Sales charts and the lies they tell

8 Jan

by Mike Hansen

Michael Jackson Thriller zombiesNow that comics shops have only one nationwide distributor that carries the major U.S. publishers, it’s easy to look at Diamond’s sales figures and assume they’re pretty accurate. Except that Diamond adjusts the numbers for comics with various sales-incentive schemes, and doesn’t release figures on returns or overseas sales.

There are ways of tracking actual sales to customers (not just to retailers). The music industry used to certify Gold and Platinum albums based on how many albums were shipped to stores, not how many sold to customers. Then along came SoundScan, which revealed that a lot of so-called hits were getting returned unsold to the record labels.

Bookstores have a similar program called BookScan, but it doesn’t cover Walmart or book club sales, among others.

A friend shared with me a recent New Yorker article about the top-selling albums of all time, worldwide. It turns out that Michael Jackson’s Thriller didn’t sell anywhere near a hundred million copies, as Sony Music (remember them?) has claimed. Here’s the actual top ten sales (click on the article link for more):

1. Michael Jackson, “Thriller”: 66,200,000
2. Soundtrack, “Grease”: 44,700,000
3. Pink Floyd, “The Dark Side of the Moon”: 44,200,000
4. Whitney Houston et al., “The Bodyguard”: 38,600,000
5. The Bee Gees at al., “Saturday Night Fever”: 37,200,000
6. The Eagles, “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975”: 36,900,000
7. Bob Marley, “Legend”: 36,800,000
8. Led Zeppelin, “IV”: 35,700,000
9. AC/DC, “Back in Black”: 35,700,000
10. Shania Twain, “Come on Over”: 35,400,000

We already know the R.I.A.A. is full of it: they’ve been lying to the public and politicians for years about the effects of music file-sharing. Is it any surprise that its members have lied about their sales – and in both directions (increasing sales numbers for the public, and decreasing them for artist payments)?

I’d love to know what the biggest-selling comics of all time are, but I hardly know where to begin with that. Manga volumes in Japan routinely sell millions of copies. The U.S. has had a few million-selling single issues (X-Men #1, X-Force #1, Superman #75, Spawn #1, Youngblood #1) and graphic novels (Watchmen, maybe Pokemon, Scott Pilgrim, or Bone?). Any ideas, folks?

In this age of transition to web publishing and print-on-demand, I have a feeling there will be fewer and fewer blockbuster hits in any media.

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