2019 bookstore graphic novel sales: sales up over 2018; Scholastic, Viz dominate

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Comic sales analyst Brian Hibbs has published his analysis of 2019 graphic novel sales through the bookstore channel. As usual, most figures are from BookScan, which tracks a sizable majority of retail book channel sales.

As for what does and doesn’t count as book channel sales? To quote the article:

NPD BookScan says “Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Costco, General Independents, Hastings, Target, BJ’s, K-Mart, Hudson Group, Meijers [sic], 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.

Basically, everywhere the general public would buy physical graphic novels that isn’t a comic book shop (or Scholastic school book fair).

Note as of this writing, there isn’t a comprehensive look at 2019 direct market sales. But going by the figures available for 2018, book channel sales made up about 43% of all comic/graphic novel sales that year.

Below are my thoughts on Hibbs’ report’s highlights.

Top 10 graphic novel sales for 2019

Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls cover
“Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls.” Art by Dav Pilkey. (Scholastic)

The 10 top selling graphic novels for 2019:

  1. Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls, by Dav Pilkey; Graphix; 1,095,532 sold
  2. Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild, by Dav Pilkey; Graphix; 789,489 sold
  3. Dog Man: Fetch-22, by Dav Pilkey; Graphix; 608,483 sold
  4. Guts, by Raina Telgemeier; Graphix; 454,603 sold
  5. Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas, by Dav Pilkey; Graphix; 379,390 sold
  6. Dog Man and Cat Kid, by Dav Pilkey; Graphix; 296,041 sold
  7. Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey; Graphix; 285,484 sold
  8. Dog Man Unleashed, by Dav Pilkey; Graphix; 279,525 sold
  9. Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, by Dav Pilkey; 253,025 sold
  10. Strange Planet, by Nathan Pyle; Morrow Gift; 242,793 sold

As is obvious, “Dog Man” is extremely popular. Meanwhile, the runners up for #11-20 include Raina Telgemeier’s other graphic novels and several other kids’ books, including a “Baby Sitters Club” entry. Note Scholastic (including its Graphix imprint) takes up 16 of the top 20 slots.

At #20 is the top-selling manga volume, “My Hero Academia” volume 1 (by Kohei Horikoshi), with 98,720 copies sold. It’s also the top selling superhero comic, easily eclipsing anything by DC or Marvel. If you’re looking for the “Big Two,” the top selling entry from those is a reprint of DC’s “Watchmen” at #36 (with 59,000 copies sold).

“Strange Planet” is a collection volume of the popular webcomic, and the top selling book aimed at adults.

The top 10 graphic novel publishers

"Drama" graphic novel
“Drama.” Art by Raina Telgemeier. (Scholastic)

While Hibbs’ report breaks down each publisher’s sales (in great detail), of interest is the list of top graphic novel publishers. The top 10 of those by sales:

  1. Scholastic, $88.9 million
  2. Viz, $60.8 million
  3. DC Comics, $33.4 million
  4. Marvel, $26.2 million
  5. Dark Horse, $19.5 million
  6. Hachette Book Group, $17.5 million
  7. Kodansha Comics, $15.8 million
  8. Macmillan, $15.8 million
  9. Penguin Random House, $15.7 million
  10. Image Comics, $14.3 million

Total sales for 2019 for all publishers is estimated at $399.3 million, up 25% from 2018, though Hibbs notes comparisons by year aren’t perfect.

By percentage, Scholastic took 22% of total sales, followed by Viz at 15%, DC at 8%, Marvel at 7%, and Dark Horse at 5%.

Scholastic and Viz’s sales have skyrocketed over 2018. Meanwhile, DC sales rose slightly, while Marvel is slightly down.

Obligatory Big Two thoughts

Teen Titans: Raven graphic novel cover
“Teen Titans: Raven.” Art by Gabriel Picolo. (DC Comics)

As for the Big Two, DC’s top five sellers:

  1. “Watchmen” (2019 reprint), 59,000 copies sold
  2. “Teen Titans: Raven,” 43,000 copies sold
  3. “Watchmen” (previous reprint version), 23,000 copies sold
  4. “Batman: White Knight,” 17,000 copies sold
  5. “V For Vendetta,” 16,000 copies sold

Hibbs notes that the Zoom and Ink titles don’t seem to be selling anywhere nearly as well as what Raven’s book pulled in. The next best selling Ink book after Raven’s is “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” (somewhere below 5,000 copies sold), while the best selling Zoom book is “Super Sons: The Polarshield Project,” with 8,300 copies sold.

This is somewhat disappointing given the effort DC’s put into publishing young adult graphic novels. However, it’s good to see Raven’s book is a success (and also a sign of how popular the Teen Titans is as a franchise). I’m guessing the follow up volume, featuring Raven’s fellow teammate Beast Boy, will also do well.

If curious, the top selling canonical DCU book (not counting “The Killing Joke”) is “The Batman Who Laughs,” with 15,000 copies sold.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s top five sellers:

  1. “The Infinity Gauntlet,” 27,000 copies sold
  2. “Spider-Verse: Spider-Men,” 19,000 copies sold
  3. “Spider-Verse: Miles Morales,” 14,000 copies sold
  4. “Ms. Marvel: No Normal,” 11,000 copies sold
  5. “Star Wars: Darth Vader: Lord of the Sith,” vol. 4, 9,600 copies sold

Despite Marvel having the highest-grossing film of all time in 2019 with “Avengers: Endgame,” sales of “Infinity Gauntlet” fell off from 2018, but was still Marvel’s top seller. Meanwhile, Miles Morales is popular (I assume the “Spider-Verse” film helps), while “Star Wars” is also a mainstay.

Even though Kamala Khan doesn’t have a major movie or TV show, it’s interesting that her first trade paperback continues to be a top seller. And scanning the #6-10 slots, comics aimed at kids seem to also do well for Marvel.

Other observations

Scholastic is the dominant publisher by far in the book channel market. In the Western comics category, Scholastic books made up 40% of all volumes sold.

Pilkey, Telgemeier, and Horikoshi are the top comic creators as far as the book channel market’s concerned. By my count, out of the 10 top selling creators, four are women.

Viz is no slouch either; DC and Marvel combined match Viz’s sales alone. “My Hero Academia” is clearly an extremely popular series, making up nine of Viz’s top 10 selling volumes. In the manga category, Viz is the dominant publisher, selling 58% of all volumes.

Meanwhile, DC and Marvel combined took in 15% of sales in 2019, versus 19% in 2018.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s obvious that young adult graphic novels and manga (and publishers Scholastic and Viz) are the dominant force in book channel sales.

I’m not sure what 2020 will look like given the coronavirus pandemic, but sales for last year suggest “Dog Man” and “My Hero Academia” will continue to do well. Meanwhile, I also wonder if DC’s young adult graphic novels will pick up, given they’ll feature more stories starring their teenage heroes, such as Aqualad.


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