Sales charts are back with sell-through and comics will never be the same*

This article originally appeared on this site

snotgirl Vol 3

One day it will all be over…and everyone will forget that this was the moment.
This is when it turned. And it wasn’t the mighty Fleet, it wasn’t some fancy new weapon. It was a drill instructor named Zim who captured a Brain.
–Starship Troopers

So before all hell broke loose with the massive restructuring at DC on Monday this was to be my lead story this week: the return of the sales charts…and this time with sell through!

The end result will be a little different in this new world order but bear with me.

One victim of DC’s prior move to two new distributors and away from Diamond was the End of the Sales Charts as We Knew Them™ Diamond used to send out listings every second Friday of the month or so, and Milton Griepp and John Jackson Miller and John Mayo would break them down for pie charts, market shares, retail dollars and many other things. Winners would be crowned, #1s would be celebrated and on it went.

But with DC gone, Diamond has yet to release a new sales chart. (Some say that not being the perpetual #2 to Marvel in the Diamond charts was a small part of DC’s motivation to move away, even.)

Although Lunar and UCS have yet to make any kind of sales rankings public, I’m told that some new versions of the charts are on the way from Miller et al.  And meanwhile Griepp at ICv2 has done something long threatened and run charts for both periodicals and graphic novels sales based on ComicHub point of sale information.

This is essentially sell-through information, not sell-in information, such as the previous Diamond charts counted, and in the past I thought this would be the most revolutionary things possible in the comics industry. And indeed, if COVID-19 hadn’t happened, it still could be.

You see, Diamond’s number were and are based on sell-in to comics retailers, basically the orders on what they think they can sell. This makes retail stores the end customer of the direct sales market, and this is why you see all the marketing methods you see in the industry, like scheduling things around final order cut-off (FOC), readers being forced to go through a 500 page industry catalog to preorder things they would like to read and much more.

It is the retailers who sell to customers/readers, and it’s essentially a parallel (but symbiotically connected) system entirely.

While good retailers know very closely what their customers will buy, there is still no substitute for sell-through sales data – this is what NPD BookScan measures, what Box Office charts measure, what bestseller lists chart and so on. It is the industry standard.

And now, ICv2 is giving us the Q2 sell-through rankings via ComicHub. I am not 100% certain how these numbers are arrived at but since ComicHub is a POS system,  it would seem to measure cash register sales.

Let’s take a look at these charts shall we (with the permission of Milton Griepp and ICv2.)

In his first periodical chart, Griepp notes

These are unit and dollar sales rankings based on sales tracked at point-of-sale by the ComicHub system at stores selling American comics around the world.  During the period for which these reports were generated, there were roughly 85 stores using the ComicHub system, with rapid increases in the number of stores reporting expected as we incorporate future months.  As this is a small, non-random sample of over 3,000 stores selling American comics worldwide, these rankings may not be typical for all stores, but do represent a variety of locations and store emphases.  And for the first time, these sales rankings represent actual sales to consumers during the period, not sales to stores.

We are reporting bestsellers for Q2, as there were only a handful of new titles released in April and May, and many stores were shut down or operating in a limited capacity in those months (and in some cases, in June as well).  We will release Q2 Top Graphic Novel charts soon, and we will begin monthly charts with July rankings.

As noted 85 stores is a very small sample, but it is a sample and it’s all we have for now. I’ll get back to the very firm objections to these numbers that I’ve heard in a moment but let’s look at the charts! I’ll just give the Top 10 for periodical units. (You can see dollar chart in the link.)

Top 20 Comics By Units – Q2 2020
Rank Title Publisher Price
1 Dark Nights Death Metal #1 (Of 6) DC $4.99
2 Batman #92 DC $3.99
3 Joker 80th Ann. 100 Page Super Spectacular #1 DC $9.99
4 Venom #25 Marvel Comics $5.99
5 Batman #93 DC $3.99
6 Catwoman 80th Ann. 100 Page Super Spectacular #1 DC $9.99
7 X-Men #9 DX Marvel Comics $3.99
8 Batman The Adventures Continue #1 (Of 6) DC $3.99
9 Amazing Spider-Man #43 Marvel Comics $3.99
10 DCeased Unkillables #3 (Of 3) DC $4.99

We don’t have sales numbers here, but they would seem to track pretty closely to what you would have expected from the old numbers.

In the Graphic Novel Units Charts however…shock!

Top 20 Graphic Novels By Units – Q2 2020
Rank Title Publisher Price
1 Batman Last Knight On Earth HC DC $29.99
2 Bog Bodies OGN (Mature) Image Comics $12.99
3 Once & Future Vol. 1 BOOM! Studios $16.99
4 Doomsday Clock Part 2 HC With Slipcase DC $24.99
5 Superman Smashes The Klan DC $16.99
6 Saga Vol. 1 (Mature) Image Comics $9.99
7 Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life Image Comics $15.99
8 X-Men By Jonathan Hickman Vol. 1 Marvel Comics $17.99
9 Harleen HC (Mature) DC $29.99
10 Something Is Killing Children Vol. 1 BOOM! Studios $14.99

The appearance of Bog Bodies at #2  and Snot Girl Vol. #3 at all could be said to be surprises, and there are more on the rest of the chart. Could this be a quirk of the small sample size? Undoubtedly yes, but this is why SELL-THROUGH reveals so much. There are always surprises like this.

This week ICv2 rolled out a publisher’s share chart.  It’s in dollars and DC is #1 – which is not surprising because they shipped 95 comics in May and June compared to Marvel’s 18.

Comic Store Market Share (Dollars) – Q2 2020
Publisher Market Share
DC Entertainment 37.4%
Marvel Comics 25.7%
Image Comics 10.3%
BOOM! Studios/Archaia 4.3%
IDW Publishing/Top Shelf Productions 4.2%
Dark Horse Comics 4.0%
VIZ Media/Perfect Square/Sublime 2.1%
Dynamite Entertainment 1.3%
Oni Press/Lion Forge/Limerence 1.2%
First Second Books/Square Fish/St Martins 0.7%
Other 8.8%

These are a bit astray from what we would have seen in Diamond charts,  with non Marvel and DC publishers represented at higher numbers. In January the Big Two accounted for 69% of the market and 70% in February, as compared to a mere 63% in this chart for Q2. Again given the sample size – and the weirdness of this Covid-time market – it is more of an odd statistic than a hard fact, but there it is for a conversation starter.

I should note that industry observers I contacted are united in questioning the usefulness of charts that are such a small sample size. For instance, Brian Hibbs questioned Snotgirl’s ranking and told me that such inaccurate data could actually be harmful to people understanding the industry. I would concur that at this point there’s not enough to measure. However, for an industry that is sorely lacking in this kind of data…ya gotta start somewhere.

Just for reference, the weird, janky world of direct market comics retail has had many milestones. Back in the 80s Marvel’s Carol Kalish encouraged retailers to get cash registers via a co-op program, and thus being able to count the amount of money you made in a day began. I don’t have any specific memories of the lessons learned from this science advance but I’m sure they were extensive.


Then came POS (point of sale) systems, starting in the 90s but accelerated in the early Aughts with Diamond’s ComicsSuite (again heavily subsized for shops)… you know, the kind of things that every business uses to track inventory and sales. I’m not sure where you can find Brian Hibbs’ own column on his early POS discoveries, but I remember that they were extensive.

Sell-through charts give us all these discoveries, just like the NPD Bookscan charts did. They also allow for unexpected hits and new voices. Back in the 90s the industry magazine Comics and Games Retailers, edited by John Jackson Miller, ran sales charts via retailer reporting, and there was always a lot of talk among my friends around the lines of “What the hell is ‘Knights of the Dinner Table?’” This was actually a comic based on an RPG and it was always a best seller on these retailer lists – shocking comics folk of the day but predicting the rise of all those huge gaming podcasts and Adventure Zone and so on.

But you won’t see Knights of the Dinner Table remembered much as a comics best seller. It was an authentic hit before we had a name for such things. (Countdown to Miller appearing in the comments to explain more about this in 3…2…1)

In the pre COVID, pre DC cutbacks days, it was my hope that giving real sell through numbers would move publishers away from what they hoped would sell (endless tie ins to events) to what readers really wanted, making a stronger industry for everyone. We’ve had Bookscan numbers for graphic novels for 20 years and now graphic novels outsell periodicals, with some books selling in the millions of copies. Accurate information only grew the market.

It’s going to take a while to do that in the COVID crippled world we’re dealing with now, but when we rebuild the comics shop market at the end of all this, I’m hopeful that this kind of information will matter as much as ever.

PS: lest you think I am pestering Brian Hibbs as he recovers, he is keenly following industry news, and volunteered his thoughts and is already talking about a new column.


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