DC Sales VPs: 'Fans Are Very Happy With Where We're At'
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December 2012.DC sales executives aren't discouraged by the more vigorous competition from other publishers in late 2012. In fact, they feel encouraged by how the industry's sales increases in 2012 indicate that "every constituency seemed to be really happy."
DC's Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne was joined by DC's Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham to talk with Newsarama about the sales figures released by Diamond Comic Distributors on Friday, as well as year-end figures released a few days before.
The main take-aways from the conversation:
- Yes, other publishers are growing their market share more than DC has been lately, which is the nature of what the execs called a "cyclical" business, caused most recently by a boost from The Walking Dead at Image and "Marvel NOW!" releases from Marvel.
- While DC does not release its overall sales numbers, the execs indicated DC is still experiencing significant sales increases overall, despite the appearance of slipping market share numbers. (The exact verbiage: DC sales decreases are "far, far, far from the case.")
- Execs said the overall "pie" for comic book sales is larger than it was pre-New 52, so while DC's market share percentage may not always have a higher number the last couple months, execs indicated their "piece" of the pie is growing.
- February will see an announcement of a tie-in to the Man of Steel movie for comic book retailers (our guess: The announcement is timed around the ComicsPRO annual membership meeting Feb. 21-23).
- Readers will also hear soon about how the Free Comic Book Day issue in May will help DC's marketing efforts in late 2012 (another educated guess: It'll focus on Superman and/or "Trinity War.")
- Bookstore sales increases for the industry are apparently even greater than what we're seeing from the direct market and Diamond Comics. BookScan numbers for the graphic novel category are much higher, and while the execs acknowledged much of that is caused by The Walking Dead, DC also experienced growth in that market in 2012.
- DC is also experiencing triple digit increases in digital sales. They said the top books in digital are almost identical to the top books in print.
- As a result of bookstore success, the company is feeling rather hopeful about the collections of Before Watchmen, mentioning that as an important event for the company in both this month's interview and last.
- Quite frankly, readers should expect September 2013 to be a "special" month for DC in some way similar to September 2012's "Zero Month," as the company goes up against significant sales spikes from the last two years. (No, execs didn't confirm a September event, but they didn't deny it either, and certainly hinted that it's coming.)
Read on for our full conversation, and even more revelations about how DC execs interpret last year's numbers, and how they're planning for 2013.
Newsarama: Bob and John, as we just started digesting the December numbers, the first thing that is noticeable is the 29.69 percent dollar market share. And I know you guys don't like to call market share an important number, but it does stick out as oddly low. What happened in December to cause something that looks so "off?"
Bob Wayne: What happened in December is our dollar market share was down slightly — very slightly — from where it was in November. But Image's share was up strongly because of the success that they're having with, in particular, [The] Walking Dead. With new episodes on the air, they've just had an incredible year with Walking Dead.
This is also month three of Marvel NOW!, so we're right in the thick of it. And our market share is relatively close to where we were last month. But the level of increased competition, we're happy with where we are.
At the same time, the comics shop specialty market is not the totality of the marketplaces in which we sell. And we have a very strong December in book format, in the book trade.
And we are feeling very happy with where we wrapped up the year, and very happy with how our stuff is looking for 2013.
John Cunningham: You know, Vaneta, when you're looking at that share number, to get to the answer to the question, to reinforce Bob's point, if you actually look at unit share, our unit share was actually up in December over the previous two months, while the dollar share was as you noted. And that, frankly, is the proof of Bob's theorem about Walking Dead, that those heavy trade paperback sales weighed in a lot — obviously more significantly on the dollar share than they do on the unit chart.
Nrama: It just feels like — and I know this is only a perception, and you guys know the real data "behind the numbers" more than we do — but when we talked last month, you guys got me to admit that DC had done a great job of kind of "kicking the industry in the pants" back in 2011. And you saw great gains because of it. But it looks like, this fall, with the success of Image and Marvel NOW!, that "kick in the pants" has benefitted other companies more than DC lately.
Wayne: Well, you know, the kick in the pants could also be interpreted, though, as having spurred more competition between the various publishers. And the overall sales for 2012 are larger than they were for 2011. So if our kick in the pants helped other people grow, as well as helping us grow, the pie that the chart's made from is a bigger pie. And I don't think that's the worst thing in the world.
Cunningham: You know, we often talk a lot when we get to these calls not only about the monthly, but the year-on-year numbers. And one of those that really just stuck out to me as we watched charts through the month of December was looking at the BookScan sales chart where you see the 50 top-selling books in the category every week.
Throughout the month of December, in a sort of non-scientific way, that number — the number of units sold by the top 50 books in the graphic novel category — was running almost 50 percent over last year.
So market share, as we continually say, is one way of measuring it. I would certainly be infinitely more concerned if our market share numbers were doing as you indicated and we were seeing sales decreases with that. And that is far, far, far from the case.
I think what you really pointed out in your question is our business continues to be a cyclical business, and everybody seems to be bringing something to the table at different points in the cycle. And that makes it as exciting a time as we've seen in awhile in our business.
Nrama: I love that we're using "kick in the pants" now instead of "shot in the arm." Much better.
Cunningham: With flu season, you'd think we'd have stuck with "shot in the arm." But no.
Nrama: While today saw the release of the December numbers, we also just recently got the year-end numbers. And you guys have been in the business for awhile — and don't worry, I won't talk about how old we all are here — but as you look back on 2012, is there any market trend that you've seen that really sticks out to you, compared to 10 or five or even two years ago?
Wayne: The continued success of key titles in book format, for us and some of our competitors, is a strong thing.
I think the success of Walking Dead is a 2012 note.
I also think that the way in which some of our key titles have held their positioning and held their numbers — the Batman and Justice League titles in particular — we're really pleased about that.
Cunningham: I was sitting here thinking about how to answer that question, and you know what's interesting to me is, going back here in this job for a little over seven years working in the business, right now, how I would characterize 2012 would be a year when every constituency seemed to be really happy.
We know from where we're at with the New 52 and the numbers we've seen, the fans feedback we get, the DC fans are very happy with where we're at.
I get the feeling that Marvel fans are very happy with where they're at with the end of the year with Marvel NOW! coming out into the marketplace.
I think fans of Image and other indie publishers are at as good a place in the market as they've been in awhile.
All the little constituent groups are all really happy right now, and they should be, because it was really a year where the publishing interests really served the readership as well as it has in a long time.
Nrama: You're probably looking at sales numbers to interpret that happiness, but we still see comments of people who have the perception that things are not going well. Is that just the nature of the comic industry?
Cunningham: Yeah, I think the fact that it's phrased as "comments of people." In the social media age, that can mean so many things.
But I often like to say, and it will make Bob probably grunt on the phone, but we come down on this a lot when we have sales and marketing discussions. But to me, the bottom line of how the consumer base feels is told at the cash register and not on Twitter or Facebook.
And the cash register numbers look really, really good right now. It shows that the industry is really, really happy.
So I tend to believe the ringing of the register a lot more than what I see in other forms.
Nrama: There is a perception, however — and you've pretty much addressed this earlier with your comment about market share being down but sales being up — but to just confront this perception head-on right now, there's this idea out there that sales on titles were high in September 2011, but they've been falling ever since, and you're heading back to 2010 numbers. How would you specifically address the people who see lower numbers on individual titles and assume DC's overall numbers are falling as well?
Wayne: I doubt we would actually address it, because we just have the advantage of knowing what the overall numbers are. And we are happy with how things are going overall.
Everyone's line is going to have some titles that won't work as well as others. That's the nature of comic book publishing for the last 75-plus years. There's always going to be one or two folks who get the megaphone of other comments that are looking for failure stories while we're looking at success stories.
Nrama: I know you also indicated the last time we talked that this year, in 2013, one of the focuses was to bring the New 52 more cohesive and start drawing lines between the different characters. After that comment was made, the question was raised by several people that, well, if you are trying to build continuity in the New 52 in 2013, is that because dumping continuity in 2011 wasn't as much of a success as you thought? Or is this a completely different thing than what you guys were facing with 2011 and addressed with your kick in the pants/shot in the arm?
Cunningham: I'm really slightly uncomfortable, because that seems to be an editorial question. Just as a fan and a reader, what I would answer is, I always laugh when people say that we dumped continuity. If you've actually been reading our books and seeing how storylines are being portrayed — the obvious example I can give on this is the storyline of Batgirl since we launched the New 52 — I think it's incorrect to say that we dumped continuity.
Nrama: Looking ahead at 2013, what does DC expect to be the biggest challenge, and how are you guys addressing that challenge. And does it tie at all to things you saw in 2012?
Cunningham: What I would call the big challenge, that we look at from a marketing point of view in 2013 — or at least, that we can discuss at this time in terms of what's been announced, but it's actually a very exciting challenge — is that I think we have the best opportunity we've had to date, this summer, to try to make Superman a driver of our backlist properties in the way that Batman movies have been drivers of our backlist properties.
When we talk about that growth in sales that we've seen this year, a lot of that is driven on the graphic novel sales of that really hardcore and best-selling classic Batman backlist that we have.
I think, in the last few years, we've put together a very strong stable of potential tie-in books [for Superman]. We'll be taking some offers and some promotions that we're going to do out to the comic store market — those will become more public when we get into February, what we're going to be doing to support some of this.
But it is a challenge because we've never been able to make Superman tie-in in that way, but based on what we've seen about the movie and based on the books that we know we can line up to it, I think we have a really enormous opportunity to make this work.
Nrama: It sounds like 2013 is going to be a pretty big year for Superman, particularly knowing the way The Walking Dead TV series so greatly pushed those fans toward that property the last couple years.
Cunningham: I think that when you get that consumer movement into the section — when you see those big numbers coming to a degree that you haven't seen before... like, when we look at our December sale numbers on our core backlist, we saw huge increases year-on-year, even year-on-two-year for books like Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Dark Knight Returns — those books that we know from our experience are signs, when those sales increase, we're seeing new people come into the category and new readers coming in. Those are those first few books that they turn.
So we love seeing that. We believe that's going to fuel a lot of growth in 2013 as well.
Wayne: Also, in 2013, we're going to have the first of the collected editions of the Before Watchmen stories, and that allows us to be out in a book format, and the vast majority of people who've experienced Watchmen in comics form have experienced it as a book rather than as a periodical. So we think there's a substantial short-term and long-term success for us with those books.
Nrama: John, you specifically said something about summer related to Superman, and I know in May, the Free Comic Book Day issue is usually a place where you try to get people on board. Are you putting together plans for the May issue, and is it all Trinity War related, or is it going to go after this potential Man of Steel audience that you're talking about?
Cunningham: I think that is something that will be better discussed and said when we announce it. But some of it was just hinted at a little bit.
Nrama: We've talked about summer being an important sales period, and it's probably that Trinity War and your Superman push will take advantage of that time period. But looking back at 2012, it's obvious that September is also pretty meaningful for you guys. In 2012, DC took a break from all its ongoing comics and had this one-month event — "Zero Month." The year before, the relaunch. Looking at 2013, and not trying to get too far ahead of ourselves, but is September 2013 going to be an important month as well?
Cunningham: That is a very interesting bit of trend-spotting you did there, Vaneta. Very interesting.
Nrama: Well, you have to meet those year-to-year numbers going forward now, right?
Wayne: Wow, look at the time. I think we really have to go now.
Nrama: Then let's just switch to a totally different topic: the digital marketplace. There's been so much happening with print that the digital marketplace hasn't been getting as much attention, particularly when the numbers aren't released monthly or yearly like the direct market numbers. But how would you categorize what happened in the digital market for DC in 2012, and what do you anticipate happening in 2013 with digital?
Cunningham: We saw, frankly, triple digit increases in digital sales this year. It's always helpful when you're starting at a certain level and growing from there.
Nrama: That's all the questions I have for this month, and we're over time, so is there a final thought you want to leave with people as a tease for what we'll be talking about next month or down the road in 2013?
Cunningham: We'll have more Superman stuff to come. Superman Man of Steel. It's going to be a big driver for us this year.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!