Are Marvel and DC Comics still the “Big Two” of comics overall?

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Here in 2020, it’s obvious that DC and Marvel don’t have as much of an iron grip on the North American comics landscape as they once did. But factoring in graphic novels and non-direct market sales, how much of a market share do DC and Marvel hold? While there’s various sales figures and estimates for overall sales (such as the yearly Comichron/ICv2 joint sales estimates), they tend to not be broken down by company.

My rough estimate of the Big Two’s overall market share

DC vs. Marvel
Art by Dan Jurgens.

I used my previous posts (and information taken from Comichron and ICv2) for the following. Data is based on 2018 sales estimates/figures, plus there’s some rounding. I admit the following might not exactly be ideal, but as a rough idea, it hopefully works well enough.

Comic shop sales in 2018 (which is basically the direct market) made up 46.6% of overall comic/graphic novel sales, or $510 million. Comichron reports that in 2018, Marvel held 38.24% of direct market sales (in dollars), while DC held 30.04%. (Note Comichron’s overall sales figure for the direct market in 2018 was $516.59 million, slightly higher than the $510 million above.) So as far as the direct market’s concerned, DC and Marvel still dominate, with over two-thirds of sales.

Going for overall comic sales, 46.6% x (38.24% + 30.04%) = 31.82% from the direct market for the Big Two.

As for book channel sales, the joint Comichron/ICv2 report estimated that was at about $465 million for 2018, or 42.5% of sales. Bookscan meanwhile reported figures of $318.3 million, with DC and Marvel combined pulling in $61.5 million of that, or about 19.3% of sales. Assuming a similar percentage applies to the Comichron/ICv2 report figures (i.e. superheroes aren’t as dominant in the book channel space):

42.5% x 19.3% = 8.2% from book channel sales for the Big Two.

Finally, digital downloads were estimated to make up 9.1% of sales for 2018. Since virtually no sales figures were given beyond that (which is annoying), I’ll assume similar sales patterns to the direct market (i.e. most people are buying superhero comics). Therefore:

9.1% x (38.24% + 30.04%) = 6.21% from digital download sales for the Big Two.

The Comichron/ICv2 report’s “other” category is largely Kickstarter and what’s left of newsstand sales, which don’t include DC or Marvel (they’ve both withdrawn from the latter). So, adding up the above:

31.82% + 8.2% + 6.21% = 46.23%

Thus, about 46% of overall comic sales from all channels are from DC and Marvel.

Conclusion

Overall, I conclude DC and Marvel combined hold a plurality of comic sales, mostly on the strength of their traditional comic shop sales. However, they no longer hold a majority of sales, as everything else combined (manga, Image, kids/young adult graphic novels, etc.) now outsell them.

Note the above figures probably aren’t as thorough as they could be, but I made do with what information I possess. Also note the above is based on information from 2018. 2019 sales figures will probably make the above figures change, but based on sales trends, they won’t be in the favor of the DC and Marvel superheroes.

Despite all of this, I’d expect the “Big Two” nickname to stick around for the foreseeable future. DC and Marvel’s characters are ingrained in popular culture; also, there’s the two companies’ non-comics media presence (movies, etc.).


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