Diamond Distributors, the company responsible for moving most of the comic books to comic shops in North America and the UK, does not separate its publicly available sales reports by country.
But it does release numbers for its top 300 comics and top 300 graphic novels every month. We can’t find out how many comics were sold in Canada through these lists but we can figure out how many comics created by Canadians were sold.
Looking at the lists for January and February, we see the following Canadian comic books (floppies) were bestsellers (the first number is the Diamond sales rank and the last number in parentheses is the estimated number of copies of the individual issue sold):
4 Spawn #200 Image (65448)
82 Spawn #201 Image (18458)
145 Sweet Tooth #17 DC (8522)
224 Skullkickers #5 (4009)
269 Glamourpuss #17 AV (2253)
188 Sweet Tooth #18 DC (8466)
270 Skullkickers #6 Image (3731)
300 Kill Shakespeare #1 $1.00 reissue IDW (2860)
These are the highest profile creations by Canucks in the mass market monthly comics sweepstakes and looking at these lists satisfies a few urges and questions I’ve had recently about the strength of the market. For instance, awhile back there was some hype around the debut of Jim Zubkavich’s Skullkickers series and how many copies were being printed. Now I can see how many sold initially through comic shops and glancing back over previous lists it looks like maybe somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 of the first issue were purchased? I think that’s a fair, if very broad, estimate. Considering that the top 10 bestselling books sell somewhere between 70,000 and 120,000: food for thought.
And speaking of those top bestsellers, when I see the biggest hyped comic book of the last six months, January’s Fantastic Four #587 featuring the death of The Human Torch character, sold only 115 thousand copies, I begin to wonder about the strength of the Direct Market. Do the numbers on this list mean that there are only about 100,000 hardcore comics buyers who buy monthly comics through comic shops in North America? January was reportedly (and is traditionally) a very slow month for comics retail, with very little to lure regular superhero fans into the shops. But still, I find that number kind of low. Even figuring that the number is twice that, and that, to be generous, 5 times that number (let’s say a million people) make a purchase annually in comic shops in North America, it looks like the market is kind of small.
Sure I’ve seen numbers over the past year asserting that through bookstores, comic shops, online sales, the market for comics, graphic novels, and related paper ephemera numbers in the millions. But these comic shop numbers should be the backbone of comics sales, according to certain pundits. I know it’s hard to come up with any real numbers. Heck, I consider myself a big comics fan (don’t I contribute to a blog about comics?) and sometimes go for several months without buying something from my local shop.
Ten Canadian books made the list of top 300 graphic novels over the last two months:
45 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 01 PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE ONI (1,339)
130 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 03 INFINITE SADNESS ONI (642)
133 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 02 VS THE WORLD ONI 634
159 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 04 GETS IT TOGETHER ONI (536)
164 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 05 VS THE UNIVERSE ONI (530)
175 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 06 FINEST HOUR ONI (491)
240 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 01 OUT OF THE WOODS DC (342)
269 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 02 IN CAPTIVITY DC (294)
78 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 01 PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE (973)
133 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 02 VS THE WORLD ONI (702)
176 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 03 INFINITE SADNESS ONI (519)
215 MID-LIFE DQ (434)
227 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 04 GETS IT TOGETHER ONI (402)
231 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 06 FINEST HOUR ONI (400)
236 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 05 VS THE UNIVERSE ONI (391)
257 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 01 OUT OF THE WOODS D (347)
291 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 02 IN CAPTIVITY DC (304)
These lists reveal the bittersweet reality of the funny book biz, and tell us more than the Sequential Bestseller List based on bookstore sales. For the most part, the numbers represent pre-orders, meaning an actual consumer ordered the book through a comic shop, sometimes months before the book was even printed. Not too many other industries work that way with such a devoted clientele.
On the flipside, the widespread use of preordering and pull-lists means that many comic shop owners can be extremely conservative in ordering and stocking the shelves of their stores since their customer base has essentially promised to buy the bulk of their product before it hits the floor. Meaning reordering and stocking for a general or casual readership is not really necessary since most of the bills are already paid by the Wednesday crowd.
So, I’m afraid that in comic shop terms, the list above says to me that unless Mid-Life suddenly becomes another Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen or Maus, or makes a ton of Books of the Year lists, that these initial numbers might represent a large chunk of the bulk of the book’s sales through comic book shops, ever. Sweet Tooth has, beyond Jeff Lemire’s not insubstantial talents, the advantage of an ongoing series and the hype-machine of DC Comics behind it, so I expect the collections to hang around the Top 300 for awhile. And so on…
Update: this comparison of the size of the comics market with 1959’s doesn’t make me think that more people are reading comics. Dollar-wise and vriety-wise, today’s market may be larger, even adjusted for inflation, but more kids read comics then, no?