Monday, October 1, 2007

Figure Skating Update

There've been a few reactions to my essay on the merits of direct market sales reports adding insightful information and analysis to the discussion:

o At the recent comics retailer summit held by Diamond Comic Distributors in Baltimore, Heidi MacDonald asked retailers about the influence online sales reports have on their ordering patterns.
Among the folks we talked to, the answer was a clear no. “I make my decisions based on what sells in my store, not what’s on a chart,” said one, summarizing the general consensus.
While I'm not especially surprised by MacDonald's findings, she's to be commended for actually doing the legwork and, you know, just asking the people who sell the books about their everyday business reality, instead of speculating on it like the rest of us have been doing.

In fairness, MacDonald's article doesn't specify with how many retailers she spoke, and it does point out that retailers who place more stock in online sales reports than in their own customers' buying patterns may exist. Overall, though, I have to say I'm fairly relieved to get at least a little bit of confirmation that I'm not living on Bizarro World. And it's good to know that I'm probably not actively grabbing food out of Brian Wood's children's mouths by reporting on DC sales every month. I'm serious.

o Speaking of Brian Wood, I should mention that he's clarified his comments in a number of places and stated right out that he's been misinterpreted and that, no, he doesn't think the publication and discussion of sales numbers per se are evil or harmful.

Admittedly, Brian, I have a hard time reconciling that with your comments here or here, but I'm willing to take your word on it, and I apologize if I've misrepresented your views.

o At his weblog, Dick Hyacinth uses MacDonald's piece and my ruminations as a starting point for a whole slew of insightful observations and analysis on online sales reports in general and Vertigo sales in particular - Hyacinth expresses skepticism on the existence of the mythical "bad retailers" who place their orders according to online sales reports, further investigates the issue of reorders and ponders Vertigo's future options in the direct market. Go over and read it, if you haven't already.

o In response to the most recent DC sales column, commenter Heinz Hochkoepper points out that the average number of Vertigo periodicals seems to have been increasing over the last few years. Looking into the matter, it turns out that he's quite correct. According to the Diamond Charts, the average monthly number of Vertigo periodicals was 9.5 in 2003 (not counting January and February, for which we only have preorder charts), 10.8 in 2004, 12 in 2005, 12.1 in 2006 and 12.9 in 2007 to date. That's a noticeable increase, and while I'm not sure what it means, it's certainly an interesting observation.

o In the same comments thread, retailer Randy Lander shares information on the performance of certain Vertigo books at his store.
This is anecdotal, but we sell two to three times the number of DMZ trades as we did of Transmetropolitan and Invisibles. Of course, we’re a growing store, so part of that is that we’re bigger and have a bigger customer base now as opposed to then, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that a similar pattern is happening at other stores.

Certainly we sell more DMZ trades in the first week than we did of Transmetropolitan. And I’m pretty sure our sales momentum is faster, too. We sell a DMZ trade almost every week (sometimes more than one), we sold Transmetropolitan maybe once a month.

Not sure how relevant this is, but just wanted to provide a direct response that for us, at least, DMZ (and Fables, and American Virgin) trades sell better than comparable Vertigo titles a few years ago.
As Lander says, it's anecdotal, and there are other factors at play besides plain popularity of the properties.

That said, I have to admit I'm surprised that DMZ collection sales today are so much stronger - at Lander's store, at any rate - than those of Transmetropolitan or The Invisibles were a few years back. It's certainly something to consider, and I'm curious how things are looking at other stores.

(By the way, if you're a retailer - or a creator or publisher or distributor, for that matter - I highly appreciate any feedback on the column you may have. Looking at the statistics is good and well, but it always helps to have input from the people in the trenches. So feel free to drop me a line at any time if I got something wrong or right or if I'm missing anything.)

11 comments:

brian said...

I think both my comments support what I'm saying: its not the numbers that are to fault - numbers are just numbers - but rather how they are used.

Better analysis, better labeling would put those numbers in the correct context.

Thanks for apologizing.

bri

Ed said...

I always thought the argument wasn't about retailers, but about consumers. I have actually seen people online saying they were staying away from a book for fear of cancellation because of their place on the published charts.

Anonymous said...

Not to take anything away from DMZ's success, but might it also have something to do with changes in comic readers' format perferences in the years since The Invisibles and Transmetropolitan ceased regular publication? (Also, for all the praise rightfully heaped on The Invisibles, it's worth noting that it took a letter-column-initiated magical wankfest to save the book back in the day.)

Certainly TPBs are a much bigger part of the today's market, and readers are more comfortable with waiting for the trade, given that publishers now seem more committed to releasing them (and on a more regular basis) than they once were. I'd also be curious to compare the two aformentioned books' periodical and TPB sales with DMZ's monthly/TPB sales, just to see if my theorized shift of readers to TPB would be borne out by the numbers.

Chad

Chad said...

Do people really stop reading books because they are about to be cancelled? Then why are they reading them in the first place?

If you're enjoying the read, surely you want every bit of it you can get.

If you are prepared to jetisson a title because it's getting the can, you probably shouldn't have been reading it and wasting your money to start with.

Of course this has no bearing on the matter re: sales charts, but I just don't get that mentality. I thought we'd moved on from 90s speculating.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

"Not to take anything away from DMZ's success, but might it also have something to do with changes in comic readers' format perferences in the years since The Invisibles and Transmetropolitan ceased regular publication?"

The enormous growth in the collection and graphic novel market since 2000 is almost certainly a major factor, yes.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

"Do people really stop reading books because they are about to be cancelled?"

Most definitely. To be frank, though, I don't really see the downside to that.

Personally, I like to have the option not to follow a serial when it looks like it's going to be aborted prematurely. And publishers are obviously reluctant to give you that option.

matches said...

I dunno... with all due respect Marc, I think your analysis of Vertigo sales misses the mark. Both you and Dick Hyacinth (whose blog I love) are treating the imprint as if it's in trouble based almost entirely on the sales of the periodicals. And at this point, I just don't think they're all that relevant. THE LOSERS lasted over 30 issues with sales below 10K in the DM. EXTERMINATORS seems to be continuing at a similar number. It pretty much HAS to be tpb sales keeping those books afloat.

Obviously we don't know what tpb sales actually are - the Diamond charts reflect DM only, and reorders are more likely to miss the top 100 each month. Without having that information, I don't think there's any reliable way for us to analyze the health or lack thereof of a Vertigo title. I'm sure tptb at Vertigo would like the periodicals to sell as much as possible, but at this point I think those sales are gravy. The imprint is making its money in collected editions.

I don't see any reason DMZ can't be one of the new flagship Vertigo titles, if Brian's comments re the tpb sales are accurate (and who'd know better than him?).

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

"THE LOSERS lasted over 30 issues with sales below 10K in the DM."

Not entirely. THE LOSERS started out with estimated sales of 19,815, didn't drop below 10,000 units until issue #18 and even then never fell below 8,153 until it was canceled.

Which is indeed where a whole range of Vertigo books are selling these days. So it's not that the cancellation level seems to have gotten much lower. Rather, it seems they're simply having trouble launching books which keep selling significantly above it.

"I'm sure tptb at Vertigo would like the periodicals to sell as much as possible, but at this point I think those sales are gravy."

I buy that when I see the data which supports it. TESTAMENT and DEADMAN were canceled when they approached the 7,000 unit mark, which is still broadly consistent with the established patterns. CROSSING MIDNIGHT is the only exception currently that doesn't fit those patterns, and that could be due to all kinds of reasons - including, of course, strong collection sales.

But if periodical sales were just gravy, Vertigo titles at the end of the monthly sales spectrum wouldn't get canceled.

matches said...

Yes and no. I suspect that Testament and Deadman, like the much-missed Human Target, weren't strong TPB sellers, either. I don't really KNOW that, mind you, because we don't have comprehensive TPB sales info - but that's what I suspect.

IOW it's clearly true that some Vertigo books with piss-poor periodical sales get cancelled, but that doesn't necessarily mean those books were cancelled BECAUSE of said piss-poor periodical sales. And when one has counter-examples, like Losers, or Exterminators, or whatever, the evidence that periodical sales really aren't the determinative factor.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

"And when one has counter-examples, like Losers, or Exterminators, or whatever, the evidence that periodical sales really aren't the determinative factor."

I don't think they're counter-examples. THE LOSERS was canceled once its periodical sales fell below a certain level, despite, I seem to recall, reports of strong collection sales.

THE EXTERMINATORS is in that same area now, and, to be frank, I doubt it's going to last past issue #30 if its monthly sales decline continues.

Don't get me wrong: It's clear that collection sales are a major factor at Vertigo. But it's also clear that it's a factor which affects some titles more than it does others, and that the cases where monthlies continue despite poor monthly numbers remain the exception. Recently, there's only one of them, and that's CROSSING MIDNIGHT. I don't think that's quite enough to declare the monthly sales meaningless.

Perhaps we're going to reach the point where periodical sales can be considered insignificant as a rule at some point. But so far, I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that we're there quite yet.

matches said...

IIRC The Losers wasn't so much cancelled as it just ended. Diggle & Jock always had a finite ending in mind. DC opted not to continue the series when they were done (perhaps in part because of low periodical sales, but also perhaps because it wouldn't have made sense from a creative standpoint).

I think Simon Oliver is on record as saying that Exterminators has a pre-set ending in mind, too.