I suppose this comes as no surprise to anyone who reads the newspapers, but comics sales in the direct market are down this year compared to last. ICv2 has the grim statistics: Year-to-date dollar sales of comics are down 5.79%; graphic novels sales are down 4.35%. Cushioning the blow a bit is the strong performance of The Walking Dead; November graphic novel sales are up 14.64% compared to last November because of that book alone. As ICv2 notes, comics sales did not suffer the same hit as other entertainment sectors during 2008 and 2009, but this is looking like a slow decline rather than a dramatic drop. ICv2 also posts the market share for November, which shows DC and Marvel neck and neck; DC has 8 of the top ten sellers as well. This attracts its fair share of commentary over at The Beat, which also breaks out the stats into handy charts, and John Jackson Miller has his analysis at The Comichron.
What does it all mean? Comics stores have a loyal clientele, and judging from the comments here and at other blogs, they are more likely to reduce the number of comics they buy than give up the comics-store experience altogether. Perhaps that's what is happening, or maybe they are shifting some purchases to digital. Diamond's statistics are only one slice of the comics market, although it is the biggest slice for periodical comics; it would be interesting to track digital comics in parallel to see if the market as a whole is growing or if digital is indeed cannibalizing print sales. The other missing pieces are bookstores and libraries, but I doubt much good news will be coming from either sector; the big bookstore chains are stumbling badly this year, and my local stores have cut back on their graphic novel inventory, while libraries, like all branches of local government, must contend with budget cuts.
Of course, funnybooks themselves are only a slice of the companies' business; perhaps they make it all up on the back end through movies and lunchboxes. Regardless, I think 2011 is going to be an interesting, perhaps pivotal year, for the industry, as digital sales start to pick up and the book chains head toward whatever fate awaits them.