Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Keeping Track

Friday, March 06, 2009

Keeping Track

It's a new day for comics--The New York Times is tracking graphic novel sales and providing us with a bestseller list. They promise to update it weekly, so this will become one of the most significant ways to track sales and popularity we've got in comics. In the inaugural week, the second volume of the hardcover Starman Omnibus from DC is beating out the hardcover Watchmen (as does the first volume of the Eerie Archives). Watchmen rules the softcovers, though, beating out all comers. In manga (which I'd imagine vastly outsells either of the hard or softcover lists) it's almost all Naruto all the time. Volumes of that series hold eight of the top ten places.

As in its traditional lists, The New York Times doesn't completely spell out how it arrives at its numbers. There appears to be a mix of regular bookstores and comics stores reporting their sales, but there are no specifics, so we'll see how well the numbers are accepted within the comics community. I'm not sure precisely why, but there always seems to be a fair bit of contention in reporting sales statistics in comics.

Up until now, comics have had imperfect statistics available to the public. Regular issues are tracked through monthly Diamond Comic Distributors estimates by, but there's quite a bit of speculation about how close these estimates are to the number of comic books that are being sold in reality. In addition, the Diamond numbers represent comics sold to Diamond clients--comics stores and other businesses--and not to actual consumers, so there's no way of knowing how many might be sitting on comics store shelves. Bookscan, on the other hand, is a Neilsen company that tracks actual numbers of graphic novels (not issues of comic books) that are sold to the general public. Unfortunately, Bookscan is targeted to bookstores, and graphic novels are sold in a number of other places, so these numbers are incomplete, as well. Nevertheless, once a year San Francisco comics store owner Brian Hibbs analyzes the Bookscan numbers in what inevitably stirs up controversy throughout the comics blogosphere (here's his 2008 analysis--you can do your own google to find the contentious discussion threads on various other sites). So at the very least, the Times give us more data points to figure out what's going on in the market.


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