Digital media has been cannibalising the sale of physical media for years — books are on the decline and magazines and newspapers are dying as the world flocks to digital. You'd think comic books, where day-and-date releases are a given, digital-first issues run wild and all-you-can-read subscriptions are growing, would be the same. Turns out that's not the case at all! DC Graphic Novel Essentials Chronology 2013 cover by Ryan Sook
A new study by CNBC that tracked the sales of physical and digital comic books over the last few years notes the surprising turn that, unlike other areas of publishing, comic book sales both physically and digitally are on the rise. On top of that, the growing popularity of digital books, especially in the years since the launch of Comixology (which just announced its own digital comics subscription plan, though it's only available in the US), has done nothing to halt the sales of physical single issues — in fact, for the last five years sales of single issues rose consecutively every year.
Comic Book Sales, 2009-2015. Chart by CNBC, data sourced from Comics Chronicles, ICv2, and Diamond Comics Distributors.
You might have expected that as digital services become much easier and more people abandon the perils of trying to store a comics collection (although that collection aspect in and of itself has kept single issue sales solid as well), physical sales would start declining as digital rapidly expanded — even moreso now that we live in a world with subscriptions like Marvel Unlimited giving you access to thousands and thousands of comics from decades of publishing for a monthly fee.
But instead, as superhero media has taken over TV and the big screen, both areas of comics sales have seen rewards, and even though growth is slowing, there's little sign of physical comic book sales wasting away at the expense of a digital comics boom just yet.