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Bart Beaty on BD Sales in 2004
posted December 22, 2004

Bart Beaty
Calgary, Alberta

I thought that I'd drop you a quick note providing a little recent historical context for the French comics sales numbers that you cited yesterday. I think that by any account, we're talking about huge numbers now in France. I know that there is some concern that too many books are being produced, and that the same publishers still dominate the market, but the overall health seems much stronger than the US comics scene. With 3070 titles published this year, it's obvious that things have really changed.

In 1991, 765 comics were published in France, which was a record up to that point. The early 90s, however, led to a decline as the industry became really insular, publishing second-rate knock-offs of classic works (sound familiar?). Sales dropped, as did the number of titles published. Things bottomed out in 1995, with 481 titles published, and with Dupuis, Dargaud, Casterman, and Glenat accounting for 70 per cent of those. By 1997 they were nearly back to 1991 levels (726 books), with several best-sellers breaking the 100,000 mark (XIII with 490,000 and Joe Bar Team with 340,000). By 1999 manga was starting to come into the market in serious numbers, and the 1000 book level was cracked (1055) and sales continued to climb. In 2001, books went over 1200, with books like Titeuf, XIII, Thorgal, Blake and Mortimer, Petit Spirou and occasional Asterix book dominating the book, not just comic book, sales charts.

In the past two years the numbers of titles have gotten positively loopy. 3000 books per year is 60 new titles each week, which seems unsustainable, but we'll see. Manga is a huge portion of this, and has really helped revive the market. American superhero comics are also being released in big quantities for the first time. The audience for both of these is generally seen to be different than the audience for traditional BD, so we have something like competing youth subcultures, all with their own interests in comics.

What strikes me about the French numbers in contrast to those in the US is that the French numbers boomed when they became less insular. The early 1990s was the height of French comics inbreeding, and things looked like they were reaching the end of the line. Then they opened up to foreign influences and things took off. My sense is that manga is driving the success of the US comics scene at the moment, and the US and France seem to release similar numbers of manga each year (though often different titles). France is more open to American comics than the US is to French comics, and it seems unlikely that BD is poised to make an impact akin to Panini and Semic publishing superheroes in French. Anyway, I think that the moral is that openness to new forms really helps the market.

Also, lest you assume that it's simply just a ton of crap being published (and there is a ton, as you can imagine, in 3000 titles), the general sense is also that there is so much high quality material coming out now that it's impossible to read it all. I have a five foot high stack of albums from this year that I haven't had time to get to - maybe over the holidays.