NPD Books: Comics and Graphic Novels Slowing in the States

In News by Porter Anderson

In 2023’s first six weeks, the total US comics and graphic novels market is down 13 percent against 2022’s figures, per NPD’s Kristen McLean.

A table of manga for sale in a bookstore. At NPD Books, Kristen McLean says that 60 percent of the year-to-date slowdown in comics and manga sales was attributed to a sluggish uptake. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Bruno Coelhopt

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

US Comics and Graphic Novel Sales: ‘Growth Is Slowing’
Particularly with the approach of Bologna Children’s Book Fair (March 6 to 9), a standout point in NPD Books executive director and industry analyst Kristen McLean‘s report for the week ending February 11 is her note that US print sales of comics and graphic novels is slowing.

Not unlike audio for print people, the market’s fondness for comics and graphic novels has cheered many in our international markets (especially in Europe) and in the States.

As McLean puts it, “Comics and graphic novels have seen some of the fastest growth in the [US] industry since 2019, driven by unique factors including increased anime viewing during the pandemic driving new fandom for manga, consolidated sales of certain high-profile children’s series such as the ‘Dogman’ books in many outlets over the last few years, and the elevation of content from next-generation platforms like Webtoon making the leap into page and screen.

“While the overall category continued to grow in 2022, sales slowed heading into the fourth quarter, and the 2023 start has been soft.”

This news of an ongoing shift of the sales dynamic in this sector in the States comes as Bologna’s director Elena Pasoli quite logically prepares an exhibition of “New Italian Comics, 2019 to 2022.”

Kristen McLean

Publishing Perspectives readers will recall that the report of the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) on Italy’s children’s market has stressed a jump of 14.9 percent in comics sales between 2019 and 2022. Including comics and manga, the total value of the younger set to book publishing in Italy comes to €283 million (US$302.8 million), according to that report, which you can review here.

Whether the change in the trajectory of this content in the United States may be replicated in other markets is yet to be known. But McLean provides a couple of useful charts to illustrate the adjustment in uptake she’s tracking. Indeed, what made comics and graphic novels strong as a component of children’s books in 2021 may have been driven by the adult market, she tells the news media in this week’s commentary.

“While comics and graphic novels remain very strong, McLean says, “the growth is slowing. We expect sales to remain above pre-pandemic volume, but the market should be prepared for possible declines in the year ahead.”

Charting the Slowdown

Image: NPD Group/NPD BookScan, annual through week ending December 31, 2022, year-to-date through week ending February 11 2023, US print sales only

The decline in overall juvenile content in 2022 posted the first annual period of decline, McLean says, in more than a decade. And in the first six weeks of 2023, the total comics and graphic novels market is down 13 percent against 2022.

Manga, as a matter of fact, she tells the media, is “contributing to 60 percent of the year-to-date declines.”

Here’s another chart on the topic.

Image: NPD Group/NPD BookScan, 52 weeks ending February 2023, US print sales only

Going back a year from February 11, 2023, McLean in the above chart sees manga’s strength continuing. In fact, it was “the leading share gainer taking four share points and now makes up more than half of comic and graphic novel sales, while five years ago, it made up just 25 percent of overall sales.

The slowing trend lines are something many in publishing will want to watch carefully, publishers needing to make some assessments, perhaps, on how much to invest in comics and graphic novels.

Overall US Market: Down 2 Percent Over 2022

Meanwhile, in the overall American market, McLean writers, “The market finished the week ending February 11 down 2 percent to 2022, on a weekly volume of 14.6 million units, which was 1.4 million units short of the same week last year, the traditional peak of Valentine’s sales.

“While children’s holiday sales were a little sluggish, the declines were really driven by shortfalls in adult nonfiction categories as well as juvenile categories not primarily connected to the holiday.

“Examples include health and wellness, self-help, and cooking on the adult side, and humor and study aids on the kids’ side. In some cases, there were bestselling titles which made this year’s comps difficult, but slower sales overall are a factor, as we are seeing incremental slowing in many areas of the business.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here, more on the NPD Group’s work is here, more on the work of Kristen McLean is here, and more on the United States book industry is here. More on children’s books is here, more on comics is here, and more relative to graphic novels is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.