I was talking to the owner of my local comic shop (LCS) about the state of the comics scene, or more specifically where Marvel is standing in the shop. When I said that perhaps the best thing to have happened to the indie comics scenes in recent years was Marvel’s constant cycle of events followed by a new number one, rinsed and repeated ad nauseam. There was a time when I had a god awful number of Marvel books on my pull list, but that has changed gradually over the past year or so as I began to find myself drawn toward Valiant, and more recently toward Alterna. My pull list now consists of “everything that Valiant and most of Alterna put out,” which is almost a complete 180 from where it was just four years ago.
I don’t think I’m alone, either.
While Marvel and DC Comics will always have a following, whether because of the popularity of the movies, television shows, or a general cultural awareness, I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that there seems to be a growing buzz around publishers that have traditionally been on the fringe. It’s something my LCS has noticed as well though whether that’s indicative of a global trend or merely something on a smaller scale level among my social circle, I’m unsure – and honestly I’m not entirely sure how to go about finding that out in a way that isn’t going to take a lot of work and time (neither of which I’m currently inclined to invest).
Comichron‘s sales numbers will give me an idea, but as they’re only of print copies sold through Diamond and don’t include digital or sales directly from the creator to the consumer (such as those at conventions) then they’re only ever going to provide a limited window into the sales results. There’s also no real way to tell which individual comics people are buying, and whether their buying habits have shifted from the two major publishers to the indies, or if the indies are attracting a whole new audience.
What that means, is that this will at best be conjecture based on an interpretation of sales figures and a couple of conversations with comic shop owners, and at worst just the ramblings of a comics fan who has too much time on his hands.
But then you expect that by now, eh?
In an attempt to at least keep some semblance of organization and formula I’m going to stick with the same month each year for five years (let’s arbitrarily pick October for no reason other than the data will be in for 2017 by now) and take a look at the top ten, which I fully expect to be mostly comprised of Marvel, DC and Walking Dead as well as the amount of comics sold, and the market share of the top ten publishers.
Looking at the top ten over the last five years for October, we notice that Marvel held 29 of the 50 top spots, DC had 17, Image had 3, and BOOM! popped their head in with a single entry. Ultimately, that doesn’t surprise me given what was happening in those months (judging primarily by the comics in the list above), although there does tend to be a general decline in sales for the top ten over the past two years, there has been more of a balance between Marvel and DC. Now obviously because we’re only looking at one month out of the year, it’s hard to get a general sense of how the comics performed over the years, so I also went and grabbed the same data for the complete* years we’re looking at (*at the time of writing we don’t have December 2017), which you can find below. Let’s not ask why this wasn’t done in the first place, eh?
You’ll notice in 2015 three of the top four comics have an asterisk beside their name. That’s because they were included in a subscription box, and as such there really isn’t an accurate number for the comics sold minus those that went to a subscription box, I also included the comics ranked from 11-13 as well. Likewise for 2016 and the comic ranked at 11. With those additional comics included, there does seem to be a general decline in sales among the top ten even as the balance shifts from Marvel to DC over the course of the last two years thanks primarily to DC’s Rebirth. But, and here’s what I find interesting, the sales of the top 300 comics haven’t really seen the decline that I was expecting to see based on the conversations I have had with retailers before doing this research.
Now it should be mentioned that these numbers are exclusive to the US, and the retailers I spoke to were based in Canada. Whether there’s a correlation to explore there, I don’t know.
Does this mean that the difference in sales in individual shops as people trend toward the independent comics are anecdotal, or are they localized trends that we won’t notice on the top ten of each of the last five years alone?
I think that ultimately, both are true. Whilst the majority of comics buyers are still looking toward Marvel and DC, in the next decade I wouldn’t be surprised to see more books higher up the sales charts from other publishers as people branch out toward the indies.