Comic Book Publishers

Last week's big news in comics was that IDW Publishing acquired Top Shelf Productions. If you're into the independent comic publishing scene, then you've probably heard of one or both of these comics publishers. If not, you may know of some of IDW's comics which are adaptions of well known properties like My Little Pony, Skylanders, Star Trek, X-Files, and others.

Also, this week Diamond Comic Distributors published their 2014 Market Share lists, and since Diamond is THE comic book distributor of any note, the report gives a good sense of the relative size of the publishers. So I thought I'd discuss some of these results as a bit of context for the merger story.

There are two publishers that dominate the market, Marvel and DC. Each is about a third of the total market, although Marvel is a bit bigger than DC. This has been consistent for years now, although their combined share has been slowly decreasing as the next bigger players have gotten bigger.

There's not much to add to the discussion about 'The Big Two'. Both are owned by much larger content producers (Marvel is owned by Disney and DC is owned by Time Warner), both have long publishing histories (DC since the 30's and Marvel since the 60's), and both are well known in the general culture (movies, TV shows, and books in addition to comics).

The big story is the growth of Image Comics. Five years ago they were in a pack of small publishers that each had about 5% of the market. Then Image started to grow, and now they are firmly in 3rd place with about 10% of the market. And in my opinion their growth has been well deserved. Great stories, great artists, high production values, and some well known franchises (Walking Dead, Saga) - all combined to make their publishing list one that I closely follow.

Two publishers come in at about 5% each now: IDW publishing and Dark Horse Comics. I mentioned IDW before, a publisher with a long list of original comics as well as their adaptations. Dark horse has had a long history publishing independent comics, but was also known for their adaptations of other properties such as Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayers (also Hellboy, but they were publishing that title before the movies).

Next are the 2.5 percenters, Dynamite Entertainment and Boom! Studios. Dynamite has been around for awhile with a few well known franchises (Vampirella, Doc Savage, Flash Gordon) and a large independent list. Boom has been growing in fits and starts, and this is the largest percentage of the market they've achieved. Boom has added Adventure Time and several other Cartoon Network adaptations, and has a well respected list of independent creators.

There are a bunch of publishers at around 1% each: Archie Comic Publications, Avatar PressEaglemoss Publications, Random HouseValiant Entertainment, Viz, Zenoscope Entertainment. The actual size of each market share depends on whether you use retail sales or unit sales as your metric.

Then come a bunch of much smaller publishers, and Top Shelf appears at number 20 in the overall lists (both Retail Market Share and Units Market Share). It's a small, award winning, and well respected publisher with a long list of independent titles. Their most well known creator is Alan Moore, and if you aren't familiar with his name, you probably know his works (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Swamp Thing, and many more). In fact, his reputation is so big (for many reasons) that along with the announcement from the two publishers, the news stories all had to make the point that Alan Moore signed off on the acquisition.

Will the combining Top Shelf into IDW move the publisher into Image territory? Although adding the market share numbers would move IDW firmly ahead of Dark Horse, it doesn't double their sales. And in the mean time, Image is still growing strong with their product line. Also, moving the Star Wars franchise from Dark Horse to Marvel will probably decrease Dark Horse's standing. So we'll probably just see a clearer differentiation at this third tier, rather than a significant shift in the relative standings.

So that's the context of the main story and a summary of the current comic publishers. Here are a couple of references:

IDW Publishing Acquires Top Shelf Productions

Diamond Announces Top Comic Books and Graphic Novels for 2014