2018 comic sales up 7.9% thanks to graphic novels; direct market no longer majority of sales

Websites ICv2 and Comichron have released their annual joint report on the state of comic sales.

After last year’s sales slump, 2018 saw a sizable rise in sales across the board. Overall, comics sales are up from 2017 by 7.9% (or $80 million), earning an estimated $1.095 billion for 2018.

2018 comic sales information

Here’s several infographics by Comichron and ICv2 listing 2018 comic sales figures. The usual clarifications:

  • Information is based on estimated or actual sales figures.
  • Comic shop/direct market figures are mostly based on Diamond; figures for bookstore and other vendors are based on BookScan reports.
  • “Book channels” include sales from bookstores (like Barnes and Noble), online stores like Amazon, as well as Scholastic book fairs. Library purchases aren’t included.
  • Digital subscription services such as Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe aren’t included. Neither are library digital services such as Hoopla.
  • For the first time, an “Other” category is included. This includes the previously reported newsstand figures, plus crowdfunding figures (Kickstarter, etc.). These two make up half of the “Other” category.

2018 overall comic sales

2018 comic sales by channel

2018 comic sales by format

More statistics

Below, I break down each category’s statistics in terms of percentages. Note all percentages have some rounding.

Here’s each channel’s share of comic market sales:

  • Comic stores: 46.6%
  • Book channels: 42.5%
  • Digital download: 9.1%
  • Other: 1.8%

Here’s each comic format’s share of sales:

  • Graphic novels: 58.0%
  • Comic books: 32.9%
  • Digital comics: 9.1%

Here’s the change in sales (from 2017) for each channel:

  • Comic stores: -1.0%
  • Book channels: +16.3%
  • Digital download: +11.1%
  • Other: N/A

Finally, here’s the change in sales (from 2017) for each format:

  • Graphic novels: +11.4%
  • Comic books: +1.4%
  • Digital comics: +11.1%
  • Other: N/A

My observations

Graphic novels, not single-issue comics, are driving comics’ sales growth

Superman Red/Blue in a comic bin
Photo by tunechick83 (Pixabay / CC0)

This year’s sales report is good news overall, and reflects prevailing comic trends over this decade. Specifically, the strongest growth areas are in graphic novels and non-traditional sales venues (bookstores, digital, etc.). Kids’ comics (via Scholastic book fairs, etc.) by creators such as Raina Telgemeier (“Drama”) and Dav Pilkey (“Dog Man”) are doing particularly well, and driving much of graphic novels’ growth.

Meanwhile, ignoring nonsensical bluster about how “SJWs are ruining comics,” 2018 single-issue comic sales (dominated by the Big Two) are almost flat from 2017. I assume 2018 floppy sales saw a slight boost from “Action Comics” #1000 and the hype surrounding the bait-and-switch non-wedding of Batman and Catwoman.

I can’t say what the future of Big Two superhero comics will look like, besides “maintaining trademarks” and “intellectual property farms creating material for WB and Disney to turn into movies/video games/T-shirts.” However, it’s obvious that comics as a whole in the future won’t be mainly defined by the traditional single-issue comic book. Never mind the direct market’s heavy emphasis on pre-ordering singles as the only way sales “count,” which is both increasingly dated and ludicrous. Speaking of the direct market…

Most comics sales are now *not* through the direct market

Among this year’s noteworthy news: Comichron notes that 2018 is the first year in at least 30 years that comic shops (and thus the direct market) aren’t the dominant source of comic sales:

“A historic shift is playing out as the market grew, primarily in the book channel, in 2018,” [ICv2’s Milton] Griepp said. “While comics stores are still the largest channel, they represented less than half the market for comics and graphic novels in 2018 for the first time in at least three decades.”

While comic shops have a plurality, it’s an increasingly narrow one over book channels. Last year, I noted I wouldn’t be surprised if comic shop sales fell below half of overall sales for 2018. I’m now wondering if by this time next year, book channel sales will eclipse comic shop sales. Either way, this is a very big deal, and marks a major shift in the US comics market (one Diamond certainly dislikes).

Digital comics sales (and subscription services) are growing

iPad
Photo by geralt (Pixabay / CC0)

Digital sales have grown, which ICv2 chalks up to increased availability across more venues. These include Comixology, Apple’s iBooks, Google Play, and others.

While figures aren’t available, ICv2 notes that subscription based digital services (Marvel Unlimited, Comixology Unlimited, Viz Media’s service, etc.) are also showing growth.

Like music streaming services, it’s assumed that subscription-based comic services will continue to grow in popularity.

The “Other” category (newsstands and crowdfunding)

Of course, newsstand sales aren’t making much of an impact, even with DC’s Wal-Mart comic sales joining Archie’s digests.

I’d guess the bigger source of growth will be crowdfunded comics, via venues such as Kickstarter. One notable example is C. Spike Troutman, founder of Iron Circus Comics, who got her start through crowdfunding.

Conclusion

Overall, the North American comics market looks like it has a strong future. That’s thanks to: increasing diversity in genres offered; material that appeals to various age demographics (particularly kids); and growth in non-direct market venues such as bookstores.

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