(I apologize upfront for the weird formatting errors)
Just in case this is your first time reading a sales report from us, let me give you a little background and a longer look at my CV. My name is Brian Hibbs and I own two comic book stores in San Francisco: Comix Experience at 305 Divisadero St, and Comix Experience Outpost at 2381 Ocean Ave. I opened the original store almost 30 years ago on April 1st, 1989, when I was just twenty-one years old, and I purchased Outpost just over five years ago, in order to stop it from closing overnight.
San Francisco is currently home to ten comic book stores; this, however, is down from twenty-four when I opened in 1989. There are also something around a dozen general independent book stores (note that San Francisco has no national chain bookstores!) that also carry a solid selection of “graphic novels” (which is usually really just a highfaluting name for “bound collection of comics”, and isn’t really any different in any substantial way from “comic book”, except that it makes people feel better about themselves) – but it is the comics specialty stores that are selling the most comics material, and it is my belief that my two Comix Experience stores sell roughly a quarter of all comics material in The City.
As I noted, I have been selling comics since 1989, and we’re the oldest comic store with the same ownership in the same location in San Francisco. For a quarter of a century I’ve written “Tilting At Windmills”, a regular column about comics retailing, also published in two volumes from IDW Publishing; I’ve been a judge of the Eisner Awards (Comics’ equivalent of the Oscars); I’ve sat on the Board of Directors of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (an organization that protects the First Amendment rights of comics creators), I was one of the original founders of ComicsPRO (the comics retailer trade organization); and I even led a successful Class Action lawsuit against Marvel Comics that won more than a million dollars for comic book retailers internationally.
Most recently, in response to rising costs in San Francisco, we launched an international Graphic-Novel-Of-The-Month Club where we hold streaming meetings with the authors for literally hundreds of folks around the country (and globe!), and we also have a sibling club for kids age 8-13.
2018 was a damn terrible year for Comix Experience: Sales were down for the second year in a row – down by 5.7% in the main store on Divisadero St, and down a staggering 16.9% at Outpost. Eleven of twelve months were down at Divis, 28 of the last 29. This isn’t the worst two years in our 29 year history – 2009-2010 showed a 15% drop from 2008, and here we are down less than 13%, but I’m also very eager for the bleeding to stop. At least the Divis drop is better than last year (where it was 8.5%)
Outpost was, as noted, down 16.9% in 2018 – this is one of the reasons I was strongly contemplating shutting down that location when the lease just came up this Christmas, but at the end of the day I wasn’t willing to shut down a comic store (I am stubborn), so we’re set for at least three more years. The curve is different at Outpost – it is accelerating (2017 was “only” down 7.29%), but it’s only been 20 of the last 21 months.
I don’t think any of this is on my excellent staff, and I don’t think this is part of the “death of retail” narrative: I just think that the three market leaders are doing a shitty job at putting out compelling products overall. I also think the current President has people in the Bay Area scared and hoarding their nuts.
The two stores are VERY different from one another with different tones and tenors. The main store is very much a book store that specializes in comics material: 59% of our sales there came from new book-format comics this year, while 35% came from new periodical comics (usually stapled, usually 32 pages). I also split our “Sale Books” into its own category this year, and it came out to 1.5% of the main store’s total. “Back issues” (which includes starter sets and dollar books as well as trad bagged and boarded comics and eBay sales) was just over 1% of total. Comix Experience is less about the characters (Batman and Spider-Man, et al.) and much more focused on the creators that bring those characters to life. As a creator-driven store, our sales reflect that passion, as you will see below.
Comix Experience Outpost runs pretty differently – it was an existing store that we took over, and because of its location and the nature of its traffic, it is FAR more focused on the periodical comic (as well as the back issue). Outpost is 62% new periodical-format comics (and 10% back issues), and just 22% in book format comics. 2% each are Toys and Supplies, which leaves 2% for “other”. It’s a very different sales mix than the Mothership! It’s also about 60% of the overall volume.
Let’s take a look, store-by-store, at sales this year, and see what the best-sellers are in each category, and get a sense of maybe where the market is heading. Let’s look at BOOKS, first, since that’s the biggest category at the bigger store!
One important consideration here is that these numbers DO NOT include the Graphic-Novel-Of-The-Month Club numbers, every one of which would top the #1 in-store book! In fact, we’ve been told that, for at least some of the titles we selected the book club order is a meaningful percentage of sales, impacted sell outs or triggering further printings. Our releases were, in order of release:
Adult Graphic Novels
January 2018: Black Bolt by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward [Marvel Comics]
February 2018: Spy Seal by Rich Tomasso [Image Comics]
March 2018: The Prince & The Dressmaker by Jen Wang [FirstSecond]
April 2018: Dalston Monsterzz by Dilraj Mann [Nobrow]
May 2018: Bug: The Adventures of Forager by Lee & Mike Allred [DC Comics]
June 2018: Young Frances by Hartley Lin [Adhouse]
July 2018: Dark Knights: Metal by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo [DC Comics]
August 2018: Come Again by Nate Powell [IDW / Top Shelf]
September 2018: Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt [Drawn & Quarterly]
October 2018: Check, Please! By Ngozi Ukazu [FirstSecond]
November 2018: Mage v5: The Hero Denied v1 by Matt Wagner [Image Comics]
December 2018: Maestros by Steve Skroce [Image Comics]
Kids / YA Graphic Novels
January 2018: Cloudia and Rex by Eirck Frietas & Ulises Farinas [Lion Forge]
February 2018: Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak & Takeshi Miyazawa [Boom!]
March 2018: My Summer With the Hawaiian Fire Goddess by Kent Silveira & Diego Jourdan [Alternative Comics]
April 2018: Mega Robo Bros by Neill Cameron [Scholastic]
May 2018: The City on the Other Side by Mairghred Scott & Robin Robinson [FirstSecond]
June 2018: Rocket Robinson & The Pharoah’s Fortune by Sean O’Neill [Dark Horse Comics]
July 2018: Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke [Scholastic]
August 2018: Cottons: The Secret of the Wind by Jim Pascoe & Heidi Arnhold [FirstSecond]
September 2018: Sheets by Brenna Thummler [Lion Forge]
October 2018: Criminy by Roger Langridge & Ryan Ferrier [Dark Horse Comics]
November 2018: Edison Beaker, Creature Seeker by Frank Cammuso [Viking]
December 2018: Norroway by Kit & Kat Seaton [Image Comics]
(If I am allowed to say, I think it is a SUPERB program, and I really invite you to JOIN TODAY!)
(I also can sell you pretty much all of these excellent books, and the adult ones all have author-signed bookplates, too!)
Finally on the book club, it grew a bit under 1% in 2018, the one bright spot in our business.
So, starting with The Mothership, Comix Experience on Divisadero, we sold approximately 4800 different books selling at least one copy for full price. We have approximately 6200 different books in stock, however, so is that ideal? Dead inventory is the devil in a book-forward store. We also sold about 1400 sale books – almost always at 50% off – the vast bulk of which were unsold from the racks. As you can see, we keep inventory pretty tight, and we’re able to liquidate the bulk of unsold books from the racks – have to when Rent and Wages in San Francisco grab virtually every dollar of profit.
New Books dropped 5.4% in dollar sales at the mothership (New Comics dropped by 8.6%) in 2018.
Our Top 100 (actually 101 here, thanks to ties) is right below, and represents twenty four different publishers. The publisher placing the most number of books is Image, with a dominating forty out of one hundred and one titles – though this is only eighteen series. FirstSecond comes in, well, second, with twelve of the 101, and Graphix comes in third with nine. DC comes in down all the way at #4 with eight, wow, what a change from the past!
I do have to admit, I am very worried what post-SAGA looks like; with the one year hiatus, I expect that to hit trade sales hard in 2019. This is potentially a very worrying development, because any entertainment business is driven by hits bringing people in. The market in 2019 IS wider, but it’s also flatter as a result. More on this another day!
Also, note that my top 101 is now 28 kids books – up from 21 last year – kid’s material is a growing and booming phenomena, if you position yourself well in the market to handle those books.
Image’s dominance notwithstanding, I think this is a pretty diverse list of books, and am happy to stand behind this sales list as showing our value to the Medium of comics.
This is by PIECES sold – we sold MORE COPIES of (say) SAGA v1 at #13, than 5 WORLDS v1 at #13
Even the “worst” selling of these is selling, on average, more than a copy and a half a month. The best, many multiples of that. I’ll never get rich from it, but books are a solid business.
Because when we retailers say things like “Sales declined…” we’re usually actually talking about DOLLARS, here’s the best-sellers (just 20 this time), sorted that way to show you the difference the price can make…. INCAL, MY FAVORITE THING…., SABRINA (the Drasno book, not the TV show) all zoom WAY up
Just looking at the book format alone on Divis, here is how publishers over 1% marketshare break out:
What about the periodical comics on Divis? I kind of find these kinds of lists sort of silly because the best-selling book takes up to 12 spots out of 100, but here it is anyway. This should have the variants all combined together, but its possible I missed something there.
Overall, I am happy with this list – it’s pretty diverse!
If you look at periodicals at Divis, here’s how the publisher breakdown looks, pretty much reversing the book distribution, Its those $5+ cover prices that drives this, not circulation:
Let’s switch over to Outpost. As I said, Outpost is MOSTLY periodical comics, so that’s the main thing we’ll put out here. Their top 100 comic books:
So, maybe some caveats on this. One way or another ACTION #1000 was the best seller at Outpost, but since this is all covers combined, and they sold a lot of each cover (in fact, sales were certainly more limited to my disinterest in taking any real risk on variant covers more than anything else), with as many as HALF of the copies sold being (open to buy) Variants. This was also true with most big Marvel comics in the top 100, especially ASM #800, and #1, and FF #1 (but really all of the relaunches – look for issue number TWO to have a better idea of how it actually landed.
(None of that is true at Divis – we just stock a single cover there)
Breakdown by publisher, for new comics, for Outpost (this is against dollars) Go back and compare it to Divis… this seems much less healthy to me?:
Alright, and then for books at Outpost, totally different kind of list than the Mothership…. I’m only presenting you the “Top 25” (39 items), because you’re at single digits by the end there.
Even here, you can see the kids comics starting to do something, just the overall number is real small.
So, that’s kind of what 2018 looked like to me in my macro – not a lot of new success stories, and not an immediate prospect screaming “salvation!” on the horizon. Time to batten down the hatches.
Something in the market needs to change, I’m not the only one saying it, my latest Tilting at Windmills shows some of the many voices calling for a change in the very way comics are being sold. I really really hope my fellow retailers are going to come to ComicsPRO next month.
Please feel free to discuss in the comments section below.
Head Cheese, Comix Experience