Updated on December 10, 2021
Comic retailer and sales analyst Brian Hibbs has released his analysis of 2020 bookstore graphic novel sales. Most of the figures are based on BookScan sales data, which tracks sales through book channels. As for what “book channels” are, to quote the report:
NPD 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.”
What sales do NPD BookScan not track? Among others, this would include libraries, schools, specialty stores (like comic book stores!) and book clubs and fairs. NPD BookScan does not track sales at most independent bookstores. For many books those are very very important sales channels, and thus, NPD BookScan under-reports by some potentially significant degree, and don’t, in any way, represent all physical book sales or even all “book stores” selling comic book material.
Book channels basically include major bookstores, online stores, and brick-and-mortar retailers. However, it doesn’t include the direct market (i.e. comic shops, though many order through book channel distributors), libraries, or Scholastic book fairs. In spite of the limitations of BookScan’s figures, Hibbs tried his best to give a very detailed analysis (based on available data, estimates, etc.) of the overall book channel market.
Below is my look at some major aspects of this year’s report. Note this is distinct from Comichron and ICv2’s analysis of 2020 comic sales in all venues (digital, direct market, and book channels).
The top 10 graphic novel sales of 2020
Here’s the 10 top-selling graphic novels in 2020:
- “Dog Man: Grime and Punishment,” by Dav Pilkey; 1,240,277 sold
- “Dog Man: Fetch-22,” by Dav Pilkey; 601,337 sold
- “Cat Kid Comic Club,” by Dav Pilkey; 412,894 sold
- “Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls,” by Dav Pilkey; 346,019 sold
- “Guts,” by Raina Telgemeier; 299,307 sold
- “Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild,” by Dav Pilkey; 253,139 sold
- “Dog Man,” by Dav Pilkey; 221,803 sold
- “New Kid,” by Jerry Craft; 221,718 sold
- “Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas,” by Dav PIlkey; 217,365 sold
- “Dog Man Unleashed,” by Dav Pilkey; 201,976 sold
All of the above are published by Scholastic.
Like last year’s list, “Dog Man” continues to dominate this year as well, making up eight of the top 10 slots. The other two? Raina Telgemeier, the other dominant name in kids graphic novels, and Jerry Craft, for “New Kid.”
Looking at #11-20, other children’s and young adult graphic novels appear on the list, including a “Baby-Sitters Club” spin-off.
The first manga entry on the list, Kohei Horikoshi’s “My Hero Academia” (vol. 1), clocks in at #18. By default, it’s also the top-selling superhero entry on the list (but more on that below).
As Hibbs notes, graphic novels for children or young adult readers dominate book channel sales, making up 46 of the top 50 sales (and 87 of the top 100). The first entry clearly aimed at adults comes in at #22 (a “Strange Planet” webcomic collection). DC and Marvel superhero fare does even worse, not clocking in until #57 (“Watchmen”).
“Dog Man” in particular dominates to a huge degree… Hibbs states all of the “Dog Man” volumes and spin-offs make up 13% of all BookScan sales. And that’s not even counting lucrative venues like Scholastic book sales. Though Hibbs acknowledges that in 2020, said fairs were probably less-than-lucrative, due to the pandemic.
Top graphic novel publishers of 2020
Here’s the top 10 graphic novel publishers overall, by sales:
- Scholastic Books, $95.6 million
- Viz Media, $94.8 million
- DC Comics, $36.3 million
- Dark Horse, $31.5 million
- Kodansha Comics, $21.3 million
- Hachette Book Group, $21 million
- Marvel Comics, $20.8 million
- Random House, $20.5 million
- HarperCollins Publishers, $19.3 million
- Macmillan, $16.4 million
The total retail value (based on cover price, not what they actually sold for) for all publishers’ sales in 2020 came to $480.4 million, up 20.3% from 2019.
The above publishers by percentage of sales:
- Scholastic Books, 19.9%
- Viz Media, 19.7%
- DC Comics, 7.6%
- Dark Horse, 6.6%
- Kodansha Comics, 4.4%
- Hachette Book Group, 4.4%
- Marvel Comics, 4.3%
- Random House, 4.3%
- HarperCollins Publishers, 4%
- Macmillan, 3.4%
Again, there’s a reason Scholastic and Viz are sometimes called the “real Big Two”; together, the two made up 39.6% of all book channel sales for 2020. In comparison, the direct market’s “Big Two,” DC and Marvel, collectively only made up 11.9% of sales. It’s also a reminder of the strength of manga sales—with Viz (publisher of “My Hero Academia” and other popular series) eclipsing sales of every other publisher save Scholastic, which Viz narrowly trails.
In the “Western” and “manga” categories, Viz and Scholastic dominate by an even more lopsided degree. Viz makes up a whopping 63% of all manga sales, with the #2 in that category, Kodansha, trailing far behind at 13%, and Yen Press at #3 with 10%. On the Western side, Scholastic comes in at 39%, with Random House in second with 8%; DC Comics and HarperCollins tie for third with 7% each.
Obligatory DC and Marvel remarks
As I’ve said above, DC and Marvel definitely aren’t the “Big Two” outside of the direct market, where they dominate (with a lopsided 70% of those sales). Of course, the direct market isn’t the majority of comic sales anymore, thus their book channel numbers aren’t something to ignore.
That said, DC is at least trying; Marvel seems to have mostly ignored this sector altogether (save a few token efforts). I suspect Marvel’s book channel situation’s a mix of how the publisher’s run, paying more attention to their (vastly more successful) movie and TV side of things, and the lingering influence of their problematic former CEO, Ike Perlmutter.
On the DC side, their top five sellers:
- “Watchmen,” 52,000 sold
- “Teen Titans: Raven,” 40,000 sold
- “Teen Titans: Beast Boy,” 28,000 sold
- “Harleen,” 24,000 sold
- “Batman: Three Jokers,” 23,000 sold
Once again, DC’s top selling volume dates back to when “The Cosby Show” was the top show on TV, the top political story was the Iran-Contra affair, and the #1 movie at the box office was “Top Gun.” It says a lot that DC’s top seller (and the top selling DC/Marvel title period) isn’t just a perennial title, but one written when most of their current readership were either children or not born yet.
Fortunately, the other volumes on the list were created within the last several years, with two “Teen Titans” titles taking the #2 and #3 spots. The #4 spot is an adult-oriented Black Label entry, while #5 is the top-selling conventional DC/Marvel superhero entry on the BookScan list. Further down the list include some more Batman family entries, but also the YA graphic novels “Diana, Princess of the Amazons,” “Primer” (featuring an original character), and the excellent “Superman Smashes the Klan.”
On the Marvel side, their top sellers:
- “The Rise of Kylo Ren,” 9,700 sold
- “Galaxy’s Edge,” 9,300 sold
- “House of X/Powers of X,” 8,700 sold
- “Infinity Gauntlet,” 8,000 sold
- “Vader,” 7,300 sold
Despite the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most of Marvel’s top comics aren’t the superheroes, but “Star Wars.” (Guess reacquiring the “Star Wars” license from Dark Horse paid off.) Ms. Marvel’s also not in the top five this year, but perhaps Kamala’s upcoming TV show will change that.
Still, even “The Rise of Kylo Ren” trails well behind DC’s top sellers. This should be cause for concern at Marvel, and not something to ignore in the name of short-sighted penny-pinching on their back catalog. While Marvel does a decent job on the digital side with Marvel Unlimited, that doesn’t excuse the print side of things.
Overall, the book channel aspect of comic sales is doing quite well, even despite the pandemic hampering things. I expect 2021 sales will show similar strength, with manga and “Dog Man” sales showing no signs of slowing down so far this year.