Despite claims to the contrary, people might actually be buying comic books again. Shocking, I know. But according to the November sales figures, the industry looks downright...healthy...in comparison to last year.
On the strength of their New 52 relaunch, DC Comics won the market share race in November, marking the third consecutive month the publisher has beaten out Marvel for the top spot.
This in itself has been huge news, because Marvel has owned that market share since the early 2000s. And in the first two months of the relaunch, DC didn't just beat Marvel; they dominated them.
In November, though, that gap shrunk quite a bit as Marvel picked up some readers after Halloween. Perhaps the lingering (somewhat negative) effects of their year-long "Fear Itself" event have finally started to dissipate.
In the top ten single issues of November, DC claimed six spots while Marvel took the other four. Compare this to October, when DC obliterated Marvel and claimed 17 of the top 20 single issues of the month.
Whatever the case may be for the shrinking gap, November's sales figures provide one big, honking bit of good news--the comics industry is growing. Not by a lot, but because of November's strong sales, 2011 numbers are better than 2010 numbers at the same point in the year.
Now, are there problems with these numbers? Absolutely.
First, notice how Dark Horse and Image are nowhere to be seen in the top 20 books. That, unfortunately, is not an aberration, but the norm. Also note that in November, DC took 34.69% of the dollar share for the entire industry (with 39.66% of the unit share), while Marvel accounted for 33.30% of the dollar share (and 37.84% of the unit share).
Combined, that's 67.99% of the dollar share and 77.50% of the unit share. That means that over three-quarters of the comics sold belong to either DC or Marvel. Comparatively, the third-best selling publisher, Image Comics, took 5.36% of the dollar share and 4.60% of the unit share.
Sure, it's pretty much always been this way, but the numbers speak to a much larger problem within the comics industry as a whole. Super heroes, we know, drive the market. They get people in stores and they keep readers coming back for more--in most cases, fans stick around for decades instead of weeks or months.
And that's fine on the surface.
Books that sell are good news for the publishers, and for the retailers. And the numbers these past few months indicate that a nice portion of these sales belong to new readers.
That's the big goal and the biggest challenge of comics--bringing in new blood.
But how many of these new readers will stick around after they notice the pattern? You know the one I mean--good guy beats bad guy, every month. And on the off chance that the good guy loses, well, it's safe to say that (especially with Marvel and DC) he'll eventually find a way to win.
Or he'll die and come back a year later.
How many times do you hear the phrase, "Indy comics are the lifeblood of the industry"? If you read this blog regularly, then you hear it quite a bit. But it's not just (crazy old) me saying this. It's the creators, and the (good) retailers.
And yet, indy comics account for less than one-quarter of the total sales in all of comics. That's...pretty sad, actually.
So what's the moral to this? Well, there is none.
Overall sales are good--better than the previous year. That's a positive, and it's some much-needed good news for an industry that has had a rough year (layoffs at Marvel, lawsuits at Archie, confusion over the emergence of tablets).
But always remember that good news isn't free. As a fan base, we need to recognize that diversity of product is the key to longevity.
In short, we need to support indy comics. They deserve a market share, too.