With today's release of September sales numbers from Diamond Distributors, the comic industry got its first indication of how DC Entertainment sales are holding up compared to the high-profile sales the company experienced during its reboot event a year ago.
During our monthly chat with DC's Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne and Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham, we found out the company is not only feeling good about its performance, but the ongoing strength of the comic book market.
The two also discussed what they expect in coming months while touting the strength of September's numbers. Among their disclosures:- September 2012 was viewed by DC as a "testing ground" for seeing how far DC and the overall comic market had come since last year's September, which had been viewed as a "high water mark." And the execs think it proved itself well.
- A year after DC began releasing digital comics on the same day as print, they represent "a very healthy chunk" of the company's business, the pair said. But they indicated that digital is "holding" as a percentage of the publisher's overall business.
- While not naming Marvel's "NOW!" event specifically, the execs made light of the large number of variant covers being released by their competition in October and November. They took the opportunity to emphasize that the die-cut covers they're using for "Death of the Family" tie-in comics are not variants.- Cunningham said the last page of next week's Batman #13 will "set the marketplace on fire" and called the issue the "best single issue of a comic from any publisher that I've seen this year."
- Wayne said DC has publishing plans in place for next year's Man of Steel that will remind people "that we publish books every week."
As we do each month upon the release of the Diamond sales numbers, we spoke to Cunningham and Wayne and got some perspective on the market now and what lies ahead.
Newsarama: Bob and John, I know last month I got you to pretty much admit you wouldn't meet last year's numbers in September, but it doesn't look as bad as some were expecting. How do you size up the month?
Bob Wayne: You mean nine out of 10 of the top comics on the Diamond chart, and No. 1 dollars and No. 1 in units? Yeah, we were very happy about that for September. In fact, we were very pleased that it validated our faith in the New 52 publishing program to have that type of success one year later in September. So we're very pleased.
Nrama: I know you guys dodge questions about specifics, but it's hard for us to tell, looking at the numbers Diamond releases, how DC did versus last year. Can you confirm whether your sales in September 2012 were higher than 2011, or comparable, or just under, or any word or verbal description of the comparative sales?
John Cunningham: To be frank, I haven't seen, outside of the Diamond numbers, a comparable on where we are internally yet. Diamond tends to work a little faster than we do. But I think all along, we had pointed at September as a good testing ground to seeing how far not only the New 52 was along the way, but how the marketplace was doing.
So on the one hand, we're really, really happy about the overall numbers that DC registered, but to me, one of the more significant numbers is when you look at that combined market share that Diamond released, September 2012 versus September 2011, all-in with comics and graphic novels, the market was up slightly, like 1 percent.
To me, that's the telling thing about how the marketplace is responding one year later, and the fact that we can see the overall market having a slight increase in that month is a very heartening sign for the whole business.
Wayne: I would agree with Mr. Cunningham. We're also adding a lot of strength industry-wide in the book format. I think a lot of it's driven by the collected editions that we're doing now of the first batch of New 52 titles, and I think it's also driven by some of the stuff from our competitors — in particular, and I hate to become a repeat on some of these comments, but The Walking Dead, tied to the television series and DVD releases has been a very strong thing for Image and Skybound.
All these things working together are looking like it's expanding, or at least holding the size of the market compared to last year in September, which people felt was a high water mark.
And certainly, we like the success of the Zero issues within our publishing plan, with that quite nice list of #0's on that Top 20 chart.
Nrama: Yeah, let's talk about the Zero Month plan. I know you had the Before Watchmen sales this year in addition to your 52 DCU titles, but how did the New 52 periodical sales look versus last year? Can you characterize how sales compare last month to the launch month for periodicals in the DCU in particular?
Wayne: I would say that any month where we have a title called Earth Two and it's in the Top 10 on periodicals with a #0 issue, and where Aquaman has a #0 issue that outsells every monthly title from our major competitors — that's a really good month for us, selling our core periodicals.
Nrama: You guys are a year into same day as print digital, and I'm wondering if there's any way you can describe the trend in regards to digital sales of New 52 periodicals or in periodicals overall? When you look at the sales charts for digital, is it a slash or a backslash or a straight line? Are digital sales growing along with these percentage increases in the market that we're seeing for print?
Wayne: Our digital sales are holding as a percentage of our overall sales in print.
Cunningham: But at this one-year juncture, it is a big moment to sort of take a look back, because I think a year ago, in September, the two largest concerns were, what about the New 52 in terms of resetting the DC Universe? How is that going to impact the world? And then in a close second was, how is same-day digital going to impact the sales of print books?
To me, a year down the road, we're looking at this and we have a very healthy chunk of our business that is now digital comics, and yet the overall number of our print comics has increased since we went same-day digital.
So that moment of "break" that people were looking for — the "uh oh, this is going to change everything" — it did, but in the most positive of ways. And I think that's another good point to make as we look back on this a year later.
Nrama: As you guys finish out 2012, what are the major things from a sales standpoint that you're hoping to see from retailers, or that you're already seeing in initial orders and what orders you've gotten for October? How would you characterize the rest of the year?
Wayne: Well, we're hoping to see 20 to 24 variants on every comic.
Nrama: Ah, you got me with the sarcasm. I should have been more specific and asked what you're hoping to see from DC. Not as many variants as your competitor, to be sure, but die-cut covers instead, right?
Wayne: Yes, but see the die-cuts that we're doing on the Joker issues in the Batman family titles — those aren't variant covers. Those are our standard covers. They'll have the widest distribution. There's no change in price for them. We're absorbing the additional cost of making the die and cutting those, using that type of cover, because we were excited by the idea of trying to have that imagery to get everyone's attention.
So we're enhancing the cover at our expense. We wanted to share the excitement we had when the folks came up in editorial and design with an idea for a cover.
It's not like you have to buy 500 of something else to be able to get one. It's going to a shop and buy one.
Nrama: Right. But the goal is surely to sell enough more of those "Death of the Family" issues that have die-cut covers to absorb the cost of putting that on the front, isn't it? Won't calling out those issues in such a significant way on the shelf pay for itself?
Wayne: That would be the virtuous way that I would plan for it to work when I explain it to my bosses later, yes.
Cunningham: But I'll be frank — that wasn't the way that idea came up. When the idea was introduced and executed, "how many more do we have to sell to make this pay off?" wasn't really part of the thinking, believe it or not. It was more, "Is this another opportunity to call out what's going to be a ground-breaking storyline for us?"
And I come back to that question you asked about how we view October from a sales point of view: What I find most exciting about it is that, at year-end, what we're now selling is stories. That's the heart of our business.
Whether it's what's coming up in the Batman group/family, or the Green Lantern group/family, or in the "Rotworld" storyline, critics can look at that as "mini-events," but they are — and you can see this from the beginning of last year — they are part of the organic storytelling that's going on in the New 52.
And I reiterate that point again. At the end of the day people buy these books to read the stories. And all the gimmickry aside, that's what's going to keep people coming back.
So I think as Bob and I have talked, what makes us most bullish about October is what we're seeing going on in the books.
And nothing is a better example of that than Batman #13, which comes out next Wednesday. And all I can say about it is, it's the best single issue of a comic from any publisher I've seen this year.
The last page of that book is going to set the marketplace on fire.Wayne: Indeed. And even to circle back on the die-cut covers we're doing as our standard covers on those issues, the way in which the enthusiasm for this built was that there was a batch of folks who were sent sketches, just as jpegs, and we said, "look at this; what do you guys think?" We hadn't costed it. It was more like, "That looks cool! Let's do that! Let's make it happen." And Dan DiDio kind of ran with that, with Mark Chiarello and other folks. And the manufacturing team figured out how to do it at the most effective price.
But we already — there was a heavy commitment to doing it, just seeing how cool it looked and knowing what was going to be in some of those issues, and wanting to draw attention to it.
Cunningham: By the way, when Bob says that Dan ran with that idea? It is a literal statement. When that was getting done and we were getting to the final version, Dan DiDio was literally running around the building with it.
Nrama: I believe it. The Man of Steel film is now right around the corner, in terms of preparing a publishing plan for it. Are there any plans you can share about what you want to be in comic book and bookstores when the film opens?
Wayne: Every time that our colleagues at Warner Brothers release a feature film based on one of our properties, we work with them to maximize the attention we can get for our publishing program.
When Man of Steel debuts in June, next summer, I think you will agree that we have done quite a bit to get people's attention to remind them that there's a movie coming up, and remind them that we publish comic books every week.
So we've been having those conversations literally for over a year.
Nrama: One project we already know about is Multiversity. From a sales perspective, how are you expecting that project to be received?
Wayne: Multiversity may well be the ultimate Grant Morrison DC Universe story. I've seen artwork from it. I believe John's seen some artwork from it.
I think that this is, as a pure kind of "fan" expression, I couldn't be more excited more about that particular project. And I'm looking forward to reading re-reading it.
Nrama: Fill in the blank question to both of you, and you have to give us a relatively serious answer – The big sales thing is 2013 will be...?
Wayne: I think fans are going to want to go to the panel that John Cunningham and I are moderating at New York Comic Con, because I think that some of that will be more clear for folks after we complete that particular process.
But there are things we've alluded to, particularly in the special we gave out for Free Comic Book Day at the start of the summer. You're going to see that a lot of the things we've already got in place and already teased within the pages of the comics will play out in 2013 with very strong storylines.
Cunningham: My answer to your question is Trinity War. I feel confident saying that, because we don't really have any announcements in conjunction with Trinity War at New York Comic Con. But that's what Bob was alluding to, I believe, when he was talking about the Free Comic Book Day from May.And I think that he and I have been privy to some other discussions about the particular storyline that will be fairly mind-blowing by the time we're a year from now.
Wayne: I think what happens at the start of Trinity War, people will still be talking about it a year from now and beyond.FACEBOOK and TWITTER!