Category Archives: The Comics Are All Right

The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Diversity and the Comic Market Part 2

I kicked off what will be at least a three-part series looking at the state of comics and a shift to more diverse characters, stories, and creators. The first part looked at 2016 as a whole for the comic market.

On a macro level more units were shipped with a lower average cover price resulting in an overall loss in dollars. Since we just have estimated numbers from diamond we don’t know sell through at the store level. These numbers also include some sales through services like Loot Crate which doesn’t benefit stores. It’s flawed, but the best we have.

I felt before moving on to individual series to really look at trends it was good to take one step down and explore shipped units and sales by month from 2015 to 2017.

When we look at the trends since January 2015 we see the overall volume has increased slightly, but generally has remained steady with some increases which we’ll discuss.

On average 7,361,111 comics have shipped for the top 300 while 8,147,778 for all comics shipped by Diamond.

What the above clearly shows is the sharp increase and hard crash in the comic cycle primarily due to major launches or events.

  • April 2015 – Star Wars from Marvel and Convergence by DC Comics launch
  • July 2015 – Secret Wars launches from Marvel
  • November 2015 to December 2015 – Secret Wars wraps launching new first issues for Marvel, Dark Knight III launches from DC Comics
  • June 2016 to November 2016 – Civil War II plus new first issue series for Marvel, DC Comics launches Rebirth

While I don’t want to call the above launches “stunts” we can see events and series launches boost sales creating an artificial bubble of sorts that eventually crashes. April 2015’s high was followed by a loss of about 33% for a September 2015 low. December 2015’s high also sees about 33% loss for a March 2016 low. With 2016’s “stunts” taking place over a longer period we should be about in the low from that event’s high just in time for upcoming events in April.

There is the issue of overships for Marvel which in December could have been in the 100s of thousands of issues. Even when taken into account, the amount shipped is equal to year’s past. So, volume is higher (we can quibble on overships), so again lets look at the cover price during the same time period.

In June 2016 we begin to see a drop of weighted average cover price of comics with lows through much of the rest of the year. These lows for cover price are the lowest since before 2015 and that dime an issue adds up. In Marvel’s interview with ICv2 they said October 2016 is when they heard/saw issues beginning. That’d be after four months of weighted cover prices dropping. So while comics were being sold, more needed to be sold and when it comes to shops with a physical space, that changes a lot of math as to dollars earned per square feet of retail space.

There’s clearly volatility looking at the monthly numbers driven by the ebbs and flows of events and relaunches and add in a decreased average cover price being sold. All of that together creates an uncertain time, but can we chalk up that volitility to any one publisher?

Below I took the reported top 300 units shipped and top 300 percentage of the market as reported by Comichron for each month.

We see Marvel on a decline since June 2016 with some of their lowest months in February and March 2017. When Marvel says they see sales diminishing, this could be what they’re discussing and again look at the massive drop for them from June 2016 to September 2016. That’s a decrease of about 1.8 million units.

Compare that to DC Comics increase which begins to spike in June 2016 before things stop from falling in December 2016. Though DC is doing better in the latter part of 2016 than at any point since this data from January 2015 it’s still not enough to make up for the Marvel freefall. Remember DC’s cover prices have been $2.99 compared to Marvel’s $3.99 so again units being sold for an average cover price that has decreased impacts perceptions.

And we’re not seeing other publishers picking up the market. Most remain pretty steady with spikes here and there due to one comic with a solid release (an example being the recent The Walking Dead 25 cent promotion for Image).

But what about dollars? Below is a rough estimated of what the above equals in dollars.

From the highs of June 2016 from Marvel and DC each publisher has dropped about $8 million and $4 million by the time March 2017 has rolled around. We see a decrease in units resulting in a decrease in dollars.

So, while the big picture for 2016 looks mixed, we can see from the above that the latter half of 2016 has seen the bubble pop resulting in a sharp slide to where we are in 2017.

But what isn’t working? For that we need to look at each individual series. We’ll explore that in part 3!

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The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Diversity and the Comic Market Part 1

Much has been discussed these last few days about diversity and comic sales. In an interview with ICv2, Marvel‘s David Gabriel discussed the last year and the perception that there’s been a shift in the comic market and sales are lagging. Though clickbait articles have spun Gabriel’s comments into “Marvel blames diversity” or “Marvel blames comic buyers” he said nothing of the sort. Here’s the actual exchange with an emphasis added:

Now the million-dollar question.  Why did those tastes change?
I don’t know if that’s a question for me.  I think that’s a better question for retailers who are seeing all publishers.  What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there.  That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.  I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.

Gabriel was just repeating “what he heard” from retailers and if you read the full interview you’ll see that his thoughts on the subject are much more wishy-washy without much of an answer. This isn’t about defending Gabriel, this is about answers and reality.

The comic industry absolutely needs to do a better job of inclusion in creators, content, and engaging audiences. Publishers are dominated by hetero-white male creators. Other industries have recognized this and found success. Fox (yes Fox) has acknowledged this. Jordan Peele’s Get Out has so far made $167.6 million worldwide on a $4.5 million budget, a 37.24 multiplier (so far). There’s an audience hungry for diverse entertainment from diverse voices. And all of that is being planned to be discussed in the second part (and third, fourth, etc. if needed).

We’re not about clickbait here, so lets discuss the reality of the comic market, Marvel’s sales, and diversity in 2016 using facts and the data we have. First up, lets look at the industry as a whole.

Here’s the reality according to the numbers.

Fact: 2016 had more UNITS shipped by Diamond than 2015

Fact: 2016 had less revenue in due to an average lower cover price (ie the hold the line at $2.99 dropped the average). The industry lost roughly $9 million or about $3000-$4000 per shop.

Fact: January 2017 had the most units shipped for a January in 20 years.

Fact: February 2017 was 5% more units shipped than February 2016. If the end of 2016 sucked you’d see a big downturn in units shipped about now. That’s not happening.

All of this data is based on the excellent reporting of ComiChron based on Diamond’s estimated shipping numbers. Now, what’s shipped isn’t what’s sold, far from it. But, you’d think stores are smart enough to order about what they can sell and if a series begins to tank orders will adjust over time and we’d see a rapid decline eventually.

What’s reported so far is Diamond Comic Distributor’s estimated sales. Diamond is the primary distributor for comic shops, so this is some of the prime data that we’d want to look at to see the “health” of how shops are doing. Again, I stress as I always do that this data is estimates and not perfect in any way.

diamond-data-2016

But what’s the year to year like? Below we see the gains and losses for 2015 and 2016.

diamond-data-2016-year-to-year

That’s a bunch of red in 2016 compared to 2015.

  • All comic sales are down in dollars
  • The Top 300 is down in dollars
  • The combined top 300 comics and TPBs are down in dollars
  • The average price of the top 300 weighted by orders is down

It’s not all bad though.

Comics not in the top 300 increased compared to 2015 selling 820,000 units more. Trade paperbacks too saw a massive increase in dollar sales.

Unit sales have increased as well.

  • All comics increased by 1 million units from 2015
  • Top 300 comics increased by 180,000 units

Trade paperback sales are up. Non top 300 comic sales are up.

The problem is pretty clear from the data, even though there’s more comics being sold, they’re returning fewer dollars, and there are two data points that back that up.

Dollar sales for the top 300 comics is down nearly $9 million and add in the 11 cent decrease in cover price the picture is obvious. More is being sold at a lower price which is causing a pinch of dollars.

If I sell 1,000 units at $3.96 I make $3,960 but if I sell 1,025 units at $3.85 I make $3,946.25. Even though I sold MORE comics, I’m making LESS money.

It’s unknown exactly how many shops there are in the United States but estimates has it between 2,000 and 3,000 shops. $9 million split that way equals some serious dollars.

shops-loss

To emphasize how big of a shift just 11 cents a cover makes. If 2016 sales had 2015’s cover price the dollars sold would have increased $15.871 million in 2016 compared to 2015.

That’s a lot of money per local comic shop that’s vanished. Take into account some shops are doing well, that means there’s potentially a bigger loss for other shops. Those numbers above represent a month’s rent at least for some shops gone. Even with margins, these numbers show shops absolutely should be feeling a money pinch compared to 2015 and that there’s something that needs to be corrected.

It’s pretty clear cover prices are a major problem for the 2016 comic market. But what about the myth that diversity is the problem? We’ll discuss that in the next article. Stay tuned for part 2!

 

The Comics Are All Right is a regular featured column looking at the positive and negative in the comic industry using data and measurable statistics.

The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Geo-location, and Contextual Marketing

Last week Marvel announced they were making some changes in their email program and would start advertising comics in movie theaters and on television. The news was covered with some praise, which it deserves, but beyond the announcement itself there wasn’t much as to what they were actually doing. So, this felt like the perfect opportunity to go into more depth as “The Comics Are All Right” column’s point is to point out the negative, positive, and present things with actual facts and data.

But, to better understand the Marvel announcement about geo-location and marketing, you need to first understand email. I’m not talking about the email you send to one person, I’m talking bulk email where special programs are used to send thousands or even millions of messages. When these messages are sent there’s a few extra steps compared to a one off message you send to a friend, and one of those is adding more information to the email. That info might help track people who open or click the message or it might change parts of the email like adding your first name to the message or changing an image. Usually, that is based on static information in a database, like a first name or a product being sold based on past purchases or your behavior on a website.

What Marvel is doing is doing that, but it’s on steroids.

By teaming up with the company Moveable Ink, a leader in what’s known as contextual marketing, Marvel is able to leverage more information than what’s in a database and also able to power their email program in a different way. Moveable Ink is a technology leader in what’s known as contextual marketing. This type of marketing delivers content based on behavior and data. You probably experience it every day without noticing. Moveable Ink makes that marketing easier in email through their toolset.

In the announcement, Marvel said they’d be including information for local comic book shops in the emails they send promoting their spring comic launches like X-Men Gold and Secret Empire. In the past, that information would be static. Marvel would use information like a zip code to match your location with a local shop and that information would be merged into the email. Where this program differs is that the information can constantly change. If Marvel leverages Moveable Ink in the way it’s supposed to be used an email you’re sent can show different shops based on your actual physical location. In one location on Monday you’ll be shown one shop and in another location on Tuesday you’ll be shown a different shop. The email evolves based on your physical location.

The above the scenario is what Marvel touched upon in their announcement without that much detail and also left out is the cost of it all. Moveable Ink is not cheap. For 600,000 opened emails a company would pay around $15,000. Marvel has an email list of about 1.5 million and averages about 14% opens per email. So, they’re spending about $5,000 per email sent using this system. But, it’s a successful tool and can boost sales, though I haven’t ever discussed real world purchasing with Moveable Ink only online sales when it comes to their success stories.

And that’s a big question to me. How success will be measured? A digital sale is easy to measure, but driving someone to a store to buy a physical product is a bit more difficult. The publisher can look at opens and then cross reference sales to a store, maybe, but it’s not an easy task laid out. Add in the fact this will need to boost comic sales by the 10s of thousands to be profitable and you have to respect the task at hand.

But, what Marvel didn’t lay out in their announcement email is the other uses of the tool. Sales can be updated when they end. New release information can be swapped out. Events can be better tailored to the individual and promoted. The same email may look different in the morning than it does in the evening. There’s a long list of possibilities and to see what they do with this new found tool will be interesting.

This is a big leap for the comic industry, one that is woefully outdated in the marketing and promotion. This technology has existed since 2010 and I’ve been aware and working with it in my political email career for 4 or 5 years at this point, and was checking it out for years before. Hopefully, other publishers take note of this move and truly understand how powerful this technology is and how much it can benefit them. Someone needs to be first and Marvel has stepped up.

The Comics Are All Right: The One Where I Say “We Told You So”

i-told-you-soWithe ComicsPro over, the thoughts of store owners as to the state of the “comic industry” and the past year have trickled out. Some of what I’ve heard discussed is building communities and better dialogue between stores, publishers, and fans, and that some of the blame for current struggles is due to lower cover prices (we showed that was the case a month ago). Add in news DC will again be partnering with stores to include ads in front of movies (something we’ve brought up numerous times on our radio show), and I’m left here thinking this all sounds familiar. Add in how we were ahead of the curve about “women comic fans” not due to opinion or anecdotes, but with numbers, analysis, and trends.

It sounds familiar, because, these are things we have directly reported and analyzed or some of the articles we’ve run for years now.

So, instead of just repeating “we told you so” over and over for a 1000 words, I decided to put together a recap of key articles so that it won’t be a few more years before folks catch up with what we’ve already been saying now for a while.

And, for those that enjoy these columns, there’s a few months worth to catch up on.

The Comics Are All Right: Now’s The Time to Be Political

greater_coat_of_arms_of_the_united_states-svgI began “The Comics Are All Right” feature to explore the inner workings of the comic book industry and give a take that’s focused more on data, facts, and examples, not opinion. And for the most part I’ve succeeded diving into actual sales numbers and trends, throwing out hypotheses as to the direction of the industry, giving examples of publishers and stores that are breaking the marketing mold, and more. And, I think I’ve done a decent job of staying away from opinion (Yes that is an opinion. The irony is not lost). But, this one is going to be opinion, sort of. Here we go:

The comic industry needs to get political!

Now, this particular column isn’t what you think it is. I’m not going to debate that politics and comics go hand in hand (they do and have a long history together). No, this is a call for the industry and publishers to become aware of possible legislation and policy changes over the next years and how it’ll impact them.

For almost seven years I worked as the Online Advocacy Director for the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA). During that period we monitored legislation and built campaigns to allow video game consumers to have a voice in the political process about legislation and proposals that directly impacted them. At times those campaigns overlapped with the needs and wants of the video game industry itself. We tackled issues ranging from censorship, broadband expansion, a Supreme Court case, video games and health, Net Neutrality, broadband caps, and more. I’m proud to say, we never lost a battle.

The comic industry will face legislative issues (they always do beyond censorship) and it’s time we recognize this, and do something beyond it. Here’s just a sampling of what we’ll likely have to deal with in the years to come and why it’s important.

Repeal of the ACA aka Obamacare – The pay for comic creators can be pretty low and add on top of that a lack of benefits and it’s clear that eeking out a living as a creator isn’t the easiest or most rewarding career there is. Freelance creators are forced to purchase their own healthcare through the ACA, from a union, a spouse, or through another job. That first option is currently at risk with threats of a repeal which will cost an estimated 18 million people their insurance in the first year.

Our insurance system is flawed, that’s not what this is about, this is about ensuring an easy way for self-employed individuals to gain insurance, not be discriminated against due to pre-existing conditions, and benefiting women and helping with their choice of birth control.

A repeal would increase costs by either putting some individuals in a high cost “risky pool,” deny coverage outright, or increase out of pocket benefits. It’s estimated that women will have to pay $1.4 billion in copay for birth control for instance.

That’s less money in the pockets of creators. More freelance jobs needed to take. Possibly greater cover prices due to the need to charge more by freelancers. Decreased health. Less money means less traveling for conventions. Less interaction because time spent online is time not spent earning money.

Quality of life will decrease for those in the industry.

What this means is the industry needs to start thinking of solutions. A guild through which freelancers could purchase insurance or publishers offering ways for creators to buy into their offerings are both solutions. Now is the time to think this through before it’s too late.

Import Tax – The Trump administration has threatened to create an import tax, the theory of which is it’ll force manufacturers to produce items in the United States. I’m not going to go into the legality of this or how flawed the economic theory is (that’s for another post). Instead, if it goes through, the import tax won’t be paid by corporations, it’ll be paid by the consumers. That $3.99 comic will now be $4.99 or $5.99. Nothing changes except higher retail prices which equates to fewer items sold, stores struggling further, and publishers cutting back or going out of business. No one gains in this scenario, from the consumer through to the publisher, we’re all screwed.

Repeal of Net Neutrality – If you sell digital comics or use the internet to market, you should care about this issue. At it’s basic core, Net Neutrality is the concept that like content online should be delivered at like speeds (it’s more complicated than that, but we’ll stick with the basics). If Comcast offers you internet and voip phone and another service offers voip, Comcast wouldn’t be able to slow down the competitor to benefit their service.

If Net Neutrality goes away the internet becomes pay for play with content producers shelling out money making it more difficult for upstarts to get noticed. It would allow internet providers to outright block content and websites. It could slow down connections making it more difficult for creators to talk to fans, their publishers, or fellow creators to work on projects.

That’s not even getting into data caps.

The Return of SOPA/PIPASOPA/PIPA is online censorship. The legislation was first put forth in 2011 and threats of new versions rear their ugly head every year. We beat it once. It doesn’t mean we will definitely beat it again.

European Rules on Copyright Infringement – Lets not focus on a “what if” and instead focus on the now. A current proposal by the European Commission would adopt new rules requiring platforms to scan and filter user uploads for copyright infringements.

Want to share that cool art? Yeah, not happening. Want to upload a gif? Nope.

SOPA/PIPA was a similar plan and was defeated here in the US, but this is one that’s being discussed, today. As is, the copyright system and its tools are broken. The DMCA is used in ways it wasn’t meant to and the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. A rule like this is an affront to the rule of law and freedom of expression and if you’re in Europe, this should concern you.

Immigration and Travel – The Trump administration that has put out an Executive Order that has thrown our immigration and border system into chaos. Individuals are being asked to hand over their phones and unlock them even if they are US citizens. Not to mention the disturbing questions being asked and social media being mined. The EO threatens all of us, but if you’re a foreign creator or US creator (citizen or not) who has to return from overseas, I’d be nervous right now. Do you enjoy creators being flown from overseas to conventions? This could impact that, at a minimum.

Publishers, creators, and we the fans, need to organize and be aware. These issues will impact our enjoyment within the industry and the ability for publishers and creators to deliver. Now is the time to band together. Now is the time to build an apparatus to lobby and help speak on our behalf. Now is not the time to sit on the side and watch it all pass us by.

The Comics Are All Right: Break the Marketing Mold

sink-1While many are discussing the spiral death of the comic industry excuses as to the cause seem to vary depending on the position the person is in. Store owners often blame publishers for putting out too much, not marketing enough, incorrect pricing, lackluster product, a broken preordering system, and more. Indie creators focus on an antiquated distribution system, a market too focused on a few publishers, fans unwilling to take a chance. Fans blame stores for not reading their minds and ordering what they want, publishers for the product, creators who fight with fans.

In reality, it’s not one thing, it’s many that lead to the ups and downs of the comic industry.

But, there are some who are bucking the system. Creators who are talking directly to fans. Publishers who are going around the current distribution system. Stores who are finding customers and building their own communities.

There are roughly 284,163,264 individuals interested in comics according to Facebook demographics. That’s a large group of folks to advertise directly to. Stores, like Third Eye Comics in Maryland, are doing just that with engaging advertising to get folks to come to their store. Three years since I first covered Third Eye’s fantastic ad program they’re still going strong, so it must be working for them, right?

When I started these columns, I didn’t just want to highlight problems of the industry, I wanted to spotlight those who are doing things that go around the system and pave their own path like Third Eye Comics.

A prime example of this entrepreneurial attitude is ComixTribe headed up by Tyler James who recently spoke to us about Kickstarter and the things the publisher is doing there. The publisher definitely is blazing their own path working within and outside of the current system to create their own corner of comicdom and doing so by building a community.

Their latest project to break the mold is Sink. The series by writer John Lees, artist Alex Cormack, letterer Colin Bell has done its own thing to build its audience.

First: A series of emails to the ComixTribe list teased the new series

Second: After a series of teasers the comic’s first issue was given away for FREE to the dedicated email list. ComixTribe often gives away free first issues to incentivize individuals to join their list.

Third: A limited amount of print copies were released primarily at conventions.

Fourth: A Kickstarter has been launched to fund an offset printing for the comic before it’s released to mass markets later this year.

330 individuals, and $3,300 above the goal raised as of this article being published, the Kickstarter and marketing plan is a success.

But, the email list could have been it to build a promotion. ComixTribe has gone an extra step with what I see as a rarity this day, a physical mailing. It feels like far to few publishers and creators take advantage of a cheap communication platform like email, but to see one send out a physical mailing is impressive, to say the least.

comixtribe-1 comixtribe-2

You think this is would be a pretty big outlay right? Some Google search has each postcard pegged at about 30 cents a piece. A 5,000 person mailing would cost about $1,500. With the postcards just hitting mailboxes, the return on investment most likely hasn’t been seen… yet, but the project is already above its goal.

If 5,000 individuals seems like too few individuals for your $1,500 investment, that same amount of money on Facebook gets you about 63,000,000 views of individuals who said they are interested in comics. If 1% of 1% of those views take action, that’s 630 new Kickstarter pledges, almost double the current amount of individuals pledged for this project.

With ComixTribe, what we’re seeing is a new type of marketing being used, one that bucks the press release, blog, individual, shop, dynamic that’s dominated the industry. And by doing this sort of hard work, ComixTribe is building their own community, one that will follow them through ups and downs and the market and most importantly, they can talk to directly.

ComixTribe might be a small publisher, but their ideas are pretty big, and they’re showing the industry you don’t have to beholden to the current paradigm, you can create your own and find success.

The Comics Are All Right: A Cover Price What If?

In last week’s “The Comics Are All Right” I explored that the reason for the recent nervousness in the comic industry and stores could easily be explained by the drop in “weighted cover price” for the top 300 comics.

For those that haven’t read last week’s column, as reported so far Comichron:

  • All Unit Sales For Diamond Comics increased by 1 million
  • Unit Sales for Diamond Comics Top 300 Comics increased by 180,000
  • Unit Sales for Diamond Comics Not 300 increased by 820,000

So, more comics were sold. HOWEVER:

  • Dollar sales for all Diamond’s comics decreased by $6 million
  • Dollars sales for Diamond’s top 300 decreased by $8.9 million
  • Combined dollar sales for Diamond’s top 300 comics and trade paperbacks decreased by $5.22 million

While more units were sold, less money was coming in. WHY?

The weighted average price for Diamond’s top 300 comics decreased by 11 cents.

If we assume shops aren’t sitting on a ton of excess comics that aren’t being sold (and judging by monthly reporting of the estimated number of comics ordered, that’s not the case), the yes the problem shops are facing is that the top 300 comics aren’t bringing in the dollars that they were in 2015. Yes, it really is that simple.

In 2015 the weighted average price for a top 300 comics was $3.96 a 17 cent increase from 2014, while the top 300 comics average price was $3.85 in 2016 which is an 11 cent decrease.

I’m a big fan of Marvel’s comic series What If? and decided with this knowledge to play a little “what if” of my own.

“What If? 2015 Saw the Same Average Weighted Cover Price as 2014?” and the sequel “What If? 2016 Saw the Same Average Weighted Cover Price as 2015?”

Here’s the stats:

what-if-stats

As you can see, there’s a big difference. If 2015’s average price was the same as 2014’s there’d still have been an expansion in dollars sales, though not as much as there was in reality ($15 million less to be precise).

2016 is a totally different world. Instead of being a $8.9 million decrease from the previous year, we actually see dollars in increase by $15.871 million if cover prices remained the same (a $24.771 million swing).

We don’t know how many shops there are in the US, but here’s the possible gains.

what-if-gains

Instead of a loss, stores gained a significant amount of money in this scenario. Now, there is a flaw in this thinking in that most likely the units sold would not have been the same, they’d have likely decreased. But in this scenario, we’re keeping it as if everything else remained unchanged.

While 11 cents might not seem like a lot, you can see how much of a difference that can make. Cover prices do matter, and they matter… A LOT!

The Comics Are All Right: Is It Simply the Cover Price?

It’s time for some fun with math! There’s a lot of worry from comic shops about their viability and speculation that 2017 will see mass closures of local comic shops.

Comichron has some stats for 2016 already listed, so I thought it worthwhile to see how the year compared to 2015 with the data we have so far.

What’s reported so far is Diamond Comic Distributor’s estimated sales. Diamond is the primary distributor for comic shops, so this is some of the prime data that we’d want to look at to see the “health” of hoe shops are doing. Again, I stress as I always do that this data are estimates and not perfect in any way.

diamond-data-2016

But what’s the year to year like? Below we see the gains and losses for 2015 and 2016.

diamond-data-2016-year-to-year

That’s a bunch of red in 2016 compared the 2015.

  • All comic sales are down
  • The Top 300 is down
  • The combined top 300 comics and TPBs are down
  • The average price of the top 300 weighted by orders is down

It’s not all bad though.

Comics not in the top 300 increased compared to 2015 selling 820,000 units more. Trade paperbacks too saw a massive increase in dollar sales.

Unit sales have increased as well.

  • All comics increased by 1 million units from 2015
  • Top 300 comics increased by 180,000 units

Trade paperback sales are up. Non top 300 comic sales are up.

The problem is pretty clear from the data, even though there’s more comics being sold, they’re returning less dollars, and there’s two data points that backs that up.

Dollar sales for the top 300 comics is down nearly $9 million and add in the 11 cent decrease in cover price the picture is obvious. More is being sold at a lower price which is causing a pinch of dollars.

It’s unknown exactly how many shops there are in the United States but estimates has it between 2,000 and 3,000 shops. $9 million split that way equals some serious dollars.

shops-loss

That’s a lot of money per local comic shop that’s vanished. Take into account some shops are doing well, that means there’s potentially a bigger loss for other shops. Those numbers above represent a month’s rent at least for some shops gone. Even with margins, these numbers show shops absolutely should be feeling a money pinch compared to 2015 and that there’s something there to correct.

 

The Comics Are All Right: Does Increased Economic Confidence Mean Lower Sales? A Year in Stats.

For those who might not be familiar with it, Comichron is an interesting resource for data on estimated and reported sales figures in the comic book industry. Run by John Jackson Miller, the site is a great tool in trying to suss out trends and patterns and while there are flaws, it’s also one of the best resources we have.

With 2016 over and the December estimates up I decided to check out what might be discerned from what Miller has reported and what stands out to me.

Comics Outside the Top 300 Ended the Year Strong

While Miller doesn’t seem to report this stat for most of the year, in August he began to not just report the estimated number of comics in the top 300 shipped, but the total number of comics shipped by Diamond.

Using that data, we can look at how many comics that weren’t in the top 300 that were shipped and it looks like they ended the year rather strong accounting for almost 10%. While the overall sales for Diamond and sales of the top 300 comics looks to have dipped since August 2016, the percent of indie comics that shipped increased.

2016-non-300-vs-sales

We also see this trend through the year as the comics not listed in the 300 increases as part of the new comics shipped each month (though there’s clearly volatility in comics ordered).

2016-not-300

As the year goes on it looks like shops began to look elsewhere for sales as they began to order more comics not in the top 300 chart. This could reflect the narrative we’ve seen floated by sites and shops that the selling power of the big two has waned and they’re looking to make up for those decreased sales.

The Non-300 is an Impressive Amount of Money

Miller provides a few interesting dollar stats in his monthly reporting. There’s the “Top 300 Comics Shipped (in dollars),” “Top Graphic Novels Shipped (in dollars),” “Top 300 Comics plus Top GNs Shipped (in dollars),” and “All Comics and GNs Shipped (in dollars) and that latter was also previously labelled “Overall Diamond Sales (including all comics, trade,s, and magazines).”

So, I decided to see what those dollars were that weren’t the top 300 comics and top 300 graphic novels. The answer, an impressive amount. But, that amount looks to be trending down. For as much focus as there is on the sales of graphic novels/trade paperbacks and comics, this “gray” area that includes those outside the top 300 and magazines is often overlooked. For 2016 the top 300 graphic novels was relatively flat for the year and the top 300 comics, while all over, increased over the year too. But, that “everything else” while initially seeing an increase looks to start decreasing about 3/4 of the way into the year. Is the problem for local comic shops actually this?

2016-sales

Is it the Confidence in the Economy?

I don’t know where I first came upon this tidbit, or even how true it is, but it’s believed that board game sales and video game sales do well in down economies. You can read up on some of this.

This is one I definitely want to track going into 2017 and go back for data in 2015, but I used the US Economic Index released by Gallup and compared that to the reported sales by Diamond.

While things are a bit all over for the year, we see the Economic Index begin to increase in August and skyrocket in November, this is about the same time we see the sales number dip. Could the recent worries by local comic shops be due to an increased confidence in the economy? Stay tuned as we continue to track this.

2016-economic-index

The Comics Are All Right: Digital Codes Aren’t the Answer. Digital Comics Are.

bonusdigitalcontent_0201The narrative for the last few months is that local comic shops are falling apart facing mass closures in 2017 in a sky is falling narrative that hasn’t been backed up much with hard numbers. 2016 looks to be a growth year (though final estimates are waiting to be released) for Diamond Comics Distributor, the primary comic distribution company, so someone is buying comics. That’s not to say a bubble didn’t pop, or stores didn’t extend themselves, but right now, the numbers haven’t really backed up the narrative that’s being pushed. I have my own theories, but that’s an article for another time.

But, publishers have taken notice and a spirited discussion happened.

BOOM! Studios’ Ross Richie pled with individuals to help #boostyourlcs by going out and buying a trade paperback to help their sales. Marvel took another route, one that left quite a few folks scratching their heads including myself.

In 2011-2012 Marvel launched a digital code program in a way to justify the increase of comic prices from $2.99 to $3.99. Along with the print copy of the comic a digital redemption code would be offered as well and the code could be redeemed through Marvel’s digital comic app as well as comiXology.

Last week, Marvel announced they would be changing up the program, in part to help boost physical retailers:

Marvel is proud to announce that, beginning February 2017, all Marvel digital redeem codes found within the pages of Marvel Universe titles will unlock two or more BONUS DIGITAL COMICS on the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPhone® and select Android devices* at no additional cost!

Starting this year with Marvel Universe titles (excluding all-ages comics), only available within your local comic shop, the Marvel digital code will be upgraded to unlock two or more additional digital Marvel comics – stretching your dollars’ worth!

“Marvel is continuing our commitment by offering our fans the best value in comics along with honoring our cornerstone of the comic book industry – the retailers,” said David Gabriel, SVP of Sales, Marvel Publishing. “Our intent in evolving our digital code program is to offer our fans more value per dollar spent.  Replacing the free digital copy, our BONUS DIGITAL COMICS will offer fans free entry points for current on sale collected editions and, in turn, invite additional and repeat traffic into our trusted retailers.”

Beginning February 1st, Marvel fans that enter the doors of their local comic retailer will now be rewarded when they purchase Marvel titles with a digital code that unlocks existing moments into the Marvel Universe they may have missed in the past.

To get people to buy physical product at their local comic shop, the publisher is doubling down on their “bonus” digital offerings. What’s the logic behind that?

The idea is that Marvel will offer a relevant comic in hopes it’ll get individuals interested in a series or wanting to go buy a trade and that individuals will do that at local comic shops.

“Marvel will always be a brand that looks to excite our fans as well as drive traffic to our tried-and-true retailers,” said Jim Nausedas, Sales Director, Marvel Publishing. “One of the free BONUS DIGITAL COMICS offered in February will be Civil War II #0 in time to promote the CIVIL WAR II collection on sale that month. Then, each week, new BONUS DIGITAL COMICS codes, available only in your local comic shop, will offer fans additional pathways into the Marvel Universe, promote Marvel’s monthly trades, and create repeat retailer customers and Marvel readers for life.”

I underlined the relevant parts in the quote above.

I have my doubts that anyone will benefit other than Marvel. I’m not going to just criticize, my plan is to offer a better idea that WILL likely benefit local comic book shops.

Here’s the flow and steps that Marvel envisions:

  1. Person purchases physical comic with a code from local comic shop,
  2. Person redeems code,
  3. Person reads the digital comic,
  4. Person is interesting and returns to the local comic shop,
  5. Local comic shop has items that are being searched for in stock,
  6. Person then purchases item.

bonusdigitalcontent_stickerWith that “workflow” I see points of failure over and over the biggest of which is that local comic shops would need to be psychic to know what Marvel plans on giving away. So, unless they’re being told ahead of time as to what to expect, the time for them to stock up and make sure they have the right items to sale is limited, and that’s even if the correct items are in stock.

But, I actually think Marvel’s change has more to do with the current use/popularity of their digital app. Here’s the data I could turn up.

Marvel Comics App

iPhone

Download Ranks

iphone_download_ranks

Grossing Ranks

iphone_gross_ranks

iPad

Download Ranks

ipad_download_ranks

Grossing Ranks

ipad_gross_ranks

Google Play

Download Ranks

google_play_download_ranks

Grossing Ranks

google_play_gross_ranks

We don’t know the redemption percent of those that had been purchased, but it’s clear something isn’t going right lately. The ranks (which are relative, so others could just be doing that much better) for Marvel’s comics app has been dropping for some time. From these reported stats, they need to do something to change direction. When they initial launched this program it seemed to help some after all.

ipad_initial iphone_initial

So we can see how this benefits Marvel and why they need it. They need more users and interest in redeeming these codes after what looks to be declining interest. But, I have doubts this will actually help local stores.

Instead here’s some ways for Marvel to actually help local stores.

Use Their Email List to Drive Individuals to Stores – Each Monday Marvel sends an email for their Marvel Unlimited releases each week, how about an email on Wednesdays announcing their new releases? But, better than that, using zip codes/IP tracking to include addresses for local shops for people to go to?

I estimated that Marvel’s email list is about 2.5 to 3 million individuals. If just a small fraction of new individuals went to their shop that’s a massive impact. If just 1% converts, that’s 30 new customers a week, $100+ if each purchases 1 comic.

The ability to provide specific data based on an individual’s location is easy with numerous services providing the tools for what would amount to pocket change for Marvel. The returns in purchases would pay for itself eventually.

Follow Up on those Redemptions – Because these are digital accounts, Marvel should have the location of their users based off of their zip codes and/or IP address. It’d be easy enough to create a robust email program that leverages this data to provide a kicker and get individuals to go to their local shop. Again, just 1% of 3 million individuals would make a hell of an impact.

Add the Comic Shop Locator to Digital Comics – Reading digital comics is an advertisement to really read more digital comics. The ease of “now” would make me expect the real behavior of these digital codes would be to see the digital reader redeem the code, then buy more digital comics while they’re there. Why wait for the shop? And if they’re online, wouldn’t a cheaper online store such as Amazon be more convenient and immediate?

How about using the digital comic itself as an advertising platform for local stores? At the end of the reading experience a page can be delivered so that a zip code can be typed in and shops looked up, or better yet the data can be auto-populated. They’re reading the digital comic, use that to give them the information needed. Better yet, do this for ALL Marvel digital comics sold and really get people out to their local shops.

 

We’ve seen that physical sales and digital sales can live side by side and as one increases the other does too. One doesn’t necessarily cannibalize the other. What’s unspoken is the vast amounts of data that’s been collected. How about to save comic shops we leverage that?

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