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2012: The Year of the Small Publisher?

Written by Christian Hoffer on Friday, August 31 2012 and posted in Features
2012: The Year of the Small Publisher?

Christian Hoffer examines how smaller publishers such as Image, Dark Horse and IDW have impacted sales this year.

We’re all aware that comic book sales have increased by about 19.31% when compared to the same period last year.  Many are more than happy to point to DC’s New 52 relaunch as the primary reason for that hefty increase, and I even took some time to point out some of the key indicators as to why that relaunch was a success.  However, it’s not the only publisher that’s been expanding by leaps and bounds.

The three ‘middleweight’ publishers: Image, IDW and Dark Horse, have all had successful 2012s.  Due to their smaller marketing departments and lack of connections to mainstream media conglomerates, these publishers and their accomplishments are often overlooked, even by comic news sites and blogs.  After all, DC and Marvel both release significantly more books and use characters that have been part of the public consciousness for the last century.  However, the growth of these three publishers this year has played an understated but important role towards the success of the comic book industry this year.

The Methodology

In order to get an idea of how these three publishers contributed to the overall growth of the industry, I calculated each publisher’s total sales on a month to month by using the unit market share percentages and total number of units sold provided by Diamond Comics.  While Diamond’s figures are only accurate to the ten thousand, they still give a general idea as to the relative sales strength of each publisher.  Monthly unit sales for Dark Horse, Image, and IDW, as well as Marvel and DC, were calculated for every month going back to August 2010, with the emphasis being on the first seven months of the calendar year to see the relative strength of sales this year to sales last year.

In addition, I also calculated the change in sales percentage (how much did sales grow or shrink compared to the prior year) and compared it to the overall monthly change in sales percentage (the overall growth or shrinkage in total monthly sales compared to the prior year).  This helps to put into perspective how much better or worse a publisher was doing than the industry average. 

The Impact of the Middleweight Publishers

This year, Image, IDW and Dark Horse have aggregately sold approximately 6.5 million comics this year.  While that’s only 16.9% of the total sales this year, it’s a significant increase from this time last year.   From January through July 2011, those same three publishers sold only 4.7 million comics.  That means that sales have increased 38% from last year.

Further breaking down those numbers, it becomes clear that Image is the biggest mover of the three this year.  It’s sold nearly a million more comics than it did during the same time period in 2011 and is only 200,000 comics shy from matching its 2012 totals with five months of sales remaining.  In fact, Image’s sales growth (how many more actual comics it’s sold this year than it did last year) is greater than Marvel’s by nearly 200,000 units. 

Let’s ruminate on that last point:  Image, a company that publishes creator-owned titles with very little market exposure has actually grown its sales more than Marvel, the biggest publisher on the block.  Image’s success, of course, has been driven by The Walking Dead, a franchise that can nearly hold its own against the Avengers and X-Men juggernauts.  After all, The Walking Dead #100 is currently the best-selling comic of the last fifteen years (although that might change come October if the rumors about Marvel’s Uncanny Avengers are true).  Image also has a number of other high-profile books, including Saga (which is selling at Marvel/DC numbers), Invincible (which will probably also see a big boost in sales as its 100th issue looms) and Chew and Thief of Thieves, both of which have television shows in development.

IDW and Dark Horse have also had very respectable years.  The two companies have both increased sales by more than 25%.  Dark Horse has had a renaissance of sorts with its release of a new wave of creator-owned titles such as Mind Mgmt and The Massive that’s helped buoy its core Star Wars and Buffy series.  IDW, meanwhile, has grown its business with the addition of the TMNT, Ghostbusters, Godzilla and Rocketeer franchises.  IDW will probably have two comics in Eisner contention next year with Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom and the finale of Locke and Key.  And of course, Darwyn Cooke released another Parker graphic novel (which these sales numbers don't take into account as it's a graphic novel), so there’s another award winner.

All in all, the three companies have added about 1.8 million in comic sales to the market.  DC, of course, has added its fair share, having added about 5 million in sales, while Marvel has picked up an additional 780,000 units this year.   In total, sales are up by about 7.32 million units, a 19.31% increase, with Dark Horse, Image and IDW accounting for a quarter of that increase.

Even more important, in my opinion, is how much these companies have grown.  While the market has expanded by 19.31%, these three companies have nearly doubled that rate of growth.  The three companies’ aggregate sales are up 37.95% from last year, a figure far exceeding Marvel’s growth and comparable to DC’s.  The fact that Image, IDW and Dark Horse have seen their sales increase at the same rate as DC’s is an impressive feat and shouldn’t be overlooked. 


1)  Total unit sales have increased by about 7.32 million units, or 19.3%,from last year.  Image, IDW, and Dark Horse is responsible for about a quarter of that growth.

2)  Image has been able to sell approximately 966,000 more comics than it did during the same period last year and is less than a month’s worth of sales shy of matching its 2011 sales total.  Compare this to Marvel, who has only been able to sell approximately 778,000 more units from last year.

3)  Image, Dark Horse and IDW are matching DC’s rate of sales growth despite having smaller comic lines and significantly reduced marketing than its larger rival.


And that’s enough twatter for one day.  Coming up sometime in September is a comparison between the Marvel Now release strategy and the New 52 and how to tell if Marvel NOW! is off to the same fast start as the DC relaunch.   


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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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