DCE's Co-Pubs DIDIO & LEE Look Ahead to 2011

In 2010, DC Entertainment made a lot of changes to its structure. New executives were added at the top level, imprints like Zuda and WildStorm were eliminated, and the digital comics program was expanded.

It was all part of the "no fear" directive cited in February by new DC executives as the publisher headed into 2010 under the leadership of two new co-publishers, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee.

Despite the staff shake-up that followed, DC was able to make inroads in 2010 in new avenues of distribution and marketing. The Superman: Earth One book targeted the bookstore market and ended up dominating bestseller lists late in the year. And the company's digital presence, which had been almost non-existent a year ago, was greatly expanded and diligently marketed.

Those successful initiatives are continuing into the new year, as the publisher today launches a "Batman 101" digital comics program to market its Batman properties at 99 cents. And the success of the Superman: Earth One book motivated the company's decision to put star writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Shane Davis to work on an immediate sequel.

As 2011 begins, DC has also stepped up its efforts to attract new readers, not only holding firm to the "Hold the Line at $2.99" campaign it announced last year, but also promising to label "jumping-on points" for new readers in 2011.

Newsarama spoke with Lee and DiDio to find out more about the company's plans for 2011, including the publication of more Earth One OGNs, the "jumping-on point" campaign, the $2.99 price point and digital efforts.

Newsarama: Dan, what does the success of the Superman: Earth One book represent for DC? And did it surprise you at all?

Dan DiDio: Actually, we were hoping for this level of success. Even when it does come, it is slightly surprising. But we're really happy to see that it's going as well as it has been.

In the past, we've taken the periodicals and applied them into collections for the book market and now, Jim and the guys are putting the collections into the digital marketplace.

But I think the success of Superman: Earth One shows that particular types of stories work well in particular markets. And they can embrace it. When you see something original like this break as big as it did, it encourages you to do more original projects in this fashion.

Plus, if you look for the parallels, what Joe was doing here, compared to what he was doing with the Superman monthly comic, is that Superman: Earth One was like a feature film, where the Superman comic is more like episodic television.

I like the fact that you can tell different styles of stories in different formats. And really, that leads into what Jim and those guys have planned in the digital marketplace too.

Nrama: I know you had previously announced a Batman: Earth One graphic novel, but are there other plans for the OGN market, now that you guys have tapped into it with this level of success?

DiDio: What we see in the bookstore market is, you're seeing a success there with episodic stories being told even in novels, with continuing characters. It's obvious with things similar to what's being done in the Twilight Saga, but also things like the Jack Reacher novels or repeating characters that you see from novel to novel.

DC: EARTH ONE is Born As Ongoing GNs
DC: EARTH ONE is Born As Ongoing GNs
earth-one-01.jpg

We're hoping that we're able to do that same thing with our primary characters. And yes, you're right, we did announce that we're doing Batman: Earth One with Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. And Joe and Shane Davis have already started on the second volume of Superman Earth One also.

Nrama: Now that the WildStorm imprint is no more, the DC imprint includes many things that aren't necessarily part of the DCU.

Jim Lee: It always has included more than just the DCU. That imprint has always had licensed books and other all-ages books that don't fit into the DCU.

Nrama: Right. But with that being the case, and even more so now, how does the Vertigo fit into the scheme of things? Is it just a case of it being a strong brand? Is it purely a mature imprint, or does it have a more specific role?

Lee: The Vertigo imprint has been critical to DC's success. The types of books that DC has published under its imprint, including licensed books, are not books that would fall under the Vertigo imprint. They're all ages. They're set in their own universes. They're different in terms of their tone.

Vertigo represents DC's growth and development beyond the superhero world. That imprint has built a great audience for mature content, and it has helped break open the bookstore market. It's also introduced a ton of great creators, not only into the Vertigo imprint, but comics in general. A lot of them have come into the DCU and shaped the direction of those stories. It has played a key role in the evolution of DC Comics.

Nrama: This past year, you announced that all DC's ongoing comics are now $2.99. Are you holding firm to that through 2011?

DiDio: Yes. Correct.

Nrama: What makes $2.99 the magic number? Is it based on actual cost, or is it more about the perception of the audience and what the market will support?

DiDio: $2.99 is the price that we feel our current audience, and the people coming into comics, have accepted. If you look back, you've seen $2.99 pricing for almost 10 years now, going back in spotty cases. But it has been the norm for quite awhile.

So what we want to do is make sure we continue, especially in a recessionary time, when things are more difficult, it is counter to any sane business practice to be raising prices at a point when people are cutting their budgets.

We want to make sure comics stay affordable so that, as people look into how they budget how they spend their income for their entertainment, they know that their money being spent on comics stays consistent.

Nrama: With Batman 101, you're offering 101 digital comics at 99 cents. How did you come to the conclusion that was the right price for this digital content? And why does it differ from the $2.99 price you put on print?

Lee: The only digital books we have at $2.99 are day-and-date comics. Our typical digital book is either $1.99 or $.99. With Batman 101, it's a bit of a stunt that we're making this available on 1/01, and it's 101 issues of Batman, from #600 through #700. We've got some great issues of Batman in there. We did something similar for what we called "Blackest Friday," which was a huge success. It was all the issues from Blackest Night available for 99 cents. So Batman 101 was in that vein.

It really has some of the great storylines of Batman, involving Bruce Wayne's murder, the Grant Morrison run, James Robinson's Two-Face, Simone Bianchi... it also includes the Neil Gaiman Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader. So there are some real awesome storylines in those 101 issues.

With that price and the promotion, it really is an opportunity to capture a new audience by making Batman affordable and offering these great storylines. Those are the two things we really need to have.

Nrama: So the strategy of the 99-cent digital issues is to attract new readers, then lead them toward the current comics?

Lee: I think the strategy is, when you offer that many issues at that price point, it's almost a no-brainer that it's about pulling in fans that are familiar with Batman, whether it's from the movies or TV shows or cartoons, but aren't as familiar with the comics -- or lapsed fans that got away from comics and haven't been into it, but are re-energized or re-interested in comics.

And hopefully, a percentage of those readers will be brought into the hobby, and they'll go find their local comic shop. And it does happen. One of the most common things I hear about Batman: Hush, which is actually part of that Batman 101 promotion, is that people say, "This really brought me back into comics." And that's the kind of excitement we want to generate about comics.

Nrama: If the digital effort is designed to be an entry point to comics in general, is there an effort to direct them toward jumping-on point in the print comics?

DiDio: What we're going to be doing is creating jumping-on points with a series of our ongoing titles over the next few months. We want this to be a way to introduce people to the characters, and offer the $2.99 pricing so they feel they have an affordable way to jump into a new series and stick with it, because of what they like and see in the books.

Nrama: Are you going to label those jumping-on points clearly, so new readers can find them?

DiDio: We will be creating a campaign to help support the $2.99 pricing and those books during that campaign.

Lee: I think that was always the second part of the "Hold the Line at $2.99" campaign. We're maintaining prices and giving you the opportunity to jump back into the business, or jump back into these particular books by helping the readers find those issues that start a new storyline.

DiDio: Yeah. Our whole campaign at $2.99 is being called "Hold the Line at $2.99." While other companies might be offering the $2.99 price point on portions of their line, we're expressing that more than the majority of our line right now is at $2.99. We're going to hold that point.

And more importantly, we know it's not just about price, but it's about the quality of the material and the accessibility of the material. So we're building our books in a way that's not just about price, but about quality and accessibility. And hopefully, we'll be able to bring back any lapsed fans or casual fans or people who were concerned about the price point because they'll find that the DC line is as welcoming as always.

Nrama: Can you give any examples of where you might be concentrating those "jumping-on" points?

 

DiDio: There will be a jumping-on point at the start of "War of the Green Lanterns" [which runs through the three Green Lantern titles], and Fables #101 is a great jumping-on point for people who might be just coming into Fables. Batman Beyond #1 is another great one. But we'll be announcing those as the program continues.

Nrama: Jim, looking how Zuda was an effort that didn't prove to be something DC wanted to continue, how is DC focusing its goals for its digital efforts? Where is it you're trying to go, and what is it you're trying to accomplish specifically?

Lee: I think one of the key elements of our digital strategy is one of convergence. I think it's different from our competitors because we allow consumers to buy our content on different devices -- even on different platforms, actually -- and be able to access that entire library from multiple devices, to search for favorite creators or storylines.

It's actually no small task. The people at ComiXology have put a lot of work into it. They just put out this Android app, and you can buy our DC digital comics through that app and it marries into whatever existing whatever ComiXology library you already had that you might have bought through our iPad app or the iPhone or through DCComics.com.

We're trying to make it as easy as possible for consumers and readers to find our content, to have it all within one library, and to be able to read it on whatever devices they may own or buy in the future.

That's a critical point of differentiation between us and our competitors.

We're also trying to be very smart about how we market and promote the events we do, like Batman 101. That promotion involved the DC marketing team and WildStorm production team, and a ton of man-hours went into making this happen. Just because it's digital doesn't mean it happens with the push of one button. It requires physical labor to get this stuff ready.

I think it shows our dedication to this channel, and also our expertise, that we're able to now do some very large events like this that involve production, editorial, marketing and sales. So I really see this as the start of some really awesome things we have in the works in 2011.

Nrama: What is the status of the retailer program that DC announced when you first teamed up with ComiXology?

Lee: It's not forgotten. It's not dead. It's still being crafted. And we'll have some major news in that regard in the near future.

Nrama: Last subject, diversity in the DC Universe. Dan, you and I have talked before about your efforts to add diversity to the DC Universe. How do you think that effort's going so far?

DiDio: As with every effort, it's moving well, but in some cases maybe not well enough. But then, what we've always said is that we don't want to push this in. We want to do something that feels organic to grow the DC Universe, so that it feels natural and the fans come on board if it's part of the overarching story -- not a "program."

Lee: Right. You make it sound like there's an "affirmative action" program or something, and that's not the case. When we sit down and discuss storylines, we don't have a checklist where we say, "OK, we have this many of this type of character and this many of this type." It really comes out of character and what the fans want to see in terms of storyline, and how we can excite the readership and grow the readership.

Say Hello to the New AQUALAD
Say Hello to the New AQUALAD
 

DiDio: Absolutely. Two things we can point toward are the way the fans have embraced the new Blue Beetle [who is Hispanic], who has been around for more than five years, and more recently, the new Aqualad has really taken the fans by storm as well. We've gotten great response to that character. And then people ask me about the Milestone characters, and what our plans are for that, and we have Xombi coming out next year, and we've also announced the fact that we have a new Static book coming out next year.

So a lot of good things happening in the DCU and all things we're extraordinarily proud of, but more importantly, we believe have some longevity here with DC Comics.

Nrama: I was wondering how the readership has responded to your efforts to add diversity. Have you seen a little backlash at first, but then acceptance?

DiDio: Yeah! When you have the generational aspect going on, there's always some reaction, because people enjoy the original interpretation of the characters. There's always some pushback there. But I think one of the things we're extraordinarily happy about is, with the introduction of Aqualad, the character is also being used in the Young Justice show, and people have jumped on board and really embraced that character very quickly. That was one of those things that we're extraordinarily happy with. We thought it was a great interpretation of the character, he had a great story background and depth within Brightest Day.

What happens is that when the stories really resonate with the fans, they want to follow more stories about them.

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