As a someone who is looking to launch a creator-owned book and obviously wants it to be as successful as possible, I think it’s absolutely essential to know as much about not only the craft of creating amazing comic books, but the marketing, distribution, sales, etc. You have to have realistic expectations and know what you’re getting yourself into, or you’re doomed to failure. A huge part of knowing what you’re getting into is how many copies can you expect to sell. Along those lines, I track independent comic book sales to better understand the landscape of the marketplace and where my book, The Happy Samurais, might fit in.
In future posts, I’ll talk about some of the recent creator-owned comics that have launched to strong sales — books like Morning Glories, Chew, Nonplayer, Witch Doctor and Red Wing — but today, I’m gonna start at the very top, with the biggest creator-owned success story of the last decade, Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead.
Years before Kirkman became a best-selling creator and partner at Image Comics, he published comics through his company, Funk-O-Tron. He met Tony Moore in the 7th grade and together they went on to create Battle Pope in 2000 for Funk-O-Tron (which lasted 14 issues). Kirkman self-financed all his early work, racking up $40,000 in credit card debt at one point. He started doing work for Image Comics in 2002 with Tech Jacket and Super Patriot: America’s Fighting Force and later launched Invincible #1 in January of 2003 with sales of 9,975 and Walking Dead (again with Tony Moore) in October of 2003 with sales of 7,266.
As of August 2011, each issue of Invincible sells about 16,000 and Walking Dead about 34,000. Digital issues of both comics have been available day-and-date (meaning the digital copies are released the same day as the print copies) since July, 2010. According to Kirkman, each digital issue of Walking Dead sells about 3,000 copies the day of release and then additional sales over the following months. How has the digital day-and-date affected print sales? They haven’t dropped one bit. Since the Walking Dead tv show came out on AMC last fall, there’s been a nice boost of 5,000 extra print copies a month sold. Not bad, but not a game-changer either. The real impact of the tv show seems to have been in sales of trade paperbacks, which sell at a staggering rate.
Before we look at the Walking Dead sales figures I’ve compiled below, I want to take a second and talk about the source for these numbers. Diamond Comics, the sole distributor for all new comics released in the US, doesn’t release exact sales figures. Instead, they release a “sales index”. They assign Batman (a book chosen at random) an index of 100.00 every month. All other sales figures are given in relation to that Batman index. If you know the sales for any one book on the list, you should be able to plug it into the index and calculate the sales for the Diamond Top 300 that month. So if Batman #712 has an index of 100.00 and Uncanny X-Men #540 has an index of 111.33, and we know the sales for either book, we can figure out that Batman sold 51,385 and X-Men sold 57,206.
This is what websites like ICv2 do every month when they list their sales figures for issues and trade paperbacks. They do their best to get the numbers as accurate as possible, but creators (who are privy to the ACTUAL sales on their books) complain that they’re constantly off. Apparently, the numbers that Diamond puts out don’t include all last minute orders, or maybe reorders of a book placed the following week and really only reflect the North American comics sales.
That said, they are usually CONSISTENT in how far off they are. In the infamous “Bendis vs. Kirkman” panel at the 2008 Baltimore Comic-Con (this was after the “Kirkman Manifesto” video and the two sat down to debate aspects of creator-owned work), Kirkman put together some slides to show his sales figures. One of those slides (seen below) showed the “actual” vs. “internet” sales figures (top set of lines relate to actual vs. internet on a Bendis related Marvel book, bottom lines relate to Walking Dead). You can see that numbers are definitely off, but they’re off by the same ratio every month, so the overall shape of the graph (the trend) is still the same.
Another important thing to take note of is that the Diamond/ICv2 sales figures for trade paperbacks ONLY show sales to the direct market (comic shops). They don’t take into account sales to bookstores, Amazon etc. So the trade charts only represent a fraction of the actual sales on that book.
Point being, all my numbers below are close, but definitely not 100% accurate. Without further adieu…
Walking Dead Sales
October 2003 – Walking Dead #1 7,266
August 2011 – Walking Dead 34,000 (average copies per month)
March 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #82 31,174
Walking Dead #83 33,686
Walking Dead Weekly #9 5,773
Walking Dead Weekly #10 5,614
Walking Dead Weekly #11 5,325
Walking Dead Weekly #12 5,359
Walking Dead Weekly #13 5,261
March total sales = 92,192
- The Walking Dead Weekly books are new reprintings of the original issues, released, as the name implies, one issue per week. No new content or extras. It is reprints of existing material, not a spin-off book or new mini-series and is selling 5,000 copies a month.
- When you factor in how the ICv2 numbers are always a bit lower than the actual numbers, I would say the cumulative Walking Dead probably did reach 100,000 copies in March!
- For March, 2011, only ONE book sold over 100,000 copies. Fantastic Four #1 with 114,472.
- I know a SINGLE issue of Walking Dead didn’t actually sell 100,000 copies, but however you slice it, those are amazing numbers.
April 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #84 31,930
Walking Dead #83 reorders 6,252
Walking Dead Weekly #14 5,003
Walking Dead Weekly #15 4,922
Walking Dead Weekly #16 4,956
Walking Dead Weekly #17 4,388
Walking Dead Survivors Guide#1 16,158
April total sales = 73,609
May 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #85 37,552
Walking Dead Weekly #18 4,708
Walking Dead Weekly #19 4,619
Walking Dead Weekly #20 4,547
Walking Dead Weekly #21 4,507
Walking Dead Survivor Guide #2 13,419
May total sales = 69,352
June 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #86 31,325
Walking Dead Survivor’s Guide #3 11,479
Walking Dead TPB v14 20,397
Walking Dead Weekly #22 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #23 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #24 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #25 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #26 4,000 (approximate)
June total sales = 83,201
- Diamond only lists sales figures for the top 300 books every month.
- The #300 book for June sold 4,427 copies.
- So I don’t think Walking Dead Weekly #22-26 made the cut, but based on their May/July numbers, all probably sold in the neighborhood of 4,000 copies.
June 2011 Walking Dead trade paperbacks:
Walking Dead volume 1 3,131
Walking Dead volume 2 1,735
Walking Dead volume 3 1,335
Walking Dead volume 4 1,123
Walking Dead volume 5 1,080
Walking Dead volume 6 1,001
Walking Dead volume 7 967
Walking Dead volume 8 877
Walking Dead volume 9 1,094
Walking Dead volume 10 999
Walking Dead volume 11 1,000
Walking Dead volume 12 1,131
Walking Dead volume 13 1,525
Walking Dead volume 14 20,397
Walking Dead Compendium v1 499 ($59.99)
Walking Dead volume volume 1 Hardcover 496 ($34.99)
June 2011 sales of backstock (not counting new volume 14) = 17,993
June 2011 total trade sales = 38,390
- In June 2011, all 14 of the Walking Dead trade paperbacks were in Diamond’s top 300 Graphic Novel sales chart.
- As mentioned previously, these trade numbers only reflect sales to comic shops, not book stores, amazon etc., so don’t be unimpressed by the apparent small number for the backstock.
- The number for volume 14 trade sales is MASSIVE though. It’s actually the biggest trade debut sales I can find for the last few years. Numbers below for it and a few other big releases to give some context:
- average sales for top #1-5 trades per month = 2,000-3,000
- #1 trade for June was Walking Dead v14 = 20,397
- #2 trade for June was Buffy Season 8 v8 = 6,804
- Walking Dead v 13 = 19,324 (November 2010)
- Walking Dead v12 = 16,627 (July 2010)
- Superman: Earth One = 16,260 (Oct 2010)
- Scott Pilgrim v5 = 10,959 (May 2009)
- Scott Pilgrim v6 = 21,305 (July 2010)
- Yes, new Walking Dead trades sell phenomenal, but I’m more impressed with how amazing the backstock sells month in, month out.
- I’ve tracked Walking Dead volume 1 sales since its initial release and it sells 1,500-2,000 copies a month in the direct market, without fail.
Walking Dead volume 1 sales:
May 2004 5,374
May 2005 2,079
May 2006 1,630
May 2007 1,803
May 2008 1,324
May 2009 1,461
May 2010 2,303
Oct 2010 10,263 (launch of tv show)
Dec 2010 6,410 (xmas spike)
May 2011 2,155
The vast majority of the information in this post came from interviews with Kirkman on iFanboy and WordBallon with John Siuntres podcast. Both are highly entertaining and informative, so definitely check them out. And here is a link to the video of the Bendis vs. Kirkman panel at the 2008 Baltimore Comic-Con. A must see.