Comics: Bestsellers without a List?

Comics Sign

Comics Sign
Comics. Adobe Stock Image.

What were the top selling comic books and graphic novels last week? How about the bestselling comics from 2017? If you don’t know, don’t worry. Neither do we. Chances are, nobody else — not publishers, not authors, not artists, and certainly not fans — knows either.

The comic book industry changed significantly in January 2017 when the New York Times (NYT), that venerable grey lady known as the most influential arbiter of written taste, ceased publishing a weekly bestseller list for comic books and graphic novels. Other outlets tried to fill the gap. For various reasons, none have quite succeeded. Which explains why more than 400 members of the comics industry have added their names to an open letter to NYT publisher A.G. Sulzberger requesting the return of the graphic novel and comic book bestseller lists.

The letter, authored by Charlie Olsen, a literary agent with Inkwell Management, outlines several reasons why the NYT should revive their comic book and graphic novel bestseller lists. From the fan and reader perspective, the most important of these reason is the “indispensible role [the bestseller lists play] in helping new readers discover books and making the storytelling we love more visible in the cultural conversation about literature.”

New York Times HQ
The NewYork Times headquarters building in New York City.  Creative Commons License.

The other bestseller list publishers can’t (or don’t) do that in the same ways as the NYT.

Amazon, arguably the world’s largest book and ebook seller, offers a number of lists focused around the sales of comic books, graphic novels and related books. Although the Amazon lists are updated hourly, they only reflect sales made through the Amazon web site meaning they aren’t terribly useful in assessing the overall health of the industry. For that level of information, readers turn to Diamond Comic Distributors, the world’s largest distributor of English-language comic books, graphic novels and related merchandise. ¬† Diamond also publishes an assortment of bestseller lists. Unfortunately, these lists are produced on a monthly or annual basis and include only titles and publishers whose products Diamond distributes.

These bestseller lists, while not impossilble for fans and readers to discover, are not widely seen or talked about. As a result, many new comics concepts and titles are not getting the attention they deserve. Indie comics and graphic novels especially suffer but even new titles from established publishers have struggled over the past year. While the total number of units sold and the dollars spent on comic books and graphic novels in January 2018 improved slightly (5.79% and 2.13% respectively) when compared to December 2017, Diamond suggests this is a result of a 5-week month rather than increased demand. Year to year data is much more telling. The total number of comics and graphic novel units sold declined 10.26% while the dollar volume fell 1.97% when comparing January 2018 to January 2017. These figures would seem to support the position that the loss of the New York Times comics and graphic novel bestseller lists have had a negative impact on the comics industry as a whole.

Clearly, the industry thinks so.

What about the fans? Would you like to see comics and graphic novel bestseller lists return to the NYT? Why or why not? How do you discover your next favorite title, character, artist or storyline?