Oh, NYT, will you ever learn?

The big news of the day is that the New York Times has launched not one, but three “graphic books” best-seller lists. “Graphic books”? My guess is that there was a big debate down on the cube farm about whether “graphic novels” was a hoity-toity expression for plain ol’ comic books, and this emerged as some sort of a compromise, because I have been writing about comics for four years and reading them for over forty, and I have never heard anyone use the term “graphic books” before.

The manga list evoked a combination of chuckles and WTF?! around the blogosphere, because—inevitably—eight of the ten books on the list were recent volumes of Naruto. Rather shamefully, the NYT put the same generic tagline on seven of them. What, you didn’t have an intern who could spend an hour reading the blurbs on the backs of the books and writing a different one for each?

The real head-scratcher, though, is the two books that aren’t Naruto: vol. 8 of MPD-Psycho and vol. 11 of Eden. Both books carry an 18+ rating and come shrink-wrapped, which means that bookstores are less likely to carry them and the potential audience is somewhat limited. The direct market is the logical home for these books, but according to Diamond’s numbers, the last volume of MPD-Psycho, which was released in mid-December, sold fewer than 2,000 copies through them. The last volume of Eden didn’t chart at all in May or June 2008, which means it must have sold fewer than about 1,100 copies. Even Nana does better than that, and we all know the DM is a boys’ club. By contrast, volumes of Naruto sell in the 5,000-copy range in the direct market and probably do much better in chain bookstores (BookScan doesn’t make public the number of copies sold, so it’s hard to tell).

There are all sorts of explanations for this, of course. Perhaps vol. 10 of Eden, which was released in May, sold 1,000 copies each in May and June, a relatively robust number for the direct market but not enough to get it onto the Diamond charts. Also, the NYT charts include online sales, and lots of folks probably get their MPD-Psycho fix online. The person who has been online sales most assiduously is Matt Blind at Rocket Bomber, and it will be interesting to compare his February 28 chart (which is not out yet) with the NYT’s.

Here’s what I think: Manga like MPD-Psycho or Eden have a pretty dedicated following, and it’s entirely possible that almost everyone who is going to buy them buys them the week they come out, causing a blip in the ratings big enough to elbow aside everything but Naruto. That’s probably a good thing, because it brings those series to public attention. However, a title that sells fewer copies each week but more in the long run will never make the NYT chart, although we can expect more variety once Viz’s latest Naruto blitz is over.

It would be nice if we could have one cumulative, continuously updated chart with real sales numbers, but given all the different channels through which comics move, that’s not too likely. The NYT is just one snapshot; it’s weekly and covers a variety of sales channels, so it’s a bit broader in scope than the Diamond and BookScan charts even though it covers a narrower slice of time. Put enough snapshots together, and you start to see the big picture, although there may be big holes just beyond the borders—who knows? In the end, the most important thing about the NYT list is that it’s the New York Times that’s publishing it, and that in itself has a lot of value.

J. Caleb Mozzocco has a good laugh over the whole thing at Every Day Is Like Wednesday. ICv2 actually asked about the “graphic books” moniker and got an answer that confirms my suspicion that everyone was thinking just a bit too hard about this. Other blogosphere reax:

Gia at Anime Vice
Ed Chavez at MangaCast
Robot 6
The Beat (as always, read the comments!)

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Comments

  1. I’m guessing the NYT Best Seller list works much as it did when I worked a 2nd job at B. Dalton for spending cash in the 90’s. I remember a book that hadn’t been officially released yet was already #1 on the list. When I asked why, I was told that this is due to the number of copies official buyers purchase for stores. Officially, the NYT combines wholesale figures with select samples from stores to come up with its list.

    Anyway, I don’t put a great deal of stock in the NYT Best Seller list any more because of that experience years ago. I have a little more belief in the U.S.A. Today list.

  2. mark thorpe says:

    Eden and MPD-Psycho are two of the best books being published right now. Eden, by itself, is top five manga ever material. I think these books deserve a little love. I’m not asking for a shower of kisses, just, maybe a half hearted one arm hug. For the past few years I’ve had to wonder, not if, but when will Dark Horse outright cancel Eden, as it now seems to be on a hexa-monthly release schedule. I certainly hope that is list, whatever it is, does something for sales; I guess it can’t hurt.

  3. the charts are done, but still raw; even after the calculations are done I have to pretty it up posting. Check back in to my blog this evening.

    Still, the charts *are* done, so:

    1. ↔0 (1) : Naruto 34 – Viz Shonen Jump, Feb 2009 [730.5] ::
    2. ↔0 (2) : Naruto 35 – Viz Shonen Jump, Feb 2009 [728.4] ::
    3. ↑1 (4) : Naruto 36 – Viz Shonen Jump, Feb 2009 [705] ::
    4. ↑1 (5) : Naruto 37 – Viz Shonen Jump, Mar 2009 [695.2] ::
    5. ↓-2 (3) : Naruto 33 – Viz Shonen Jump, Dec 2008 [676.6] ::
    6. ↔0 (6) : Rosario+Vampire 5 – Viz Shonen Jump Advanced, Feb 2009 [607.2] ::
    7. ↔0 (7) : Naruto 32 – Viz Shonen Jump, Nov 2008 [601.4] ::
    8. ↑2 (10) : Fruits Basket 21 – Tokyopop, Nov 2008 [567] ::
    9. ↓-1 (8) : Naruto 31 – Viz Shonen Jump, Sep 2008 [560] ::
    10. ↑2 (12) : Bleach 25 – Viz Shonen Jump, Dec 2008 [549.9] ::

    and

    1263. ↓-14 (1249) : MPD-Psycho 7 – Dark Horse, Nov 2008 [0.3] ::
    1524. ↓-86 (1438) : MPD-Psycho 1 – Dark Horse, Jun 2007 [0.1] ::
    (last ranked 25 Jan 09) : MPD-Psycho 2 – Dark Horse, Aug 2007 [0] ::
    (last ranked 11 Jan 09) : MPD-Psycho 3 – Dark Horse, Nov 2007 [0] ::
    (last ranked 11 Jan 09) : MPD-Psycho 4 – Dark Horse, Apr 2008 [0] ::
    (last ranked 8 Feb 09) : MPD-Psycho 5 – Dark Horse, Jun 2008 [0] ::
    (last ranked 14 Dec 08) : MPD-Psycho 6 – Dark Horse, Aug 2008 [0] ::
    (last ranked 8 Feb 09) : MPD-Psycho 9 – Dark Horse, May 2009 [0] ::

    oddly, volume 8 doesn’t rank though I did chart preorders for vol 9 three weeks ago.

    544. ↓-182 (362) : Eden 1 – Dark Horse, Nov 2005 [32.6] ::
    874. ↑200 (1074) : Eden 5 – Dark Horse, Nov 2006 [7.8] ::
    936. ↑177 (1113) : Eden 4 – Dark Horse, Aug 2006 [6] ::
    951. ↑167 (1118) : Eden 3 – Dark Horse, May 2006 [5.6] ::
    1045. ↑139 (1184) : Eden 2 – Dark Horse, Feb 2006 [3] ::
    1624. ↑296 (1920) : Eden 11 – Dark Horse, Feb 2009 [0.1] ::
    (last ranked 14 Dec 08) : Eden 7 – Dark Horse, Apr 2007 [0] ::
    (last ranked 18 May 08) : Eden 8 – Dark Horse, Oct 2007 [0] ::
    (last ranked 18 May 08) : Eden 9 – Dark Horse, Jul 2007 [0] ::
    (last ranked 7 Sep 08) : Eden 10 – Dark Horse, Apr 2008 [0] ::

    I go into the sales sites pretty deep, up to the top 500 volumes listed at Amazon, B&N, and Borders once a week. — which means MPD-Psycho 8 didn’t even make the top 500.

  4. “Graphic books” makes it sound even more like porn. So, hey. Maybe it would increase interest.

  5. damn.

    how did that happen?

    so the numbers as posted above are from week ending 22 Feb. Somewhere, I had a spreadsheet failure. The raw data is intact, I just need to rebuild, but…

    damn. I hate it when that happens.

  6. The Actual Top ten for the week ending 28 Feb? looks even worse:

    1. ↔0 (1) : Naruto 34 – Viz Shonen Jump, Feb 2009 [723.9] ::
    2. ↔0 (2) : Naruto 35 – Viz Shonen Jump, Feb 2009 [722.9] ::
    3. ↔0 (3) : Naruto 36 – Viz Shonen Jump, Feb 2009 [708.9] ::
    4. ↔0 (4) : Naruto 37 – Viz Shonen Jump, Mar 2009 [708.6] ::
    5. ↔0 (5) : Naruto 33 – Viz Shonen Jump, Dec 2008 [670.7] ::
    6. ↑21 (27) : Naruto 38 – Viz Shonen Jump, Mar 2009 [641.2] ::
    7. ↔0 (7) : Naruto 32 – Viz Shonen Jump, Nov 2008 [592.4] ::
    8. ↑23 (31) : Bleach 26 – Viz Shonen Jump, Mar 2009 [588.1] ::
    9. ↓-3 (6) : Rosario+Vampire 5 – Viz Shonen Jump Advanced, Feb 2009 [581] ::
    10. ↓-2 (8) : Fruits Basket 21 – Tokyopop, Nov 2008 [541.8] ::

    Looks to me like the online shopper is still playing catch up, buying backlist to fill in behind the new books available in the stores.

    The top ranking Dark Horse title, by my method, is #31: Berserk vol 27. More on this in a commentary on the rankings over at my blog.


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