Maybe I'm the only one, but I always find Brian Hibbs' annual column on the BookScan numbers for graphic novels to be fascinating -- mainly because the top books, publishers, genres, etc. are so radically different than what's happening in the Direct Market. I've always thought that these are the sales people should pay attention to when considering how to hook new readers and children into the hobby.
Despite the gargantuan length, this clipping is actually heavily edited down, focusing mainly on the stuff that would interest us fanboys...
Crunching 2011's Book Scan Numbers
The bookstore market buys their material returnable, where they can send back some portion of titles that don't sell. Because of this, sell-through is the data that is tracked and trended. Bookstores that have POS systems are able to report their sales to BookScan, a subsidiary of Nielsen.
BookScan generally claims to represent between 70% and 75% of sales in the industry (Wal-Mart and some of the supermarket chains are among those who decline to report.) But a comparison with in-print figures supplied by publishers reveals that the numbers are more likely to represent about 65%, even after deducting for unsold books and returns.2011 Overview
One major note for 2011 is, of course, the Death of Borders through the year. The final Borders stores finally closed down in September 2011. Borders, all by itself, was once approximately something like 15% of the bookstore sales market. Borders, more importantly, really originally broke the manga category in America, and when you see the fairly horrific drops the bookstore market for comics is showing this year, constantly bear in mind that the number two retail chain utterly collapsed this year.
The sum of the Top 750 in 2011 is down by some 11% in unit sales, and 6% down in dollars purchased. This is the third consecutive year of sales drops in both categories, and the fourth year of drops in volume. The bookstore market in 2011 is down by an entire third of the units sold at its peak in 2007.
Obviously, a portion of this drop can be attributed to the general economic malaise that we're facing in this country, and another big chunk of it can go on the books as relating to the loss of Borders. What's actually a little optimistic, in my mind, is that the drops that the 2011 market shows is a smaller percentage drop than it was in 2010. That suggests to me, possibly, that if Border's hadn't had its troubles, or if the economic climate had been better, then we could have seen a flat or improved year in the bookstores.
(It may or may not be worth mentioning that the comic book store market ended 2011 up
4.57% in periodical comics unit sales, down 5.01% in dollars in book sales.)
2011 was also a fairly weak year for media tie-ins driving book sales -- there was no "Watchmen," as in 2009, or "Scott Pilgrim" in 2010. Even "Walking Dead," which is a true comics phenomenon these days had sales on many of the individual titles that were lower than 2010 sales.
What I do think we can see is that the weakening of manga as a category is now bringing down the general overall numbers in a very visible way -- manga sales are down, in the top 750, some $35 million from their 2007 peak, while the overall market is only down by $15 million in that same period. Manga still dominates sales for now, but its fall as a category is masking at least some real growth overall from other categories (especially children's comics).
The #1 item this year is exactly the same as it was last year: Rachel Renee Russell's "Dork Diaries."
Coming in at #2 for the year is "Big Nate: From the Top" with 84k copies.
The #3 comic for 2011 was also the #3 comic of 2010: Dav Pilkey's "The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future."
The #4 best-selling title is the first volume of art spiegelman's "Maus" at about 36k.
#5 in 2011 is the first sign of Robert Kirkman's juggernaut of "The Walking Dead" -- and somewhat surprisingly it's for the $60 compendium. This comes in at 35k copies (beating last year's performance of about 29k). That, coupled with the cover price, makes it the #1 dollar book of the year, with $2.1 million dollars in retail sales. Every single volume of "The Walking Dead" makes the top 750 chart, in every format to boot!
To help you put this in perspective, there are 243 books on the (entire!) BookScan list this year that start with the word "Batman" (obviously, not every single Batman-featuring trade has that as the very first word, however) -- those books sum up to 308k copies sold, and $6m. Superman? $1.4m. Star Wars? $1.9m. Spider-Man? Just $672k. Naruto? $2.9m. "The Walking Dead" is bigger than all of them, and even bigger than several of them combined.
The #6 best-seller this year is the second volume of the manga-style adaptation of "Twilight," with 34k copies sold.
#7 this year is the first volume of Jeff Smith's "Bone," with about 33k copies.
#8 is the first volume of Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" with 32k sold.
#9 is our first real piece of Manga, with "Naruto" v50 just over 31k.
Coming in at #10 is last year's beauty, "Scott Pilgrim" v1.
What if you sort the chart by dollars grossed, instead? That actually looks fairly different [Marvel, DC, Dark Horse & Image bolded
]:$2,121,546.35 - WALKING DEAD COMPENDIUM 1
$2,049,640.14 - DORK DIARIES
$897,552.00 - SCOTT PILGRIMS PRECIOUS LITTLE (box set)
$839,609.55 - BIG NATE FROM THE TOP$793,818.13 - WALKING DEAD BK 1 (hardcover)
$688,660.00 - HABIBI
$685,597.03 - TWILIGHT GRAPHIC NOVEL V 2
$642,848.85 - PERSEPOLIS 1
$544,718.20 - MAUS I$502,500.00 - THOR BY WALTER SIMONSON OMNIBUS$477,998.39 - WALKING DEAD BK 6 (HC)
$447,976.97 - WALKING DEAD BK 2 (HC)
$434,404.45 - COMPLETE PERSEPOLIS$422,208.79 - WATCHMEN
$409,515.14 - V FOR VENDETTA NEW E$391,403.89 - WALKING DEAD V 14 NO WAY OUT$380,633.08 - BATMAN THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE
$376,982.26 - WALKING DEAD BK 5 (HC)
$370,311.15 - SCOTT PILGRIM V 1 SCOTT PILGRIM$364,854.00 - BATMAN HUSH DC Comics
The largest publisher of Western comics is DC Comics. In 2011 they placed a strong 107 titles in the Top 750, for 661k units, and a hair over $13m in retail dollars.
C reverses last year's post "Watchmen" drop, both placing more books, as well as totaling greater sales. This is a fine performance given the overall woes in publishing and the economy.
As has been the going trend for six years now, "Watchmen" is DC's #1 best-selling title, selling just over 21k copies in 2011. That is down substantially from the 29k it sold last year, and the book's lowest sales since 2005, when it sold 17k copies.
Still, given the fairly steady performance, at least relatively, over the last six years, it isn't really any surprise that DC would like to publish a second (or third) volume of "Watchmen," is it? If it even did only half as well as the original, it would be a perpetual top 20 success for DC's backlist. "Watchmen" represents an almost half-a-million dollar gross sale in the bookstore market this year, and DC didn't have to barely lift a finger to make that happen.
It's also worth noting its performance relative to other DC-owned properties -- "Watchmen" fairly consistently sells better than the best-selling "Batman" graphic novel.
Only the other hand, as I write this I'm checking Amazon (I know! But I don't get access to those BookScan numbers!) for "Gone With the Wind" and it's #8,248 in books, while it's official sequel, "Scarlett," is #839,112, so who knows if the bookstore audience will even cotton to a Watchmen prequel?
DC's second-best-selling title this year, short by about 90 copies, is "Batman: Year One," spurred, I'm sure, in no small part by the release of the animated DVD of the story.
#3, at just over 20k, is also Alan Moore with "V For Vendetta." This book is down a smidge from last year (when it was #2), but it perhaps has a higher profile this year, what with the use of the Guy Fawkes' masks by some people participating in the "Occupy" protests. What's ironic is that most of the people buying the masks are likely buying the "official" ones which of course are manufactured by Time/Warner, one of the largest and most powerful corporations on the planet.
#4-6 are all Batman books ("Dark Knight," "Killing Joke" and "Hush") [20k, 19k, and 14k, respectively], as are #8 ("Arkham Asylum" -- 13k), #9 ("Return of Bruce Wayne" -- 13k), #12 (The "Noel" OGN HC, with 12k sold in just about 6 weeks' time) #14 ("Long Halloween" -- 8800), and #15 ("Batman & Robin" v3 -- 8700) Batman is just a little bit popular, eh? In fact, nearly a full third (32) books that DC places in the Top 750 feature pointy-ears, selling almost a quarter-million books, and grossing $4.8m
#7 is "Superman Earth One" with nearly 14k copies sold. I am crazy super-curious to see what happens with the second volume of that story, as well as "Batman Earth One" debuting later this year.
#10 is the first Vertigo book, being v15 of "Fables" and placing a bit over 12k copies. (v14 is at #16 with not quite 9k) Interestingly, to me, v1 only has about half of that (6797) -- I'm used to seeing much more of a bell-curve pattern on active and ongoing series (witness "The Walking Dead" or "Naruto").
The #2 western publisher, for the second year running, via the stores that report to BookScan, to be Scholastic.
The #3 Western publisher by pieces in 2011's >BookScan Report is Image Comics, with 27 placing books in the Top 750, for some 367k copies. Image also pulls in $8.7m in retail dollar sales, which, if we were ranking by dollars, would make them the incredibly solid #2.
The #4 Western publisher goes, once again, to Random House.
The #5 largest publisher within the Western portion of Top 750, while looking at total units sold is Simon & Shuster.
The #6 largest publisher in the Western comics space, by the BookScan Top 750, is the crew from Portland: Oni Press.
The #7 Western publisher within the BookScan Top 750 goes to Dark Horse Comics.
The #8 Western publisher within the Top 750 is Marvel Comics, which places 27 titles for about 128k copies and $3.3m sold.Marvel Comics
I think it is clear at this point that Marvel, at least in the Bookstore market, isn't really that significant of a player able to drive very many hits. Yes, they're largely dominant in the Direct Market channels, and they rule periodical comics, but their backlist strategy does not seem to be paying off with any kind of solid results.
This is also while Marvel had not just one, not just two, but three successful films featuring their characters in 2011. Those three films together grossed nearly 1.2 billion (with a "b"!) dollars at the box office, and yet Marvel doesn't even be able to seem to sell more than 7158 copies of a book ("Siege") that features any of those characters. In fact, that's not even Marvel's best-selling title!
Let me give you what I happen to think is the most plus-perfect example one might be able to name. As we established earlier, "The Walking Dead" is one of the hottest Western comics today. That is a money-printing machine right now, and Robert Kirkman can do no wrong. Even a book just reprinting the covers of "TWD" managed to sell 2700 copies in the BookStore market.
Marvel has a book by the same writer; in the same genre, even, one might argue, with a clearer and more branded name in "Marvel Zombies," and Marvel can only shift 3239 copies -- just five hundred copies more than a book of the covers, for crying out loud. Plus, and here's the bonus, it's not even a cash-in work -- it's good comics that are a ton of fun to read.
That, you will forgive me for editorializing, is sad.
Marvel's largest success in the bookstores this year isn't anything featuring any of their characters -- it is "Castle: Deadly Storm," a meta-tie-in to a mildly-rated television show. That book sells 9634 copies to BookScan reporters.
Marvel's #2 best-seller is the latest from Stephen King's "Dark Tower" tie-ins, "The Journey Begins," with 8619 copies sold. This is about half of what last-year's best-selling "Dark Tower" book, "The Fall of Gilead," sold. Four "DT" books placed in the Top 750, and they are, for Marvel, #4, #7, and #11. Down to 4482 there at the end.
#3 for Marvel is the aforementioned "Siege." Its companion, "Siege: Battlefield" is #14, with 4196 copies sold.
Three of Marvel's best-sellers are adaptations of Public Domain work -- "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is #5 with just over 6k copies sold, while "Marvelous Land of Oz is down with 3277 copies sold. They are joined at #12 with "Dracula" and 4413 copies sold.
#6 is Mark Millar's "Wolverine: Old Man Logan" (5942), and Millar's "Civil War" is #8 (5733). Millar also takes #10 with "Nemesis" (4918), #13 for "Kick-Ass" in hardcover (4211), and again at #20 in softcover (3508). Last year the "Kick-Ass" hardcover sold a bit over 38k copies, thanks to the film.
Marvel's #9 book is a semi-random collection of Avengers-related #1s "The Heroic Age." This is also Marvel's last seller over 5k for the year, with 5166 copies sold.
The best-selling book with "Thor" in the title ("Thor" having grossed $449m in world-wide box office, you understand) is actually the $125 Walt Simonson Omnibus (only 4020 copies, but that cover price makes it the #10 dollar book for the entire year with a gross retail of just over half-a-million dollars.
The best-selling "X-Men" titled book is "X-Men: Age of X" (3237) sold, though it's is beaten by "Uncanny X-Force: Apocalypse Solution" (3807). Neither is even remotely akin to the film "X-Men: First Class."
No "Captain America"-titled book makes the Top 750 -- "Reborn" comes in at #837 with 2903 copies. Again, no apparent bounce from the film.
I think it is worth mentioning that Marvel flooded the market in advance of "Cap" and "Thor" with miniseries, where it was stated the goal was to have a wide backlist in place when the films came out. Not a single one of those books that were purportedly created with the film-goers in mind, made the Top 750. Marvel harmed its own brand in its core market by flooding out more material than the market could support, and it appears to have gained absolutely nothing from it on the back end.
I firmly believe that, with proper inventory management, Marvel could easily sell enough material to become the #1 Western publisher in the book market (and, do it in such a way that would not increase their risk-to-return ratios to any large degree), but clearly they'd need to abandon this plan predicated on "what's in the theatre," because it simply isn't working for them, in either market.