The Great Statistical Purchasing Analysis of 2011!

Welcome to the 4th consecutive year that I’ve tracked my comic book purchasing habits and provided some commentary about the data. Essentially, the trend formally established last year appears to be continuing. Yes, my high school stats teacher, Mr. Embry, was right, “three points make a trend,” he said, while I was staring at a girl named Gretchen who looked vaguely like Whitney Port and used to wear frilly low cut tank tops, sans bra, that revealed oh so much that was taut and perky and, wait... what was I saying...? Oh. Yeah… In short, I’m buying fewer books across the board and spending significantly less money.

I attribute this primarily to two factors. One, I moved from a 10+ year career at a high-paying job in Corporate America to a small non-profit organization (during that same time period, I also had two kids!) and thus have less discretionary income for my hobbies. Yeah, “I’m all groweds up,” as Trent would say. I gave up collecting and racing BMWs long ago, as well as my voracious film appetite. It was not uncommon for me to burn up a set of $800 tires on any given weekend when I had them slapped on a ’95 M3 at the track, nor was it uncommon for me to literally spend all weekend watching back to back to back new releases in the theatre and hitting the town with a certain circle of friends. Heck, a little known fact is that one of my first writing gigs, like ever, was writing movie reviews, not comic book reviews. But, I digress.

The second factor leading to my declining purchasing habits is that I perceive less value remaining for me personally in the majority of products I come into contact with. Not the medium itself, but what the medium is predominantly producing. And despite objective price points, a lot of consumer purchasing habits are driven by perceived value. It doesn’t matter if something is $5 or $50, people will/won’t buy an object simply based on whether or not they subjectively feel they’re getting their money’s worth in terms of enjoyment. There are fewer titles I’m willing to adventurously try or habitually spend money on because price points on the upswing are intersecting with enjoyment on the downswing. There are fewer creators I feel any die hard sense of loyalty to. Sure, they do exist, but I feel like the pool is dwindling rather than growing. Sure, new creators get on my radar that I become a fan of, but trust me when I say that I’m either shedding books, or not bothering to try new ones after a casual flip test, at a faster rate than I’m sticking. I want to point out that there are obviously some amazing exceptions out there that I love, it’s not all doom and gloom. But, the bottom line is that if I don’t feel I’m enjoying a title or creator, really enjoying them fully – writing and art consistently firing on all cylinders in a confluence of substance and style more than the sum of its parts, high expectations indeed – then I’m just not going to spend any money. I used to try first arcs of many new books, now I try first issues.

Well, with all of the usual blah-bitty-blah out of the way, let’s just dive in… I’ll start with the TOTAL QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased from 2008 to 2011.

2008: 259
2009: 197
2010: 169
2011: 125

This is a substantial decrease of 26% from 2010 to 2011, and a whopping 52% decrease from 2008 to 2011. I’m basically buying half of the floppies I was just 4 years ago. Looking at the same category of SINGLE ISSUES in terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT, the results are as follows.

2008: $777
2009: $697
2010: $616
2011: $458

This also represents a 26% decrease from 2010 to 2011, and a 41% decrease from 2008 to 2011. You’ll notice that this is a disproportionate decrease in dollars spent compared to titles purchased over the longer 4-year period. That’s due to the fact that during the last couple of years, the average price point per item went up from somewhere around $3 to somewhere closer to $4 on so many titles. Since comics are periodicals and the weekly sales pattern and subsequent news cycle is endemic to the paradigm, I like to look at my purchasing habits on a weekly basis as a meaningful statistic as well. Here is the AVERAGE QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased per week over the period.

2008: 4.98
2009: 3.79
2010: 3.25
2011: 2.40

Basically, I would buy about 5 singles per week on average in 2008, and that’s slowly declined to about 2 per week on average, if you round to the nearest whole book. It’s roughly a 30% drop from 2010 to 2011, and a 60% drop from 2008 to 2011. We can also take a look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week on SINGLE ISSUES.

2009: $13.40
2010: $11.85
2011: $8.81

In 2008, I’d spent approximately $15 per week on SINGLE ISSUES, and by 2011 I’ve dropped into single digits, spending just under $9 per week on average, rounding to the nearest dollar. That’s a 25% drop from 2010 to 2011, with a 40% drop from 2008 to 2011. Moving on to the GRAPHIC NOVELS AND/OR TRADE PAPERBACKS category, I tracked all of the metrics in the same manner. First, here is the TOTAL QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased.

2008: 55
2009: 26
2010: 18
2011: 12

This is a 30% drop from 2010 to 2011, with a sharp decrease of 78% from 2008 to 2011. Now, keep in mind that these metrics are for books purchased, not consumed. I would guesstimate that I actually read just as many trades or graphic novels as I have in previous years, likely more, but the catch is that I didn’t pay for them. As Thirteen Minutes has flourished, and I’ve picked up writing gigs at other venues, the number of comp copies I receive has increased dramatically. I don’t track that number, but just off the top of my head I can think of at least 2 to 3 dozen books that I received for free for review purposes this year, directly from creators, publishers, etc. that would tend to skew this metric. It’s hard to know to what degree this skew is in effect, because some of these comp copies acquired are ones that I would have bought anyway, but that’s certainly not the case for all of them. So, just keep that in mind. My perception is that I think the trend holds though, that there are probably fewer books in this category that I would have willingly spent the money on, but I can’t back that claim up with metrics. Let’s move on to look at TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN.

2009: $521
2010: $413
2011: $103

From 2010 to 2011 alone, this is a 75% decrease, with a staggering 91% decline from 2008 to 2011. I’ve nothing more to add here other than the fact that this year’s $103 really doesn’t reflect my reading habits very accurately in terms of what I consumed. As I mentioned, I received tons of comp copies from all over the place, and I also ended up with a ton of Amazon credit that I burned up on trades/OGN, but those “sales” transactions weren’t tracked here because they never represented an actual out of pocket expense. And this is a purchasing analysis, not a reading analysis per se, hence their exclusion.

The average price point is also out of whack for this category this year, but I can explain that one. One thing that might jump out at you statistical nerds is that if I spent just $103 on 12 trades/graphic novels, then the average price point only amounts to $8.58. What kind of trades and graphic novels only cost $8 you might ask? The kind that are on sale for up to 80% off at the BORDERS LIQUIDATION SALES! Many of the books in this category were runs of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Pluto, Monster, or other manga that I sampled, which I ended up picking up for around $2 in some cases, and those purchases severely skewed the metrics. Let’s look at the weekly averages in this category, starting off with the AVERAGE QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased on a weekly basis.

2008: 1.06
2009: .50
2010: .35
2011: .23

That’s a 34% drop from 2010 to 2011, and a 78% drop from 2008 to 2011. It’s still staggering to me that I was basically buying 1 full-on trade/OGN per week in 2008. Now that the number has slipped to .23 per week, it’s almost a meaningless and insignificant entry on a weekly basis, but it does equate to about 1 per month, if we looked at it that way. In terms of AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN per week, the numbers shake out like this.

2008: $23.08
2009: $10.02
2010: $7.94
2011: $1.98

As you can see, this is a pretty serious decline of 75% from 2010 to 2011, and 91% from 2008 to 2011, but there are some extenuating factors previously explained that would tend to position this as being a little less bleak than the raw data might lead you to believe. Lastly, and mostly for kicks, we can look at combined units for both floppies and collected editions. Here’s the overall TOTAL UNITS PURCHASED.

2009: 223
2010: 187
2011: 137

So, I went from buying 314 total objects that qualify as “comics” in 2008, to just 137 in 2011. That’s a 27% decrease from 2010 to 2011, and a substantial 56% drop from 2008 to 2011, meaning that I’m essentially buying less than half of the comics I did just 4 years ago. That’s a pretty powerful bottom line statement, all things considered. In terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TOTAL UNITS, it looks like this.

2008: $1,977
2009: $1,218
2010: $1,029
2011: $561

That equates to a 45% decline from 2010 to 2011, with a 72% overall drop from 2008 to 2011. The numbers sound big, don’t they? I went from spending nearly $2,000 on comics 4 years ago, to spending in the $500 range this year. Add it all up and *cringe* it looks like I spent about $4,785 on comics in the last 4 years. Shhh! Don’t tell my better half! As for AVERAGE TOTAL UNITS purchased per week

2008: 6.04
2009: 4.29
2010: 3.60
2011: 2.63

This means that I went from purchasing 6 total “things” that could be classified as comics per week (whether singles or trades) in 2008, to not quite 3 in 2011. Those metrics represent a 27% decline from 2010 to 2011, with a 56% drop overall from 2008 to 2011. Lastly, we can also look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week as applied to TOTAL UNITS.

2009: $23.42
2010: $19.79
2011: $10.79

This is another pretty straightforward metric that seems to ring true based on my perceptions of what I actually do in the LCS on a weekly basis. It means that in 2008, I was basically dropping $40 per week, and now I’m only dropping about $10 per week on average. This comes out to a 45% drop from 2010 to 2011, with a 72% decrease from 2008 to 2011. That feels like what actually occurs for sure. I usually buy 2 or 3 singles per week, breaking a $20 bill in the process and hoping I have enough left for lunch, and then getting comp copies of a bunch of other stuff from generous creators and publishers.

Questions? Thoughts? Would you like to see me continue this analysis next year or is the writing on the wall at this point? Will all the categories ultimately bottom out at zero?! Should I scrap this ongoing project or hold out hope that one day the numbers will increase? Let me know!


At 9:52 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Oh, man. All the way through this post I kept thinking (as I do every year), "THIS IS SO INSPIRATIONAL!!! I wish I had the discipline to track my purchasing habits."

Then my thoughts started wandering to questions about how this trend will shake-out over time. You brought up some really interesting external factors (family, kids, ...and CAR RACING!??!). I feel like you've laid the groundwork for a documentary film or something. We've got the initial foundation (an obvious decline due to several components) but how will this story resolve itself?

Will there be an eventual upswing? Will it level-out at a lowered plateau? Will its course continue on this nose-dive trajectory?

I'd hate to think the established trend would continue in the same direction, but man, even that would be interesting, albeit disheartening, to see. Anyhow, I, for one, hope you'll continue tracking this hobby/habit/addition of (y)ours. This remains one of my favorite posts you do all year.

P.S. Have you heard any feedback from your "better half?" ;) Just curious.

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Hey, you've taken the first step by discussing your monthly reads! You can do this! It's easy! Haha!

Psh, you think my better half actually reads my blog?! That's cute, Ryan.

Thanks for the feedback, though. Glad somebody enjoys this numerical nonsense!


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