Numerology, 2008 edition (II)

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Reader my friend, reader my love,
For the fourth year in a row, du9 takes the opportunity of the Angoulême Festival to explore the dark realms where economic bubbles, trend curves, profitability points and other growth perspectives roam. Welcome to a new “Numerology” — also know as the art of making numbers talk.

[Reader my friend, reader my love, do not forget reading the first part.]

The varied fortunes of the publishers

The past three years have seen the bande dessinée market enter a consolidation phase, in particular on the front of the Asian production. Indeed, Delcourt picked up Tonkam, Hachette grabbed Pika, and Vents d’Ouest purchased Albin-Michel’s catalog linked to L’Echo des Savanes.
Those publishers therefore consider that the future growth of the market will not be sufficient to support their development through internal initiatives (which is called an “organic growth”). And even if they cost more, acquisitions become the way to keep on growing within a less favorable context (through “external growth”).

Throughout the year 2008, the (possible) overproduction of the market has been a hot topic. In the annual Livres-Hebdo roundup, Philippe Ostermann (Dargaud’s editorial director) was reported declaring : “I cannot even fathom how so many books can be released.” Indeed, the number of yearly new releases has more than doubled over the 2003-2008 period, from 1,730 titles to nearly 3,600.
If the multiplication of publishing structures provides a first element of explanation — the market went from 150 active publishers in 2001 to 265 in 2008 — the production inflation is also due to the five major publishing groups (Média Participations, Glénat, Flammarion, Soleil and Delcourt), which still represent about half the new releases. The number of titles released by those major groups since 2003 has been steadily growing[1] — in line with the market and doubling between 2003 and 2008.

||Number of yearly new releases(2003 vs. 2008)||
|Publishing Group|Total|Manga|Not manga|
|Média Participations|211 -> 408 (+93 %)|54 -> 151 (+180 %)|157 -> 257 (+64 %)|
|Glénat|198 -> 286 (+44 %)|78 -> 137 (+76 %)|120 -> 149 (+24 %)|
|Flammarion|115 -> 192 (+67 %)|36 -> 71 (+97 %)|79 -> 121 (+53 %)|
|Soleil|124 -> 242 (+95 %)|36 -> 85 (+136 %)|88 -> 157 (+78 %)|
|Delcourt|143 -> 413 (+189 %)|52 -> 246 (+373 %)|91 -> 167 (+84 %)|
|Total|791 -> 1541 (+98 %)|256 -> 690 (+170 %)|535 -> 851 (+59 %)|
|Overall market|1730 -> 3592 (+108 %)|521 -> 1453 (+179 %)|1209 -> 2139 (+77 %)|
Combining the two trends observed before (erosion of established series, slowdown of the manga segment), the five major publishing groups are losing ground, starting in 2005 to accelerate in 2008. From over 80 % in 2002-2004, the market share of those five groups (Média Participations, Glénat, Flammarion, Soleil and Delcourt) fell down to 75 % over 2005-2007, reaching 73.8 % in 2008.
While the bande dessinée market progressed by about 9 % in volume over the 2002-2007 period, from 31.2 million books to 34.1 million, the five major groups experiences stagnating sales (-0.45 %) around the 25.8 million books mark. In 2008, the contraction of the market in volume (-1.5 %) leads to a more important decrease of the sales of those five groups (-4.2 %).
The growth of the bande dessinée market over these past years would then lie elsewhere…

The significant increase of the production then appears as a headlong rush in trying to compensate the erosion of the best-sellers performance. The major groups then need to develop new collections, in order to reach out to new audiences.
Indeed, the Futuropolis label (joint venture between Soleil and the Gallimard group) is an interesting example of an attempt at developing a publisher’s catalog towards the graphic novel segment. After only four years in existence, its catalog already numbers over 130 books (4 in 2005, 36 in 2006, 39 in 2007, 55 in 2008) — with a yearly cruise control objective of 50 books.
In comparison, there is no noticeable increase in the number of productions from the alternative publishers, which tend to stick to the same level of activity, as can be seen on the chart below.[2]

||Number of yearly releases||
|Les Requins Marteaux|–|19|16|17|14|18|17|8|15|
|Six Pieds Sous Terre|–|9|14|–|19|26|26|23|14|
Indeed, the small press publishers favor “working their books” and prefer to keep a number of releases adapted to the (small) size of their structures. Some have also changed distributors in order to find an approach more fitting to their editorial development.

Yet, it is important to temper this analysis by reminding that the major publishers revenue is not integrally dependent on book sales, but also come from licensing rights and merchandising products. This point happens to be the source of conflict between the Groupement des Auteurs de Bande Dessinée (Bande Dessinée Authors Association) and the Syndicat des Éditeurs (Publishers Syndicate), specifically on digital publishing and audiovisual rights.
A telling sign of the increased importance of this activity (or at least, of the expectations it bears), is the fact that it is the focus of about the three-quarters of Livres-Hebdo “bande dessinée” dossier. To be continued, most likely.

The year 2008

The top 50 best-selling books ranking for 2008 do question the capacity of bande dessinée to generate commercial successes. Only three bande dessinée books do appear in the list (Titeuf volume 12, ranked #2 ; Blake et Mortimer volume 18, #14 ; and Largo Winch volume 16, #20), representing 8 % of the cumulated Top 50 sales in value.
Yet, the revenue generated by those three best-sellers over the calendar year barely approaches that of the sole first volume of Millénium (10.6m€ versus 11.7m€). The performance of the overall best-seller is even more impressive when considering the fact that this book was released in … June 2006.

As observed earlier, the bande dessinée market relies on established series. The year 2008 remains true to the rule, as among the 50 top-selling titles, there are only two actual “new creations” with Joann Sfar’s version of Le Petit Prince, and Jacques Tardi’s Putain de guerre !. There are also two new “licensed products” with the comic book versions of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis[3] and The Simpsons.
More generally, 39 of 50 titles in the chart belong to series counting more than 10 volumes. The “top 5” itself features the usual suspects, with Titeuf (which appeared 8 times over 2000-2008), Blake et Mortimer (5 times), Largo Winch (5 times), Lucky Luke (3 times) and Naruto (twice). Meaning that this leading quintet has concentrated half of the available slots “on top” between 2000 and 2008 (23/45).
In 2008, the bande dessinée market confirms again its difficulties in successfully establishing new franchises.

Despite being the third best-seller of the year, the performance of the last Largo Winch volume turns out to be rather average, comparable to that of the previous volume (that had been released in March though). Indeed, the series is build around successive two-parters, which consequently links the potentials of each constitutive volumes.
Yet, it was expected that the large media exposure that had surrounded the release of the movie would have had a positive impact on the sales of the series as a whole. It is not the case, as the #16 volume is the only one appearing in the top 50 best-seller chart for the year. And while Largo Winch-the-movie sold over a million tickets in 2008, Largo Winch-the-comic-book-series probably sells less than 750,000 books.
A similar situation is at work with Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques (6.8 million tickets sold !), without a doubt the most-promoted movie of the year, which cannot seem to be able to push the sales of the series beyond its own licensed product.
For reference, in 2007 Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis had enjoyed strong sales in the face of the release its movie adaptation (with 1.2 million tickets sold), reaching the #18 rank among the best-selling comic books of the year with 93.700 copies. The difference between the populations targeted by the books and the movies certainly explain those discrepancies.

Beyond the established series, it is important to note the rare “author status” granted to a handful of names crowned by the cultural press. Manu Larcenet (with the fourth and last volume of the Combat Ordinaire/Ordinary Victories series), Joann Sfar (with Le Petit Prince) and to a lesser extend Jacques Tardi (with the first volume of Putain de guerre !) constituted the tip of the graphic novel iceberg in general.
To the contrary, the unanimity of critics and numerous awards received by Le Journal d’un ingénu by Émile Bravo did not manage to get the book onto the best-sellers lists. Even though this title belonged to an established and popular Franco-Belgian series, and was supported by a significant print run (105,000 copies for an April 2008 release).

If this top 50 best-sellers list is interesting in what it shows, looking for titles absent from this charts is also very telling — such as the large print runs with corresponding expectations, which they unfortunately failed to meet.
Among those, the volume 3 in the Game over series (Dupuis, print run of 180,000 copies), volume 5 of Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk (Clair de Lune, 150,000 copies), volume 3 of Les Nombrils (Dupuis, 146,000 copies), volume 7 of Les Blagues de Toto (Delcourt, 140,000 copies) or volume 14 of L’élève Ducobu (Le Lombard, 130,000 copies).
Within the “classics” showing signs of slowdown, there is also the 50th volume of Spirou et Fantasio (Dupuis, 121,000 copies), or the last Alix and Lefranc (Casterman, 100,000 copies each). Finally, the political fad seems to be reaching its end, and Carla & Carlito (from the authors of La face karchée de Sarkozy, 12bis/Fayard, 95,000 copies) most certainly did not reach the expected sales level.


It is always difficult to evoke a bande dessinée crisis when the market keeps on growing year after year. And still, the analysis of available data reveals a certain number of alarming signs, that hint at the limits of the existing model.

The Franco-Belgian bande dessinée is facing a significant erosion of its best-selling franchises, and does not manage establishing new successes. Yet, initial print runs of high potential titles remain high in order to maximize visibility at retail, even if it causes an increase of returns.

The major publishing groups have taken position on the manga segment, which growth has supported the market over the past years. This segment has now reached saturation. Moreover, the conclusion or slowdown of the best-selling series will certainly lead to a downward evolution by 2010.

The strong inflation of the production witnessed over the past years looks to compensate the sales erosion of established series. It is mainly due to the major publishing groups, while small press publishers prefer to limit their number of releases to favor quality, both on the editorial and commercial levels.

In this context, the multi-support exploitation of the most popular franchises appears as additional revenue sources. Yet, considering the performance of Largo Winch in 2008, the positive impact of a movie adaptation on the popularity of the original material is still to prove.

Finally, the quasi-unanimous vote from critics for Le journal d’un ingénu by Emile Bravo did not manage to push this title among the best-sellers list. Only a handful of authors (Joann Sfar, Manu Larcenet, Jacques Tardi, Enki Bilal) are acknowledged by the cultural press, and manage to generate significant sales.

Data and sources

The analyzes of this 2008 edition of our Numerology feature (or “the art of making numbers talk”) are based on two specific sources, except mentioned otherwise.
Regarding the accounting of the number of releases and the largest print runs, the yearly reports for the years 2001-2008 produced by Gilles Ratier, secretary of the ACBD (Association des Critiques et journalistes de Bande Dessinée).
Regarding actual sales figures, data from Livres-Hebdo/I+C over the 2001-2008 period. Additional data on manga have been graciously provided by IPSOS Média CT (Pôle Culture). We would like to express our thanks to Delphine Mairot for bearing with our requests.

1. Representativity of the IPSOS figures
Regarding the IPSOS panel, “the indicated figures are estimates based on actual sales (tracked at retail), from January 1st to December 31th, in metropolitan France, among a large and representative panel of retail locations.
This ranking takes into account all distribution channels with their respective market share : first and second level bookstores, large cultural outlets and general superstores. Excluded are export sales, sales in the French Overseas Departments and Territories, sales to wholesalers and online commerce.” (extract from the Methodological note attached to the top 50 best-selling bande dessinée chart in 2008)

Moreover, following an article in Le Figaro Magazine in July 2007 that questioned the quality of the Livres-Hebdo/I+C panel, Sophie Martin (General Director of the Ipsos Insight Culture department) indicated : “In five years, even if some end-year estimates have been the object of debate, the IPSOS ranking published by Livres-Hebdo and Le Nouvel Observateur has never been contested by publishers. It remains absolutely representative of retail book sales and is widely used by stores for their reorders and by publishers to adjust their print runs.”

The Livres-Hebdo/I+C data are widely recognized as representative of the market and used as such by the actors of the industry. The yearly rankings cover a constant perimeter (metropolitan France, excepted wholesales and online sales) — they therefore are comparable and cover the same “reality” of the market.

2. Consumer panels
While the Livres-Hebdo/I+C panel focuses on tracking the evolutions of the market in terms of sales, a certain number of studies try and analyze the population of comic book buyers and/or readers.
Indeed, the number of comic book buyers in France remains stable, representing around 10 % of the total population. (cf. “Le marché du livre en 2006” [The book market in 2006], study from TNS-Sofres, which confirmed a similar ratio over 2007.)
Regarding the comic book readership, the study “Participation culturelle et sportive” [Participation in Culture and Sports] by INSEE (variable part of the May 2003 PCV study) indicates that only 26 % of the French population aged 15 or more have read a comic book over the past twelve months (cf. chart C5, page 15 of this report).

Some commentators have recently mentioned a “TNS Sofres study from 2007” which stated that “70 % of the French population has purchased or read a comic book over the last months of 2007.” After checking with the study institute, this study does not exist — the quoted results originate in fact from the study “SOFRES/Caisse d’Epargne : Fête de la BD” dated June 2005, which was based on “a national, representative sample of 1,027 Internet users ages 8 to 64 years”. The indications from this study are therefore to consider with caution, as they focus on the Internet population in particular, rather than the French population as a whole.

3. What about the other countries ?
A recurring attack against the IPSOS figures is that they only cover the French market, and do not account for the Belgian, Swiss and Canadian market. And that would inevitably invalidate the analyzes done on that truncated base. Yet, it is important to note that France represent more than 80 % of this francophone space, both in terms of population and in terms of book market — as well as bande dessinée.
Indeed, the French metropolitan population represents 62 million inhabitants, while the cumulated French-speaking populations of Belgium, Canada and Switzerland only represent 13.4 million souls.[4]
Moreover, an estimate of the French language book and bande dessinée market indicated for 2006 (in millions of euros) :[5]

||French language market (in millions of euros)||
|2006|France|Belgium|Switzerland|Canada|Total|France Share|
|Total books|4 100,0|253,4|77,9|328,0|4 768,9|86 %|
|Bande dessinée|300,0|38,7|11,9|16,4|367,0|82 %|

Of course, each territory presents its own specificities, and the trends observed with the Livres-Hebdo figures only cover the French market. Yet, this market has an overwhelming importance in the whole picture. For instance, to compensate a 5 % variation observed on the French market, the other three countries would have to present a variation of 23 % in the opposite direction.
Considering its weight (over 80 % of the French-language bande dessinée market), the evolutions of the French market therefore have an immediate (and important) impact on the industry in general.

4. The share of online sales
Internet penetration in households in France has seen a strong evolution over the past years, rising from 16 % in 2002 to 48 % in 2007. Following this progression, the general market has seen part of its revenue moving online over the past years, a part that is not covered by the Livres-Hebdo/I+C panel. This part is estimated today at around 10 % of the activity.
Yet, online sales follow very specific dynamics (known as the “long tail effect”), and see increasingly scattered sales in favor of references with very low levels of activity. If about 10 % of the total bande dessinée market is now sold through online sales, it is therefore probable that the importance of online sales for the best-selling titles is lower than this ratio.

It is important to keep in mind this market mutation, in particular when comparing different periods — a sales gap (downward) around 5 % between the years 2001-2002 and the years 2007-2008 is likely not significant.


  1. Putting aside the production of SeeBD, as the small manga publisher was only temporarily acquired by Soleil.
  2. Figures based on the number of releases listed in the yearly reports of Gilles Ratier. As the releases of FRMK and Ego comme X are not covered in this analysis, they were not included in this quick analysis — but it is very likely that they present a similar approach.
    Also note that the other “small press publishers” also share this same philosophy of moderate release lineups, be it Vertige Graphic, Le Cycliste, La Boîte à Bulles, Atrabile, Warum, çà et là, etc.
  3. Note for our foreign friends : the original inspiration is a popular 2007 comedy that ended up being the highest-grossing movie in France ever.
  4. Belgium : 10.4m inhabitants, with 40 % of French-speakers ; Canada : 33.2m inhabitants with 23.2 % of French-speakers ; Switzerland : 7.6m inhabitants with 20.4 % of French-speakers.
  5. Sources : France, SNE ; Belgium, Le marché du livre de langue française en Belgique (données 2006) ; Switzerland, Etude de l’Université de Zurich sur le marché du livre en Suisse ; Canada, Le marché du livre au Québec.
Dossier de in January 2009