It isn’t hard to take a look at what books are at the top of the Diamond sales charts. You can even pick your flavor of sales estimates: ICV2, Comic Book Resource’s Mayo Report or the Comics Chronicles. Diamond's charts are over-all sales charts and don’t necessarily reflect sell-through at the level of the individual retailer, nor does anyone have a good sense of how graphic novel/trade paperback backlist book pile up (although Diamond’s recent expansion of their graphic novel chart from the top 100 to the top 300 should change that—thanks, Diamond). With this in mind, we sent a survey to 40 randomly selected comic retails all across the country. Nine stores responded and helped us get a sense for how sales patterns differ, or in some cases don’t differ, from store to store. When the store manager included comments with their survey, they’re noted in quotes after the answers. My own comments are in italics after the category breakdown.
Note: not all respondents answered every question
1. What was your best-selling comic (monthly/floppy) for 2008?
· Secret Invasion — 4
· Buffy the Vampire Slayer — 3 (“Not even close.”)
· Final Crisis — 1 (“Which surprised me. I thought Secret Invasion #1 would have it, but, nope”)
Secret Invasion is consistent with Diamond’s year end sales numbers, but to have 3 stores put Buffy ahead of the rest suggests that stores that do well with Buffy, tend to do very well. There’s also some circumstantial evidence to suggest Buffy may do better in stores within or near a “hip” shopping district.
2. What was your best-selling graphic novel/collected edition for 2008?
· The Watchmen — 6.5 (“Easily;” “We're currently stocking it 20 deep, which is really insane for a book that is that old...”)
· Y The Last Man Vol. 10 Whys and Wherefores — 2.5
No surprises here. DC owns the top of collected edition market.
3. Based on initial orders, what comic had the most unexpected demand?
· Kick Ass — 6 (“Even though we ordered VERY heavy, on all printings, it still wasn't enough....”)
· SCUD the Disposable Assassin — 1
It’s a little surprising to see such a clear winner here. One wonders if John Romita, Jr. deserves a little more respect as a sales draw when you can link him with World War Hulk, the recent Spider-Man spike with his Green Goblin arc and his re-order magnet of a collaboration with Mark Millar. Remember when creator-owned comics used to sell like this?
4. Based on initial orders, which comic had the worst sell-through?
· Trinity — 2 (“We thought Countdown was the bottom. We were wrong.”)
· Ultimatum — 1.5
· Tek Jensen - 1
· Fantastic Four True Story — 1
· Secret Invasion - 1 “We generally don't do much with super hero & Marvel stuff, so I was kind of rolling the dice there and it didn't pay off at all.”
Buffy #12 - 1 (“The big reveal in this book..? Come on...”)
· The Stand: Captain Trips - .5
Just to show you can’t please all of the people all of the time, Secret Invasion appears (with a caveat), as does Buffy. Multiple votes for a “big event” book at both DC and Marvel, and 3 votes for media tie-ins where the non-comics audience apparently didn’t connect with the store.
5. Roughly what % of your business are graphic novels?
· 40% - 3 (“We're also a bookstore so graphic novels are maybe 40% of our total business. But in terms of comic sales, they are roughly 85% of our business.”)
· 5% - 1
· 20% - 1
· 20-25% - 1
· 45% - 1
· 50% - 1
· 51% - 1
I’m a little wary of reading too much into this from such a small sample, but 6 out of 9 retailers had at least 40% of business from graphic novels. It raises two questions. First, are the buyers of all these graphic novels people who have stopped buying monthly comics or are they new readers who prefer the book format? Second, at what point does the establishment stop being a comic shop and start being a specialty bookstore with an unusually large magazine business?
6.Other than comics, what type of item is the most significant part of your business (toys, cards, DVDs, etc.)?
· Toys - 2
· T-Shirts — 2
· Non-sports cards - 1
· Books (fiction, non-fiction, art books) — 1
· DVD rentals — 1
· Ugly Dolls — 1
· Magazines — 1
Remember when baseball cards, Dungeons & Dragons, and Magic were the big cross-overs? They may still be around, but the only one at the absolute top of someone’s list was a single vote for non-sports cards.
7. Roughly what percentage of your sales from the back of the Diamond catalog?
5% - 2 (“all special-ordered;” “and shrinking”)
50% - 2
40% - 1
30% - 1
25% - 1
20% - 1
10-15% - 1
A very even statistical spread, here. This seems to vary a great deal from store to store.
Where in the country did we get these numbers from?
Baltimore, MD, Durham, NC, LA, CA, San Francisco, CA, San Diego, CA, Trenton, NJ and Washington D.C.
[Todd Allen is a technology consultant and adjunct professor with Columbia College Chicago's Arts, Entertainment & Media Management department. Allen's book,The Economics of Web Comics, is taught at the college level. His further comics industry commentary is available at Indignant Online. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of PW Comics Week.]