Tilting at Windmills

Wed, February 9th, 2011 at 2:58pm PST | Updated: February 9th, 2011 at 4:52pm

Comic Books
Brian Hibbs, Staff Writer


"Love is blind."

For the eighth year in a row, I'm going to try to figure out something that is hard to exactly perceive and understand: the size and shape of the sales of books through the book store market, as seen through the prism of BookScan.

Some preamble:

"Direct Market" stores (also known as "your Local Comics Shop") buy much of their material for resale from Diamond Comics Distributors (though, not, by any means, all -- many DM stores are also buying from book distributors, and in increasing numbers). A relative minority of DM stores have Point-of-Sales (POS) systems so, because we buy non-returnable, what we track in our side of the industry is what sells-in to the store, not what sells-through to the eventual consumer. In a very real way, this means that the DM store owner is the actual customer of the publisher, as opposed to the end consumer.

The bookstore market, however, 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.

Each week, BookScan generates a series of reports detailing the specific sales to consumers through its client stores. I have several well trained spies who have, for several years, provided me with access to the BookScan reports.

If you click here, you can find a copy of the 2010 BookScan Top 750 year end report for the comics category.

(For points of comparison, try these links [I can't guarantee these will always work]:

2009: BookScan Report and My Analysis
2008: BookScan Report and My Analysis
2007: BookScan Report and My Analysis
2006: BookScan Report and My Analysis
2005: BookScan Report and My Analysis
2004: BookScan Report and My Analysis
2003: BookScan Report and My Analysis)

For the last five years, what I've been given is the actual end-of-the-year total report, as opposed to 2003-2005 where I only had the report for the last week of the year. The effective difference for a casual chart reader is probably very little, but it does change some of the value in the percentage changes year-to-year. Please bear it in mind when comparing this year's report to the previous ones -- comparing 2010 to 2006-2009 is probably as close to apples-to-apples as it can get, as is 2003-2005, but comparing the '06-10 data to '03-'05 isn't going to be necessarily as valuable, and any analysis I can make of comparative growth is going to be off by some factor, possibly a significant one.

The biggest and most obvious difference when doing straight comparisons will be in the lower ends of the chart. This year, the "worst selling" book in the Top 750 is about 3300 copies (it was ~3900 copies in '09). In '03-'05 there would be 200 or more items that didn't have YTD sales in that amount.

Also of major note is that for 2007 to 2010, I have the full and entire BookScan listing, down to books that have only one copy sold YTD. However, I'm not going to provide that entire list because that's too much data, even for a data-junkie like myself. I've cut the list off at 750 items because that's what we've reported in the previous seven years. Still, I have the deeper data, and I'll summarize it as we go along. As long as I continue to get that much data going forward, I should be able to tell you a few things about " The Long Tail." In 2010, I possess data on more than 22,000 items! We'll talk more about this later.

This is not a list of every book that sold through every book store -- the report is limited to those stores that report through BookScan. According to BookScan, more than 7500 venues report to them, but this still leaves many venues that don't. Like I said in My first analysis:

But who are the retailers who report to BookScan? According to the list that I have, there are over 7400 potential BookScan venues. This list includes almost 300 independent bookstores, as well as chain retailers, B. Dalton / Barnes and Noble, Borders / Waldenbooks, Tower Music and Books, Musicland, Deseret Book Company (Mormon bookstores), Follett Stores (University bookstores), Hastings, Costco, K-Mart, and Target. BookScan also tracks online sales from Amazon.com, B&N.com, Borders.com, Buy.com, Fatbrain.com, and Powells.com.

That's still a fair number of places that sell our product that aren't represented -- beyond traditional book retailers who don't report to BookScan (Say, a number of indie bookstores), and mass market retailers like Wal-Mart. This also doesn't track any number of other channels -- like library sales, book clubs or other specialty markets like, say, LGBT stores, etc. This Publisher's Weekly article [from 2003, I wish they'd check in on this story for the 2010 reality!] (you'll have to subscribe to read it, sorry) says the following:

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.

For BookScan's top ten nonfiction titles published last year -- a list that include mass-market favorites like Phil McGraw's diet books as well as indie hits like "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life" -- no title had BookScan sales comprise more than 75% of total sales. For some of the books that had strong special-sales, they ran as low as 25%.

Frankly, I haven't bothered to ask BookScan for a client list every year, so it is pretty likely that the number or percentage of reporting stores has increased significantly since 2003. However, I'm also going to continue to assume that the Publisher's Weekly article is still accurate to the extent that these numbers are unreported by some potentially significant degree, and don't, in any way, represent all "book stores" selling comic book material. Having said that, I have reason to believe that, for graphic novels, the number is much closer to right than it is to wrong.

Also, remember that this analysis represents RETAIL SALES. This absolutely doesn't include anything like Library sales, or School Sales, or things like book clubs and so on. Those are not RETAIL SALES. This is all about "person with an extra $20 in their pocket," so don't conflate anything else from this.

There's also a certain amount of miscategorization going on. As an example, every volume of the manga series "Love Hina" can be found in my full copy of the sales report, except for volume 2. In the Great Big Database there's apparently an error and "Love Hina" volume 2 isn't listed as a "Adult Fiction graphic novel." Conversely, a few prose books always sneak on to the list -- "Bloody Crown of Conan" makes its eighth annual appearance as a not-comic. I do not know what the actual extent of miscategorization might be and how it would impact any of the general data analysis!

I've done the best I can to try and root out any items "of significance" that should be on the chart that I'm given -- for example, I have to have "The Complete Persepolis" and "Maus" manually pulled for me because they are actually classified as (I believe) "Memoir" rather than comics. Because this relies on me thinking of things to get them on to the list -- each item apparently only has one classification -- there's almost certainly comics material missing that I didn't catch. The apparently biggest 2010 release that I found not on the chart was "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less," but that didn't even make the top 750. There's certainly many titles that never make it onto BookScan's list, but, as near as I can tell in my due diligence, the largest bulk of them have "insignificant" BookScan sales -- at least among comics aimed at adults!

Really, what I'm trying to get across to you is that this really is entirely unreliable data in terms of the absolute and total number of books sold, and is only able to give the broadest outline of what's happening in book stores, based upon the data-set that I'm being given, which is in no way comprehensive. I still think that's better than having no information, so I persevere in writing this each year.

As always, I strongly encourage you to look at the BookScan numbers on your own and make your own conclusions -- I'm trying to be balanced and fair, but, of course, I have huge bookshelves worth of biases I'm dragging around with me, and your analysis might be more correct than my own. Every year I write this and hope and pray that we'd get three or four competing analyses of the data dump, but that never happens. Maybe this year?

Again, I want to stress that I'm doing my primary analysis on the Top 750 items: the reason for this is that is all that I was able to get in the first four years of this analysis, and otherwise the percentage changes I'm discussing will be even more wrong than they would be otherwise. The Top 750 represents just about half of the total of the full list. While there are significant sales below the Top 750 (at least $86 million in 2010), the Top 750 probably represents the majority of items you'd be able to "easily" find on the shelf of a bookstore in America. I'd love to analyze the full "long tail" list, but I'm afraid that this might take these little essays to well over 30,000 words, and keeping your attention just through this seems hard enough to me! Maybe if Jonah paid me by the word...

OK, that's the boilerplate out of the way, let's start looking at the data.

2010 Overview

One overall note on this year's chart -- this year I opted to cut out anything that clearly wasn't a "comic," though such definitions are sometimes difficult to make. For instance, the #1 book of the year (and more on that below) isn't really a "comic" -- it has words, it has pictures, but they don't work together in the way I'd think we'd commonly agree is "comics." However, it's just close enough that I decided to keep it. Much less controversial (I'd imagine) is my decision to remove "young reader" prose books like "Super Friends: Going Bananas," which, while nominally about comics or comics culture, is factually a prose book with pictures. That specific title's sales would have qualified it to be the #10 best-selling item on this list, so clearly there is an enormous market for this kind of material -- it just isn't the "comics" market.

Beside the "young reader" books, I also cut things like the Paul Levitz written "75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking" from Taschen or "art books" like "The Art of Bleach." In all, I removed 54 items from the Top 750 that didn't match my personal definition of "comics," to make room for 54 items that I think are comics. However, if there was a legitimate question about it, like our #1 book, I erred on the side of keeping it.

Here's the big picture for the Top 750:

Year Total Units Growth Total Dollars Growth
2003 5,495,584 ----- $66,729,053 -----
2004 6,071,123 10.5% $67,783,487 1.6%
2005 7,007,345 15.4% $75,459,669 11.3%
2006 8,395,195 19.8% $90,411,902 19.8%
2007 8,584,317 2.3% $95,174,425 5.27%
2008 8,334,276 -2.9% $101,361,173 6.5%
2009 7,634,453 -8.4% $93,216,014 -8.0%
2010 6,414,336 -15.9% $85,266,166 -8.5%


The sum of the Top 750 in 2010 is down by nearly 16% in unit sales, pushing things back to about what they looked like in 2004. This is the largest of the accelerating drops over the last three years, and hopefully the place where the drops stop happening.

(I do, however, want to remind you that the nearly 20% of growth in 2006 was almost certainly overstated because of the difference in reporting methodologies between 2005 and 2006. Read 2006's report for more detail. My estimate was that it was probably closer to 10-12%.)

In terms of dollars, the Top 750 dropped by 8.5%, again the largest drop we've seen since we've been tracking this.

Certainly, we're still fighting the general American economy here, as well as the ongoing impact of the Borders' chain slow-motion collapse, and, depending on how things work out in 2011, Borders' fate could have a large additional negative impact on next year's charts.

Diamond Book Distributors, which represents a large number of mid-range comics publishers (including Dark Horse, IDW, Image, Dynamite, Oni, Tokyopop, Top Shelf and Udon) has already cut-off new shipments to Borders, and, if bookstores are anything like the historical results of comic book stores closing (and they may not be), a significant percentage of the business Borders serves is likely to disappear into the ether.

Obviously, Borders may be able to get through their current problems, and restructure their business to be healthy and profitable, but it is hard to imagine that we might not see at least another 20% drop in sales in 2011 because of one single chain's success or failure.

Another factor in this year's drop is the lack of a super-mega hit like last year's "Watchmen" results -- in 2009, the softcover of "Watchmen" sold an astonishing 425k copies into the bookstore channel, or nearly 5% of the total 2009 dollars! In 2010, "Watchmen" managed "just" 29k copies (making it the 19th best-selling title in units), a very large differential, and one that didn't appear to have a spillover impact into other graphic novels -- there is no "next Watchmen," nor anywhere that I can detect any particular impact in the comics-reading acceptance, as related through these charts.

(Since I already pulled this data out for last year's piece, here is "Watchmen's" performance over the last eight years:

Year Quantity % Change
2003 14,336 -----
2004 11,340 -26%
2005 17,384 35%
2006 37,554 54%
2007 45,449 17%
2008 308,396 679%
2009 424,814 27%
2010 29,171 -93%

I don't think anyone expected that Watchmen would keep more than a small percentage of its growth, though I certainly was hoping for more like 60k this year, and the book dropped back below 2006 sales)

Looking a little bit wider, into the whole of the BookScan report over the last three years where I have more data past just the Top 750, here is what "the Long Tail" of all comics sales BookScan tracks in this category looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 13,181 ----- 15,386,549 ----- $183,066,142.30 ----- 1167 $13,888.64
2008 17,571 24.98% 15,541,769 1.00% $199,033,741.57 8.02% 885 $11,327.40
2009 19,692 12.07% 14,095,145 -9.31% $189,033,736.31 -5.02% 599.52 $11,327.40
2010 21,993 11.68% 12,130,232 -9.31% $172,435,244.86 -8.78% 552 $7,840.32

We're now tracking nearly 22k items through the BookScan charts, about a 12% increase from 2009 -- but unit sales are off by nearly fourteen percent, and dollars by nearly nine percent, hardly glowing results.

Once again, we're clearly adding titles at an unsustainable pace, and, as we continue to do so, the average sales level for everything continues to decline. Stores have a finite amount of rack space to dedicate to comics, and even on an "infinite canvas" like from an eSeller like Amazon, there are hard limits on what the consumer is willing or able to buy.

Also, again, the "Long Tail" of comics sales is roughly the same size as the best-selling 750 titles -- those best selling 750 titles sell just about as many copies as the 21,243 "worst-selling" titles

Let's take a look at the Top 20 best-selling items on the 2010 chart, it looks like this:

168,330 -- DORK DIARIES
90,664 -- SCOTT PILGRIM V 1
72,703 -- SCOTT PILGRIM V 2
70,393 -- SCOTT PILGRIM V 6
64,238 -- SCOTT PILGRIM V 3
62,720 -- SCOTT PILGRIM V 4
59,805 -- SCOTT PILGRIM V 5
53,155 -- NARUTO V47
42,917 -- NARUTO V48
34,376 -- MAUS I
29,656 -- BLACK BUTLER V1
29,171 -- WATCHMEN

The #1 item, Rachel Renee Russell's "Dork Diaries," really isn't comics. However, it's more than "merely" illustrated prose, as the art is integral to the story, and so I decided to not Wish It Into the Corn Field like I did the prose-first miscategorizations. "Dork Diaries," for those of you who don't know, is essentially a distaff version of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," which, you will note, doesn't appear on the comics lists whatsoever. "DWK" also sells in multiples of "Dork Diaries." I'm going to say that it is safe to guess that "Dork Diaries" also has extremely robust sales in channels outside of retail sales, and that this 168k is just the tip of the iceberg. Still and all, it may be helpful to note that while the best selling "comic" really isn't, it's still selling substantially better than anything "we" produced this year.

"Dork Diaries" also sold about 100k more copies in 2010 than it did in 2009 -- it was #2 last year, with 68,657 copies sold.

Coming in at #2 for the year, we have the adaptation of "Twilight," and, naturally, another book that caused me conniption fits in trying to categorize it later on. Is it "manga," or does it fit better in the "western comics" box being an adaptation of a popular American prose series? Ultimately I decided to count the numbers on the "other: media-related" side because it is my strongest possible guess that this sold primarily to "TwiHards," rather than manga fans in and of themselves. You may, of course, feel free to call me names for this, and want to recalculate the later numbers to move it back over into the "manga" category -- I won't complain, analyzing charts like this becomes a series of judgment calls.

The "Twilight" Graphic Novel sold a stellar 127k copies through the venues which report to BookScan, which would be under half of the announced print run of 350k, but, again, I'm going to assume that it also shifted an enormous amount of copies outside of the BookScan reporting venues -- WalMart doesn't report to BookScan, and is carrying the book, for instance; plus I can see this having strong sales into book clubs and the like. While, as far as I can tell, they haven't announced a 2nd printing of the book, I think it will be safe to suggest that this has been a very strong, very profitable book for Yen Press. It's also reported to have set a first week record for sales. Of course, the open question will be whether or not this presumably new-to-comics audience will come back for volume two (and beyond), and whether they can be encouraged to purchase other comics, but clearly this is a strong showing.

The #3 comic for 2010 is Dav Pilkey's "The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future," and there's absolutely no question to me that parts of this is, indeed, comics. More than that: comics aimed at kids. And more than that, comics that never once touched the Diamond Top 300 at any point in 2010 because our friends in Timonium don't even carry the book. And, of course, like the two titles before it, it is almost certain that the retail BookScan numbers just tell the fraction of the story of sales for the book -- while 125k is nothing to sneeze at, I bet this is selling many, many more copies at Book Fairs and sources like that.

What lesson might we take from these first three books? Well, clearly, aiming comics at children or at women can pay massive, massive dividends, as those are vasty audiences not well served by traditional comics releases, as reflected in overall DM numbers.

Places #4-9 are a sweep for Brian Lee O'Malley's "Scott Pilgrim," an excellent result for a creator owned work (though, clearly, having a film in theaters didn't hurt it at all) -- taken together, the six volumes (including, further down in the charts, the boxed set and a "bundle") sell a massive 434,105 combined copies through BookScan reporting stores. That's more copies than "Watchmen" sold last year!

That's a massive success in the bookstores, and it's another place where they really thumped the Direct Market. "Scott" v1 sold ~91k in the bookstores, but only ~31k in the DM

Coming in at both #10 and 11 is Masashi Kishimoto's "Naruto," with v47 selling 53k copies. Having caught up with Japan's release schedule, there are only three new "Naruto" volumes this year. Volume 49 was released in October, and, with only two months of sales sold ~27k, placing at #24. Taken together, the 49 volumes of "Naruto" sold ~403k copies, with each and every volume placing on the Top 750 list (if only just -- "Naruto" v21 is item #750!)

"Naruto" is down from its peaks. In 2009, the then 46 volumes sold a combined ~971k copies, and the highest placing volume (v43) sold ~61k copies. In 2008, v28 alone sold nearly 104k copies.

In place #12 is the first volume of Jeff Smith's "Bone," at about 42k copies. Given that the color reprint series ended last year with volume nine's release, I'd say it's still exceptional that "Bone" v1 is continuing to sell this strongly. "Bone" v1 came in at #6 in 2009.

Spot #13 goes to "Kick Ass" with about 38k sold. This is the highest placing "superhero" comic on the list, though, like "Scott Pilgrim" (or "Twilight") before it, I'd place a great deal of these sales on the film.

At #14 comes another surprise: Lincoln Peirce's "Big Nate: From The Top" with almost 35k copies. In a certain way this is close to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" as well, but there are extended comics-storytelling sequences between short prose stuff, and so, yeah, I'll consider this "more or less comics." Again: Aimed squarely at kids, and totally absent from almost any conversation in the comic book industry, while outselling most of our "native" product.

#15 is art spiegelman's "Maus" v1 with just over 34k sold. That's up a bit from 2009 where it sold about 32k copies. As usual, the second half of the story in v2, sells significantly less -- only about 19k copies. Who are these people only buying half a story? I wonder if they think that was the end? The complete hardcover of both books musters just 4105 copies sold.

Coming in at #16 is another media-driven hit: Robert Kirkman's "Walking Dead" v1 at about 33k copies. And at #18 is the "Walking Dead" Compendium, that massive brick of a book that features the first 48 issues (or the first eight paperbacks) with an astonishing 29k copies. I say "astonishing" because the original intent of the compendium was a one time novelty printing, and I was among the retailers that helped convince Kirkman that keeping that package in print would be a good business decision. Wish I asked for a royalty!

One interesting side note here is that the Direct Market sold more copies of v1 -- almost 44k in 2010.

All thirteen volumes of "Walking Dead" place into the BookScan Top 750, as do all six of the hardcover collections. Collectively, they shift 279k units, for almost $6.4 million dollars in sales. That actually massively tops both "Naruto" ($3.5m) and "Scott Pilgrim" ($5.7m), making this, in many ways, the story of the year.

Further, unlike almost anything else on the Top 20 list, this is virtually guaranteed to increase next year with the launch of the second season of the television show (with a full 13 episodes, too)

At #17 we get Yana Toboso's "Black Butler" v1, at almost 30k. That's a very strong debut for a new manga collection in the current market. All three volumes released in 2010 placed within the Top 750. While there is an associated anime, it doesn't appear that it has been broadcast on American television, making this launch all the much stronger looking, not being directly tied to other media.

Position #19 is "Watchmen," discussed above.

And finally, at #20, we get "Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel," just a hair below 29k. This is a tie-in to Diana Gabaldon's prose fantasy series, and was written by the author. I received a very nice letter (and galley) from the author prior to publication promoting the book and her direct and personal involvement in it. It would appear that her marketing effort paid off well.

I'd like to say that this is, I think, the most diverse Top 20 we've seen in the BookScan lists since I've begun this exercise, and while it dominated by tie-ins with other media (even if many of them are "natively comics"), it still shows a wide range of audience and styles, and, I think, is an optimistic sign for comics in bookstores.

If you look at BookScan in terms of dollars sold, rather than units there's some reshuffling (The "Walking Dead" Compendium moves up to #3), but largely the same books remain in the Top 20. A few notable exceptions, however -- Robert Crumb's adaptation of "The Book of Genesis" (~25k sold) jumps into the #13 spot, the hardcover of "Blackest Night" (~20k sold) comes in at #14, and the first volume of "Persepolis" (echoing "Maus" above in sales pattern, with ~29k for v1, but only ~5k for v2) coming in at #16.

There are a total of five "million dollar books" listed on BookScan in 2010. "Twilight" grossed $2.5m, "Dork Diaries" $2.2m, the "Walking Dead" Compendium at $1.7m (I really really wish I had some of those royalties!), "Ook & Gluk" grossed $1.2m, and "Scott Pilgrim" v1 with $1.1m. "Kick-Ass" came really close at 960k, but it still missed the cut.

Just to remind you, there were only three "million dollar books" in '08 and '09, and five in '08.

Because I ran this last year, let's keep looking at authors -- sorting the Top 750 by author, we find these names with more than 10 books placing in the Top 750:

Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto) -- 49 titles with him listed as author
Eiichiro Oda (One Piece) -- 42
Tite Kubo (Bleach) -- 26
Natsuki Takaya (Fruits Basket) -- 22
Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead) -- 21
Neil Gaiman (Sandman, etc.) -- 15
Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist) -- 14
Tsugumi Ohba (Death Note) -- 14
Brian K Vaughan (Y, The Last Man, etc.) -- 14
Bill Willingham (Fables) -- 14
Jennifer Holm (Babymouse) -- 13
Akihisa Ikeda (Rosario+Vampire) -- 13
Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, etc.) -- 13
Jeff Smith (Bone) -- 13
Matsuri Hino (Vampire Knight) -- 12
Hidenori Kuaka (Pokemon) -- 12
Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball Z) -- 12

These seventeen authors represent 320 of the Top 750 titles, or about 43% of them. This sums to 2.5m units sold (for $30.8m) or pretty much 20% of all books sold. (all of them, not just the Top 750)

Historically, I've arbitrarily divvied the Top 750 list into one of five categories: Humor, Manga, DC, Marvel, and the ever-wonderful Everything Else. While such categorization is horrifically subjective, I did it so to try and track the distinctions between "traditional" bookstore material (e.g., humor books like "Garfield" or "Far Side"); Direct Market-driven material (i.e., Marvel, DC, and much of the "Everything Else" group); and Manga.

In 2008, however, I bowed to the inevitable and gave up on the "humor" category, because it only came in at 4 items that year (and only 2 in 2009 and 2010). It is virtually certain that this is because most of those kinds of items (typically strip collections like "Calvin & Hobbes," etc.) have been recategorized to not appear on the charts I receive. I will now throw whatever comes into this category into the "Everything Else" section. That will throw the percentages off a bit, but I think it will make intent a good deal clearer. We'll talk about that more, a few sections below.

The other major change I'm making this year is simplifying the over-arcing categories straight up to "Eastern" (Manga) and "Western" -- Marvel and DC won't have their individual sections broken out in the way I did it the first seven years. I'll still break down their performances, but Marvel's generally poor performance in the Bookstore channel made it clear it was dopey to keep giving them their own spotlighted section, and having "Manga, DC, and everything else" as sections seemed equally silly to me. The same data is all there, I'm just presenting it slightly differently!

Here are the year-to-year comparison between individual categories, and within those categories, by publisher or "genre," depending:

2010 Manga

As always, the largest grouping of titles, by far. In 2010, Manga continues to dominate with 436 spots (out of 750 -- or 58% of the placing books) on the charts for 3.1 million pieces (49% of the Top 750), and $31 million in retail dollars (36%).

Here's a year-to-year comparison chart for the Top 750:

Year # of placing titles Unit sales Dollar sales
2003 447 3,361,966 $34,368,409
2004 518 4,603,558 $45,069,684
2005 594 5,691,425 $53,922,514
2006 575 6,705,624 $61,097,050
2007 575 6,837,355 $61,927,238
2008 514 5,624,101 $53,033,579
2009 451 4,414,705 $41,068,604
2010 436 3,117,019 $30,212,561

While Manga is still the dominant "kind" of comic on the BookScan charts, the category is now down to its lowest level in the eight years we have been able to follow -- all indicators are now below 2003 levels, roughly the start of the "manga boom."

It isn't just within the Top 750, either, here is a look at manga within the entire BookScan charts (The "Long Tail")

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 6231 --- 11,323,487 --- $108,770,537 --- 1817 $17,456.35
2008 7842 20.54% 10,173,091 -11.31% $100,800,283 -7.91% 1297 $12,853.90
2009 8756 11.6% 8,148,490 -19.90% $81,770,442 -18.78% 931 $9,338.79
2010 8764 6,239,725 -23.42% $67,092,668 -17.95% 712 $7,655.48

Total pieces and total dollars have now faced a second year of ~20% drops, that's just not pretty.

There's not a ton of analysis I can make that I didn't make above or last year: the loss of a strong Borders probably hit manga out of proportion to the general comics market -- they've been a historically strong supporter of that segment. There's also been a clear amount of overproduction in relationship to the actual size of the audience. It appears to me that the mostly flat rate of SKU growth in this year is from the removal of publishers and/or titles that have gone out of business in the last year or two (because the stock has sold through, or been liquidated away)

I also think that some of the manga audience "aged out," and didn't necessarily have a clear path back in for the next age group.

I also think that manga becomes increasingly problematic from a retailing perspective because long-running series (like "Naruto") can reach nearly insanely large number of volumes. "Naruto" is now at 49 books in the series. That's a lot of square footage to give over, especially when most manga is priced from $7.95-$9.99, rather than the $15-25 price you're more likely to see for Western material. Retail has a natural tendency to look at sales in terms of sales-per-square-foot. If product "A" makes you $x, and product "B" makes you $x+1, and all other things about them are relatively equal, product "B" makes more sense to give your finite rack space to.

One thing to note is that the entire BookScan Top 750 chart is down by about $8m this year, but that manga, as a category is down by $10m. Or another way to think of it is that the entirety of this year's drop could to be said to be from the weakening of manga throughout 2010.

So, the next question becomes: will this fix itself? Well, the magic eightball says, "Reply hazy, ask again," but the realist in me wonders how likely it could possibly be. There doesn't appear to be anything immediately coming down the pike that would reverse the trend, in and of itself, though, of course left-field things regularly happen. But it seems to me that there both broad demographic issues at play here, as well as the up-in-the-air fate of major retailers like Borders so the most likely result is that we'll see another large drop next year -- possibly as much as another 20%.

At the end of the day I will continue to suggest that manga publishers have now learned that, in America, the manga boom of the early 21st century was largely a youth movement, and as kids grew up and grew out they walked away from the form -- just as most of the last seventy-five years of domestic American comics sales have shown.

For those that don't know, prior to the creation of the Direct Market, it was assumed that the audience for comics "turned over" every five or so years -- something like 9-14 was the "golden age" of comics reading, then you hit puberty and discovered the opposite sex, or cars or drugs or whatever and gave up on comics. This is why American comics from the 50s and 60s can often be so repetitive -- publishers had no expectation of the audience continuing to read comics indefinitely. The Direct Market changed this, to a large extent, by provided comics designed for older readers, and giving them a place to find these wares. Of course, the DM has, in many ways, now become closed and insular with 20+ years of continuity, and the sense that new readers aren't coming in to replace the ones who are not merely aging out, but actually dying off.

The positive notion that could be drawn from this is that is would seem fairly possible that the first wave of "aged out" manga readers, who turned 14 or 15 in 2007, may want to return to the form as they enter their college years, starting, let's say, 2012 or 2013. Of course, this is dependent, to a certain degree, of there being enough material on the market that will appeal to their newer sensibilities. This will be an open question as to whether the English manga publishers have their pieces in place at that point. I suppose we'll see!

Still and all, irrespective of the softening of the manga market, it is still a strong and significant market, with almost 60% of the titles in the Top 750 being manga. It is absolutely still the category leader at this point, and even if it takes another big drop for a year or two, it is likely to stay as category leader for some time to come. And if it gets that second, post-adolescence boom in the middle-'10s, it could retake its rampaging dominance of sales.

The leading title in 2010 is the same one as the last three years: "Naruto." As discussed above, each and every volume (all forty-nine of them!) places within the Top 750. Taken together, those 49 "Naruto" volumes account for about 409k copies sold, or about 6.5% of all manga sold (across all 8700-ish available titles). Even with the incredible softening of "Naruto" as an engine (in 2009, the then-46 volumes sold a combined 971k copies), that's still a stellar performance, and not one to be sneezed at. "Naruto" places 3 of the Top 10 manga releases, and 9 of the Top 100.

"Naruto" v47 sells 53,155, with v48 moving 42,917 copies and v49 selling, in just two months of release 26,518 copies.

There's more to Manga than just "Naruto," and this year's chart has a somewhat wider distribution of titles in the Top 20. In addition to "Naruto," we have v1 "Black Butler" at #3 (about 30k copies, Yen Press) and #14 for v2 (about 20k), "Pokemon" of Various Flavors from Viz at #5 (about 26k), #8 (22k), #15 (19k), and #20 (17k). The ninth volume of "Vampire Knight" comes in at #6 (25k, Viz), with v10 at #10 (~21k)

The manga based on the "Warriors" prose comes in as the 7th best selling manga title (about 23k, Tokyopop), at #13, while Yen's adaptation of James Patterson's Maximum Ride places v2 at #9, with over 21k sold. V1 and v3 of that series take the 12th and 11th spots, as well.

The 16th best-placing manga is Tokyopop's "Alice in the Country of Hearts" (18k), #17 is the third volume of "Black Bird," from Viz, also for about 18k, with #18 being Yen's "Soul Eater" (18k), and #19 is the first "Death Note," from Viz, with about 17k copies sold.

As is typical with Manga, titles tend to cluster throughout the Top 750. Of the 436 manga series in that slice, there are only eighty-four distinct series. Given there were one-hundred-and-four series in the Top 750 in 2009, it would appear that buyers are concentrating on that which they are already familiar with.

Breaking down the manga portion of the chart by publisher, Viz takes 291 of the 436 manga spots in the Top 750, once again making them the overwhelmingly dominant player with a full two-thirds of the placing titles! Within the Top 750, Viz charted about 2.2 million pieces, for about $20 million -- that's down a million pieces and about $7.6 million from 2009's Top 750.

Looking at the Long Tail, this is what Viz's recent performance looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 2018 --- 6,249,324 --- $55,123,347 --- 3097 $27,315.83
2008 2447 21.26% 5,536,286 -11.41% $50,311,791 -8.97% 2263 $20,560.60
2009 2793 14.14% 4,819,407 -12.95% $44,310,790 -11.93% 1726 $15,864.94
2010 3088 10.56% 3,576,671 -25.79% $35,041,305 -20.92% 1158 $11,347.57

With an increase of almost 11% in the number of SKUs, while at the same time losing more than 25% volume in sales, I'd say Viz is still wildly overproducing, and that they'd be best served by consolidating their line down in 2011.

Viz's strongest performers are "Naruto," "Pokemon" and "Vampire Knight." No other manga series published by Viz sold more than 20k copies. Viz had only one book this year over 50k, and another six over 20k

Tokyopop remains the #2 manga publisher, with 53 titles charting in the Top 750 –Tpop brings in 346k pieces, $3.4 million retail dollars.

Tokyopop is down to being around a sixth of the size of Viz within the Top 750, and looking at the Long Tail, this is what Tokyopop's recent performance looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 1992 --- 3,073,193 --- $30,425,927 --- 1543 $15,274.06
2008 2397 20.33% 2,515,445 -18.15% $25,366,647 -16.63% 1049 $10,582.66
2009 2559 6.76% 1,431,424 -43.09% $15,135,598 -40.33% 559 $5,914.65
2010 2399 -6.25% 834,776 -41.68% $9,033,448 -40.32% 348 $3,765.51

Tokyopop is losing marketshare at a fairly dire pace -- they've lost nearly 75% of their sales volumes over the last three years. One imagines that this is one of the reasons they've decided to move to Diamond Book Distributors for 2011. Of course, Diamond just cut off Borders, so it's unclear how much this move might actually help them in the short run.

Tokyopop has lost a lot of good licenses (note that they're one of the very few publishers, east or west, that has seen the number of SKUs actually drop year-over-year), and they don't seem to have yet figured out a good replacement.

Still and all, they do continue to be the #2 manga publisher, and still by quite a wide margin. Let's not forget that the "manga revolution" in bookstores was largely a matter of Tokyopop's "authentic manga" efforts in formatting, so the fall is even more striking, coming from a category that, in some ways, they actually created.

TokyoPop's bestsellers are really the "Warriors" manga titles, and they are their only two titles over 20k. They also do well with "Alice in the Country of Hearts" and "Hetalia Axis Powers." Nothing else they produce manages to hit over 10k, though "Fruits Baskets" collectively still does strong (all 23 volumes place within the Top 750)

Surging forward to become the #3 manga publisher in pieces sold, via the BookScan Top 750 charts, is Yen Press, with 42 titles charting within the Top 750, for about 345k pieces, and a bit under $4.2 million retail dollars. This actually makes the #2 publisher in terms of dollars, handily beating TokyoPop. This is a huge move forward for Yen, as they only placed three titles in the Top 750 back in 2008. It is incredibly likely that they will take the #2-in-pieces spot from Tpop next year, being only about 1000 copies short in 2010.

You'll note that I made a (perhaps foolish) decision to count the "Twilight" adaptation as a "Western" comic, rather than manga, per se. This is due to my belief that this adaptation is primarily selling to "TwiHards," and not to a "general" manga consumer. If you disagree, then add "Twilight" into these numbers, and Yen immediately becomes the #2 publisher in the category.

Yen's top three series are "Black Butler" (which did nearly 30k copies with v1), the James Patterson "Maximum Ride" books (which I believe, again perhaps wrongly, are selling more to manga readers than Patterson's fans) (All three did 20-22k), and "Soul Eater," where v1 does about 18k

Yen has no "purely manga" books hitting 50k, and four volumes that do over 20k

Looking at the Long Tail, this is what Yen's recent performance looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 10 --- 12,896 --- $147,449 --- 1290 $14,744.90
2008 90 800.00% 110,126 753.95% $1,237,860 739.52% 1,224 $13,754.00
2009 211 134.44% 330,962 200.53% $3,697,113 198.67% 1,569 $17,521.86
2010 344 63.03% 560,983 69.50% $6,650,871 79.89% 1,680 $19,333.93

That's excellent growth, especially in a down market for the manga! -- Yen appears to be doing everything as correctly as it can be done, growing substantially every year they've been in existence.. They're one of the very few publishers (east or west) where every number is positive year-over-year, in this very rough market. They're doing terrific.

I promise that this is the last time I mention that Yen's Publishing Director is Kurt Hassler, who used to be the Comics Buyer for the Borders chain, during the period when manga had its meteoric rise.

Coming in at #4 is Del Rey, with 32 manga books charting, for about 179k pieces and just a hair under $2 million retail dollars. This is about half their performance in 2009.

Del Rey's top selling manga is "Negima," with v25 selling nearly 11k copies, they also do well with "Shugo Chara!" (v1 sells ~8800 copies) and "The Last Airbender" (the first volume, which I believe is a "fumetti"-style screen capture from the animated series, manages about 7600 copies). Del Rey has nothing selling 50k, or 20k or over. And only the single book that manages to crack 10k.

Looking at the Long Tail, this is what Del Rey's recent (Manga only) performance looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 238 --- 745,175 --- $8,332,276 --- 3131 $35,009.56
2008 373 56.72% 824,339 10.62% $9,375,440 12.52% 2210 $25,135.23
2009 480 28.69% 767,728 -6.87% $8,480,225 -9.55% 1599 $17,667.14
2010 534 11.25% 514,008 -33.05% $5,812,599 -31.46% 963 $10,885.02

Again, this is a rough result -- not quite as bad as Tokyopop's drops, but pretty rough nonetheless

The #5 publisher, as counted by the BookScan Top 750, is a close contest. Dark Horse, Bandai, and Seven Seas each place 5 titles in the chart, but Dark Horse takes the slight edge with 29,417 total units, and $488k in sales. Bandai pulls in 25,230 units, and $277k in dollars sales, while Seven Seas brings in 21,299 units and $246k in sales.

Looking at the Long Tail, this is what Dark Horse's (manga only!) recent performance looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 341 --- 249,943 --- $3,329,464 --- 733 $14,744.90
2008 420 23.17% 248,981 -0.38% $3,176,870 -4.58% 593 $7,563.98
2009 455 8.33% 226,497 -9.03% $2,915,693 -8.22% 498 $6,408.12
2010 473 3.96% 194,494 -14.13% $2,633,077 -9.69% 411 $5,566.76

Dark Horse's best-selling manga title is "Hellsing" v10, for almost 11k copies. They also do all right with the "Chobits" and "Clover" Omnibuses (Omnibii?) at about 5800 and 4600, respectively. There's more about Dark Horse further down the column in the "Western" section.

Looking at the Long Tail, this is what Bandai's recent performance looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 10 --- 32,710 --- $327,215 --- 1,636 $16,360.75
2008 27 35.00% 23,850 -27.09% $238,295 -27.17% 883 $8,825.74
2009 52 92.59% 67,174 181.65% $708,133 197.17% 1,292 $13,617.94
2010 84 61.54% 77,199 14.92% $857,927 21.15% 919 $10,213.42

Bandai's best selling manga title is "Lucky Star." In fact, all five of their placing titles are "Lucky Star," with v1 selling about 6200 copies.

This year marks Seven Seas first foray in the Top 750, mostly comprised of "Dance in the Vampire Bund," of which v6 is the best seller, with just under 5k copies sold. This also makes the first year I'm creating their Long Tail:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 54 --- 50,641 --- $558,450 --- 938 $10,341.67
2008 76 41.74% 80,112 58.20% $833,667 49.28% 1,054 $10,969.30
2009 97 27.63% 74,967 -6.42% $807,666 -3.12% 773 $8.326.45
2010 93 -4.12% 75,764 1.06% $875,612 8.41% 815 $9,415.18

Three more publishers manage to place within the Top 750, if only just: Vertical places "Chi's Sweet Home" v1 for a smidge over 5k, Udon has "Mega Man Megamix" v1 for about 4500 copies, and Digital Manga Publishing gets a single volume of "Vampire Hunter D" (v4) on for just over 4k.

Looking at things more generally, manga as a whole represents One title in the overall Top 10, three of the Top 20, fourteen of the Top 50, and forty-four of the Top 100 for 2010 -- substantial placing drops from 2009. There is only one manga title (from all publishers) that sell 50k or more copies in 2010 (none beat 100k), six beat 25k, and just seventy-six beat 10k -- again, substantially down from 2009.

It will take a much more edumicated person than myself to divide out the chart by Japanese genre (shonen, shojo, josei, etc) -- if you do so and come to any meaningful conclusions, drop me a line and let me know!

Let's move on to the Western publishers…

2010 Western Publishers

As I mentioned more towards the top of this piece, prior to 2008, I had previously divided out "Humor." Calvin & Hobbes and most other classic strip collections seem to have been moved entirely away from the numbers that I now receive, and the few books like that that I can track are, I think, a mistake on BookScan's end for not moving everything overly properly. Presumably we could still add another at least $8-10 million in sales to "comics" as a category (or, at least, insomuch as the percentage of sales that BookScan reports represents that category accurately, (which, like I said, it probably doesn't)), if comic strip numbers were included as well.

Before y2k, "Humor" was the comics chart, taking much of the top spaces in dollars and in pieces. But I don't have easy access to the "humor" data any longer. I've ended up collapsing together a number of the previous charts to give an idea of the "new" "western" comics totals, but it is meatball surgery, at best, and, especially anything before 2008 should be viewed as fairly garbage-esque data because of the "humor" change made by BookScan.

The other major change I made this year is that while I still have individual publisher sections, I used to break out the listings as "manga, DC, Marvel, everything else." But Marvel's declining performance within the Top 750 made that make a lot less sense, so I'm doing the over-arcing split between "eastern" and "western" publishers. This necessitates yet another minor rewrite of the previous historical overview, adding DC and Marvel to what used to be called "everything else."

Don't worry, this will all make sense moving forward!

Anyway, the newly revised "western" overview now looks like this, but, like I said, especially because of the loss of most of the "humor" titles to re-categorization, I wouldn't read much into the pre-2008 numbers, plus I've just tripled my chances of a math error of some kind! Here's the overview:

Year # of Placing Titles Unit Sales Dollar Sales
2003 304 2,133,618 $32,360,644
2004 233 1,467,535 $22,713,802
2005 142 1,315,920 $21,537,155
2006 174 1,689,571 $29,314,852
2007 175 1,746,962 $33,247,187
2008 236 2,710,175 $48,327,594
2009 299 3,219,748 $52,147,410
2010 314 3,297,317 $54,515,605

314 of the Top 750 for BookScan-reporting venues came from "western" comics. I don't mean the genre, but rather "America & Europe," as opposed to "Asia." These titles combined sell about 3.3m units, for about $54.5m in retail sales.

Despite placing fewer books within the Top 750, "western" comics sell about 100k more units, and $23.5m in dollars than manga does. Further, there's some reasonable growth going on here, even with the loss of the epic '08/'09 sales of "Watchmen" -- "western" comics are up by nearly 78k pieces, and almost $2.4m in dollars from '09 levels.

Much of what I might say here is actually in the overall year overview towards the top of the piece, as most of the Top 20 for the overall list this year are western comics, but let's reiterate that significant portions of this growth are clearly from media-driven properties -- "Twilight," "Scott Pilgrim," "Walking Dead" and "Kick-Ass" all enjoyed amazingly high sales (though nothing like the individual sales of "Watchmen" in '08/'09)

Western comics are also a much more competitive space -- while Manga has a full 2/3rds of its business controlled by a single entity (Viz), and only ten publishers who place any books within the Top 750, there are forty-six western publishers/imprints with at least one book placing within the Top 750. That strikes me as a very healthy thing.

Let's take a look at the Long Tail for Western publishers:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Pieces % Change Total Dollars % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 3,029,039 --- 74,595,605 --- $558,450 --- 436 $10,733.18
2008 9728 39.97% 5,368,678 77.24% $98,233,459 31.69% 552 $10,098.01
2009 10,936 12.30% 5,946,595 10.76% $107,263,294 9.19% 544 $9,808.27
2010 13,229 20.97% 5,890,507 -0.01% $105,342,577 -0.02% 445 $7,963.00

There's a 21% increase in the number of SKUs, and sales for western material are essentially flat. In the current economic climate that would seem a fine result -- "flat is the new up" and all that.

Let's do a survey of the publishers, and their best-selling titles, next.

The largest publisher of Western comics is DC Comics. In 2010 they placed 96 titles in the Top 750, for 648k units, and nearly $12.5m in retail dollars.

Here's a year-to-year comparison chart:

Year # of placing titles Unit sales Dollar sales
2003 74 336,569 $6,151,258
2004 39 179,440 $3,135,983
2005 42 298,484 $5,440,001
2006 59 551,160 $10,246,082
2007 58 487,467 $9,953,976
2008 71 1,015,864 $19,805,098
2009 96 648,403 $12,523,128

DC is way down in 2010, though, given the overwhelming and insane sales of "Watchmen" for the last two years, anything else would be pretty surprising.

"Watchmen" continues to be DC's single best-performing title in 2010, with just over 29k in sales, which makes it the 19th best-selling title overall in BookScan.

As noted at the top, "Watchmen" sold 425k copies in 2009, largely due to the film version. With it crashing down to the ground in our current frame, that's the largest majority of DC's weaker 2010 performance, but even with removing that, DC is down by some 180k pieces in the Top 750.

DC's #2 title is "V For Vendetta" at nearly 21k -- that's down from 2009, but one imagines much of that was "tack on" effect from "Watchmen's" success. Its performance is almost exactly flat from 2008.

Spot #3 goes to "Blackest Night," with just a hair over 20k in sales. I tend to suspect that a continuity-heavy title like this is more likely to be selling copies to regular readers-without-a-local-comics-store buying from Amazon, more than it would be sales going to browsers in bookstores, but I have no way to establish that, either way.

DC's 4th best-selling title for the year is the OGN "Superman Earth One," which comes in a hair under 20k sold. You'll note "Blackest Night" also benefited from having a very strong serialization component, while "Superman Earth One" is living and dying purely on its book sales. That will make a tremendous difference in the P&L statement.

We continue with DC superheroes in the next five slots -- "Batman: The Killing Joke" (17k), "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" (16k), "Blackest Night: Green Lantern" (14k), "Batman: Hush" (13k) and "Batman: Arkham Asylum" (12k). The post Christopher Nolan "The Dark Knight" film bounce seems to have evaporated at this stage, but may come back in 2012.

Coming in at #10 is the first Vertigo title, "Fables" v13 with 12k copies. V1 is item #17, with about 8700 copies. Vertigo also takes spot #16 with the first volume of "Sandman," just a hair under 10k and #20 with the first volume of "Y, The Last Man" with about 8500 copies sold.

Otherwise, the rest of DC's Top 20 is filled with Batman comics, except for "Final Crisis" at #14 (about 11k), and "Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps v1" at #20 (about 8500 copies).

Looking forward to 2011, one would expect that the release of the Green Lantern film might give some bounce to those books. Putting aside the "Blackest Night" tie-ins, the best-selling "Green Lantern" book in 2010 is "Secret Origin," which does a modest 6531 copies. While this is the logical place to expect the GL film to have the greatest impact (from the title alone), it's probably worth noting that that volume is actually v6 of Geoff John's run (v7 if you want to count "Green Lantern: Rebirth"), even though it isn't numbered as such on the spine. There's a real open question if GL could gain the kind of "big bounce" that a "Scott Pilgrim" or "Kick-Ass" delivers, or if the potential gains would be spread out over the large backlist, in the way that it occurs with a Batman movie or Iron Man. Given history, I'll tend to suspect the latter, and I'll take a predictive stab that no individual GL book will rack over 25k in 2011.

Looking at things in terms of dollars, DC only has two titles that gross over a half-million dollars. I say "only," because this was seven titles in both '08 and '09.

Looking at things by "imprint," DC-branded books are 48 of their 96 Top 750-placing titles, although two of them are "Watchmen" (hardcover -- about 4k copies -- and softcover), which is not strictly DCU. 45 titles are Vertigo, and just three are Wildstorm-branded.

DC shuttered the Wildstorm imprint this year, but "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" volumes one (6405) and two (4061) are still listed as WS books, as is the 6th volume of "Megatokyo" (just under 4k). None of WS' various videogame tie-ins ("World of Warcraft" and such) make the Top 750.

Vertigo's successes are largely focused on three particular series: "Fables" places all fourteen volumes within the Top 750 (as well as the spin-off "Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love" with just under 5k copies sold), though, curiously not a single one of the "Jack of Fables" spin-off volumes hits within the chart, nor does the OGN "1001 Nights of Snowfall." The second big hit is the perennial "Sandman," with all ten volumes getting within the chart (but not the OGN "Endless Nights"), while the third is "Y, The Last Man," which not only puts all ten volumes in placement, but also scores with two of the three deluxe hardcovers.

In addition to that "Big Three," the first two volumes of "Preacher" chart, as do the first two "Unwritten" (v1 with over 7300 copies). Other single standalones placing would be the aforementioned "V For Vendetta," the combined volume of "Losers v1&2" (7130 copies -- probably coming as an impact of that film), and the first hardcover of "American Vampire" with just 6420 copies sold. That last one has got to be a disappointment because it's clear bookstore bait: vampires and Stephen King? Unfortunately, Scott Snyder is listed as primary author of "American Vampire" (which he is, certainly), but King's name not being listed in the "author" field probably means that "metadata" (how sites like Amazon list books in their algorithms) is a tremendously large impact in that case.

As we've seen in previous years, Vertigo's attempts to sell standalone Original GNs (everything from the Crime line to the stellar "How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less") doesn't appear to be working -- not a single one of them place within the Top 750 whatsoever.

Just looking at the DCU books, or the remaining 46 titles within the Top 750, eighteen of them are Batman (three from Loeb/Sale, four from Frank Miller, five from Grant Morrison, suggesting that creative teams are of at least equal importance to the character), eight are related to "Blackest Night," six are Superman, and six are specifically Green Lantern. "Final Crisis" (in both HC and TP), "Identity Crisis" and "Infinite Crisis" all place, where, if you added these to "Blackest Night" would give you twelve DC "event comics" in the Top 750.

Outside of those groupings, we also see "Batwoman: Elegy" (4602), "Flash: Rebirth" (7433), "Kingdom Come" (6038), and "Wednesday Comics" (4053) placing within the DCU.

Looking past just the Top 750 down into the Long Tail shows about a one third drop for DC:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 1644 --- 1,181,218 --- $22,033,212 --- 719 $13,402
2008 2057 25.12% 1,719,330 45.56% $33,609,704 52.54% 836 $16,339
2009 2264 10.06% 1,902,181 10.64% $37,816,864 12.52% 840 $16,704
2010 2442 7.86% 1,320,262 -30.59% $25,982,910 -31.29% 541 $10,640

DC has no books over 50k, three books over 20k, and fourteen books over 10k.

Who is the #2 largest Western publisher in 2010?

Well, that depends on a couple of things. First off is sorting through who owns what. I've done a mediocre job of this (at best), spending a few hours on google plugging in names, and tracing things back to parent companies and trying to figure out some of the tangled threads that are there. For example, Random House appears to have no less than six different imprints that sell comics that appear in the Top 750 title list -- Knopf, Ballantine, Del Rey, Pantheon, Random House, and Three Rivers. Trying to work each and every one of these threads out all the way along the long tail is a task that's likely beyond me, especially because some of the imprints are sub-imprints of other divisions. I'm really not sure that I've untangled all of those skeins correctly.

The other question becomes: "Well, do you mean pieces or dollars?" because you come up with two different answers. In pieces, the #2 publisher would appear to be Scholastic, with their imprints of Arthur A. Levine, Blue Sky, and Graphix combined placing just under 481k copies. But, if you were to look at it in terms of dollars sold, Image is very squarely #2, with nearly $6.5m in retail sales -- Scholastic would actually drop to #4 by that metric (behind Oni).

But, for the purposes of this column, I'm going to stick with units, because I tend to think that's the most comfortable metric for the general lay public.

Which makes the #2 western publisher, via the stores that report to BookScan, to be Scholastic.

Which might therefore mean, since we assume that retail sales through BookScan reporters are just a small fraction of their actual and ultimate sales, that Scholastic may in fact be the largest publisher of western comics. Maybe not.

The other thing to note is that, by and large, their success is almost entirely driven by comics aimed at kids. The imprint Blue Sky is the one bringing you "The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen" by Dav Pilkey, the #3 book for the overall year. The Arthur A. Levine imprint places two Shaun Tan books, "The Arrival" (just over 10k copies) and "Tales From Outer Surburbia" (about 3500), and Graphix places twenty-three titles, most prominently Jeff Smith's "Bone" (twelve entries). The twelve "Bone" volumes charting have a combined 2010 sales of 258k copies (plus another 8651 copies of the Cartoon Book's "Bone One Edition") -- this is down from the about 356k copies in '09, but that's still just a metric ton of copies sold.

The Graphix imprint also does very well with Kazu Kibuishi's books (three volumes of "Amulet" [all selling from between 13k and 17k copies] and "Copper" [~4900 copies]) and the four "Baby Sitter's Club" volumes (between about 3300 and 5600 copies each)

The Long Tail just for the Graphix imprint (since that's what I've presenting the last few years -- the addition of "Ook & Gluk" would change that a bit, but I remain convinced this is a mis-categorization, and might not be here next year; the two Shaun Tan books are statistically insignificant in this spread) looks like this:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 28 --- 203,900 --- $2,018,694 --- 7282 $72,096.21
2008 39 39.29% 346,134 69.76% $3,498,012 73.28% 8875 $89,692.62
2009 52 33.33% 432,070 24.83% $4,654,686 33.07% 8309 $89,513.19
2010 60 15.38% 361,086 -16.43% $4,084,718 -12.25% 6018 $68,078.63

Scholastic has one book over 100k, seven more over 20k, and another eight over 10k.

The number three western publisher, by units, in the Top 750, as reported by BookScan in 2010 would be, and here's a surprise, Oni Press. Hurray for the gang from Portland!

More specifically, "Hooray for Brian Lee O'Malley!" because, within the Top 750, it is entirely about "Scott Pilgrim," as well as O'Malley's earlier "Lost at Sea" (5549 copies). You can find the exact sales for "Scott Pilgrim" up at the top of the article. Still and all, the success of the eight Oni entries in the top 750 are enough to make them #3, which shows you what one simple movie can do for a property that doesn't have a billion other spin-offs.

Presumably this is a fairly one-shot occurrence, boosted by the film version, though I suppose one never really knows what will happen in the future. Still, I'd expect "Scott Pilgrim" to return to "normal" sales levels in 2011 -- probably in the sub-10k range.

Here's Oni's Long Tail:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 125 --- 11,294 --- $141,829 --- 90 $1,134.63
2008 138 10.40% 21,843 93.40% $320,799 126.19% 158 $2,324.63
2009 149 7.97% 51,584 136.13% $713,121 122.30% 346 $4,786.05
2010 156 4.70% 446,791 866.14% $5,882,247 824.86% 2864 $37,706.71

Oni has six books (all "Scott!") over 50k this year, but nothing over 20k or 10k.

The #4 Western publisher goes to Random House, with 34 titles selling 341k units in the Top 750 between the six imprints I've been able to identify -- Alfred A. Knopf, Ballantine, Del Rey, Pantheon, Random House, and Three Rivers.

Looking at those imprints in alphabetical order:

Alfred A. Knopf places 2 titles in the top 750: Jarrett Krosoczka's "Lunch Lady & The Cyborg Substitute" (9564) and "Lunch Lady & The League of Librarians" (6556). These are comics aimed at kids. There's two more "Lunch Lady" books as well, but they don't appear on the BookScan list I'm given -- I suspect it's more of that pesky mis-categorization.

Ballantine has two Peanuts-related titles: "It's a Dog's Life, Snoopy" and "Peanuts 2000." Again, I think this is mis-categorization, as this is nearly the only "Humor" books to be found on my BookScan list. Both sell right around 3800 copies.

Del Rey mostly publishes manga titles, but they also have a few Western books as well. They place six titles in the Top 750 -- "Exile, an Outlander Graphic Novel," discussed in the general overview, two Dean Koontz "Odd" books ("Odd is On Our Side" does just over 10k, "In Odd We Trust" does about 6300), a "Mercy Thompson" book (about 4300), a "Dresden Files" GN (about 4k), a "Ben 10" fumetti from the TV show (just over 4k), and just one "Penny Arcade" title (volume 6 -- just under 4k copies)

Pantheon is where their real strength as a GN publisher lies, being home to "Maus" and "Persepolis" (discussed in the general year overview), but they also do pretty well with David Mazzuchelli's "Asterios Polyp" (A hair over 7k), and Charles Burns -- "Black Hole" does about 5800 copies, while the brand new "X'ed Out" does about 4900 copies.

Random House (Books For Younger Readers) is all about the "Babymouse" -- thirteen volumes of this kids-oriented comic place, ranging from about 5100 copies on the low end, to just over 15k copies of v12.

Finally, Three Rivers is the home of the comics version of Max Brooks' "Zombie Survival Guide" at almost 19k copies.

Because I'm just a little dense, I hadn't realized in previous years that these six imprints were all "Random House" and I treated them separately in previous years, so let's rectify that right now, and mash them all together for a new single Long Tail report. This is the six imprints that I've just mentioned (minus the manga titles listed in the Del Rey section above) -- if they have more that are producing comics (and, honestly, they probably do), I haven't figured that out yet. Maybe next year!:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 74 --- 216,580 --- $2,890,347 --- 2,927 $39,058.74
2008 77 5.47% 383,105 76.89% $5,698,922 97.17% 4,975 $74,011.97
2009 109 41.56% 405,598 5.87 $5,398,890 -5.26% 3,721 $49,531,10
2010 132 21.10% 389,410 -3.99% $5,831,814 8.02% 2,950 $44,180.41

But Del Rey does produce a lot of Manga, so here's what it looks like if we consider all of the comics Random House produces ("east" and "west"):

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 312 --- 961,755 --- $11,222,623 --- 3083 $35,969.95
2008 450 44.23% 1,207,444 25.55% $15,074,362 34.32% 2683 $33,498.58
2009 589 30.89% 1,173,326 -2.83 $13,879,115 -7.93% 1992 $23,563.86
2010 666 13.07% 903,418 -23.00% $11,644,413 -16.10% 1356 $17,484.10

Random House has three titles over 20k, and another five over 10k on the Western charts.

The #5 publisher in the BookScan environment is Image, with 22 placing books in the Top 750, for some 289k copies.

That's mostly "Walking Dead," as discussed at the top, but it also includes two volumes of John Layman's "Chew" -- v1 logs just over 6k, and v2 is just inches over 4k. Other than that, yeah, it's the Robert Kirkman express.

(If one were to include Top Cow Productions, we could also add in Mark Millar's "Wanted," which shifts just under 3800 copies)

Like I said before, I personally am expecting this to only be the beginning of the "Walking Dead' juggernaut. Just like the comic book has largely grown month-over-month in the Direct Market, the TV series pulled the extremely rare trick of gaining viewership from episode to episode. Assuming this trend continues (and there's really no reason to think that season two won't keep it going), it should have nothing but a positive impact on the TPs. Let's predict at least one volume rising to 50k next year.

Image's Long Tail:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 438 --- 116,015 --- $2,313,477 --- 265 $5,281.91
2008 515 17.58% 121,001 43.09% $2,445,765 5.72% 235 $4,749.06
2009 571 10.87% 156,466 29.31% $3,207,033 31.13% 274 $5,616.52
2010 642 12.43% 359,238 229.59% $8,152,806 254.22% 560 $12,699.07

Image has four titles over 20k, and another eight over 10k.

The number six western publisher, as measured by the Top 750 titles in BookScan reporting venues is Marvel Comics. They place 33 titles in the Top 750, for 206k units.

Only because I have been already building this comparison, and hate to throw work away, here's the year-to-year comparison chart:

Year # of placing titles Unit sales Dollar sales
2003 73 455,553 $8,428,962
2004 50 227,985 $3,756,764
2005 26 153,317 $2,459,027
2006 33 294,852 $5,702,307
2007 37 376,918 $7,599,057
2008 38 303,639 $6,446,359
2009 34 226,541 $5,019,216
2010 33 206,273 $4,979,323

Marvel still dominates in the Direct Market, but they're a somewhat minor player in the Top 750 of the bookstore market, running into their fourth down year in a row. Marvel pulled their book distribution from Diamond over to Hachette, effective September 1, but there's no visible benefit from this as of yet. Perhaps next year? When DC switched bookstore distribution to Random House in 2007, there was a fairly immediate visible impact from that.

Marvel's best-selling title is the HC of "Kick-Ass" which sells a smidge over 38k, making it the 13th best-selling title of the year. Clearly, this success is driven by the film.

However, there was another Marvel film in 2010 -- "Iron Man 2." This was not a small film -- it had domestic ticket sales of $312m. "Kick-Ass," on the other hand, had a box office of just $48m. "Iron Man" was clearly the bigger media deal, so how come the best-selling "Iron Man" comic listed on BookScan is "Invincible Iron Man v1," which is only Marvel's #7 best-selling title, with not quite 6k copies sold? No later volume of "Invincible" charts, and, in fact, there's only one single other Iron Man title on Marvel's section of the Top 750: "Marvel Adventures Iron Man v1" with a minor 3700 copies.

I suppose one could argue that the film was all of the Iron Man that the audience needed for the year, but I don't really think that's it. What we see with "comics in other media" is that when there is a single place for the audience to "see more" -- that is to say a self-contained book like "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass," or even a tightly constrained group of books like the six volumes of "Scott Pilgrim" or the self-contained "Walking Dead" -- then those items do very, very well. However, when there are scores of places where the consumer dollars might land -- and there are no less than eighty-two different TPs with the words "Iron Man" in the title listed in 22k-wide BookScan database -- then any possible impact of the film is diffused among all of the possible choices that the consumer has. And that's not even talking about all of the Iron Man toys and toothbrushes and pajamas and whatever other consumer product there might be.

And that means that the comics really get almost no "bounce" of lasting significance.

Those of you following Direct Market comics news are probably aware that in 2010 that Marvel really flooded the market with "Thor" and "Captain America" mini-series and one-shots, with the assumption that those things will be in TP edition in time for those films to be released. But what history shows us (over and over again, going at least back to the first Spider-Man movie) is that this strategy doesn't work. In fact, I'd submit that this kind of strategy works against the best interests of the brand, not only by providing the bookstores consumer with too many undifferentiated choices (which of the eighty-two "Iron Man" TPs is the "one that follows the film?" And how could an uneducated consumer possibly know that?), but also weakening Marvel very core of their publishing business -- the periodical comic sales.

Marvel's BookScan performance shows that they're only a smaller fish in the "frontlist" portion of the book market, though they have a pretty deep backlist (even if it isn't necessarily the books people want the most, in the format they want it in) While Marvel largely dominates the DM business, the strategy of "dump out a billion products" simply doesn't serve either of these two markets the way they need.

I have no doubt that Marvel uses many other channels as well -- they're probably selling a good number of "Iron Man" books into book clubs and such not -- but they're not getting any real traction for their backlist within the two strongest primary retail sales channels. Maybe Wal-Mart is making up the difference, we'll probably never know -- but we can state pretty unequivocally that their strategy in bookstores and comic shops is not the right one to sell the largest number of comics.

And on the other hand, you have Mark Millar's "Kick-Ass" -- if you give movie (or TV) watchers a single, clear path to comics product, they will buy it. And it is Marvel's best-selling comic in the bookstores.


Marvel's second best-selling book is the HC of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower: The Fall of Gilead," which comes in at about 16k copies. In 2009, "Treachery" sold about 19k copies, and "Gunslinger Born" sold about 30k in 2008, and 52k in 2007. There's a level of diminishing returns on display here for the "Dark Tower" comics. Still and all, Stephen King-related comics are five of Marvel's thirty-three placing titles -- "Dark Tower" books "The Battle of Jericho" at #4 (9k copies), and "Treachery" at #8 (6k), while v1 of "The Stand" is #10 (5,498) and v2 is #11 (5,245). "Gunslinger Born" drops down to about 3k in HC (and, as such, is not in the Top 750), while the newly released TP manages only to sell 2360 copies. It might be worth noting that the HC is $24.99, while the TP is $19.99, probably not enough of a difference to really drive softcover sales.

Marvel's #3 title is the HC "Halo: Helljumper" (about 9200 copies), while "Halo: Uprising" comes in at #17 (4752), and "Halo: Blood Line" is #20 (4504)

Here might be the place to note that nineteen of Marvel's thirty-three placing titles are in fact in hardcover format. That's a fairly unusual result among western publishers, but Marvel does appear to be working a strategy where much of their key backlist is only available in the more expensive format. I believe this retards sales (as it definitely does in my individual DM store), but their majority of their unit and dollar sales in the Top 750 clearly are in that format.

Marvel's #4 title is the first showing of their "traditional" market -- superheroes -- with "Civil War" in TP selling about 6800 copies. The HC version comes in at #13 (5153). Mark Millar also takes the #5 spot with the hardcover of "Wolverine: Old Man Logan" selling just over 6600 copies, and the TP comes in at #31, just under 3500 copies.

Only eighteen of Marvel's thirty-three placing titles are set in the continuity of the "Marvel Universe." Five of their placing titles are aimed at younger audiences -- two "Marvel Adventures" title (Spider-Man sells just under 5k), "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (4521), "Super Hero Squad (4507) and "Pride and Prejudice" (3818)

Here is Marvel's Long Tail. You'll note that they do disproportionately well in the deeper backlist compared to "frontlist," compared to a publisher like DC:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 1230 --- 1,034,023 --- $19,947,737 --- 841$16,218
2008 1559 26.75% 1,032,394 -0.001% $20,128,825 0.01% 662$12,911
2009 2067 32.58% 954,335 -7.56% $19,608,696 -2.58% 462 $9,487
2010 2551 23.42% 870,597 -8.77% $19,485,662 -0.06% 352 $7,638

Marvel just has the one book over 20k, and another one over 10k.

The seventh largest publisher, as reflected by the BookScan Top 750, is Simon & Schuster. In addition to various "Simon"-named imprints, they are also Aladdin, which published the "Dork Diaries" (#1 book on the chart, lest you forgot), giving them five placing books for almost 193k copies.

Other than "Dork Diaries," the other four books are all kids-aimed (this is really a theme, isn't it?) -- two "Frankie Pickle" books (both selling around 4k copies), and two TV-derived titles with Spongebob Squarepants at ~6800, and "Go, Diego, Go"'s "Extreme Rescue Crocodile Mission" at about 9300 copies.

I've never done a Long Tail for Simon before, and I think this is going to look weird. As with the Random House chart, I'm betraying my ignorance probably by not including every imprint Simon has -- besides the Simon-named ones, and Aladdin, I'm also aware of Atria, Atheneum, Pocket and Touchstone (none of which place in the top 750). If there are others, I am uncertain of it, but if you can show me I'm wrong, I'll happily correct this moving forward!

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 12 --- 8,317 --- $158,014 --- 693 $13,167.83
2008 26 116.67% 14,917 79.36% $211,798 34.04% 574 $8,146.08
2009 41 57.69% 109,558 634.45% $1,430,544 575.43% 2,672 $34,891.32
2010 46 12.20% 214,828 96.09% $2,660,094 85.95% 4,670 $57,828.13

The #8 western publisher in the BookScan Top 750 is Dark Horse Comics. They place 29 titles on the Western side, for about 183k in sales.

Virtually everything Dark Horse places is a licensed book: Eleven Joss Whedon-related books ("Buffy" v8 does just over 13k, while "Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale" HC does just over 12k), and eleven "Star Wars" books (the best-seller is "Legacy" v8 for about 5300 copies) are the bulk of it. Four of the "Star Wars" books are the kid-focused "Clone Wars Adventures." There is also "Mass Effect: Redemption" for just over 4k copies.

They also did an extension of Janet Evanovich's "Barnaby" stories, with "Troublemaker" v1 pulling in almost 21k in sales. However, the word is that Dark Horse printed 100k copies. Did the balance get sold outside of the retail book channels? "Troublemaker" v2, which was only published in November, comes in with 3385 in sales.

Outside of these licensed titles, Dark Horse places two of Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" volumes (v9 does almost 6k), as well as both or Gerard Way's "Umbrella Academy" volumes (v2 does a skooch over 5k)

Looking at the Long Tail, this is what Dark Horse's (non-manga!) recent performance looks like:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 597 --- 413,022 --- $7,607,264 --- 692 $14,744.90
2008 734 22.95% 552,815 33.85% $9,329,828 22.64% 753 $12,710.94
2009 798 8.72% 455,924 -17.53% $7,757,240 -16.86% 571 $9,720.85
2010 955 19.67% 445,248 -2.34% $7,852,063 1.22% 466 $8,222.06

Dark Horse's Manga offerings are up in that section. Dark Horse is one of the rare publishers that does a significant business in both Eastern and Western comics, and I'm sure they'd prefer all of their numbers to be represented together. In which case, their Long Tail actually looks like this:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 938 --- 662,965 --- $10,936,728 --- 707 $11,659.62
2008 1075 14.61% 801,796 20.94% $12,506,698 14.36% 746 $11,634.14
2009 1253 16.56% 682,421 -14.89% $10,672,933 -14.66% 545 $8,517.90
2010 1428 13.97% 639,742 -6.25% $10,485,140 -1.76% 448 $7,342.54

Dark Horse has one book over 20k, and two more over 10k in the Western lists.

The #9 publisher of Western comics goes to Hachette, with the imprints of Little, Brown, and Yen. Well, and Grand Central, but they don't appear in the Top 750.

Yen, as noted before, is here because of one book: the adaptation of "Twilight."

Little, Brown places four volumes of Tintin -- the highest placing is the "Adventures of Tintin v1" HC (6190 copies). Depending on what happens with that film, this might explode next year (I think?)

Again, building a fresh Long Tail here, which looks like this:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 15 --- 39,181 --- $689,383 --- 2,612 $45,958.87
2008 18 20.00% 37,519 -4.24% $596,609 -13.46% 2,084 $33,144.94
2009 18 ---- 40,172 7.07% $642,935 7.76% 2,232 $35,718.61
2010 19 5.56% 160,992 300.76% $3,097,996 381.85% 8,473 $163,052.42

And if you add the Manga from Yen, it looks like this:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 25 --- 52,077 --- $836,832 --- 2,083 $33,473.28
2008 180 332.00% 147,645 183.51% $1,834,469 119.22% 1,367 $16,985.82
2009 229 112.04% 371,134 151.37% $4,340,048 132.78% 1,621 $18,952.17
2010 363 58.52% 721,975 94.53% $9,748,867 124.63% 1,999 $26,856.38

Hachette has one title over 100k, and nothing at the 50k, 20k, or 10k benchmarks on the Western charts.

And, finally, to end on a nice round number in this survey, the #10 publisher goes to Andrews McMeel, which only places two books (for about 40k total), but one of them is "Big Nate: From the Top," another kids-oriented GN, that sells almost 35k by itself.

Their other placing book is a remnant from the "Humor" category -- "Far Side Gallery #5" at 4881 copies.

Building a Long Tail for them (though, with only a smattering of "humor" here, this is pretty much junk data):

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 22 --- 29,835 --- $461,238 --- 1,356 $20,965.36
2008 20 -9.09% 25,115 -15.82% $388,965 -15.67% 1,256 $19,448.25
2009 21 5.00% 26,205 4.34% $401,982 3.35% 1,248 $19,142.00
2010 19 -9.52% 47,181 80.05% $544,852 35.54% 2,483 $28,676.42

Clearly, Andrews McMeel just has the one book over 20k.

But, wait, there's more! There's actually four more publishers I want to pull out, two of them for historical reasons.

For the non-historical onea, I want to note here (and, really, just as much for myself when I write the 2011 report, because I'm likely to forget all of this in a year) -- the #11 publisher is Holtzbrinck, which owns Macmillan, which has (at least) these imprints: First Second, Hill + Wang, Metropolitan, and Square Fish. Those imprints all made the Top 750, but there may be others down into the Long Tail as well -- I have identified Henry Holt, Roaring Brook, St. Martins, Times books, Tor, and manga publisher Seven Seas. Jeez, that's a lot of divisions! Either way, they placed seven titles in the Top 750, for about 38k combined.

Here's what a Long Tail based on that looks like (again, I might have missed one somewhere -- trying to tease them all out is a difficult task) -- this is without Seven Seas:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 39 --- 31,452 --- $559,681 --- 806 $14,350.79
2008 66 69.23% 63,473 101.81% $1,132,767 102.40% 962 $17,163.14
2009 88 33.34% 84,090 32.48% $1,438,044 26.95% 956 $16,341.41
2010 108 22.73% 68,599 -18.42% $1,085,311 -24.53% 635 $10,049.18

If you include Seven Seas and the manga, it looks like this:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 94 --- 82,093 --- $1,118,131 --- 873 $11,895.01
2008 143 52.13% 143,585 74.91% $1,966,434 75.87% 1004 $13,751.29
2009 185 29.37% 159,057 10.78% $2,245,711 14.20% 860 $12,138.98
2010 201 8.65% 144,363 -9.24% $1,960,923 -12.68% 718 $9,755.84

I also want to mention that Papercutz placed seven titles in the Top 750 this year, for about 34k combined. (They'd be #13 in terms of Top-750-placing books) This is all (all together now!) Kids-oriented books, with their best-seller being the parody "Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid" in SC (7572). While Papercutz's final totals aren't fabulous, that's more titles than a lot of other publishers muster. Here's a Long Tail for them:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 65 --- 20,121 --- $179,373 --- 310 $2,759.58
2008 103 58.46% 39,949 98.54% $368,008 105.16% 388 $3,572.89
2009 141 36.89% 60,911 52.47% $594,199 61.46% 432 $4,214.18
2010 190 34.75% 76,986 26.39% $772,290 29.97% 405 $4,064.68

Because I talked about them in previous years, and don't want to throw away the Long Tail data I already collected, let's also mention these final two publishers:

HarperCollins. Harper has four books in the Top 750 this year, including perennial "Understanding Comics" (8935 copies sold). There's a lot of imprints with the word "Harper" in the title in the Long Tail (Harper, Harper Paperbacks, Harper Teen, Harper Festival, Harper Teen, and so on), and there may be more that I haven't figured out. This Long Tail chart is just imprints with the word "Harper" in them…

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 18 --- 36,940 --- $600,540 --- 2052 $33,363.33
2008 36 100.00% 48,264 30.66% $863,808 43.84% 1341 $23,994.67
2009 42 16.67% 81,774 69.43% $1,308,891 15.53% 1947 $31,164.07
2010 41 -2.38% 64,429 -21.21% $719,328 -45.04% 1571 $17,544.59

IDW only places four titles this year into the Top 750, their best-seller is "James Patterson's Witch & Wizard" (4584 copies). They also do well with Joe Hill's "Locke & Key." Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of "The Outfit" only brings in 3777 copies via BookScan reporting venues.

IDW's Long Tail:

Year # of
listed items
% Change Total Unit Sold % Change Total $ Sold % Change Av. Sale
per title
Av. $ per title
2007 233 --- 102,118 --- $2,090,647 --- 438 $8,972.73
2008 335 43.78% 146,125 43.09% $2,766,505 32.33% 436 $8,258.22
2009 477 42.39% 215,907 47.76% $4,346,836 57.12% 453 $9,112.86
2010 623 30.61% 161,578 -25.16% $3,653,680 -15.95% 259 $5,864.65

No publisher that has not been mentioned placed five or more titles within the Top 750, but there are still a handful of significant books to mention that haven't been mentioned otherwise.

The largest one is Robert Crumb's "Book of Genesis" adaptation which tracks in with nearly 25k copies sold in 2010. This looks to be a lasting, and strong, addition to Top Selling Graphic Novels.

Other books that rack up sales over 10k include "Club Penguin Comics v1" (more comics aimed at kids) (almost 18k), the comics adaptation of "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" (also almost 18k), the math-oriented "Logicomix" (almost 14k, a fairly astonishing number for the subject matter), the collection of "Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Crisis" (just over 13k), and Jason Shiga's "Meanwhile" (just over 12k)

While not crossing the arbitrary 10k line, there are a couple of strong books from the "art comics" wing, including Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" (just under 9k), the Neil Gaiman edited "Best American Comics 2010" (just under 7k), Dan Clowes' "Wilson" (also just under 7k), the perennial "Johnny The Homicidal Maniac" (6675 copies), Craig Thompson's "Blankets" (a hair over 6k, but likely to rise in '11 with the publication of "Habibi"), and David Small's "Stitches" (5497 in HC, 4432 in SC). Also possibly worth mentioning is the great Lynda Barry who places both "What It Is" (4092) and "Picture This" (4039)

Western comics are pretty astonishingly diverse in subject and theme, if you ask me, and this year's chart is a good reflection of that diversity.

One final little bit of number crunching before I go for the year. If we look at the entirety of the 22k-long "Long Tail" BookScan list, how do the publishers stack up in 2010? This time we'll consider it in dollars, including both "east" and "west" comics, and round everything to the nearest million, just for ease of presentation

#1 Viz -- $35m
#2 DC -- $26m
#3 Marvel -- $20m
#4 Random House -- $12m
#5 Dark Horse -- $10m
#6 Hachette -- $10m
#7 TokyoPop -- $9m
#8 Image -- $8m
#9 Oni Press -- $6m
#10 Scholastic -- $4m

And that's pretty much what BookScan in 2010 looks like to these eyes.

How does it look to you?

Brian Hibbs has owned and operated Comix Experience in San Francisco since 1989, and is a founding member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, the Comics Professional Retailer Organization. Feel free to e-mail him with any comments. You can purchase a collection of the first one hundred Tilting at Windmills (originally serialized in Comics Retailer magazine) from IDW Publishing. An Index of v2 of Tilting at Windmills may be found here. (but you have to insert "classic." before all of the resulting links)

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