The Star Wars Dissection: Quantity Misconception

Hello all,

My name is Andrew, and I’m from Ontario. Anyone who listens regularly to The EU Review, a SoloSound.net podcast, has probably heard my letters. Many months ago, I wrote to the podcast with my first mathematical analysis, asking the question “statistically, which product is most economical?” Using Excel, I demonstrated that buying comic books as individual issues was often cheaper than waiting for the Trade Paperback. The main point was that the price of issues was consistent at $2.99 to $3.50, whereas Trade Paperback prices varied tremendously, sometimes to the point where the book cost more than the individual issues it contained. The hosts of The EU Review, Nathan Butler and Andrew Lupi, seemed to appreciate my analysis, and so I wrote several more, all of which were read on the podcast. My background is in biology (which uses statistics extensively) and I love anything that has to do with science and math, so doing these analyses and composing these is truly fun for me.

Following the success of these analyses, I decided to publish these online with the help of EUCantina.net. Therefore, welcome to the first post of “The Star Wars Dissection.” It is my intention to publish every 2 weeks, probably on Mondays.

As a first analysis, I’ve had a look at one possible misconception that I noticed a lot in the forums, most notably in the Dark Horse Comics forums. A lot of people have expressed concern that we’ve been getting fewer and fewer products in recent years. This was apparent in mid-2010 when Knights of the Old Republic and Legacy were discontinued and the Fate of the Jedi novels were getting delayed. Compounding this was the temporary hiatus after Invasion: Refugees and Dark Times: Blue Harvest, and since we lost the monthly The Clone Wars and Rebellion comics, it looked like we were getting nothing. But in a few months, we bounced back, getting Knight Errant, Invasion: Rescues, The Old Republic, and other miniseries like Blood Ties, Legacy: War, and Darth Vader and the Lost Command, with more coming later this year.

All that said, my goal is to determine if we are indeed receiving fewer books and comics than we had in the past, or if it’s all a misconception.

First, I’ll need to set out some guidelines. I’ve used Microsoft Excel 2007 for my calculations, and to make the graphs. However, I don’t have the necessary macros to do complex calculations within Excel, so my conclusions will be based on looking at the numbers, averages, and if necessary, standard deviations, but nothing more complex (no Student T-tests or Chi-squared tests). Perhaps more extensive statistical tests will be done for future posts.

I’ve only looked at what we call the “modern” EU, starting in 1991 with Heir to the Empire and Dark Empire. I’ve stopped counting at December 31, 2010; since novels can be rescheduled and comics aren’t even announced until a few months before their release, we can’t get a good sense of 2011 yet. I’ve decided to count hardcover and paperback releases of novels as one event, but for comics I count issues as one category and trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and omnibuses in a second category. For young reader books, I’ve opted to count only the “mainstream” young reader books, like the junior novelizations, long-running series, and the recent biography-style books. I haven’t counted learning-to-read books, Episode I Adventures, The Clone Wars episode novelizations, and other books like that. That being said, I do recognize the influx of such books at certain points, so their presence will be reflected in commentary, if not in graphs.

Figure 1: Novels and young reader books published per year (Click for larger image).

The average number of novels released every year is six. This figure is skewed downward slightly, since from 1991 to 1993, only one book was published per year. Throwing out 1991 to 1993, the average only goes up to 6.88 books per year. Despite complaints of fewer books being put out, every year since 2002 saw at minimum six books a year published, and every year since 2007 at least eight were published. In fact, the year with the most novels released was as recent as 2008, where we saw no fewer than 10 novels: Revelation, Invincible, The Clone Wars, Coruscant Nights 1 and 2, Wild Space The Force Unleashed, Order 66, Millennium Falcon, and Shadows of Mindor. Nine novels came out in 2010, and we expect roughly eight in 2011. So any appearance of a reduced number of novels published annually is incorrect. I believe this illusion comes from the fact that many novels lately were delayed, especially those of Fate of the Jedi, causing books to space out without anything to fill the gaps. If anything, that only implies that Del Rey had the impressive goal of releasing considerably more books per year than in the past, but circumstances beyond their control have forced the book releases to spread out over time. So while the number of books published lately is less than Del Rey may have intended, it’s still above the annual average.

It does genuinely appear that fewer young reader novels have been published lately. It is true that the bookshelves of the Learning to Read and 5-8-year-old sections of the local bookstore are filled with The Clone Wars books and the Adventures in Hyperspace (not counted in the graph). But there aren’t as many long-running young reader series, in the style of Jedi Apprentice or Young Jedi Knights. Rebel Force just ended, and The Clone Wars: Secret Missions (which are on the graph) only release one book per year. So while young kids have a lot of Star Wars at their hands, there aren’t that many resources for the Age 9-12 category.

Figure 2: Comic books and TPBs published per year. Note that the TPB category covers Trade Paperbacks, digests, hardcovers, and omnibuses (click for larger image).

With the cancellation of Knights of the Old Republic, Legacy, Rebellion, and The Clone Wars, and due to the serial, miniseries, 6-months-on/6-months-off nature of Dark Times, Invasion, and Knight Errant, we fans got the genuine feeling that we were getting fewer comics and graphic novels. True, we no longer have any monthly ongoing series, but the influx of miniseries seems to be compensating. It’s true that the year with the most comic issues AND graphic novels was 1999 (note that this marked the introduction of Republic, Tales, and any number of Episode I tie-ins, as well as publication of the Star Wars mangas and the six Classic Star Wars: A Long Time Ago minibooks.) I’ll grant that lately, we haven’t seen as many comics since the high-days of Republic and Tales, 1999-2002. But the numbers are far from small. In 2009 and 2010, we got 42 and 37 issues, and 13 and 18 paperbacks/hardbacks/omnibuses/etc.

I decided to calculated the standard deviation for comics and trade paperbacks. For issues, the average was 35 issues per year, with a standard deviation of 12.75. In a standard bell curve (which I’ll admit this is not, but I believe that something close to this rule should apply to similar cases), 68% of data should be within one standard deviation of the average. 42 (the number of issues in 2009) and 37 (number of issues in 2010) are both above the average and within one standard deviation of the average, so we can’t say that the number of comics has been decreasing. The same applies to the TPB category, which had an average of 11.5 books per year, a deviation of 7.88, and 13 and 18 books in 2009 and 2010, respectively. In fact, the high numbers from 1999 (49 issues and 30 books) exceeds those standard deviations, meaning 1999 was a clear outlier. Throwing away the year 1999 from average and standard deviation calculations, we see the average drop by roughly 1 in both cases. What’s even more significant is the standard deviation, which had a small drop in the case of comics, but a drop of more than 1 (from 7.8 to 6.7, a 15% drop). What that means is that the year 1999 was an extreme outlier, especially in terms of TPBs. As a result, using these numbers, it doesn’t seem that we’re getting fewer comics and graphic novels, but instead simply aren’t approaching the abnormal highs that have appeared historically. Although it should be noted that the second-highest year for TPBs was 2007, with 24 books released, and the years following have been reasonably close.

Figure 3: Total books of all types published per year (click for larger image).

To conclude, looking once more at these totals, it becomes clear that while we aren’t getting quite as many books as we did in 1999, a period known for Prequel Fever, we certainly aren’t getting significantly fewer books (of most genres) than we did in the past.

If I had to recommend any changes, I would suggest revitalizing the idea of ongoing young reader series. While we have certainly had some terrible youth books (e.g. Jedi Prince), Young Jedi Knights contributed significant continuity to the New Jedi Order series, and I’m told Jude Watson’s Jedi Apprentice, Jedi Quest, and Last of the Jedi are truly great reads. I’m slowly buying these books at the local Value Village (also called Savers in the US), and look forward to reading them once my collection is complete. I would also recommend a more regular comic book schedule. While Insider recently listed the next arcs of Knight Errant, The Old Republic, Dark Times, and Invasion, we have a hard time predicting just when they’ll be released at this early stage. If a six-months-on/six-months-off rotation of these arcs were well advertised and maintained, then we could more easily predict comic releases over the long haul.

So that’s my first column post. Please check back in two weeks for future posts. My intention is for the next post to be a republishing of one of my letters to The EU Review. See you then!

-Andrew

About the Author

Andrew Halliday contributes to EUCantina as a writer. He writes our column "The Star Wars Dissection," published every second Monday, and also reviews episodes of The Clone Wars television show. He began writing in 2010, sending letters to the SoloSound.net podcast The EU Review, using mathematics to look at certain trends in Star Wars content. These monthly analyses were expanded into his column in 2011. He has a degree in biology and a love for all things science and math.