Direct Market Shows Signs of Life In January

This morning, the comics internet has seized on its own version of the US government job growth statistics. ICv2 is reporting that direct market sales of comics and graphic novels in January 2012 are up 27.5% over the previous January.

As always the big winners are DC and Marvel, who were each very close, with Marvel bringing in slightly more dollars (higher cover price), and DC moving slightly more units.

All 10 slots of the top ten comics were owned by DC Comics:

Top Ten Comics in January 2012

  1. Justice League #5
  2. Batman #5
  3. Action Comics #5
  4. Detective Comics #5
  5. Green Lantern #5
  6. Batman: The Dark Knight #5
  7. Superman #5
  8. The Flash #5
  9. Batman and Robin #5
10. Aquaman #5

What does this mean? It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s an aberration, or maybe it’s a sign of life in the seemingly lethargic direct market. My guess is, it’s a little of both. None of the publishers ever comment directly on figures like this, except when they’re good. When they’re bad, they say, “these numbers aren’t the full story.” So it’s mostly speculation. However, a good month is a good month, and hopefully, more months like these spur comic shops to feel secure, and up their orders, which will spur publishers to start taking some more risks on their content, and get writers and artists working regularly.

Also, just for fun, here are the top graphic novels from the month:

Top Ten Graphic Novels in Comic Stores in January 2012

  1. Batman: Through the Looking Glass HC (DC)
  2. Invincible Vol. 15: Get Smart TP (Image)
  3. The Walking Dead Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye (Image)
  4. Fear Itself Premiere HC (Marvel)
  5. The Unwritten Volume 5: On to Genesis (DC)
  6. Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (DC)
  7. The Walking Dead Vol. 15 TP (Image)
  8. B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth Volume 2: Gods and Monsters TP (Dark Horse)
  9. Sweet Tooth Vol. 4: Endangered Species TP (DC)
10. Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1: Golden Dawn Deluxe Ed. HC (DC)

Hey look, without Batman and The Walking Dead, this part would be over.

Feel free to start your own speculation, knowing full well that that’s all it will ever be.


  1. Wow! I wish the increase was driven by new users, but I don’t doubt it.

  2. I’m part of the mythical new reader demographic. Before the relaunch I had never once bought a DC books, and ad for Marvel I received a trade of Marvel Zombies once as a gift and that’s it. Now I buy 5-10 books a week.

    • well i’ll be damned

    • Same here. I was strictly a graphic novel guy myself, until I decided to pick up Daredevil #1 on a whim, and that series combined with the DC relaunch pulled me down the rabbit hole into the wonderful world of monthlies. Now I too am a 5-10 books a week kind of guy.

    • I’ve been buying 4-8 per week since August. I never bought a comic the day it came out before that.

    • Even more amazing than the fact that there ARE new readers is that they’re getting into it enough to join in on the internet fan boards. Welcome!

    • @ DikBallistik, communities like this make it even easier to become a new reader. Over at r/comicbooks on Reddit, we get 2 or 3 “I’m interested in getting into comics. Where should I start?” posts every week.

    • And you got an email read on a recent POTW podcast! Welcome!

    • I used to buy comics as a kid and my friend pulled me back in with trades. I told him I’d buy the stories he wasn’t and now I’m trying to figure out what to drop so as to do my wallet a favor but instead I keep picking up more! I’m 40%DC, 40%Marvel and 20% IDW/Dynamite/Image

  3. I think the Walking Dead TV show brought a few people in, who possibly have picked up other titles and possibly gotten hooked.

  4. Guh?

    Well if that isn’t a terrible sign for the future of Marvel I don’t know what is. They didn’t even crack the top 10! Yet clear stinkers like Batman: The Dark Knight and the longest #1 issue in the world but somehow got to #5 Superman beat all of the Marvel issues for January? That’s amazing.

    Hopefully the people who run Marvel will realize they need to stop thinking it’s going to all crash down at DC anytime soon as their own business plan. But they’re stuck with AVX so it’s not like they can do anything till Fall.

    • They made more money than DC did. That’s the point of all this.

    • agreed. dc may not be making more money overall, but they are selling more issues, conquered all the top 10, and dominating in quality.

      i’m currently only reading ultimate and amazing spiderman, and whatever “big” thing they do.

      while dc, has me hooked for:
      batman & robin
      green lantern
      justice league
      teen titans

      and reluctantly, i get action & detective.

    • Is the mindshare gained by selling more books worth money down the road? I’m new to comics, but it’s hard for me to believe that locking down the top ten isn’t a great thing.

    • I work in sales/marketing for a large food company and all we care about is sales dollars. Moving more units is nice, but making more money is the key number. So my assumption is Marvel looks at the numbers and sees they win, because they made more money. The Mouse looks at $$$, not units.

    • It’s the only reason Marvel is making more money is because their prices are higher….That and they double ship the hell out of their titles.

      I’m sure Thunderbolts, JIM, and others will be bi-weekly again soon enough. But if people are clearly into DC comics more so then that’s a sign that Marvel should stop shilling out.

    • They’re doing less work and earning more money. That’s a business success.

      People are continually confusing art and commerce. Art loses every time, unless making money is not a priority.

    • Think of it in terms of another industry. Delta and American both sell more units (seats) than Southwest, but Southwest consistently outperforms the industry in terms of profit, margins, and return. If anything, and without seeing the data, this signals to me that DC likely has the top 10 and bottom 50 comics, while Marvel occupies a very large portion of the middle. Others have mentioned this below, and Josh alludes to it above, the new 52 got a lot of people back into the stores (and into digital platforms), which certainly benefited Marvel. Thus, they get a revenue bump without all the hard work.

    • I’m not sure if the airline industry is a fair comparison given how regulation/deregulation has impacted its operations. There are also some substantial differences between the business models of Southwest and the largest carriers—such as the structure of the networks they operate—that result in very different cost structures.

      I agree that increases in unit sales at the cost of revenue/unit may be a sign of margin compression (assuming DC and Marvel have similar cost structures). Some erosion is obviously offset by any increase in total market size but whether it’s enough depends on how thin the margins are. This emphasis on volume over margin protection might make it harder for publishers to break even, and so they may actually be less inclined to support riskier projects.

  5. It’s nice to see Sam Keith still chewing bubblegum and kicking ass (when he runs out of bubblegum).

  6. I think that its good to see a resurgance in DC’s numbers compared to last year’s. I think this does at least answer whether or not the new 52 was successful or not.

  7. C2E2 and The Chicago Comic-con of 2011 was the most crowded I have seen it in about 10 plus years or so. I think with the popularities of all the comic book movies over the last few years, tv shows like Big Bang Theory showing comic book stores and talking comicbook characters, and Cosplay growing in popularity this has I think revitalized the comic book market. I could be well off base but there seems to be more merchandising of comic book characters as well into new fields which is also generating some curiousity as well. All of things seem to be pushing comics into a new era, no longer just for the nerds, dorks, weirdos, shut ins, cult following, etc… I believe comics have now become more accepted and popular in society. The female comicbook population has also increased tremendously, not just for the guys anymore. I for one would say I am a little saddened by this since comicbook reading and collecting was once a special group of individuals and now it is wide open which can have its positives as well.


    • “I for one would say I am a little saddened by this since comicbook reading and collecting was once a special group of individuals and now it is wide open which can have its positives as well.”

      I don’t understand this point at all. There is nothing but good news to me if more people are reading comics. The only better news that I could imagine would be if kids(6-12) actually started reading!

    • C’mon flash the more the merrier!

    • Yeah, I don’t see any legitimate downsides to a larger comic book reading audience.

  8. I am also one of the mythical new readers.

    I started buying comics regularly for the first time after the DC relaunch. Like the other two in this thread, I am buying 5 -10 a week from my local brick and mortar store. I also buy digital when there are specials or when something I really want to read is not available locally. (Big tip for digital sales: giving me a whole story arc or pointing out a good jumping on point make me MUCH more likely to buy).

    I would not be reading comics if it was not for the New52. I thought of comics with huge numbers (think Spider-man #6xx) as inaccessible or too intimidating to get into. This may well have been incorrect but making it easy for me (through a relaunch) was the clincher in getting me involved.

    Marvel and other publisher have benefited from this too: I got into the store and started with Incredible Hulk, Avenging Spider-man and Daredevil as a direct result of being there and seeing the physical comics on the shelves.

    I am not sure if this post is interesting but it is over now 🙂

  9. can we now declare the DC move as a success, or are we waiting until issue 12 to do that?

    Look, Timmy and Troy are reading five comics between them. TIMMY AND TROY! If you knew Timmy and Troy, you’d bow at what DC has done.

    • Are they the kind of people that hate cartoons and used to make fun of you for reading comics??? The kind of people that don’t understand why a person would read a book?

  10. Wow, 27.5%

    That’s pretty nice. I think this isn’t so much a sign of DC’s superiority, but simply that ’11 was a good year for comics both in terms of quality and business. I think the press over the re-launch of DC, various companies going digital, and the various non-comic adaptations made for a strong 2nd and 3rd quarter. I would love to think that this is all new market, but I suspect that a large factor is fans buying more books per month. There is some strong competition from “the big 2” right now, with publishers putting out some really great books. I’m sure that there are some new/returning customers. Either way sales increases are good for the publishers, the stores, and the fans. It seems like all we hear is bad news about comics sales, so kudos to iFanboy for bringing this to our attention. This headline was a great way to start the day!

  11. i see this as slight Pyrrhic victory….i mean more sales are always good, but its giving strength to the argument that the direct market is fine and healthy and the 40 yr old business model doesn’t need changing. Not a big fan of the current system and i think its pushing people out, “but thats just like…my opinion, man.”

    i hope retailers will be able to take more risks on indie and B-list books, but prob will be paying off overdue invoices and loans.

  12. It’ll be interesting to see how much this could grow in the coming months before [RETRACTED] comes out in the summer.

    Like the podcast I’m not mentioned the big, blue phallus in the room coming soon to DC….

  13. I had predicted a significant increase in sales by 2013. Come on comics! You have a year to make me look good.

  14. Ah, BUT: Would DC be doing just as well if their books were $3.99? I can think of two or three current DC titles I collect that I would consider dropping if the price was higher. Note I said “consider.” These titles are so great, it would be hard to cut any of them. However, that doesn’t mean I would then use those dropped-book funds to buy other books. If they’re also 3.99, they not only need to be awesome reads, but wash my car and walk the dog on a regular basis.

    BTW, I’m impressed that Image continues to chug right along with their $3 titles.

    • I think even if they were to charge the extra dollar DC would still have more integrity than Marvel because Marvels gouging of the consumer extends beyond cover price. I mean all that double shipping is out of hand over there. People get turned on to a book because its good, all of a sudden its coming out weekly with different artists. Look what they’ve done to X-Force! All these point ones useless crossovers and nonstop “events” are a turn off. I’m not saying all Marvel sucks, I’m looking forward to Secret Avengers and Scarlet Spider on weds, but their business tactics suck imo. People are debating the Watchmen prequel, but to me Marvel are proving to be a lot more unethical than DC

  15. I was reading elsewhere for more info on this and it looks like January’s 2011 numbers were down 19% from January 2010. So the January 2012 numbers are up 6% from two years ago.

    ” The last time a publisher held all ten slots was in January of 2005, when Marvel took them all.”

  16. Marvels 3.99 price point has stopped me many times from buying their books digitally. i would probably be reading more Marvel than DC if it was affordable but I can’t hate them for beating DC with less books sold. The market is not something to love, but you need to respect it.

  17. “Personnaly”, I believe this is an example of dedication to a franchise by the consumers. People tend to buy more DC books since the New 52, quality books are coming out of there by the dozens and a quick survey of the reviews and the POTW here in iFanboy seems to indicate that the community reads and appreciates more DC titles than Marvel titles.

    I also think the 2.99$ is really helping DC sell their books. I see it that way when I buy my books. For every 4 books I buy at 2.99$, it’s one more I can read if it were 3.99$ (4 books for 12$ at 2.99$, 3 books for 12$ at 3.99$).

    At my LCS, people also seem to be pulling more DC books than Marvel books whenever I go there. I’m not working there so I don’t know, it’s just the impression that I get when people collect their pull-bin before me at the counter and I glimpse what they’re pulling.

    All in all, I tip my hat to DC for giving more to the consumers and their fans than I think Marvel does. DC clearly makes less money, but seems to put quality over quantity (rentability) compared to Marvel and Disney who wants $$$ at any cost and so what if the story line is crap, people will still buy it mentality…

    • that’s a hard argument to make. DC definitely makes bad books too. Just because they sell their bad stories for a dollar less, why do you say they focus on quality over quantity? The way it looks to me is that books with a higher price point are selling less so DC is the real winner when it comes to quantity.

      Quality is a whole separate argument though

    • Oh I’m not saying that all DC’s books are great by any means! It’s just an illusion that out of the 52 books they publish, at least half of them are “good”, 15 on that are “great” and 5 on that are spot on brilliant (Batman by Snyder/Capullo, Wonder Woman by Azzarello/Chiang, Aquaman by Johns/Reis, etc.).

      Marvel publishes I dunno how many books per month but how many are great? Daredevil is one, Uncanny X-Force seemed like another one too, Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man are great.

      But ratio-wise… There seems to be more “average” books published at Marvel than there is at DC. Again, this is just an impression, nothing can prove it. 😉

      I also think that DC is ready to make whatever is necessary to improve the quality on titles that aren’t as good by switching the creative teams around to maximize quality. I think that Marvel wouldn’t risk it, if it sells well don’t fix it, people will always buy Amazing Spider-Man no matter if the story-line is crap and the fans complain.

      I think we can all agree that Batman The Dark Knight written by Finch was uber-crap, so changing the writer on the title with a better well-known one will most likely improve the quality of it. They are willing to take the risk to improve the title. I don’t think Marvel would do it (again, they might do it, or just cancel the title cause it under-sells…).

      Not saying I’m right here by the way, just impressions. 😉

  18. Well it’s good to see some positivity. But still some negativity here. Instead of all the talk being about how positive this news is for the industry, it turns into the usual let’s all bash evil Disney owned Marvel and sing the praises of the small “care about the consumers” company known as DC Comics. Can’t we all just get along here? I read DC I read Marvel I read Image and finally there is some good news about the future of the industry let’s just all be happy about that!

    • You’re absolutely right, we should celebrate and incite all our friends to buy comic books and share our hobby! 😉

    • Yeah, the Marvel Vs. DC thing is basically just an Apples Vs. Oranges discussion. It can be fun, but preference is hard to debate. I’m a total “DC guy”, but I’m just happy that books sell, and maybe the future of comics is just a tiny bit brighter.

      As for inciting our friends to buy comics, this is really what is going to save the industry. This Xmas I made a point of buying some comics for non-readers as Xmas gift. I got them something they ‘wanted’ as well, but it was a nice little bonus gift. Lending books to friends and co-workers is also a great way to spread the good news!

    • Yep, I introduced one of my friends to Batman and Daredevil recently! He might start buying a few on-going titles that interest him, most notably Doctor Who!

      He also started to read Irredeemable in trades and he lends them to me, so it’s a win-win situation haha!

  19. It’s good to see good news! Is it okay to say good when speaking about comics?

  20. Thank you Snyder/Capullo!

  21. What is really impressive is that Invincible is the #2 TPB. Spectacular.

  22. Awesome news, and high fives to all you new readers!

    It could just be perception, and hopefulness, but Atlanta Comic Con was positively packed yesterday. The woman and I were having to force our way past people to get through.

    That said, who the hell rents tables at these cons to sell trades at cover? *boggle* I hope retailers made some cash yesterday. I nabbed some good stuff.

    • Comic cons have been more and more packed consistently for the last 10 years. It hasn’t made a dent in the bottom line, so that doesn’t seem to be an indicator.

    • I haven’t been to any out of state cons, but you’re right in regards to DragonCon. Utterly packed every year, many of whom give precisely zero shits about comics, gaming, or most of the other things that go on there. It’s just an event to be seen at now, and get drunk and act a fool.

      I’ll make the drive to Charlotte for Heroes Con instead, if I can. A three day pass to that is half what a one day to DragonCon is anyway.

  23. I’m also a re-newbie (having collected in my youth and then exiting the market for 15 years). I actually came back about 6 months before the New 52 after a friend gave me the first trade of Y-The Last Man.

    I will note that while I enjoy being back, and am buying about 5 titles a week, I would have quickly left again if it hadn’t been for digital comics. The one thing that fascinates me about comics is how hard it is to be a consumer (relative to other media)! I live in a small town with a small shop. The proprietor is the typical stereotype and doesn’t keep a lot of stock. I’ve got no interest in trying to “predict” what I’m going to want to read in 3 months. Sure, DC gets a sales surge for a month or two, but how many new readers are going to get into a pre-ordering routine and actually maintain a long-term buying habit? Hopefully digital will be a sufficient substitute like it is for me.

    • You just nailed the problem. It’s impossible to be a casual comic book reader unless you live in a major city with great stores. Otherwise, you’ve got to be incredibly pro-active.

    • those are the exact problems of the Direct Market. Its really unfriendly unless you are a hardcore pre-order guy/gal, and thats just crap for casual and new readers.

    • Based on your statements jnbund, I’m really glad I live in a city with a good shop nearby. Not a slam on your situation – I’m glad your interest is still going strong regardless of the format. If I lived in a small town with one to zero decent shops, my reading habits would be vastly different. My hometown has just that situation. I wouldn’t go there if my life depended on it.

      As such, I just might do the same as you; although I’d still collect a few great titles in trade to read (ie. Invincible, Walking Dead, Chew…). And by the way, Y is just as good in single format as trade, but enjoy those trades.

  24. I see this as a real positive for the industry and for DC specifically. They are already retooling some of the lineup, hopefully replacing some of the underpreforming books with titles that people are going to add to pull lists. Also, we have seen DC do a bit of cross promotion in titles already to expose people to a few more titles. And remember, these numbers don’t include any digital information, so the true numbers are really not known. Also, when you look at the graphic novel sales, its hard to really say who is winning or losing.
    However, I would say as long as we can still get our monthly (or for the trade waiters, quarterly) fix, digital, floppy, or deluxe hard edition, we are all winning!

  25. That is good news.

    Comics are expensive now, but a lot of really good comics are being made right now.

    Good for DC, the fans who stuck with them, and the MNRs who were attracted to the reboot.

    Good for Marvel and their fans, too. They still put out plenty of solid comic book magazines.

    Good for creator-owned books if they can get the shelf space. Increased foot traffic is always a plus.

    Also, if you think comic are expensive, try subscribing. Sometimes the discounts are DEEP.