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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

 
A Far More Distant Third: Superheroes as Tiny Niche Genre -- Paul O'Brien continues to labour under the delusion that superheroes are mainstream comics, and then along comes Rich Johnston with a fascinating link to the Bookscan graphic novel sales figures for 2007 -- sales of graphic novels in mainstream bookstores. Here's the Top 55:

SALES...TITLE...CREATOR

80423...NARUTO V13 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
72328...Frank Miller's 300 MILLER FRANK
67147...NARUTO V1 THE TESTS OF THE NIN KISHIMOTO MASASHI
62012...NARUTO V14 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
58372...FRUITS BASKET V16 TAKAYA NATSUKI
55609...NARUTO V15 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
54445...NARUTO V2 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
51714...DARK TOWER THE GUNSLINGER BORN KING STEPHEN
50250...DEATH NOTE V1 OHBA TSUGUMI
50092...BLEACH V1 KUBO TITE
49487...NARUTO V12 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
49082...NARUTO V18 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
47436...NARUTO V27 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
46526...FRUITS BASKET V17 TAKAYA NATSUKI
46019...NARUTO V24 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
45945...BEST OF POKEMON ADV V1 KUSAKA HIDENORI
45539...NARUTO V3 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
45449...WATCHMEN MOORE ALAN
45084...POKEMON MYST DUNGEON VIZ MEDIA
45071...NARUTO V21 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
43466...VAMPIRE KNIGHT V1 HINO MATSURI
43406...NARUTO V17 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
43261...NARUTO V4 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
43239...WARRIORS THE LOST WARRIOR HUNTER ERIN
43202...KINGDOM HEARTS V2 AMANO SHIRO
41139...NARUTO V16 WALL FRANCES
40537...NARUTO V26 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
40358...DEATH NOTE V2 OHBA TSUGUMI
38524...BLEACH V2 KUBO TITE
38258...NARUTO V20 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
37638...BLEACH V19 KUBO TITE
37376...NARUTO V5 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
36917...BONE ROCK JAW MASTER OF THE E SMITH JEFF
36427...NARUTO V6 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
36345...NARUTO V7 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
36113...VAMPIRE KNIGHT V2 HINO MATSURI
34938...BEST OF POKEMON ADV V2 KUSAKA HIDENORI
34742...DEATH NOTE V10 OHBA TSUGUMI
34522...DEATH NOTE V3 OHBA TSUGUMI
34501...BLEACH V18 KUBO TITE
34302...BONE OUT FROM BONEVILLE SMITH JEFF
34195...BLEACH VOLUME 17 KUBO TITE
34075...NARUTO V25 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
34065...NARUTO V23 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33970...NARUTO V19 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33833...NARUTO V8 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33775...FRUITS BASKET V18 TAKAYA NATSUKI
33501...NARUTO V22 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33496...DEATH NOTE V9 OHBA TSUGUMI
33480...FRUITS BASKET V15 TAKAYA NATSUKI
32947...KINGDOM HEARTS II V1 AMANO SHIRO
32770...LETS FIND POKEMON SPECIAL V1 AIHARA KAZUNORI
32528...CIVIL WAR MILLAR MARK

Note that the first superhero GN to show up is at #22, Watchmen. But that doesn't even really count for the purposes of this discussion, because it's decades old and far closer to artcomix than corporate superhero storytelling in intent, tone and execution. Watchmen may well be beloved by both mainstream and direct market graphic novel buyers, but it's an exception, really, for the purposes of this discussion. To bolster that argument, I would add that if DC had played by the spirit of their contract with Moore and Gibbons rather than the letter of the thing, it also might today be creator-owned, as well.

No, the first contemporary corporate superhero graphic novel -- the kind of thing both Paul O'Brien and many (most?) direct market retailers want to believe is setting the world on fire with its appealing battles between scowling muscle-men, is Civil War, coming in at #55 on the list.

The next superhero graphic novel is at #76, and as a TV tie-in to the mainstream series Heroes, would also be an exception.

At #94 we find the second real, contemporary corporate superhero GN, and it's (ta-da!) a Civil War companion title.

Batman doesn't even make it into the Top 100, appearing at #113.

Lessons learned?

First, a warning. Journalist Tom Spurgeon has continually (and accurately) labeled retailer Brian Hibbs's interpretation of the Bookscan numbers as ridiculous. They are not any kind of Holy Grail of sell-through numbers, and may in fact be far off the mark. I, myself, have said before that the sort of Top 300 analysis of Diamond's own sales figures O'Brien and others engage in is damaging to retailers and the industry, because it gives an even more inaccurate vision of the overall market for comics.

But whatever the actual numbers of titles sold, presumably Bookscan's list of titles represents a rough estimate of what are the most popular titles being sold in many mainstream bookstores.

Note that even if, as the direct market loves to, you pretend that Manga isn't comics and therefore filter them out of the results, there are nine artcomix-type graphic novels in the top 100 (most of them Bone volumes), and only two contemporary corporate superhero graphic novels, both Civil War titles.

So is there a lesson? Yes, there is: Mainstream readers have embraced Manga as the dominant comics form. But we knew that. The surprise is how much artcomix are outselling corporate superhero comics outside the direct market. I really would have expected to see Batman in the Top 100, for example. Certainly you see a lot of Batman titles, still, on the shelves in mainstream bookstores. Will those eventually be remaindered, and future Batman title orders severely cut back on?

And does anyone think Watchmen will still be selling in these numbers in another 20 years? I do.

Do you think Civil War will be?

We'll meet back here in 2028 to find out, but I'm going to guess that no, Civil War does not have the long-term appeal and timeless storytelling found in Watchmen.

And I'm going to state once again and for the record, that the real mainstream is Manga, now obviously with artcomix a distant second, and corporate superhero shenanigans a far more distant third.

5 Comments:

Blogger David Wynne said...

*applause*

26 February, 2008 10:53  
Blogger Brian Hibbs said...

"But whatever the actual numbers of titles sold, presumably Bookscan's list of titles represents a rough estimate of what are the most popular titles being sold in many mainstream bookstores."

No.

BookScan is an EXACT TALLY of the book sales that sold through, within the subset of stores (including "internet stores") that report to BookScan.

-B

26 February, 2008 14:57  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

So if there are mainstream bookstores that do not report to Bookscan, the numbers are only good as a rough estimate of how graphic novels do in mainstream bookstores overall. Thank you for verifying what I said.

26 February, 2008 15:01  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

I hate to reject any comment here, but Brian submitted one that said "No one ANYWHERE is claiming that BookScan is 100% of ALL book sales." And since I never said that either, I'm not sure what his point is. He goes on to say, after accusing me of being obtuse, that "EVERY major chain reports to BookScan -- and the major bookstores chains ARE the very definition of 'mainstream.'" But as long as there are any mainstream bookstores -- chain or not -- that don't participate in the Bookscan reporting, then their numbers are only a rough estimate, as I have said all along. And unless someone has something new and substantial to add to the discussion, that will be the end of it in this comment thread. Brian's closing shot was "These semantical games are really beneath you, in my opinion."

I agree, which is why I am not playing any, but rather just trying to get as close to the truth as possible. I wish you'd do the same, buut as Spurgeon and others have pointed out, your analysis is nothing short of ridiculous.

26 February, 2008 15:53  
Blogger Hudson Phillips said...

My question: Is there anywhere you can find realistic numbers for graphic novels?

The Bookscan numbers only covers mainstream booksellers.

And I know that Diamond numbers are not very accurate either.

So, who sells more graphic novels, Diamond or mainstream bookstores? And what kind of numbers are we talking about here? 100's of thousands?

Thanks,
HP

12 March, 2008 15:12  

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