Brian Hibbs looks at the bookstore performance of graphic novels and collected editions for 2012 and… Well, it’s an interesting picture:
On the one hand, it’s the lowest number of units we’ve been able to track over ten years; on the other hand, it’s the fourth largest year in terms of dollars sold. Now, as we’ll see in a little bit, a really insanely large amount of that can be put on the shoulder of one book (“The Walking Dead”), so it’s hard to say this is a “healthy” result (even if it’s pretty awesome for Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard!) for the market as a whole.
What we really can see is that while the top end of the market is looking better — in some cases, amazingly, crazily better — the problem is that the midlist, and the bottom, has become simply brutal for sales. A huge part of that has got to be the loss of Borders — having physical display space for books clearly are (if not the) major factor in the ability of mid- and bottom-list books to sell. Amazon is, assumingly, better than anyone else at selling a major hit like “The Walking Dead,” but I imagine that they are mediocre, at best, in selling material that people don’t already know that they want/aren’t already popular. The bookstore market for comics material, as measured by BookScan reporters in 2012 is down by more than a third of the units sold at its peak in 2007.
(It may or may not be worth mentioning that the comic book store market ended 2012 up 14.26% on graphic novels, and that’s with extremely strong periodical sales [up 14.94%] as well, so the matter isn’t “weak product” — it looks to this observer to be clearly “fewer outlets = lower sales”)
The big winner – by far – is The Walking Dead, and that and manga still dominate the bookstore chart. But Hibbs also has something to say about something that I’ve noticed/complained about before:
I think it is very difficult to look at Marvel’s backlist business as anything other than an abject, deeply embarrassing failure, especially when you consider that there was a film that grossed a billion-and-a-half dollars, and was not only also a critical hit, but a near perfect encapsulation of what’s awesome about comic books serving as the greatest advertisement for their comics that one could possibly imagine, and Marvel’s best-selling comic in BookScan is… “Kick Ass 2.”
Listen: Not a single comic book featuring a character owned by Marvel comics sold even ten thousand copies.
That’s insane. That’s you-are-doing-everything-wrong levels of crazy, and if I were a Disney shareholder, I’d be storming the meetings, demanding that they actually attempt to reach out for what is clearly low-hanging fruit. Marvel could clearly be grossing tens of millions more dollars every year if they had a backlist program aimed at delivering books that people want, in formats and at prices that they want, and actually kept them in print.
As ever, Hibbs Vs. Bookscan is a must-read. Go, check it out.