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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: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 8th March 2010 22:41 (UTC)
will lick

I continue not to give a crap about the comics (even moreso than everybody else who apparently doesn't give a crap but posts about them all the time). But graphs make me hot. *licks*

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 00:40 (UTC)

You've got saliva on your computer screen now. Eww.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 8th March 2010 22:43 (UTC)

Some differences between Buffy and Angel and typical superhero comics (like Batman) are that the superhero comics tend to have shorter arcs (so if you don't like one story, you just wait for the next), and they tend to fluctuate a lot based on creative team, and special events.

Buffy (and Angel, at least until recently) has been telling basically one long, ongoing story since #1. Also, it's had the same core creative team (Joss and Georges), so people who decide they don't like the story, or the way Joss tells it, or the way Georges draws it, tend to drop out permanently rather than waiting for a change.

With the big superhero books you periodically get a new writer, a new artist, and a new story direction. The big spike you'll notice in the Batman sales on the above graph, around the middle of last year, was due to the big event of a new character (Dick Grayson) taking over the Batman cowl. You might get similar spikes if a fan-favorite writer or artist takes over.

But Buffy is locked in, for better or worse.

At this point in the game, very few *new* Buffy fans are coming in via the monthly comics... they're simply too far behind. New fans are coming in by buying the collected trade paperbacks and reading the story that way. Sales of the TPB's have been quite healthy and steady, so that's a good sign.

Posted by: majingojira (majingojira)
Posted at: 8th March 2010 23:47 (UTC)

I was wondering what the trade sales were like...

Cuz that's what I buy.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 01:26 (UTC)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 05:20 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:27 (UTC)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 10th March 2010 04:49 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 10th March 2010 16:05 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 00:43 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 01:22 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:29 (UTC)

Posted by: flake_sake (flake_sake)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 10:22 (UTC)

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)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 01:10 (UTC)

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

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)

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

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.

Posted by: most excellently twisted (fanbot)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 15:24 (UTC)
Spangel - Comic BW

Speaking for myself, I had to stop buying them because of cost. $3.99 for 20 minutes of fun? Can't do it. Comics cost way to much for what they are.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:31 (UTC)

The 'Buffy' comics are only $2.99. :-) But point taken...

Posted by: treadingthedark (treadingthedark)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 15:25 (UTC)

Thanks for all these graphs. Really interesting. For myself, when I was still all excited about the comics I bought them as soon as they came out, and with the Angel comics bought not only individually but several covers and the trade paperbacks, but when they started to irritate me instead of exciting me, I stopped. I am looking forward to collecting again when they get better.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:34 (UTC)

But how will you know when they get better if you don't read them? :-)

For myself, I get the 'Buffy' comics and also buy the TPB for a permanent copy (and to refer to when writing meta, etc) since the comic itself is a bit too fragile for that. But the 'Angel' comics... I still get them, but only if i'm going to the comics shop for the 'Buffy' comic, I don't make a special trip any more...

Posted by: Simon (simonf)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:46 (UTC)

Nice stats. Unfortunately we'll never get to see the subscriptions and overseas sales (which may add another 25% on).

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:49 (UTC)

Unless someone can kidnap persuade Scott Allie and get him to reveal all. :-) But it's true, this data is better for showing relative performance month-on-month rather than total sales.

Posted by: Simon (simonf)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 17:58 (UTC)

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 9th March 2010 20:01 (UTC)

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