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Reverse Engineering The New York Times Graphic Books (Comics) Bestseller List

As you may know, The New York Times has started a best seller list for “Graphic Books,” which you and I would probably call either graphic novels or comics.  A lot of people have been trying to figure out what this list really is and whether it’s valid.  The exact formula the Times uses is not public knowledge, but the basic method is to sample bookstores for what they’ve sold and aggregate the numbers with some statistical magic and create a best seller list.  With the Graphics Books list, they’re also sampling some Direct Market comic retailers.  And they should, all indications are that the DM still moves more graphic novels than the bookstore market.

You figure there are two sets of numbers we could use to test the accuracy of the Times list: sales estimates for Diamond’s sales to the Direct Market and Bookscan numbers.

The catches here are that Diamond’s estimates are estimates (figure 10-20% lower than reality is ballpark, although reorders may not be as big a factor in this case, since the Times lists are weekly and anything shipping in the last week or two of the month probably won’t have re-orders shipped), and Diamond numbers are sell-in to the DM, not sell-through to the customer, so if the book sits on the shelf, the Diamond rank is irrelevant.

Bookscan numbers, on the other hand, won’t account for any of the independent bookstores the Times might survey who aren’t affiliated with Bookscan.

As such, I’ve compiled the Times lists for March and placed the Diamond sales rank and sales estimate from ICV2 next to each book.  You can argue about the number sold, but you can’t argue where the books are in relationship to each other on Diamond’s list.  If somebody has access to Bookscan’s weekly graphic novel numbers for March, which are specific to the week, I’d sure love to see them, and we could make this analysis a little more conclusive.

After the charts and Diamond data, I’ll list my conclusions, but don’t live in a vacuum and just take my word for it, have a gander and the numbers and see what you think, first.


1 Watchmen (#100: 1,153 + #137: 857 = 2,010 Copies)
2 Superman: Brainiac (#17: 3,428)
3 Batman: R.I.P. (#53: 1,896)
4 Spider-Man: Crime And Punisher (#91: 1,278)
5 The Complete Peanuts: 1971-1972 (#92:   1,269)
6 Legion Of Super-Heroes: The Life And Death Of Ferro Lad (#117: 990)
7 Starman Omnibus, Vol. 2 (#85: 1,337)
8 Kabuki: The Alchemy (#118: 990)
9 Batman: The Killing Joke (#60: 1,713)
10 Secret Invasion: Punisher War Journal (N/A)

1 Watchmen (#1: 32,123)
2 Jack Of Fables, Vol. 5 (#3: 4,976)
3 Wolverine: Origin (#14: 3,545)
4 Savage Sword Of Conan, Vol. 5 (#26: 2,948)
5 Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest (#29: 2,754)
6 Walking Dead, Vol. 9 (#37: 2,504)
7 Shazam And The Monster Society Of Evil (#43: 2,166)
8 Secret Invasion: New Warriors (#56: 1,779)
9 Sonic The Hedgehog Archives, Vol. 10 (#72: 1,483)
10 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (#22: 3,069)

1 Watchmen (#100: 1,153 + #137: 857 = 2,010 Copies)
2. Joker (#34: 2,613)
3 Batman: The Killing Joke (#60: 1,713)
4 All-Star Superman [Assuming This Is V.2] (#66 1,566)
5 Batman: R.I.P. (#53: 1,896)
6 Humbug (#220: 574)
7 Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years, Vol. 1 (#166: 713)
8 Eerie Archives, Vol. 1 (#161: 735)
9 Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse (#171: 692)
10 The Complete Peanuts: 1971-1972 (#92:   1,269)

1 Watchmen (#1: 32,123)
2 Wolverine: Origin (#14: 3,545)
3 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (#73: 1,482)
4. V For Vendetta (#70: 1,539)
5 Walking Dead, Vol. 1 (#41: 2,346)
6 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (#22: 3,069)
7 Madman Atomic Comics, Vol. 2 (#121: 979)
8 Appleseed, Vol. 4 (#135: 880)
9 Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Vol. 3 [Presumed To Be Season 8 Vol. 3] (#86: 1,334)
10 Fables, Vol. 11 (#84: 1,346)

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1 Comment

  1. One minor note, that may or may not impact a number of titles — sometimes, upon reporting to the NYT, so hit a book that they don’t think is valid, for example:


    Since that is “DM only”, the ISBN isn’t in the Times data list (or wasn’t in week #1, at least!), and it would not allow the title to be submitted this week.

    There are also a few peculiarities in the Times’ database – for example, most books with Subtitles are actually listed under the sub, not under the main title. So, like (and this is from memory, I may have a book wrong)

    Y the Last Man, v10 Motherland

    might be listed under “M” for Motherland, or, even worse it might just be listed under “Last Man” with no volume #, along with two other “Last Man” titles that are only differentiated by ISBN.

    While you CAN upload a file to the NYT, MOBY doesn’t yet output best-seller data with ISBNs (new version will, I think?) — primarily because there’s really not any comics retailers who think in terms of ISBN — anyway, this yields us manually having to type our data in for the moment (I spend about 40 minutes a week doing this for the moment)

    What I (at least) have been doing is scanning the prepopulated list, then adding things they don’t have in, but because of the two step start-and-stop process, it’s pretty easy to not enter something exactly correctly.

    It will work out better as time goes on though.


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