In case you haven't seen the news, ICv2 published numbers for the third quarter sales for comics, and it ain't pretty. Total sales are down 12% on the quarter, single issues are down 14%, and graphic novel sales are down 6%. They report that it's the "largest year over year quarterly decline we've seen since we started tracking these numbers in 2004." Over all, the year to date is only 5% down from last year, with comic sales down 4%, and graphic novel sales down 8%.
It isn't pretty.
As we know, DC will be lowering prices in January, and Marvel will have some new $2.99 books out as well. ICv2 suggests that it's not the pricing nearly as much as it a lack of "major hits." As much as some people (such as myself) malign the ongoing events, they were definitely good for business. Therefore, it wouldn't be out of line to suggest that you ready yourself for another couple of years of unending events, because that's how you stay in the black in comics today, it would seem. The highest selling book of September was Wolverine #1 (kind of a lock with that combination of words and numbers), which was the only issue over 100K in sales.
What's scary is that while these are troubling numbers for Marvel and DC, the smaller publishers are taking it in the face. Other than Walking Dead for Image, and Parker: The Outfit from IDW, I can't think of a bit hit, must-have book from an indie publisher. There are critical hits, yes, but no huge sellers. Oni needs another Scott Pilgrim type book. I've heard and seen anecdotally that a bunch of small publishers are cutting back on their releases, and the chances they take. Just try and pitch a comic book, no matter how good it may be, that isn't easily adaptable to film. It's ugly out there.
So what's the problem? Obviously the economy is still in a sort of intractable funk, but sales have sort of held up over all this time. After a decade of mega-blockbuster films about Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, and any other property they can strip mine, it's just not putting butts in seats in terms of comics. There are breakaway exceptions, the biggest being associated, ironically, with films that didn't do so well. Those are Scott Pilgrim and Watchmen, which sold graphic novels by the truckload. But 3 plus years of excellent comics and 2 record breaking films don't make Invincible Iron Man a top selling book by any means. There's certainly no trickle down effect, and the spikes from movie success are temporary.
Comics aren't just failing to create new readers. Comics aren't even maintaining the numbers they have.
The Q4 numbers are going to be closely watched, and I think we'll see a lot of changes based on what happens over the next few months. In the meantime, buy your comics, and cross your fingers that your favorite titles stick around, and that the market rewards excellence a bit more often.