Why Comixology’s 2010 Top 10 Lists Are Practically Meaningless
Several people have referred me to this article over at Comics Alliance that lists the Top 10 comics of 2010 for ComiXology. Others in the blogosphere are also discussing this article, with the hyperbolic title “The Dramatic Data About Who is Buying Digital Comics – and What They’re Buying.” Ooooooh! Dramatic!
Before I get into details of this article, I have to point out one basic point. Lists of this nature only exist for one reason: marketing. The NY Times Bestseller list, Diamond’s own monthly comics charts, the weekly round up of the top grossing box office movies, any list that you see released to the public is only done so for marketing purposes, period. None of them ever give us any hard data about the items being listed, except for the weekly box office, and even then, the success of a movie has relatively little to do with the weekly grosses. These lists are a combination of showing off for the people producing the material, and who has paid for placement on those lists. If you follow Hollywood at all, you will read about how fights will break out over the top five movie list as studios try to get the publicity that goes along with being the fifth highest ranked movie versus the sixth, since most major media outlets report the top five movies each Monday morning. This marketing focus also leads to inane statements in advertising like the Yogi Bear movie being the “#1 family film in America!”, in spite of it being 8th in the charts for the most recent weekend. DC and Marvel are in a constant fight over having the number one comic, or the most comics in the top ten, and for no other reason than bragging rights.
Don’t take this to mean that charts are worthless entirely. Charts give people a handy way to discover things they might not have checked out otherwise. This is why you see lists being produced anywhere they are possible. Looking at digital apps, there’s several lists that are available for people to read from bestselling single book, to best selling series, to bestselling books within a company’s given line and so on that allow someone who is interested in a given book or company or creator to more easily discover other books.
Now, back to the post at hand.
The lists quoted in this article are Top Ten Bestselling Comics (by Unique Series) (whatever the heck THAT means) and Top Ten Series (Units Sold). The author then spends a few thousand words drawing conclusions about the markets based off of these two lists and contrasting them with the Diamond Comics Distribution Top Ten list for 2010.
The first big problem with these lists is there is no actual data or qualifiers presented here. Time for a pop quiz. What was the #1 comic in terms of units sold to comic stores in the Direct Market in 2010? You’re wrong. Unless you listed any of the Free Comic Book Day books as your answer, you were wrong. The #1 comic in terms of units purchased by More Fun Comics and Games was the Iron Man/Thor FCBD book. I’m willing to bet that this, or some other promotional comic, was easily the #1 book in units in 2010. Diamond does not list books like this on their charts, and with good reason. They also stopped listing books that had promotional cover prices like the Batman 10 Cent Adventure because they warped the lists as well. Diamond has several conditions that are well known that can change the status of a given book on a list. For example, DC has had several weekly books whose first twelve issues are partially returnable, and Diamond adjusts their reporting for those books accordingly when they announce the top lists.
My point is here that the ComiXology charts do not appear to take any kind of promotional pricing schemes into account, outside of creating a separate list for books that are free. I should note here that I’m only aware of the “free” lists by doing a little digging on ComiXology’s site myself. The author of this piece didn’t bother to share this data with us. Is it fair to compare a book that is selling for 99 cents versus one selling for $2.99? And does including an $8.99 collection in the same list as several books that are $2.99 or less make much sense for any reasonable analysis? Of course not. Fairness isn’t the goal here, though, it is marketing.
As mentioned in the article by David Brothers and on ComiXology’s website, these lists only count the books sold in the main ComiXology app, disregarding the sales of comics through the branded Marvel and DC apps that are managed by ComiXology. Given that information, the fact that these lists are dominated by some of the most well-known non-superhero books on the market becomes much less surprising. In fact, I’m trying to figure out how Civil War even got on these lists, to be honest. A search of the main ComiXology site doesn’t even show Civil War as available to purchase at this moment.
In addition to this, you’re now talking about a list that is showing such a narrow picture of the digital market, any data that it provides quickly becomes almost meaningless. This list is akin to what would happen to the weekly box office charts if you based them off of the ticket sales of a single movie theater in California. The results would become wildly different, skewing heavily towards the demographics of that specific theater. If you’re trying to gather meaningful data from which to judge how the market is doing based off of these ComiXology lists, you’re really wasting your time, because there is so little meaningful data to be had. Plus, as illustrated by this post at The Beat there is scads of contradictory lists and data floating around out there, which are all as narrow as the lists in question to begin with.
All of that doesn’t stop the author from trying to make broad conclusions about the digital market, though! He says early on “ If you go by the top ten series, the Big Two are responsible for just 30% of ComiXology’s units sold. This is a sharp drop from the 77% they control in the Direct Market.” My first response?
I simply am in awe at that statement and its emptiness and lack of context. How any reasonable person can type that statement and expect to be taken seriously is dumbfounding. We have no idea what the number of units are per item sold given the data available. If item #1 sells 200 units and unit #10 sells 32, that statement falls apart at Flash-like speed. Do I need to repeat what I said about the narrow scope of these charts and the sales they represent? Trying to say that DC and Marvel are much smaller players on a list the precludes the primary sources of purchasing the products they sell is an obvious one. He continues to make broad statements like this in the article, continuously ignoring the statements at the beginning of the article that lay out the limitations of these numbers.
Not that a sense of reality or scope will let our author draw his conclusions as he sees fit! He even says so when he says “The data we have is clearly incomplete. We don’t know how well the branded ComiXology apps, which include Marvel and DC, are selling, but looking at this data, we don’t really need it.” (emphasis mine) At this point the article has to be a level. There’s no way this author can be serious. He is saying without hesitation that we don’t need critical data to come up with conclusions on the demand for comics in the digital market in general. Please, no one ever let this guy near a scientific research lab. His disregard for data (or the acknowledgement of the lack of said data) that doesn’t fit his conclusion is, again, dumbfounding.
Just to belabor the point (both mine and his), he says, in conclusion “Regardless, these sales show that brands work differently online. Marvel and DC are playing second fiddle to companies that they dominate in the Direct Market, and Image is going for the crown.” He is saying that the companies who command enough market attention to demand their own branded apps that keep their sales data separate from the rest of the market are playing second fiddle to the rest of the market, where everyone else goes through one general market app.
I’m not saying that I know any better for certain. What I can say, and will readily admit to, is that I do not know, and I’m not going to even attempt to draw concrete conclusions of any kind based off of data that is so incomplete. I think it is a great thing that these comics are finding their audiences, even if it is through the digital platform. However, I’m not going to play the part of a blind man trying to describe an elephant with a single touch and report my description as some kind accurate statement as to what the elephant looks like.
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