woman at a bookstore

Women Buy the Most Franco-Belgian (BD) Books in France

She Buys (Comic) Books

Woman purchase 53% of the BD (“les bandes dessinées”) in France, according to this new survey.

The one twist is that 64% of those albums that women buy are for gifts. The likely guess is that they’re picking the books up for their children.

If that’s true, then at least 33% of BD readership is children, which still puts France above the American Direct Market in keeping kids entertained with comics.

This is also Marketing 101 time: If you want to sell something to kids, market to their parents. They’re the ones with the money who make the buying decisions.

If you want to sell your BD in France, market it to women, who buy the most.

 

Who Is the Average Buyer?

Infographic of the average French comic book buyer

The average French BD buyer is 41 years old and has better-than-average income.  That’s not all that different from the average American buyer and reader — except for the part where the average French buyer is also a woman.

The “CSP” in the image above refers to a class, catégorie socio-professionnelle. From what I can tell, you’re middle class or better if you belong.  Definitions vary depending on context, but the stats elsewhere in the survey bear out that the average buyer has, indeed, a better-than-average income.

 

What The Average Buyer Buys

That average BD buyer is 97% likely to buy other types of books, as well, like prose novels.

The average French resident in the survey buys 19 books a year, five of which are BD.

That sounds like a small number of BD, but it represents roughly 4.999 comics more than the average American consumer of books.  They would never go near the “graphic novels” section.  They wouldn’t pick one up a the airport before a flight. They wouldn’t join a comic writer’s mailing list to learn when the next book is coming out…

They certainly wouldn’t be browsing that ragtag wall of graphic novels/collections at Barnes and Noble that makes no sense even to ardent comic readers. (I think it’s organized by character, or sometimes title, unless the book is a big size, or a different genre, or manga, or or or— )

 

Women, Books, and Comic Books

Let’s look at some of the these numbers from a different angle.

Translated from the article:

With a panel of 15,000 people, the survey reveals that most BD buyers are women (53%). These are almost as numerous as the buyers of general literature (59%)…

In other words, almost as many women buy comics as buy prose novels.  That’s a mind-blowing stat for an American to read.

Keep in mind, also, that romance novels in America make up their own billion dollar industry and are purchased by better than 80% women…  Imagine if 1% of those readers also bought a single graphic novel last year. That would boost the entire comics industry by a bunch.

This isn’t one of those wild pie-in-the-sky stats an entrepreneur comes up with to try to get money from a panelist on Shark Tank. (“5 billion people in the world drink water. If we can sell our water bottle to just 1% of them, we’ll all be billionaires!”)  In France, it’s a low ball estimate.  According to this survey, the percentage of comics out of books that women in France buy overall is closer to 25%.

 

Some Things are Still the Same

Women are the majority buyers of not just home grown BD, but also of manga. Men are the majority buyers of what the French refer to as “comics,” which is basically North American mostly superhero comics (and “The Walking Dead”).

Unsurprisingly, the younger women skew towards manga, and they buy more of it: 8 manga books a year versus 3 BD a year.

Franco-Belgian comics like “Tintin,” “Asterix,” “Smurfs,” etc., are bought mostly by women ages 50 and up, while manga is bought mostly by women ages 15 – 29. In both segments, they’re buying just over 50% for others.

 

The Bottom Line

The French market for BD is estimated to be about $458 million.  You don’t sell that many comics to that many people by selling to a niche audience of a niche market.  You have to broaden your horizons.

What better way to sell more comics than to appeal to more people?  And I’m not necessarily even talking about politics or race or any of the usual ways this discussion goes in North America.  I just mean having more than superhero comics to sell.  Have more comedies.  Have some romances or westerns or high finance topics to cover. Have bioographies and romances and sports books.

In that, France has the North American Direct Market beat, hands down.  It’s a little less dominant when you add in Scholastic’s market over here, but still.

80% of the half-billion dollar Direct Market is Marvel/DC.

France publishes a historical comedy about a renegade French village having a chariot race with some crazy Romans, and it sells five million copies, topping the previous best-seller about a cowboy in the American West, or the one before that about the Belgian boy detective and his trusty dog sidekick, or the other one about the billionaire playboy adventurer mired in the finance industry.

The Direct Market has Batman and Captain America, with a smattering of “The Walking Dead” every once in a while.  The area of largest growth seems to be coming from books aimed at all ages, e.g. Scholastic, which is not a superhero distributor, though they do have some of those.

 

Crunching Some Numbers

The American comics market is estimated to be a billion dollars in sales, with just under 60% of that coming through comic shops.  So, yes, America sells more comics than France.  But France also has 67 million people, while the United States is closer to 325 million.  Do the per capita math on that: The French spend about $6.84 per person on comics, while Americans are at $3.10.  That’s half as much per person in an industry that’s double the size.

That’s just France.  You can throw in Belgium and I’m sure the numbers would get more impressive.

The bigger question is, what percentage of the overall population is buying comics in France? Obviously, it’s a much bigger number than here in the States.  A large part of that has to do with the way comics are institutionalized over there as part of the culture.  In America, comics are those things the big tentpole franchise movies are based on — and, oh, do they still publish those things?  In France, they actually chart weekly sales on their books.

Part of the way you get more people to buy more comics, though, is by directing them at more people.  There’s no one dominant type of comic in France. Yes, they have their franchises and repeated top sellers from series that have lasted for 35 – 60 years, but there’s a lot more than that. The number of different genres and topics is astounding.

 

Sales Trends

This chart from the study shows the way different categories of books have sold over the course of the last ten years.

BD sales trends over the last decade

The two big winners in sales over the last ten years are “comics” and “BD Jeunesse.”

That first category, “comics,” is basically American superhero comics.  They’re still the smallest part of annual sales, but they won’t be for long if they can continue to grow at this pace.  The rise of superheroes in movies is what the study suggests that comes from.  Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, superhero sales in France have nearly quadrupled.  Finally, we see movies selling comics, just not in the expected way.

That second largest growth category is the Franco-Belgian kids comics.  Just like in America, kids are reading more comics now than a decade ago.

Look at who the only losing segment is in the last ten years.  It’s the traditional BD — the properties that are 35 years old or more.   (See the footnote at the bottom.  That includes the likes of “Tintin,” “Asterix,” and “Lucky Luke.”) The big ones still sell in huge numbers when they come out, but their overall market share is lower than ever.

There’s also more new comics coming out now than ever before.  Those older franchises are limited and can only come out so fast, even counting repackagings.

 

The Two Big Takeaways

From an American’s perspective, here are the two big takeaways from this survey for me:

  1. The average comic book buyer in France is a woman.
  2. Superhero movies are actually increasing the sales of superhero comics.

 

Two Recent Thematically-Linked News Items

The new editor-in-chief of the venerable Spirou magazine, which has been around and publishing weekly for the last 80 years or so, is Florence Mixhel.  She is the first woman to lead the magazine.

The Museum of Le BD announced its new director, Anne Hélène Hoog.  I don’t know if she’s the first woman in that role, but she’s got a good resume.  She put on a Rene Goscinny exhibition, as well as the “From Superman to Rabbi’s Cat” exhibition, after a stint working for the Museum of Art and History of Judaism, in Paris.

Also, a comic book museum in Europe?  I bet it’s pretty cool.  Wait, it is.  Take a look:

I want a selfie with that giant Lucky Luke statue…

 

References

I first saw this story on Twitter as a reference to this presentation, where the survey would be unveiled.

The story was picked up by Le Monde, which had a spare summary, but thankfully provided a couple of handy links to the relevant information.

Comic Creators still aren’t making much a living, despite all the good publishing numbers.

Here’s the press release for the survey.

Here’s an infographic with some top level numbers to give you an overview.

Here’s a lot more information, with lots of bar charts and percentages and categories and things that will make your brain contort itself, if you try too hard to parse it.

Google Translate is a big help, as always, as is the Chrome Browser (though it can’t translate PDFs)…

 

P.S.

Yes, I realize the picture at the top of this article is not from France. It’s hard to find public domain/royalty free images that would fit what I needed this specifically.  It’s kinda close enough, so I went with it.  I regret nothing.

 

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1 Comment

  • JC Lebourdais November 9, 2017 at 5:53 am

    yeah this is definitely a cultural thing. Albums are part of our habits ever since my grandfather used to get Mickey Mouse strip collection hardcovers as christmas gifts in the 1930’s. Women buy more because women shop more and most books are sold in supermarkets here, so that’s part of the weekly spree like chocolate and white wine (observe the cliché extravaganza here). In this case like most, stereotypes are true.
    Going into a bookstore is much more natural for us, since all paper is sold at the same place, from newspapers to magazines to novels to children books to school books to hight literature to comics.
    I definitely concur, the Bruxelles museum is pretty cool, I don’t go as much as I’d like, even though I live nearby. If you’re ever in the area let me know I’d be happy to walk you around.
    These days, superhero movies are the ‘respectable’ gateway into comic books. 30 years ago, us buying american comics adaptations was definitely not as cool, ask my parents.

    Reply

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