As students return to school and the summer nears its conclusion, the comic book industry is also wrapping up its latest summer events, with mixed grades from retailers. And in the face of changing price points and shipping schedules, comic book shops Newsarama talked to were overwhelmingly positive on the outlook going forward.
Comparing summer 2016 events at major publishers, DC Entertainment came out a clear winner among retailers.
"The summer was ruled by DC Rebirth," said Bret Parks, owner of Ssalesfish Comics in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
Several retailers we surveyed said that the DC Universe: Rebirth #1 one-shot to kick off the "Rebirth" era was one of the best sellers they've ever had.
"DC's 'Rebirth' has far and away been the biggest event of the summer, out of the gate adding significant sales to every title in the DC line," said Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California "Leaving to the side our exclusive editions, the DC Universe: Rebirth #1 special is one of our biggest sellers ever."
"We ordered big and sold big," Parks agreed. "DC Universe: Rebirth #1 became our number one selling single issue in the store's 10 year history (store exclusives aside). It beat Star Wars #1 in a matter of days."
The momentum for DC's relaunch also appears to be continuing into fall, often attracting new readers along with what retailers call "lapsed readers" — particularly those who stopped reading DC during the "New 52" era.
"DC's 'Rebirth' is both a literal and figurative rebirth for their line of books," said Ryan Seymore, owner of Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio. "They are selling in early 'New 52' quantities and receiving high praise from our guests. The one-shot that kicked Rebirth off was the perfect 'apology' letter to long time readers that felt cast aside by the changes to their beloved characters when the 'New 52' launched. The way that the previous post-Crisis and 'New 52' universes were merged was almost seamless as to not chase away readers who jumped on with the 'New 52.'"
The Marvel event series Civil War II had solid sales in comic book stores, according to retailers, but it was hurt by delays and didn't excite readers for the Marvel line changes that followed.
"Nobody really talks about it," Parks explained.
"Marvel's big summer event has been met with mixed reviews from our guests," Seymore said. "The main mini-series sells pretty well, and for us it is our highest selling Marvel title. The tie-ins and side mini-series books aren't really seeing an upward bump in sales unfortunately. With that being said our Marvel guests feel burnt out on big 'status quo changing' events and the renumbering of the titles that they read."
Parks said the most successful Marvel books have little or nothing to do with the events.
"Marvel single character titles are received the best," he said. "Old Man Logan, Moon Knight, Daredevil, Black Widow, Vision and Doctor Strange dominate our Marvel sales. They are also the best reads in my opinion. The Marvel team books fall a bit flat."
In fact, retailers report that traditionally Marvel-only readers are checking out the competition. "Marvel rebooting again in the middle of one of their big poorly planned crossovers with the usual late shipping and extra issues has made 'Rebirth' that much more attractive," said Charlie Harris, owner of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Arizona. "A lot of die-hard Marvel fans [are trying] the competition and the majority have stuck around due to solid stories and a lot of engaging mysteries."
"There are quite a few Marvel loyalists that have begun branching out and trying DC titles with 'Rebirth,'" Seymore agreed, "possibly from Marvel event burnout."
Field, who's part of the leadership in the ComicsPRO retailer organization, said the Civil War II comic might have benefitted from an earlier launch.
"If Civil War II had started coming out before the Captain America: Civil War movie, I'm sure sales would have been higher," Field said, noting the event began one day after the movie was released. "Our experience is that anything that looks like a tie-in to a movie sells far better in the run-up to the movie's release than it does after a movie's release."
Sales at Image and Dark Horse have held steady over the summer, retailers said, although some of the excitement about Image titles has waned with shipping schedule problems.
"Popular titles like Bitch Planet, Trees, Rocket Girl, Nonplayer, etcetera - the lack of schedule and the fact that fans have no idea when another issue will ship is causing people to walk away in frustration," Harris said.
However, along with the excitement about DC's direction with "Rebirth," retailers admitted that the changes this summer - including guaranteed price points and twice-a-month shipping schedules - have taken some getting used to. But as long as they help with sales the way they have so far, these retailers said they're willing to adjust.
"The DC twice-monthly shipping titles seem to be bringing fans in the store more often. And not a day goes by that we don't have someone coming in to find out what the talk is about 'Rebirth,'" Field said. "That said, publishers need to do a much better job of programming and planning for months with five Wednesdays. DC lost a bit of momentum on 'Rebirth' the last week of June as zero 'Rebirth' titles came out on Wednesday June 29."
"The only issue that we have experienced is that guests are picking up the second of a title's two-per-month issues in the following month," Seymore said. "It is creating odd staggered sales patterns that we have been able to adjust to without worry."
Retailers weren't sure how important the $2.99 move at DC was to sales - most said story was more important - but their experience is that anything priced over $3.99 is tough to sell.
"Generally speaking, the two accepted price points, $2.99 and $3.99, are fairly well received," Seymore explained. "If Marvel were to reduce prices, I'm not sure how that would change their sales totals. Marvel books that have $4.99 and higher cover prices are not received well by guests and actually have led to a few titles being dropped by readers because of that. Guests love the DC $2.99 cover price but quickly figured out that two issues at $2.99 per month does cost more than one issue a month at a $3.99 cover price."
"DC's twice-monthly $2.99 titles are selling well above what their once monthly $3.99 titles were previous to 'Rebirth,'" Field said. "From a business standpoint, that's all good. Yes, customers notice prices. And if the cover price is lower, their 'buy pile' is usually thicker."