Digital comics sales aren’t coming at the expense of paper comics

A report by CNBC states that contrary to other physical media (such as radio, physical music formats, etc.), digital comics sales aren’t coming at the expense of old-fashioned paper comics’ sales. Sales of both comic formats have gone up since 2009.

One reason cited for digital comics not heavily impacting paper comics’ sales is the collectible nature of physical books. While true, a few other reasons I can think of include: the usual practices of the Big Two (DC and Marvel’s reboots, renumberings, etc.); a rise in the price of some books; and the economy’s recovery from 2009’s “Great Recession.” The New 52 reboot by DC in 2011 also did bring in some new readers into the comics medium… even if sales soon nosedived for DC, while rising for Marvel and independent books.

The CNBC article focused on sales of paper comics via Diamond, so it didn’t account for bookstore sales. I thought I’d list below some sales figures for various comics formats, from 2011 (the earliest full estimates available) and 2014 (the latest full estimates available). I’ll probably update this post with 2015’s figures when those are fully available. Figures taken from, the CNBC article, and my previous post about 2014’s comic sales.

Type of comics2011Percentage of industry sales (2011)2014Percentage of industry sales (2014)
All comic sales$715 million100%$935 million100%
All paper comic sales$690 million97%$835 million89%
Single-issue paper comicsN/AN/A$375 million40%
Trade paperbacks/graphic novelsN/AN/A$460 million49%
Digital comics$25 million3%$100 million11%

All comics sales amounts have grown since 2011. Of course, DC and Marvel also still dominate comic sales. However, the share of paper comics sales has slightly dropped, from 97% in 2011 to 89% in 2014. Along with that, the traditional single-issue paper comic doesn’t make up the majority of comic sales anymore; trade paperbacks/graphic novels made up 49% of all comics sales in 2014. While physical comic shops made up 57% of all comic sales as of 2014, I assume a sizable number of new readers are coming from digital comics sales, as well as trade paperback sales at bookstores, through Amazon, etc.

So while paper and digital comic sales are strong, I still feel the future of comics as a medium lies more in digital comics (including webcomics) and trade paperbacks/graphic novels instead of the old-school, 22-page paper comic.

Flickr photo by keri (CC BY)

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