Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 11, 2012

Analysts Weigh In On December 2011 DM Numbers

The comics business news and analysis site has offered up their usual array of lists, estimates and analysis regarding the performance of comic books and graphic novels in the Direct Market of comic and hobby shops, this time for December 2011.

image* Overview
* Analysis
* Top 300 Comic Books
* Top 300 Graphic Novels

My favorite numbers cruncher John Jackson Miller at The Comics Chronicles has completed his analysis of the month here, and presents his sales chart here. He also provides some year-end analysis here and here.

I'm not sure where to begin. I imagine the takeaway for most people will be that Marvel regaining its status as the overall front-runner in its monthly battles with DC Comics. There will be a lot of permutations to that. DC executives made some hilarious passive-aggressive criticisms of that conclusion, once again indicting the estimates process they could at any second make obsolete forever by releasing its full slate of numbers to a source like Miller or Griepp and returning to that line of spin -- excuse me, "clarification" -- that they don't care about market share measurables despite spending most of the fall with a puffed-out chest in large part because of their performance by those measurables. There are also avenues for analysis in terms of how Marvel has scrambled to protect its own market share, and there's also some end-of-year type stuff to be had where we all gaze in wonder and horror about all the industry changes in the last half-year for what may amount to a temporary sales bump for one of the companies.

I wonder if the bigger story isn't so much Hulk Vs. Superman but both heroes against malaise and decline, and how the short-term story and resultant hype has genuinely become more important to the fate of these companies and their major players than long-term publishing success. There are only three comic books in the top 20 that have issue numbers beyond a half-dozen issues or so, that are in other words reliable market players for their content; Marvel didn't chart anything over 86,000 copies sold. Maybe a half-dozen or so of the New 52 books have already fallen under that point of sales that was astonishing when any comic book from a mainstream company started charting there in the mid-1990s. The graphic novel side of things seems to be all about Robert Kirkman and the occasional flash of sales from a dependable brand, with not a lot of reliable sales leaders otherwise. In other words, I think the market is still sick from its first-half-of-2011 troubles, with a lot of hard and not very glamorous work to be done in order to freshen up the place now that the sales-stunt-of-all-sales-stunts has faded into recent memory.

That's why I'm sort of saddened to read that DC is going to goose the price on more of its more popular comic books. I think that the vast majority of DC's books remaining under $3 has been a big boon for them in recent months in the same way their discounting/returns program has been, the same way their soft influence with shops has been. I've gone on at length about how there being as many $3 comic books is also an industry boon because comics fans don't make rational one-for-one choices; they up and quit when their personal mix of comics becomes too expensive for the pleasure they derive from same. So I think raising the prices, while it makes a certain kind of short-term sense in that DC's other $4 offerings have done just fine, mutes one of their quiet advantages right now and also weakens customer retention generally. We seem to live in a market reality where a long-term effort is one that lasts for four months or so, and I worry about the eventual outcome.
posted 7:40 am PST | Permalink

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