The great author and humorist, Mark Twain, had an unflattering view of numbers.

Another revered, quintessentially American thinker expressed his deep appreciation for facts with biting sarcasm.

Somewhere between those two extremes settles the murky abyss of comic book sales discussions. It’s a mire I’ve waded through before without completely drowning, but when the talk is taken to an Internet message board, it becomes harder to keep your head above water.

That’s because in that blackest of all pits resides the Internet’s apex predator: the troll. The guy who feigns desire in having a legitimate conversation, but really just wants to stir the shit pool a little more vigorously.

And man, comic readers are the easiest of prey. After years of being bullied because of our hobby (yes kids, it used to be uncool to like Captain America), we feel home in despair. We crave it! We’ve been trying to kill the thing we love for as long as it’s existed, always ready to proclaim THIS trend or THAT stunt will sound the death knell of our shameful pastime, freeing us to … I don’t know, go outside or something? Wolverine warns against it.

But we pessimists are having a tough time of it lately. Defying all apocalyptic prophecy to the contrary, overall comic book sales numbers have risen every year for the last five years. In times past we could try to handwave that positive development away with a few choice anecdotes that start with, “Not in my store!” Sadly, with sales data now readily available thanks to websites like Comichron, ICv2 and even the homepage of Diamond Distributors itself, that kind of subjective chicanery just isn’t possible anymore.

Who am I kidding; of course it is!

A Case Study in Troll Behavior

I recently had the pleasure(?) of having a conversation(?) with a troll in his (her?) natural habitat. I’d seen many of this individual’s posts over the years, and they’ve made one thing clear — the poster is no dummy. The language used is eloquent and their arguments are just plausible-sounding enough that some people have actually been convinced of the batshit ideas the troll espouses and work themselves into a tizzy about it. This is a prime specimen.

So it was a little surprising when the troll challenged me on the recent growth of the comic book industry.

48% of an already desperately low figure. the pie is getting smaller by the month.

The comment was in reference to Marvel Comics’ current market share dominance over its competitors, correctly pointing out that *IF* the overall market were contracting, having a whole lot of a little doesn’t mean all that much.

But we know the market isn’t contracting. I’m pretty sure he knows that. I decided to let everyone else know, too.

Overall yearly sales in North America, according to Comichron:

2010 $660-690 million
2011 $715 million
2012 $805 million
2013 $870 million
2014 $935 million
2015 not calculated yet, but see below

Just the Diamond numbers:

2010 $266 million
2011 $269 million
2012 $310 million
2013 $341 million
2014 $355 million
2015 $388 million

And digital estimates, for the hell of it:

2011 $25 million
2012 $70 million
2013 $90 million
2014 $100 million

http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales.html

Direct market up another 7% in 2015.

http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2015.html

Don’t take math lessons from Clayton Morris.

http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2015/10/20/fox-news-contributor-thinks-marvel-hates-conservatives-doesnt-understand-numbers/

Yes, I had to sneak in a link to the last time I encountered a troll trying to ignore numbers. Holla at your boy.

At this point he’s dead to rights, yeah? Come on, you GOTTA know it’s not in a troll’s M.O. to just roll over.

………….comic books are twice as much as they used to cost, you realize that right?

Turns out Comichron has that data handy, too.

Average cost of a comic book in December of 2015: $3.90

Average cost of a comic book in December of 2009: $3.59

http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales.html

That’s a price increase of about 8%. The overall market, NOT INCLUDING DIGITAL, has increased over 20% in that same time frame.

Another poster, seeing through the troll’s smokescreen, posted yearly accounts of actual units sold, something I had stupidly overlooked in haste. They make the case more succinctly.

Unit Sales for All Diamond’s Comics (est., based on Diamond’s reports)

  • 2010 73.8 million copies
  • 2011 77.2 million copies
  • 2012 86 million copies
  • 2013 91.8 million copies
  • 2014 92 million copies
  • 2015 98 million copies

The troll was finally cornered and had to admit the obvious. But he wasn’t out of tricks!

you are the one citing “growth” over a five year span, a meager 100 mil increase, and a price hike as if it’s something to be proud of.

Of course I had made no value judgments on the numbers. I’m a scientist. Respect for numbers has its own intrinsic value!

The troll then took another couple wild swings, ticking off two more logical fallacies.

so “growth” despite the fact that every single anad comic is underperforming against its pre-anad predecessor

He’s referencing a group of “All-New, All-Different” (ANAD) Marvel Comics presented in a previous post, ones that do indeed show a decline. Of course he’s leaving out titles whose circulation has actually increased, such as Deadpool, Uncanny Avengers, and Invincible Iron Man — “cherry-picking” the data that supports his case and ignoring the rest. More formally known as the fallacy of incomplete evidence.

He then went on to bizarrely claim Marvel’s large market share didn’t count (I thought we didn’t care in the first place?), because it’s largely due to the company’s uber-popular Star Wars comics and, for some reason:

star wars ≠ marvel comics

That one’s called special pleading, if you’re keeping a checklist.

A Digital Twist on an Old Story

While it might seem like the trolls only came out when the Internet shined a light on them, none of these tactics — ignoring of data, moving the goal posts, reliance on logical fallacies — were advents of the Information Age. Knowingly or unknowingly, Internet trolls simply adopted the strategies of the snake oil salesmen, hucksters and flim-flam artists of old. Pretend disconfirming data doesn’t exist. Shift the burden of proof when confronted. Baffle ’em with bullshit.

But at least the troll doesn’t do much damage. He’s just in it for kicks, getting a weird little thrill from momentarily pissing off anonymous strangers. The snake oil salesman uses the same tricks to take your money. And if you decline the medical treatment you really need in favor of his fake solution, hey, that’s not his problem. I’m using the present tense here because just like trolling isn’t a new phenomenon, the flim-flam artists are still out there, taking advantage of people.


Gussied up snake oil; qz.com

Although some “alternative medicine” practitioners probably believe in their snake oil as much as their “patients” do, especially if they’ve invested a lot of time and money into it. It’s easy to convince yourself that even the most solid evidence is flawed if it means admitting that you’ve been taken, whether by someone else or your own imperfect perception.

Despite that sad truism, some occasional troll-busting — either on a message board or in a room full of homeopaths — can still be worthwhile. You’ll never convince the hardcore pseudoscience-believer, no more than you could get a troll to admit he’s trolling, but that’s not the point. Highlighting how bad the bad guy’s argument really is can be enough to convince a fence-sitter of what’s really going on. It’s those people teetering on the edge of falling for it that can be saved by a good ol’ fashioned, public nonsense-shaming. In the case I’ve described here, no one followed the pied piper and, in fact, several others called the troll out on his number-blindness.

So go ahead and argue with a troll once in a while, but not to feed their ego. Do it for the lurkers.


Man, he even LOOKS like a troll.