a dramatic increase in anime consumption (and the manga from which many anime are adapted) in the United States as streaming surged during the pandemic. Around 45% of all the graphic novels sold in the U.S during 2022 were manga, with kids' graphic novels accounting for roughly 28% of the sales. Griepp suggested that, because "kids were back in school last year, that really cut back the kids' graphic novel business," which, at 2% growth, was the slowest-growing part of the graphic novel business last year.

This year's Insider Talk was chiefly dedicated to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the direct market, the dominant distribution channel for comic books in the United States. The panels that followed Griepp's presentation addressed the history of the channel, with DC Comics veteran Paul Levitz and Marvel Comics and Valiant Entertainment veteran Jim Shooter, and the future of the channel, with panelists from ComicHub, multiple comics stores, and Dark Horse comics.

Still, Griepp noted that, while the while the comics store channel has nearly doubled since 2010, and is "actually doing quite well, if you look at it over any kind of longer period of time," sales of comic books were up 40% since that year—barely keeping up with the 40-41% inflation rate that marked the past decade and change. "That means graphic novels can fuel the growth," Griepp said. "So I think in comics stores, that's where the big opportunity is over the coming years: comics stores getting better at graphic novels."

Additional changes have hit the direct market channel recently as well. After decades of dominating direct market distribution to comics stores, Diamond Comic Distributors has seen its competition rise over the past few years. A number of major comic book publishers have left the distributor for such rivals as Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, which have broken into distributing to the direct market in addition to through the typical books channel, and the upstart Lunar Distribution. How that will impact the comics business at large is still very much in question.

Griepp noted that bookstores have an advantage over comics shops: by eschewing the direct market, which is "all about buying non-returnable," bookstores can return books that don't sell to publishers, allowing them to carry more inventory and to experiment more in their curation. "So I wonder," he mused, "whether comic stores would do better with their graphic novel selections if they bought at least some of their supply through the book channel under book channel pricing and terms."