Up until a few months ago, the conventional wisdom was that the comics industry was a sinking ship and it was only a matter of time before:
A) There was an industry wide implosion and/or
B) The big two only published flagship titles and spinoffs with no B/C grade characters appearing on the racks anymore.
However, back in May, John Jackson Miller performed some serious number crunching on sales numbers and determined that dollar orders are nearly double what they were 10 years ago.
What's more, as of June 2013, comics shops have ordered $250 million dollars worth of comics and trades. This puts this year as the first time in 20 years that the industry is on track to having a $500 million dollar sale. To get some idea, this time last year, the industry had only ordered $222 million dollars worth of product.
And all of these sales do not take into account the now noticeable bump that publishers are receiving from Digital sales. While neither DC or Marvel have given any figures about their digital revenue (other than Dianne Nelson's vague comment about digital sales being in around a million each month) Image has been more forthcoming.
According to Image, digital sales makes up to 15% of comics sales and 27% of revenue.
Now, with all that said, where does that leave our dark prophecies of a apocalyptic industry? This all sounds pretty good, but there is one detail about sales that people are overlooking (I believe.) As Image Publisher Eric Stephenson says in this interview when talking about the appeal of digital sales:
"I mean, how many comic stores are there? Maybe 2,000 or 2,500 in the United States? There are more radio stations than that. If you’re trying to convince casual [and new] customers to find comics, we’d be better off selling to radio stations than comic book stores.”
At one time, the number of shops in America was close to 10,000 (at the height of the 90's) - and while we can all agree that number was more than the market would bear (without rampant speculation to prop it up) - you have to wonder how are comic shops doing now?
If, as the numbers suggest, that comic sales are doing so well, then why are there so few comic shops?
I suspect the answer has to do with the way comics are bought by retailers - they are in of themselves speculators. When Marvel or DC announces a new title, they have to guess how many they will sale. Unlike graphic novels (which are a bit more evergreen) retailers have to sort of hope they have ordered enough Marvel Now Captain America or Superior Spider-man to satisfy their Wednesday clientele. Guess too little, and you end up with pissed off customers. Guess too high and you are stuck with a boatload of unsaleable product. For the digital vendors, no guesswork is involved. It's a no lose situation.
I think this is a situation that bears watching before we take the patient off life support.
What do you think?
Does it feel like the industry is A OK to you?
Do you buy as much stuff from your local comic shop as you did 10 years ago?