OK, I’m here at NYCC and so far, it’s awesome! Ed Chavez was the first person I met here, and it was great to finally meet the man behind the pixels. We had time for a good chat before the ICv2 Graphic Novel conference, where Heidi MacDonald and Ed and Erin Finnegan and I formed sort of a blogger’s row, Heidi and I typing furiously on our Macs (yay!), Erin and Ed taking notes in longhand, and Ed waving the podcast mic to catch all the action.
ICv2 publisher Milton Griepp led off the conference with a summary of graphic novels sales figures, and he made it official: Graphic novels now outsell pamphlet comics. In fact, he said, “We now believe 2005 is the year when graphic novels passed periodicals in dollars.” In 2006, total graphic novels sales were $330 million, compared to $310 million for floppies. “These are numbers the comics business hasn’t seen since the 90s,” he said.
He estimated that graphic novel sales were up 12 percent over last year and four times over the past five years.
All Griepp’s figures started in 2001, and finally someone asked “What happened in 2000?” In a word: Manga! “I think the biggest factor was Tokyopop’s expansion of their authentic manga line and bringing in original material for girls,” Griepp said. “Suddenly there was huge growth in a business that was usually flat, and it opened up new opportunities for other categories as well.”
Back to the numbers: There were over 2,800 graphic novel releases last year, and manga topped the category with 1,208 new releases; American comics were next with 965 and then a category called “fiction and reality,” which is all those titles you hear about, Fun Home and Cancer Vixen and so on, with 267 releases.
Diamond tracks over 10,500 titles in the graphic novel backlist, which is just what it sounds like: Books that are not brand new but are still in print. About 46 percent of that is manga, and that number has grown rapidly over the past few years. Although graphic novel sections in stores have grown, there’s only a finite amount of shelf space, Griepp said, so there’s more pressure on titles to perform quickly. On the other hand, demand from libraries may be pushing publishers to keep more of their backlist in print.
Bookstores sell about twice as many graphic novels as comics stores, but Griepp noted that comics stores sales were growing. He estimated that around 10 percent of wholesale sales go to libraries. Incidentally, there was a large and very visible contingent of librarians in the room, who were heard from on several occasions.
Griepp’s estimated 2006 manga sales at $170-200 million, including periodicals. “One of the most important things manga did was bring in a wide variety of material appropriate for girls and women,” he said. “That is a part of the audience that was tiny and stayed small, well under 10 percent, until early this decade.”
The growth of yaoi came as a surprise to Griepp: “The first time I saw those titles, 20 years ago, I didn’t think they would sell here,” he said. “I’ve been surprised at how fast they have grown.” Yaoi got a big mention in the graphic novel buyers panel as well; clearly it’s the hot category this year.
Other trends Griepp identified are the appeal of manga to younger readers, whereas American comics traditionally bring in a teenager/young adult audience; the importance of anime in boosting manga sales; and “generational transfer,” the marketer’s term for grownups and older kids turning the young ‘uns on to comics.
No graphic novel conference would be complete without some props to Naruto. With volume 9 of that series selling over 100,000 copies, Naruto has set “a new benchmark” for sales, Griepp said, noting that Naruto accounted for a “high single digit percentage” of all bookstore sales last year.
Griepp mentioned the Cartoon Network effect, the tendency of a manga to get a big boost in sales when the associated anime appears on Cartoon Network, and he also pointed to the importance of video games in driving manga sales. His own kids, he said, buy Avatar and Spongebob Squarepants graphic novels at their schools’ book fairs. “When I’m not there, they’re still buying graphic novels,” he said.