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StephenT [userpic]

Comic sales figures - with graphs!

8th March 2010 (16:31)

I don't think it's any big secret that sales of the 'Buffy' comic have been falling, pretty much steadily, since issue 1. Some people claim that that's perfectly normal, to be expected, and nothing to worry about; others claim that it's pushing Dark Horse into panic mode, coming up with desperate publicity stunts in an attempt to get themselves noticed again...

While I can't read the minds of the publishers, I can look at the actual sales data, draw some pretty graphs, and find out what's actually been happening to the sales figures in terms of cold, hard numbers instead of guesswork and speculation. :-)

All data comes from the ICv2 website.

Sales of the Buffy and Angel comics

The graph shows sales of Dark Horse's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and IDW's Angel comics, to the same scale. I've included the two non-sequential 'Buffy' comics, Tales of the Vampires: The Thrill and Willow: Goddesses and Monsters, because they are in direct continuity with Season 8 and were published in gaps between the regular comics. I haven't included IDW's series like Spike: After The Fall or Angel: Only Human because they're spin-offs published simultaneously with their main series.

The graph confirms that the comic sales have, indeed, been dropping steadily. For the 'Buffy' comic there was a big fall-off in the first few months, then a slow but steady decline each month thereafter. The big dip and recovery visible in the graph was for the The Thrill one-shot. However, what the graph also shows is that IDW's 'Angel' series has followed an almost identical pattern: a steep drop after the opening issue followed by a slower but steadier decline thereafter. Their curve isn't quite as steep as the Dark Horse one, however; perhaps suggesting that 'Angel' readers are a little bit more loyal - or conversely, the 'Buffy' comic initially attracted far more non-comics readers who tried a few issues, didn't enjoy it, and dropped away without ever even bothering with IDW's comic.

How do these figures compare to the overall market? This graph shows the same data as above, but I've also plotted the sales figures for DC's Batman comic over the same period of time:

comic sales - Buffy v Angel v Batman

Now, the Batman comic was first published in May 1940, is currently up to issue number 695, and is still regularly in the top ten bestsellers each month. The ICv2 website even uses it as an index to judge sales of all other comics against. What the graph shows, then, is that for the last two years at least, the decline in 'Buffy' and 'Angel' sales has been matched at pretty much the exact same rate by 'Batman' sales. The difference is that DC seem to have mastered the secret of re-booting the series every year or so, and adding on an extra 40,000 or so readers who are then gradually lost again over the course of the year.

Looking at the 'Buffy' numbers in more detail, here's how the sales figures break down over the course of each arc:

Buffy ratings

As we see, the initial drop-off continued through the first two arcs. However, by issue 9 and the two Joss-written stand-alones that followed it, the sales figures were pretty much stable. There was even a slight up-tick in sales at the start of each of the next two arcs, presumably as new readers picked up the comic to see what was happening. However, the 'Fray' arc was less good at retaining readers than the Japan story, and then 'Predators and Prey' started shedding them in large numbers. To be fair, this was also the time that all other comics in the market started seeing sales drop, but this was also the arc that drew most fan criticism. 'Retreat' seems to have slowed the decline, even if it couldn't stop it; and the curve seems to be levelling out again with the most recent issues. We don't yet have the sales figures from 'Twilight', though, which will be interesting...

Finally, here is a comparable graph for IDW's comic:

Angel ratings

Curiously, while the overall curve of Season 8 sales has been a steep initial drop which then bottoms out, the 'Angel' sales are almost the opposite. There was an initial dip after the first two issues, true, but then sales were pretty much stable for the first eight or nine issues of After The Fall. However, while the 'Buffy' comic's sales were stabilising at that point, the 'Angel' comic sales instead began a much steeper decline. This continued right through to the end of After The Fall and beyond into the much-criticised Aftermath arc. It was not until Brian Lynch teamed up with Juliet Landau to write the Drusilla two-parter that their sales recovered a little. While IDW's sale figures are still trending downwards, they do seem to have finally stemmed the steepness of that fall. How the revelation of Angel's role in Season 8, and the associated controversy, will affect their figures is still to be seen.


Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 00:40 (UTC)

I wonder if the drop in sales is also somehow related to people who still read the comics, but just download it online. Like they bought the first issue to have and so on, but then eventually (for whatever reason) started just downloading individual issues instead. Of course, I doubt that's a large number. But I see a number of people in the online fandom say they stopped buying but are still reading.

Curious how much illegal downloading over time affects this trend.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 00:46 (UTC)

I'm not sure that's something that can ever be measured, though. While I'm sure it's a factor, I don't think it would really accout for the continual decrease in sales. If someone going to pirate the comic, surely they'd do that from the start? (Apart from, as you say, maybe getting the first issue to keep.)

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 00:50 (UTC)

Oh, I just like speculating on those sort of things.

I think the drop in sales is more attributed to how long the story has been going on, maybe. That and factors from medium not being to everyone's liking and the story perhaps going in directions people don't like. Perhaps also people switching to just buying the TPBs and not the individual issues because it reads better that way.

Nothing you can measure, just speculation.

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 01:10 (UTC)
S8 not kidding - vampy cat

If someone going to pirate the comic, surely they'd do that from the start?

Not necessarily. I would guess that there are a lot of people who started out buying the comics, then decided they weren't worth the money. They might be curious enough to want to keep up, but not satisfied enough to pay for it. (I downloaded for a few issues, but eventually I stopped bothering to do even that and decided other people's reviews were sufficient.)

Posted by: M (spankulert)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 02:14 (UTC)
ComicB Buffy

This would be the boat I'm in as well.

Posted by: flake_sake (flake_sake)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 10:33 (UTC)

Hm, I'd guess illegal downloading has the effect it has everywhere else. If the stuff is good it boosts popularity and sales, if it isn't it harms them slightly.

I can only speak for myself and since I could not get them other than two months late, I always downloaded them. Without that I would have not bee able to parttake in the online discussion and since that's what keeps me in the comics, I would have stopped buying them long ago.

As it is I bought the individual issues up to #25, then being pretty much frustrated by the P&P arc I decided that it's really enough if I buy the collected volumes, which I still do.

If I really love something I want it on paper, even the idividual issues. I guess the people who don't mind a look and mainly want to keep up for the lulz are better suited with downloading, but they wouldn't buy anyway.

Also it gives people the chance to follow the comic and wait until it's over before deciding if it's worth buying, the quality of the season largely depends on the ending after all.

Edited at 2010-03-09 10:39 (UTC)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 12th March 2010 12:20 (UTC)

In my case it was the other way around. When I first heard about the comics, I was interessted but didn't buy them. So I looked and downloaded them them all. Then, feeling slightly guilty and due the "Like it? Buy it!"-mentality, I started to buy the TPB, only downloading the single comics to be up to date.

Now I am collecting the monthly issues (and still am contemplate buying the TPB, they have quite the collector's appeal--esp. the Angel-Books.), yet still I download each issue, because I prefer reading comics on my laptop, it's much brighter, bigger and I can zoom. (And my scanner is kind of weak.)

And I want to point out that I am paying in Euros what you pay in Dollars. That makes 4.10U$ for a Buffy issue, and 5.50U$ for an Angel issue. I could really do without the paper-issues, I rather would buy my comics directly in a drm-free cbr/cbz-format via paypal :-)

So I, starting as a pirate, turned into a faithful buyer.

Apropos abroad: Does this statistic bear the international market in mind or is it USA-only?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 12th March 2010 12:54 (UTC)

I buy the monthly issues, but also download them as well so that I can make icons or cut out panels to illustrate meta, as I would with screencaps from a live-action show. ;-)

Does this statistic bear the international market in mind or is it USA-only?

North America only.

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