Updated on December 10, 2021
Brian Hibbs has released his annual look at bookstore comic sales, mainly using statistics taken from BookScan, the book sales figures tracked by Nielsen for bookstores. While they aren’t perfect, they’re the best available, and give an indication of what comics are selling in book retailers, including Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Books-A-Million, and retail chains like Meijer, Wal-Mart, and Target. Libraries, schools, and comic shops aren’t included.
Overall, 2014 sales increased 17% over 2013, which is a good sign. The economy recovering from the recession surely must’ve helped.
Top 20 comics sold at retailers
As for what’s selling, the figures look quite different from what sells in the direct market (i.e., comic book shops). The top 20 comics sold at retailers (from Hibbs’ CBR article) are as follows:
- 176,197 — SISTERS
- 152,220 — TALES FROM A NOT SO FABULOUS LIFE
- 150,523 — SMILE
- 129,679 — HYPERBOLE AND A HALF
- 94,152 — DRAMA
- 84,707 — BIG NATE GRT MINDS THINK ALIKE
- 83,639 — STAR WARS JEDI ACADEMY
- 78,132 — STAR WARS JEDI ACADEMY RETURN
- 74,581 — DORK DIARIES OMG ALL ABOUT ME
- 72,520 — CANT WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING M
- 68,064 — WALKING DEAD COMPENDIUM 1
- 67,849 — BIG NATE THE CROWD GOES WILD
- 54,520 — ATTACK ON TITAN 1
- 53,755 — PERSEPOLIS 1
- 53,470 — WALKING DEAD COMPENDIUM V 2 TP
- 52,872 — BIG NATE I CANT TAKE IT
- 45,316 — WALKING DEAD V 20 ALL OUT WAR
- 39,446 — BIG NATE GAME ON
- 39,367 — AMULET 6 ESCAPE FROM LUCIEN
- 38,416 — SAGA V 3
As you can see, there’s not a single superhero title in the bunch. Three of the top five selling books (“Sisters,” “Smile,” and “Drama”) are from the same author, Raina Telgemeier. I can see why…my niece was excited when I gave her one of Telgemeier’s books as a Christmas gift.
The other books show a range of titles, including “Star Wars,” children’s titles “Dork Diaries” and “Big Nate,” and two books also popular in comic shops, “The Walking Dead” and “Saga.”
DC Comics is the top publisher sold in retail stores. However, that’s mainly from its sheer volume of titles (131 out of the top 750 comics sold). Its top-selling title is “The Killing Joke” at #27. Yes, the top-selling superhero book is a title from almost 30 years ago. As typical nowadays, Batman or Bat-related books make up a very disproportionate amount of DC’s sales: 54 out of DC’s 131 titles in the top 750, or 41%. The New 52 books also supposedly are doing OK in sales.
If wondering, Marvel’s bookstore sales, unlike its direct market dominance of floppy comics, are well behind DC’s, though Hibbs blames that on how it’s inventory adverse. That might be related to how Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter reportedly runs the company in a Scrooge McDuck-like stingy, tight-fisted fashion, to others’ annoyance, and to the detriment of bookstore sales. Of course, Marvel still dominates 2014’s floppy comic sales. Hibbs also notes Marvel’s sales have improved, thanks in part to its popular movies, with 53 titles placing in the top 750.
The real story is that there’s a growing audience for comics outside of the “Big Two,” with future growth areas including children’s comics and comics written by/for women. While DC and Marvel (moreso Marvel) have made attempts at fixing the latter, they’ve pretty much left material for children in the dust. Fortunately, others are widely pursuing that category.
- Archie’s noted as a traditional children’s comic seller, but aren’t in the top 10 largest publishers. They only have seven titles in the top 750 sold, the top-selling which is the Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man crossover. For all their praise for titles like “Kevin Keller,” “Afterlife With Archie,” etc., I wonder if their pursuit of an older audience, including the upcoming reboot of the “Archie” title, is affecting their sales to children at all. Their core Riverdale-set monthly comic sales haven’t been setting the world on fire lately, not even the digests.
- “Dork Diaries,” the distaff counterpart of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” is written by Rachel Renee Russell, an African-American woman.
- Twelve of the 20 comics above are aimed at children or pre-teens; women write nine of the 20 comics. A sharp contrast to the top selling single-issue comics at comic shops, where none of 2014’s top 20 titles are written by women or are aimed at children/pre-teens. No wonder online trolls are throwing a temper-tantrum over the increasing diversity in comics.
- All of the top 20 titles save “Star Wars” are owned by their creators, another strong sign.
- Manga sales are also back on the rise, thanks to titles like “Attack on Titan.”
- Monthly single issue comics, and thus superheroes, still dominate comic sales. However, the Big Two’s superheroes aren’t the most popular option, as far as non-comic shop trade paperbacks/graphic novels are concerned. Only 184 out of the top 750 titles (or 25%) coming from DC/Marvel. Of course, the general public view superheroes mainly as TV, movie, and video game characters, not as comic characters. These sales figures reflect the latter.
I assume similar trends will continue in 2015 and for the foreseeable future.