May 14 2009

Do superheroes sell better in recessions?

Published by at 6:31 am under Superhero Movies,The Comic Book Industry

CNN published an article titled “Superheroes rise in tough times,” which claims that superhero stories are most popular during rough economic times.  It’s a plausible theory, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Year Combined sales value of top 300 comics and trade paperbacks Rate of growth Unemployment rate
1998 $226 million not applicable 4.5%
1999 $220 million -2.7% 4.2%
2000 $210 million -4.8% 4.0%
2001 $207 million -1.4% 4.7%
2002 $229 million 11.0% 4.8%
2003 $238 million 4.0% 6.0%
2004 $254 million 6.7% 5.5%
2005 $267 million 5.1% 5.1%
2006 $301 million 12.7% 4.6%
2007 $327 million 8.6% 4.6%
2008 $328 million .3% 5.8%

(I got my sales statistics from ComicChron and the unemployment data from the Department of Labor Statistics).


  • Economic hardship probably does not stimulate comic book sales.  The industry tended to grow the most when unemployment was below five percent.  However, a low unemployment rate was not sufficient for growth from 1999-2001.
  • Prior to 2002, comic book sales had been declining.  Afterwards, they began to grow substantially.  One possible explanation is that the first Spiderman movie came out in May 2002.  It has since been followed by many movies that prove that superhero stories don’t have to suck, which could have a spillover effect on the comic books.  For example, had you ever heard of Hellboy before the movie came out?
  • The September 11 attacks in late 2001 are another plausible explanation.  (People that feel threatened seek out stories where a hero beats the crap out of threatening villains?)

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Do superheroes sell better in recessions?”

  1. Mr. USAon 14 May 2009 at 8:13 pm

    The last conclusion is most likely, because WWII comics sold well, espically the one where Captain America kicked the crap out of Hitler (go go Cap’n go go!)

  2. Beccaon 14 May 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Similar to what Mr USA said above, and as I think I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon deals with this kind of thing as a theme. Amazing book.

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