DC VPs on August Sales: More EARTH ONE Likely; New JLA Talk

While August numbers indicated that Marvel still has initiative with its Avengers vs. X-Men event, DC executives indicated the results for their company were encouraging as they hit the one-year mark for their "New 52" initiative.

DC's Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne and Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham talked with Newsarama about the sales figures released by Diamond Comic Distributors on Friday.

They took the opportunity to discuss what they've learned over the last year, and in Newsarama's monthly chat with the pair, they also touted the company's book market successes.

The executives discussed:

- The approach toward comics as a series of "ongoing" launches for their "52," as opposed to mini-series. Looking back at the first year of the New 52, Wayne implied the low-selling minis launched last October may have been approached differently had the company known the strength of their "New 52" branded ongoings.

- Executives avoided commenting on whether the upcoming December solicitations might see some cancellations of existing ongoings, with a new "wave" of comics to be launched in January. They instead focused the conversation on the success of their collections.

 

- The executives said the success of Batman: Earth One indicates readers will see DC announce more "Earth One" titles in addition to Batman and Superman.

- DC saw success in its book market with the release of the film Dark Knight Rises by marketing Batman titles like Batman: Hush and Long Halloween, as well as Batman: Earth One.

- DC execs do not expect to be able to compete with last year's sales for September, stating that they cannot match the type of rampant "sampling" that was taking place when they launched their 52 new #1 issues in September 2011.

To provide perspective on the August sales numbers and the first year of the New 52, Newsarama spoke with Cunningham and Wayne:

Newsarama: One year later, how much did your plan adjust to the things you were seeing in the marketplace after the relaunch?

John Cunningham: I think in general terms, the adjustments that we made as the New 52 year progressed were all, for the most part, if not for the entirety, were us adjusting our expectations of our plans upward, to be more aggressive, to meet what we were seeing from consumers.

The first thing that pops into my mind in that framework is the amount of reprints that we had to manage and do in September and October of last year, and how those sales numbers and the aggression in those numbers challenged us to be equally aggressive on the collected edition side coming down the line. And then being more aggressive than we might have thought with the new "waves" that came out.

So I think, as I sort of alluded to, the success kept driving our plans upward. That, to me, is the big adjustment I saw us make.

Bob Wayne: Certainly, we had worked with a wide range of tools to try to make sure that the retailers had the most opportunities to buy into the stuff and then to buy up on the stuff by having the mix of the returnability, and some deep discount, and some variance.

But really, the learning and adjusting came as we were having to keep those issues in print for months and months where people could restock those and stay within their open-to-buy budget.

So I think that was very important, the way which we worked with retailers to make sure that there was a pressure valve so they would have as much confidence in their ability to sell the stuff and keep increasing and varying their patterns for how they wanted to buy based upon what they were doing.

So I think it was a very virtuous cycle.

Clearly the adjustments we’ve made that are easiest for consumers to see over the course of a year are which titles we've wrapped up and which new titles have come on line during the process.

 

But as far as some of the stuff that we thought from the start was going to do well, John Cunningham and I, for example, really thought that Swamp Thing, in the DC Universe, stories were going to be strong, and Animal Man. And we thought they'd do extremely well as collected editions. And in August we had the Swamp Thing Volume One trade being the No. 3 selling book through all of Diamond. So that one we called pretty far in advance.

Nrama: Looking back at sales patterns over the last year, one thing stuck out as something you adjusted. Soon after the relaunch, in October, there were several mini-series launched, and the sales on those #1's (and subsequent issues) were not very good. But when you launched new ongoings in May as part of this "52" framework, those #1's performed much better. Was that one of the adjustments you made, stopping the launch of "extra" mini-series outside the 52, instead opting for new ongoings? This whole process of "waves?"

Wayne: The entire process is a learning curve. I don't think we anticipated how much the "New 52" branding and the "New 52" continuity aspects were going to be as readily and quickly embraced by as many fans. In hindsight, there are a few of those mini-series we might have done slightly different.

But I think those are still titles that did as well as they would have in the past, and they've had a chance to find an even larger audience in collections as well. So I think our track record turned out pretty good after all.

Nrama: It seemed like the approach used to be, "here's a six- issue or 10-issue mini-series, and if people really like it, it will become an ongoing." But your approach is clearly, "here's a new 'wave' of ongoings, and they might not last more than six or 10 issues, but they're ongoings to be part of the New 52."

Cunningham: I feel like that philosophy vanished in the business as a workable philosophy well before the New 52 came around. But if anything, a good chunk of the fun of what's happened in the last year is, we were essentially able to turn the industry upside-down a year ago.

So everything everybody has "known" has been wrong, and I think everyone in the business has been relearning and recalibrating their business, and I think that's responsible for a lot of the other successes from other publishers we've seen in the interim. We're not taking anything for granted anymore in this marketplace.

Nrama: As we go forward into the fall, there are lots of guesses and rumors about what ongoing titles might be canceled toward the end of the year. There's an expectation that we'll have a batch of new titles in January as part of your 52-titles line-up. Do you have in mind when your next wave will be? Do you already know? Is there a plan in place, and will it be similar to what we've seen? Are you sticking with the plan of 52 titles and these "waves" of cancellations and replacements?

Cunningham: I would respond to your question in the framework you asked it, which was about going forward into the fall. I understand the questions come hot and heavy on the periodic side, but I thought the story of the August numbers and the story that we're going to continue on with the fall is the ongoing success of New 52 periodicals and the market dominance we see both on the book side and the Diamond side of collected editions and graphic novels.

DC Secure MILLENNIUM TRILOGY GNs
DC Secure MILLENNIUM TRILOGY GNs
 

When I think about our fall, I'm thinking Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation; Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland, their first OGN in years. And of course, Superman Earth One Volume Two.

That's where our numbers and our big fall move is anticipated.

I just think that in order to fully understand what's happening in the market as a whole, we really need to look at all the aspects of it and not simply what's happening in periodicals. Not that that doesn't matter, but that's where I would cast the argument.

Nrama: But the number you racked up in graphic novels was hugely impacted by Batman: Earth One, which is dominating over two months. I know you have the second volume of Superman: Earth One coming up, and there are plans to do at least three of each title. But surely you guys have to be scrambling to find more Earth One titles with the huge numbers you're getting both in Diamond and in bookstores, aren't you?

Wayne: We're a comic book publisher, and we've built our business on finding things that people like and giving them more of them. So I would think we probably will try to do more of them if these continue to be successful.

Certainly, Batman: Earth One being the No. 1 book through Diamond for two months in a row would be the level of success that is unprecedented in this marketplace.

Nrama: It's interesting that you want to focus less on the periodical market in this conversation, because it's a month where you've got sales proof that the OGN market is really lucrative for you guys, even when it's something completely separate from the periodical continuity. Is there more thought to these types of titles overall for the future of the business? Is this reaching a new audience for you? Or what do they offer you as a publisher?

Cunningham: I think they absolutely reach new readers. They obviously reach our core market as well. But the velocity of sales both in the book market and on the direct market side shows that this is a line that hits both of those constituencies, if we want to just break it down to those two buckets of them.

Again, what we saw on the Bookscan charts for August, when you look at those sort of in comparison to the Diamond graphic novel numbers, what we see constantly on the Bookscan side is class backlists like Watchmen and V for Vendetta coming to make their way back, let along things like Batman: Hush or Long Halloween or books that we made a marketing push to tie into the movie.

When we see those backlist sales go, we know that that's new readers. And we sort of jokingly say in house, "Every copy of Watchmen we sell at this point's a new reader."

So when we see those numbers of those classic backlist titles riding high in the book market, that's a great indicator for us, along with those dynamic New 52 sales, where the push was to new readers, especially in the outlying markets, we know that we're being successful there.

 

Nrama: I know you guys just announced the new Justice League of America title. Does that title indicate you're going to further market and exploit the Justice League brand for its sales potential going forward?

Wayne: I think it indicates that we think we have a lot of stories to tell that involve the Justice League, and that Geoff Johns has a lot of ideas and wants to tell those stories. We've had multiple Justice League titles before, and we have a really exciting plan going forward on these. And we're still to see what's going to happen with this one.

Nrama: You mentioned that you knew a year ago that Swamp Thing was going to be a hit. As you look forward, we know "Trinity War" is coming, and Justice League, JLA and Batman will surely do well, but are there any other DC titles you expect to be surprise sales stars in 2013?

Wayne: Well, we haven't really told people a lot of what we're doing in 2013 yet. So that would almost be a rosebud-to-sled scenario right now for us to be telling that a whole year out.

Are there things that we expect to be surprises that people will be shocked or stunned by? I would say yes. Mr. Cunningham, would you say yes?

Cunningham: Yes!

I'll give you one that's starting in 2012, but will continue into 2013. We just saw our finished issue this week of Sword and Sorcery this week that features Amethyst. I know there's a big Amethyst push as a sub-feature coming on DC Nation, the cartoon show that premiers again this fall.

 

But the work that Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti did on the #0 issue... when everybody in house saw it, we went, "Wow, this book has a big, big upside to it. This is something really new even within the context of all of this."

And Amethyst is also appearing in Justice League Dark. So I think that's a long legacy character that's being re-invented in the New 52 world in a really fresh and unique way that I think will surprise a lot of people.

Wayne: I was surprised by some of what was in the #0 issue story. I was even surprised by the last page of the story.

And I've been reading comic books for awhile. And that one is really a well-crafted comic that took a couple of us by surprise. The editors have come by and tsk-tsk'd us for not having believed. But this book... I'm really looking forward to how fans respond to it.

Nrama: Then as a final question, we're in the midst of September, and you guys have all these #0 issues being released. As pundits do the analysis of the September, is DC concerned when their specific September DC numbers are matched up against 2011, that the perception will be sales are in serious decline?

Wayne: We're not "concerned" by that because we anticipate that you and the other people who do these astute analyses of our stuff understand that we never expected to hold that level of sales. That was a lot of sampling of the New 52.

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