Monday, December 28, 2009

The Wash: 12/28/09

o Jeffrey Renaud talks to J. Michael Straczynski at Comic Book Resources. The interview addresses DC's continued failure to capitalize on Straczynski's name recognition.

Fresh off the Hollywood film Changeling and the commercial success of Marvel's Thor series, we recall, Straczynski's been writing the low-selling The Brave and the Bold for DC, without much of an impact so far, in terms of the sales figures. He's hoping to change that next year, evidently:

It was kind of crazy making when people would say, "Why is JMS doing Brave and the Bold instead of writing a book for one of the Big Three characters?," when I was, it was just classified. But it was a nice balance. In The Brave and The Bold, I've been able to do pretty much whatever I wanted, and it is right in the middle sales wise, so there's no pressure on it. The rest of the time, I get to write for Superman—though I've told DC that by the end of 2010, The Brave and The Bold will be somewhere in the top 20 or 30 books. They look at me like I'm nuts, but I have a plan. It'll be slow and gradual, but we'll get there. Marvel had the same reaction when I said I'd get Thor into the Top 10, so we'll see.

Well, Thor stars one of Marvel's A-list characters, and it also had the benefit of a big-name artist and a long absence prior to the relaunch.

If DC relaunches The Brave and the Bold with high-profile promotion and Straczynski as the head of a new, higher-profile creative team telling higher-profile stories—basically what they should have done from the get-go—then Straczynski's plan doesn't sound so outlandish.

Without any of that, though, I have some trouble seeing much potential for improvement in the book's numbers.

o Also at Comic Book Resources, there's the second part of Renaud's interview with Grant Morrison, this time focusing on Morrison's Batman-related work.

The piece suggests that the previously mentioned Frazer Irving and Frank Quitely arcs of Batman and Robin are still planned to happen, and that Morrison himself will stay on for more than 16 issues.

o From the "missed it" pile: DMZ and Northlanders writer Brian Wood talked about collection sales at his Standard Attrition message board a few weeks back:

Aug 4th: Northlanders Vol 2 is released, with direct market orders of: 4,287 copies.

Sep 30th: My royalty sheet is tallied up and the total sales for the book as of that date is: 9,073 copies.

Which would seem to be quite a bit more than the Diamond estimates.

However, Wood's statement is problematic for a couple of reasons.

First up, according to Diamond, Northlanders, Vol. 2 was not released August 4, but July 29—which is significant, because the publically available Diamond figures pertain to a given calendar month. Consequently, a book released in the first week of the month (like the week of August 4) has a lot more time to accumulate sales than a book released in the last week of the month (like the week of July 29).

Second, the 4,287-unit figure Wood cites comes neither from ICv2.com, whose estimate is 4,117, nor from John Mayo, whose estimate is 4,114. Since Wood gives no source for this number, that means it's either a typo or an actual figure from DC Comics. If it's the latter, we wouldn't know what to compare it with, since the accounting period relevant to the number Wood got from DC doesn't have to be identical with the accounting period of the Diamond charts.

With all that in mind, let's add up the Diamond figures for July, August and September to get the total direct-market orders for Northlanders, Vol. 2 in the period that's relevant for Wood's tallied-up royalty statement. In terms of ICv2.com's estimates, the book sold 4,117 units in July, 575 units in August and 464 units in September.

That makes an estimated total of 5,156 units in the North American direct market from July through September for Northlanders, Vol. 2, versus Wood's cited overall sales of 9,073.

Which, in turn, suggests that there were sales in the neighborhood of 4,000 copies in the book market during that period, compared to sales in the neighborhood of 5,000 copies in the direct market.

This supports what Wood says further on in the thread:

I know what the bookstore market order numbers were, but I said I wouldn't put them online. I will say they are indeed significant, and suggest a possible new trend for all my books. With each new release, the gap between the two [markets] gets smaller and smaller, often to within a few hundred copies.

Although, the [direct market] is still king when it comes to reorders over time.

It's nigh-impossible to draw any precise conclusions from this, due to the problematic dates and figures in Wood's statements and the limited compatibility with any of the publically available systematic figures, of course.

But the question of bookstore trends—for Wood's books, as well as for the rest of the market—will be one to keep in mind until the 2009 Bookscan sales for comics will inevitably leak in a few months.

o Now up: A review of Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon's highly acclaimed The Winter Men.

15 comments:

Brian Wood said...

I object to the term "problematic", Marc, since that first statement of mine was just listing the cold hard facts of my accounting statement, and shouldn't present a problem for anyone. It's just a number. Although you are right about the release date - I grabbed the date off Amazon for that post because I was in a hurry. Not sure the difference of six days is really worth mentioning, though.

The second quote of mine you used is less of a cold, hard, straight fact but is still the truth, and as I've said before to you, I know more about my own sales and numbers than you could ever.

Glad to see you made it by SA, though, I was wondering which of my sales numbers threads would finally get your attention.

brian w

Marc-Oliver said...

Brian:

I meant problematic in the context of the other information that's out there -- and, as you say, the publication date IS off, so I don't think it's necessarily an inappropriate term. (Amazon dates are usually one or two weeks after direct-market dates.)

Also, I was referring to the first quote only with that term; I apologize if I'm unclear about that -- I don't think what you say in the second quote is problematic at all. On the contrary, it's interesting information, which is why I thought it well worth to keep in mind.

We've talked about this a bit, and as I'm sure I said then, I don't doubt your sales information. I appreciate that you share it, because it provides more context on the available systematic data.

Given that the systematic data (the Diamond indexes and the estimates based on them) is very specific in terms of which sales and which time periods it covers, though, it's hard to compare it with other numbers.

For instance, are those 4,287 direct-market units you mention from the same royalty statement? Are they initial orders? What period do they cover? That's the kind of context we'd need to compare them with the Diamond figures that are out there. I don't doubt the number -- it's just that, if we don't know its context, then there's no way to determine what it means.

"Glad to see you made it by SA, though, I was wondering which of my sales numbers threads would finally get your attention."

Well, I do stop by every couple months. If you want to bring something to my attention, though, feel free to drop me a line.

mattbayne said...

Are bookstore numbers actual register sales, or are they a bulk number ordered by the chain in advance of sale at register? Meaning, if bookstores ordered 5000 copies total to sell across all outlets, but hadn't sold any in the stores just yet, would that show as 5000 sales, or zero? If after a year, they sold 4500, and stripped and returned the remaining 500, how would that show up? Or would it? Would the initial figure of 5000 be adjusted down?

Brian Wood said...

@mattbayne - the bookstore numbers would change, yes, as returns came in. but that hasn't happened yet. I am personally hopeful that the returns would be small, since this is Vol. 2 and they have Vol. 1 sales to use when calculating what to order initially. I may be proven wrong, though. It's still a very impressive show of faith.

@marc - I think the beauty of a true, confirmed sales number is that it is NOT problematic in an of itself. It's only problematic when it doesn't jive with something someone wants it to be. Meaning, it doesn't match up to your math, so in that sense it's problematic for YOU and your column.

"For instance, are those 4,287 direct-market units you mention from the same royalty statement? Are they initial orders? What period do they cover? That's the kind of context we'd need to compare them with the Diamond figures that are out there."

To answer you: there is only one royalty statement to date for that book, that runs from publication through Sept 30th as I said. And it's total sales (minus any future bookstore returns).

b

Marc-Oliver said...

Brian:

"I think the beauty of a true, confirmed sales number is that it is NOT problematic in an of itself. It's only problematic when it doesn't jive with something someone wants it to be. Meaning, it doesn't match up to your math, so in that sense it's problematic for YOU and your column."

As you've admitted, the release date you've cited was wrong. Is "problematic" an appropriate term for that? I think it's a nice term for that. Deal with it.

As for your evasion: I don't know what you think I "want" the numbers to be, unfortunately, nor is it clear to me what the column has to do with anything. You'll have to fight that one out with the voices in your head, I'm afraid, if a fight is what you're looking for.

It seems that way, certainly.

"To answer you: there is only one royalty statement to date for that book, that runs from publication through Sept 30th as I said. And it's total sales (minus any future bookstore returns)."

My questions were rhetorical, to illustrate why a naked number with no context doesn't reveal much in the way of useful information.

Since you answer, though: The number I was unclear about, as it says in my post, is the alleged direct-market number you give, not the total number. I understand what the total number means, and I believe you that it covers sales from July through September.

It's the other number that's unclear. The smaller number. The 4,287 copies from the direct market that you cite. Is that from your royalty sheet, too? From the same royalty sheet that covers sales from July through September?

I don't think that's likely to be the case, personally, because the Diamond estimates for that period tally up to about 5,200 units, as it says in my initial post. So if those 4,287 units you mention are from the same royalty statement you mention, this would mean that Diamond and ICv2 OVERREPORT your sales by 20%.

Is that the case? I don't think it is, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

Corey Poole said...

Don't really care about sales, just wanted to say that Brian Wood writes really great comics.

Brian Wood said...

The 4287 are the DM initial orders given to me by DC at the time of the book being released. I think my initial post was perfectly clear about that: "Aug 4th: Northlanders Vol 2 is released, with direct market orders of: 4,287 copies." Obviously I wouldn't have a royalty sheet at that point in time, would I? One that travels in time ahead a couple months and reports total sales that have yet to happen?

If you still want to poke at me about listing the bookstore market release date and not the DM release date, I stand ready.

b

Marc-Oliver said...

Brian:

"The 4287 are the DM initial orders given to me by DC at the time of the book being released. I think my initial post was perfectly clear about that:"

Since you didn't specify a source, I don't see how. I presumed as much, though, since the number is very close to the estimates.

"If you still want to poke at me about listing the bookstore market release date and not the DM release date, I stand ready."

No, thanks. Believe it or not, I don't have it in for you. I'm really only interested in your mention of the "possible new trend" in bookstore sales, which seems to be supported by the other numbers you cite -- despite the erroneous release date and the lack of a specific source for the 4,287; I didn't mention those to poke you but because it's my idea of doing my homework to check this stuff if I'm going to use it.

Anonymous said...

"It's my idea of doing my homework to check this stuff if I'm going to use it."

I think the people who have problems with your monthly reports are often concerned with a perceived lack of due diligence. Brian makes a good point that actual numbers do exist. They are on his royalty statement; they are known by the publishers, by Diamond; perhaps you can think of other sources. If you've ever contacted an authority more accurate than ICv2, it’s not mentioned in your article or the links. And yes, I’m sure you may very well receive a “no comment” from Diamond or the handful of publishers who chart—but I think such an attempt is appropriate, especially for a series of articles under a PW banner. What questions have you asked, and to whom? While you do adequately qualify your numbers and analysis, it does beg the question as to why you don’t try to improve—or at the very least BETTER define and qualify—the numbers?

Brandon

Marc-Oliver said...

Brandon,

That's a fair point, and as I recall, it's the first time it's being raised.

First up, I've contacted DC three or four times over the last few years on the column, with no reply. They won't even put me on the mailing list for their retailer newsletter, which would enable me to be more aware of incentives and post-solicitation changes and consider them in the column, so I think the chances of official confirmation or cooperation beyond that are slim.

That said, I've been contacted by a number of people who are in a position to know about sales figures over the past six years, and what they told me suggests that the figures we use are perfectly accurate. That includes everything Brian Wood has been posting in public, by the way--once you get past the quibbling on exact dates or logistics, the actual numbers he's been making available don't contradict anything we see in the Diamond or Bookscan charts.

Also, it's worth bearing in mind that Milton Griepp, John Jackson Miller and John Mayo all come up with their own estimates -- independently from each other, as far as I can tell -- and always end up within a few copies of each other.

Another thing that makes me fairly confident about the figures is the experience I've had with them over the years. We see the difference a variant cover makes and even the difference an announced variant makes versus an unannounced one; we can tell in which week of a given calendar month a book shipped based on its sales beavior; we can tell if a Diamond truck got stuck in a blizzard and failed to arrive at a store in a given month; for all intents and purposes, those numbers, for what they track, are accurate enough to detect the drop of a needle in the direct market.

In other words, I think I've got my shit covered, and I've got no reason to doubt the numbers. You're right to call me on those points, and I need to be called on this stuff.

If I screw up, let me know.

Brian Wood said...

That said, I've been contacted by a number of people who are in a position to know about sales figures over the past six years, and what they told me suggests that the figures we use are perfectly accurate. That includes everything Brian Wood has been posting in public, by the way--once you get past the quibbling on exact dates or logistics, the actual numbers he's been making available don't contradict anything we see in the Diamond or Bookscan charts.

And I've never had a problem with the numbers. I feel like this is my standard disclaimer when people try and talk to me about this. How could I have a problem with the numbers? Numbers are numbers, they have no agenda, they are just pure fact, and the Diamond numbers are perfectly accurate for what they are: partial sales. Warren Ellis, 1000x more eloquent than me on every subject, said: "a snapshot from a point in time in the sales life of a book".

The problem I have is the ANALYSIS, when such a partial look is used incorrectly, as if it were more complete than it actually is. Marc-Oliver here will defend his column and his point of view until he is blue in the face, insisting that these numbers are more than what they are and support his declarations. I just don't agree with that, lest he suggest I do.

So yeah, they are accurate for what they do, they are sensitive if you limit the scope to something very narrow, but they are shit when it comes to a "broader picture", because for most books those numbers are anything but broad. And the people with real and complete sales information in their possession know this.

b

Marc-Oliver said...

Brian:

"... insisting that these numbers are more than what they are ..."

I don't know what that means. There are disclaimers in everything I write about the numbers that state, in excuciating detail, precisely what they are.

Anonymous said...

The quick defense of the data (and Brian, I think, is only clouding his better points with the numbers vs analysis semantics) is both satisfying as well as furthering the problem I have with your monthly column. It’s good that there is an integrity to the numbers. And that your authoritative style is backed up. But the limitations of the numbers, I think, calls into serious question the value of their presentation. And the numbers are compromised in two ways: 1) they’re inaccurate; 2) they’re being used out of context. Some of the answers to the problems I’ll pose below are out there, but I think they all need to be collected, refreshed, and put into a cohesive report. I don’t think your current claim of “excruciating detail” is accurate.
As to the first: a general consistency and worthiness for trend watching seems taken for granted. But the success of your column calls for a fuller procedural discussion. More information on the general history of the numbers: why are they an estimate? Why is the Batman keystone number a valuable statistical tool? and how is the precise Batman print-run learned? Are the ICv2 numbers the same as the chart retailers have access to via Diamond? Also, the British numbers: are they reported anywhere? perhaps to Diamond UK accounts? The British numbers might be especially useful in discussing Vertigo, as I could imagine some or all of their titles selling disproportionately to Batman (love or hate it, I’ve never met a Brit comic fan who didn’t keep up Hellblazer; while plenty haven’t been readers of Batman). Also, other sources: who did you contact at DC? Paul Levitz? Bob Wayne? Dan DiDio? Karen Berger? Jim Lee? David Hyde? Alex Segura? Pamela Mullin? Austin Trunick? I’m sure a “no comment” is often the only answer, but I’ve never know DC to give bona fide press the silent treatment. And why stop at DC? Have you inquired with their Marvel counterparts? Dark Horse, IDW, Image, etc. While their titles are outside of your purview, they can help confirm the numbers. Of course there’s also Diamond’s sales department. ICv2 you always thank but never seem to question. Retailers like Rozanski or Hibbs might have observed something directly from the number, and they most certainly have stories about the history of these charts. And finally creators—perhaps some are limited by confidentiality agreements or personal privacy, but off-the-record confirmations off of royalty statements do exist. And while I hate conspiracy theories: it probably pays to at least touch upon the integrity of the primary source, since the history (recent, but even stories of the “old” days are relevant since it’s still a lot of the same players) of Direct Market distribution isn’t above data being tweaked to serve the interest of the distributors or certain publishers.

..cont...

Anonymous said...

As to the second: this list is a relic. And while the comics business loves relics, age and misuse can muddy things. We all know the business is moving away from DM dominance. Is this list generated by a culture that won’t let go? Or is it still valuable (beyond the entertainment of Monday morning quarterbacking)? It’s still organized by circulation rather than gross dollars—why is that bias, especially in light of almost-gone advertisers, weighted with more importance? The list was designed for retailers, not publishers interested in keeping up with the Joneses--what bias can that play? Conversely, why DOES this list have the power that it does inside the halls of a given publisher? And perhaps the biggest question: do certain publishers manipulate street dates, incentives, etc. with the purpose of affecting this list moreso than affecting sales to retailers. Last, while this is editorially mandated, splitting the publishers is a direct manipulation of the list that should be noted. It’s an amendment of the data that should not be instantly dismissed as irrelevant.
Now these questions come off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more that others can put forward--including yourself, whose job it is to do this every month. And maybe answering all of these hypotheticals will only bring you back to the same conclusion: the numbers are generally right, slightly lower than actual sales, and the trends have inductive if not deductive reliability. But without checking the sources thoroughly you’re below undergraduate Journalism or Statistics standards, let alone professional, let alone PW (PW via Heidi, for clarity). You don’t present this as “fan” or throwaway work. And if you recognize Brian’s one-week discrepancy as “problematic” (a very impressive catch, by the way), I can’t imagine that you don’t find at least some of the above MORE problematic. Using the most convenient, but known to be inaccurate to an estimated but not definite degree, very often falls into theory building. And the result is the standard attrition of your column’s relevance. Since you often refer to them in commentary, you probably should be more informed about non-first month DM sales. But even within your qualifications, they DM numbers and analysis could and should be better.

Brandon

Jonny K said...

Just for the record, being British, I know a lot of British comic fans who don't keep up with Hellblazer - the vast majority, in fact - or who haven't ever read an issue or even heard of it.

Probably a reasonable standard of its popularity would be that the London Forbidden Planet Megastore stacked #250, the biggest issue in years, as the 15th title the week it came out. [It's a rough indication of which they think will be biggest.]