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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: Lesley (paratti)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 11:10 (UTC)

With my economist stats-nut head on, I think the relative position in the league table of comics sales is possibly the most useful indicator here. The BTVS comics have dropped out the top ten, from a good start (indicative of a market that was still hungry for more after season seven despite the long gap from the airing of Chosen), which persists for some time as the issues come out, but which are now at IIRC 25 in the league. That says to me that the comic is falling relative to the market as well as in absolute terms, which is not a good thing commercially, irrespective of its artistic or dramatic merits/appallingness.

With regards to the download question, while I've never downloaded a BTVS comic (I'm living Joss-free) I did take a look at the download stats from at least one tracker site and those have crashed too from the numbers who used to download when the thing started.

Presumably at least some of those people downloading were those far from or alienated from the sometimes hostile to women comic shops who would be the natural download the files, buy the trade from Amazon section of the market. As download numbers have fallen, along with tradepaperback sales, along with sales of individual issues, the numbers reading the thing would seem to have crashed along with the number of those buying it.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:47 (UTC)

Only five out of 33 'Buffy' comics were ever in the top 10, but for the first two years it was always in the top 20:

9, 12, 12, 10, 12, 8, 7, 10, 12, 15, 14, 6,
11, 15, 12, 10, 13, 11, 8, 17, 10, 12, 10, 22,
14, 37, 31, 37, 31, 28, 35, 38, 25

What those figures do show is that after two years, the sales ranking did drop from an average of 10-15 to a position in the 30s. However, the numbers sold didn't decline by anything like so dramatic a slump... so I wonder if something else was going on there. I do remember reading something about a change in Dark Horse's distribution policy which might have had that effect.

Regardless, it's more of a gentle but inevitable decline than a 'crash'. ;-) In January 2010, out of the top 50 best-selling comics there was still only one by a company that wasn't Marvel or DC - 'Buffy' at #25. Even in the top 100 there are only five others by independents, with the second-best being 'Haunt' at #75.

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