In advance of New York Comic-Con, which begins tomorrow, ICv2 hosted a Comics and Digital conference at the Javits Center where ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp presented his annual white paper preview, where he talked about the overall sales and trends in the comic and graphic novel industry.

While the news for print was less than positive, with manga sales facing an estimated 20% drop in 2010, the news for digital comics was very good indeed, with Griepp projecting that digital comics sales would see a more than ten-fold increase this year over last.In 2009, the total market was $680 million dollars, with $370 million in graphic novel sales and $310 million in comics. Sales in the U.S. and Canadian comic book and graphic novel market are now down 12% in the first half of 2010, with comic books seeing a small 1% increase while graphic novel sales dropped 20%. The decline in graphic novel sales was particularly steep in bookstores, which experienced a 30% decline in sales, versus a 9% decline in traditional comic book stores. Some of the drop in sales may be due to the shuttering of bookstores, like the 200 Walden bookstores that have closed already this year.

Griepp suggested that there was a significant decline in graphic novel sales in 2009 as well, but that was masked by what he called "the Watchmen effect," thanks to the enormous movie-related sales of the "Watchmen" graphic novel that accounted for 50% of bookstore sales of graphic novels in the first half of 2009.

The complaint of high prices was discussed as well, along with the statistics that the average cover price of a comic book in the second quarter of 2010 is now $3.53, up from $3.38 in 2009. "Overall, [fans] are paying more for the same type of content than they were two years ago," said Griepp.

The news was particularly dark for manga, which declined 9% in the first half of 2010, with an estimated 20% overall drop in 2010, making it likely that this will be the third bad year for manga sales in a row. If current trends continue, manga will drop 50% over three years, where we've seen the closing of Aurora, Go Comi, Dr. Master, and most recently DC's CMX line.

TV exposure of manga through anime has slowed dramatically, with no big hits emerging to match "Fruits Basket" or "Naruto." Griepp also pointed to the slow digital strategy of the manga industry, and while they have started to crack down on free fan scanlation content, a lot of pirated content still remains online, but not yet many legal alternatives for digital version of manga. "It kind of diverts the fanbase into an area where they're not spending any money," said Griepp.

But while manga and graphic novels decline, the real energy and growth has been in digital, which has expanded from a $500,000 market in 2009 to an estimated $6 to 8 million dollars in 2010, a more than ten-fold increase. Quite simply, digital comics are "the fastest-growing part of the comics business," said Griepp.

This year comics fans saw not only the launch of the iPad, currently the key comics reading device thanks in part to a screen size well suited to comics, but also the launching of major digital initiatives from the Big Two comics publishers, Marvel and DC Comics in April and June respectively. 2011 will see not only a full year of digital sales on the iPad from both Marvel and DC, but also expansion on the Android platform, and a great deal of experimentation with pricing. Griepp revealed that Dark Horse Comics will be selling digital comics using a $1.49 price point.

With the rapid expansion of digital comics sales, "comics are now entering a new phase [with] an important opportunity to expand the audience... and lead some of them into buying print products as well," said Griepp. "It's a very important part of what's happening in this business... I don't think there's anything we can do to fight it, so we have to figure out how to exploit it and expand our business."

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