What sells and what doesn’t
Thanks for your comments on Part 1, folks!
This portion is more difficult than just quantifying the raw numbers of books I’ve sold, because of the sheer number of books that I’ve produced over the last six years. I’ve sold 25 different comic books at conventions over the years, plus t-shirts, prints, and original art.
Here’s a photo of my table at MoCCA 2010:
That’s a lot of books to keep track of – and this is after I consolidated the first 10 issues of my journal comic into one big collection. Tracking sales is further complicated by the fact that I don’t let items fall out of print. Before each convention, I look at previous sales for each book, then print as many as I think I can sell. This means that I don’t carry around a lot of overstock, and my print costs stay reasonable. On the other hand, it means that I spend about 8 hours at the copy shop before every convention, which is really annoying. Also, it means that my older work (with crappier artwork) is still in view.
Anyway – how are the book selling? To the chart!
(I’ve cleaned it up by removing all the “Amazing Adventures of Bill” comics)
Uh, okay. That’s pretty confusing.
But I notice three things:
First, I’ve never sold more than 29 copies of any comic at a single convention (Brood, at MoCCA 2010). In fact, very few comics ever sell more than 15 or 20 copies at a con. Does that mean I have a niche audience? Is that normal? I have no idea.
Second, notice the general downward trend for each comic! This means that comics sell best on their first appearance, then fewer at each following convention. And this trend exists, even though my overall sales have generally been trending up (as shown in Part 1 of this essay).
I’ve pulled out a few comics to demonstrate the trend more clearly:
I stopped selling Amazing Adventures #2 in 2009, when the big collection came out, but sales were nil even before that.
The declining sales could be due to a couple of factors.
- People have a limited amount of cash. Therefore, I often get people looking at my massive wall of comics and asking, “Okay, if I were only going to buy one, which would you recommend?” And of course I recommend my latest book, because the art is better.
- Fans. People who really like my work – and there’s a small but real number of them – have already bought all my old books. “What’ve you got that’s new?” they’ll ask, and they’ll snap it up.
Fortunately, I’ve always had at least one new book at each show, and usually two: one brand new mini-comic, and a collection of my journal comic.
But in general, sales start strong, then quickly fade into single single digits.
The general downward trend holds true, but “Pirates Take Manhattan” has a bunch of spikes. Pirates might be a perennial decent seller. It’s a six-year-old book that still sells about five copies at every convention – that seems pretty unusual.
So why does it sell so well? It certainly isn’t due to any special virtues in the artwork or story – it was a 24-hour comic, so the whole thing was really rushed, but it has a fun energy. The subject matter helps a lot too – for a while, teenage boys would buy this book without even looking inside, because PIRATES!
Also, it has a totally sweet cover:
I’m actually out of print on this comic at the moment – the two issues I sold at SPX 2010 were the only copies I had with me. I should probably print some more before KingCon next weekend.
So which books have sold?
In raw numbers, this is how many copies each comic has sold, over the last six years:
Wow – Pirates Take Manhattan is the clear winner here, with 107 copies. Of course, I’ve been selling it for six years, so it has an unfair advantage over newer books. Still, it reinforces that I should print a bunch of copies so it’s available next weekend.
The top five:
- Pirates Take Manhattan
- Yes, Master
- X and the City
- Man Enough
Do these books have anything in common? Not really. They are, respectively: a gonzo pirate story; a gay romantic comedy/horror about a love triangle between Igor, Dr. Frankenstein, and the Monster; an X-Men parody about Northstar’s one-night stand; a romantic comedy about the first date between a gay man and an FTM transsexual; and a gay romantic comedy/horror about a vampire.
Okay, I take it back. They’re almost all gay romance stories. Which makes sense – that’s basically what I do. Still, I’d sort of suspected that homophobia in comics might be pushing sales of my comics down. It’s kind of nice to see that isn’t the case. (it still might, actually – the presence of gay comics on my table driving away people who might buy “Pirates Take Manhattan” – but I’m totally okay with foregoing those sales .
(Sidenote: I’m genuinely surprised at how well “Man Enough” has sold overall. I’ve been planning to retire that book, since in recent years it’s barely sold any copies at all.)
These books have one other thing in common: None of them are autobiographical.
Seriously, look at the pathetic numbers for The Amazing Adventures of Bill, my journal comic, which I’ve been running on this site since 2003. Only one has sold more than 40 copies?
Also, scroll back up and take a look at that chart. Notice how sales of Amazing Adventures go steadily down until you reach #10, but sales spring back up again with #11? I think that people were overwhelmed by the giant wall o’ books I had, and decided not to buy anything. Check out this picture from a 2008 convention:
In 2009, I collected the first 10 issues into a giant 300-page collection, and sales of #11 popped up again.
But how do sales of the journal comic compare to sales of all my other mini-comics?
Okay, here’s a conclusion: No one cares about my journal comic.
Well, that’s not entirely true. But post-2006 (the debut of “Yes, Master”), my journal comics have sold less than everything else.
Let’s break it down further. In the “everything else” category are a bunch of gay romance comics. Let’s break those out from my non-gay, non-auto-bio comics (Pirates Take Manhattan, Monster Manual, Superpower of Attorney):
Comparing this chart to the raw numbers, I don’t think it means very much. It looks like content (gay vs. non-gay) counts for less than novelty – at shows where I debuted a gay romance comic, it sold well. And at my latest show (SPX 2010) I debuted “A to Z in the Monstrous Manual” – and it sold better than my gay vampire story.
What’s selling right now?
As I noted above, the overall sales charts are distorted by comics that I’ve been selling for years. So what’s selling right now? Here are the best sellers of 2010, so far:
Brood, not surprisingly, is doing well. After all, it’s a comic about pretty vampire boys, and I printed it on awesome sparkly paper. If that’s not going to sell in the current cultural climate, then I don’t know what will. The latest collection of “Amazing Adventures” is doing pretty well, too, which I didn’t really expect, given the overall numbers above.
So what does it all mean? What lessons can I draw from the sales patterns here? I’m going to list a couple of things that leap out to me, and I hope readers (if any of you have actually gotten this far) will pipe up with observations in the comments.
1. Have a new book at every show. New books sell really well. Older books, not so much.
2. Go to the MoCCA Art Festival. This might not apply to everyone, but it’s the show I sell the most at, so I’d better find wherever I put that application.
3. Offer some high-price items. Most of my mini-comics sell for $3, or 2 for $5. That’s how I’ve built the (tiny) audience I have. But once I started selling a 300-page collection for $25, I started making serious bank. Perhaps I should look into collecting all my gay romance comics into a trade paperback.
4. Journal comics? Meh. I know, based on several conversation, that some people really, really like my journal comic. But it doesn’t have really broad appeal, and sales are just okay. I enjoy drawing the strip, but I’ve been getting further and further behind with updates, and I’ve occasionally considered stopping the strip – especially now that I have a strip in the Brooklyn Paper. If I keep it up the Amazing Adventures of Bill, it’s going to be for personal reasons, not economic ones.
5. I should reprint “Pirates Take Manhattan.” It seems to sell steadily, so I should always keep 5 to 10 copies on hand until that’s not true anymore.
Other that that… I don’t really know. Is there anything I missed? Anything you want to know more about? Creators, does this line up with your observations?
Let me know what you think! Comments are below.