2018 bookstore graphic novel sales up almost 9%; kids’ comics dominate

Comics sales analyst Brian Hibbs has written his annual look (via Comics Beat) at 2018 bookstore graphic novel sales. As usual, his analysis is based on sales data from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales figures for 85% of retail book sales (as of 2013). To quote Hibbs’ article on sources BookScan tracks:

BookScan says “Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Costco, General Independents, Hastings, Target, BJ’s, K-Mart, Hudson Group, Meijers, Follett Books, Books-A-Million, CEO Read, Powells, Toys R Us, Shoprite, SuperValu, Sam’s Club and Walmart are among our many data providers.”

Sources not included include: libraries; schools; specialty stores like comic book shops (those are covered by Diamond/fall under the direct market, which has its own sales analyses); and book clubs/fairs, such as the famous Scholastic school ones. Hibbs notes there’s a few other factors in these figures (how BookScan categorizes books, etc.).

I’ll note these numbers will be slightly different from those reported by Comichron and ICv2’s 2018 analysis (different categories included or estimated, etc.). Still, it’s a generally decent look at what’s selling through the majority of bookstores and retail channels. Of course, that’s where the general public is most likely to buy comics; going by the Comichron/ICv2 figures, the direct market’s no longer the majority of sales.

Below are my thoughts on some of the major report points.

The top 20 graphic novels sold

Below are the top 20 graphic novels sold in 2018, including sales figures.

RankTitleCreatorNumber sold
1DOG MAN AND CAT KIDPILKEY, DAV716,647
2DOG MAN: LORD OF THE FLEASPILKEY, DAV692,576
3DOG MANPILKEY, DAV317,157
4DOG MAN UNLEASHEDPILKEY, DAV317,093
5DOG MAN: A TALE OF TWO KITTIESPILKEY, DAV314,950
6DOG MAN: BRAWL OF THE WILDPILKEY, DAV199,755
7DRAMATELGEMEIER, RAINA174,550
8SMILETELGEMEIER, RAINA149,751
9SISTERSTELGEMEIER, RAINA132,812
10THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB: DAWN AND THE IMPOSSIBLE THREEMARTIN, ANN M.112,054
11GHOSTSTELGEMEIER, RAINA108,797
12KRISTY’S BIG DAYMARTIN, ANN M.108,164
13KRISTY’S GREAT IDEA: FULL-COLOR EDITION (THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB GRAPHIX #1)MARTIN, ANN M.101,250
14THE ADVENTURE ZONE: HERE THERE BE GERBLINSMCELROY, CLINT94,434
15POPULARMMOS PRESENTS: A HOLE NEW WORLDPOPULARMMOS93,332
16POSITIVELY IZZYLIBENSON, TERRI90,587
17SUPERNOVAKIBUISHI, KAZU87,628
18BIG NATE: SILENT BUT DEADLYPEIRCE, LINCOLN84,005
19PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN (PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN SERIES BOOK 1)SIMPSON, DANA82,225
20THE DRAGONET PROPHECYSUTHERLAND, TUI T.80,681

Observations

Save “Adventure Zone,” every book on this list is aimed at younger readers. Meanwhile, nothing from the Big Two (DC/Marvel) hits the charts until #29, “The Infinity Gauntlet,” a story written in 1991. It also likely sold that well per the two recent “Avengers” movies. Quite the opposite of the direct market, whose top-selling trade paperbacks are mostly adult oriented. And, of course, the direct market’s single-issue comic sales are dominated by superheroes and kid-unfriendly.

“Dog Man” is clearly very popular; the series occupies the top six slots, and saw around two and a half million copies sold. (Or a whopping 13% of all of BookScan’s comics.) Also no slouch is Raina Telgemeier, whose books “Smile,” Drama,” and others continue to sell well, taking up four slots.

I also note out of these 20 graphic novels, 10 are written by women. A far cry from the male-dominated state of the direct market’s top-selling single-issue comics.

The top 10 comic publishers

"Drama" graphic novel
“Drama.” Art by Raina Telgemeier.

The top 10 graphic novel publishers (both manga and Western), and how much they earned, are as follows:

  1. Scholastic: $54.6 million
  2. Viz: $44.4 million
  3. DC Comics: $31.8 million
  4. Marvel: $29.7 million
  5. Hachette: $17.6 million
  6. Image: $15 million
  7. Dark Horse: $13 million
  8. Kodansha: $12.6 million
  9. Andrews McMeel: $11.9 million
  10. Macmillan: $11.7 million

Overall, BookScan reports graphic novels earned about $318.3 million for 2018. That’s up from 2017 by 8.73%. Of this, $87.4 million in sales comes from manga (up 5.77% from 2017), or about 27% of retail graphic novel sales. Western comics make up $230.9 million in sales (up 9.53% from 2017), or about 73% of retail graphic novel sales.

Scholastic clearly dominates the non-direct market graphic novel space. Despite hype about DC and Marvel as the “Big Two,” they’re pretty much just the “big fish” the traditional paper single-issue comics pond. Outside of the direct market, DC and Marvel are both outsold by children’s comics and by manga.k

Driving the point home, Hibbs included in his report a chart showing the percentage each publisher has for all graphic novel sales in 2018. DC and Marvel combined made up about one-fifth of the BookScan-covered bookstore retail market.

Marvel’s top-selling graphic novels/trade paperbacks include: “Infinity Gauntlet,” Ta-Nehishi Coates’ first volume of “Black Panther,” “Infinity War,” and the first volume of “Ms. Marvel.” Meanwhile, DC’s top sellers (under the DC Comics label) include “Watchmen,” “Dark Nights: Metal,” “Dark Days: The Road to Metal,” “The Killing Joke,” and “V For Vendetta.” Hibbs notes sales are particularly soft/declining for DC.

Conclusion

Overall, 2018 graphic novel sales in the book channel space are doing very well, thanks particularly to kids’ comics and manga (or at least Viz). There’s a reason even DC and Marvel (particularly the former) are trying to expand into the graphic novel space; see DC’s efforts with DC Zoom, Ink, and “DC Super Hero Girls.”

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