Despite a near complete shutdown of comic book production in the beginning of 2020, combined comics and graphic novel sales hit a new high in the pandemic year of 2020, according to a new joint estimate by ICv2’s Milton Griepp and Comichron’s John Jackson Miller.
Total comics and graphic novel sales to consumers in the U.S. and Canada were approximately $1.28 billion in 2020, a 6% increase over sales in 2019. The increase was due to strong sales of graphic novels online and in mass merchants and strong digital sales, which overcame big declines in comic and book store sales.
“The challenges of retailing in the pandemic had profound impacts on the market, including the acceleration of trends that have been in place for years,” Griepp said of the 2020 estimates. “The book channel increased its share dramatically vs. comic stores, and graphic novels increased their share vs. periodical comics, while digital sales were turbocharged.”
Sales of kids’ graphic novels in mass merchants and online drove graphic novel sales early, and as the pandemic went on (and anime streaming grew), manga sales took off. In the comic store channel, the seven-week shutdown by Diamond Comic Distributors and subsequent publisher cutbacks in periodical releases were a drag on sales, even as demand surged in the second half of the year.
“The comic periodical market was ahead for the year before the pandemic struck, and the result of production cutbacks was that 30% fewer new comic books were released by the major publishers in 2020,” Miller said. “The fact that new comics sales were down by only 20% suggests that retailers did well with what they were able to get.”
Not only was demand high for new comics and graphic novels, the collectible side of the comics business was also strong. “The collector market flourished during the year, allowing comics shops to earn significant revenue from their back-issue inventories,” Miller added. “Many new releases also saw significant levels of markup that our charts would not be able to capture, all of which helped stores offset the lack of new product.”
For both independent comic and book stores, healthy consumer demand, strong community support, and help from government programs and the Book Industry Charitable Foundation kept the store attrition rate lower than expected.
“I’m encouraged by the way independent retailers selling comics and graphic novels are coming out of the pandemic shutdowns,” Griepp said. “Combined with the robust growth in other channels, the business is in overall good condition to serve the many new consumers that started enjoying comic-form entertainment over the past year.”