Comics Retailers Have Questions about DC's New Plans

DC UNIVERSE Reboots in September

Update 11:25am ET: A representative for Diamond Comic Distributors declined to comment on or respond to questions about yesterday's announcements by DC, when contacted Wednesday morning.

Original story: When DC Comics announced its new initiative Tuesday to retailers, the company addressed them as "partners."

But among the stores that Newsarama surveyed since the news, some are not feeling that way, at least initially.

"Everything about this announcement concerns me," said Jason Pierce, owner of Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Ind. "It seems a little extreme in my opinion."

While there were cheers for the announcement of a new Justice League comic by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, business owners we contacted voiced concerns about marketing, ordering and of course, digital comics.

Too Many To Market?

DC told retailers that the company is hoping today's announcement will be "picked up by media outlets around the world." They've also claimed they'll support the initiative with "an innovative mix of publicity, promotional efforts and retailer incentives."

Retailers like hearing about any efforts to promote comics, but some question whether dozens of new products and characters at once can really be supported effectively, particularly to brand new readers. They asked questions like: "Which of the 52 new comics are getting promotional support?" and "How are they marketing that many comics at once?"

"On first glance, that seems like a lot of #1's," said Matt Price, co-owner of Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, Okla. "I worry a bit about marketing that many new first issues, both on the national and in-store level."

Other store owners pointed toward the last big marketing all-at-once initiative DC tried -- "One Year Later" -- which also launched several new #1 issues, most of which barely lasted two years. According to retailers, this plan can only work if the books are high quality enough to support 52 new series.

"I think it's a big gamble, and of course part of taking a gamble is the chance that you might lose," Price said. "A lot of how well this works sales-wise will depend on how well it's marketed to non-current readers, and how well the line as a whole is able to maintain quality."

Shawn Demumbrum, manager of SpazDog Comics in Phoenix, said the marketing could also attract speculators, which will at least help sales for the first month, but might not be beneficial long-term. "There is the possibility of a short-term bump by speculators who don't read the comics and only read news headlines," he said.

"Does this also mean DC no longer has to 'Hold the Line at $2.99?'" Pierce added, naming DC's last marketing initiative, which just started earlier this year. The marketing push had the publisher promising to keep its comics at the $2.99 price point. "That has worked well for them I would hate to see that be the case."

Mike Wellman, co-owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Calif., is also concerned that this new marketing of the DC Universe is limited to the vision of only a few people in control.

"The biggest thing that concerns me is that there seems to be only two visions involved -- Geoff Johns and Jim Lee," Wellman said. "I think they're both fantastic creators, don't get me wrong. But I'm worried that the DCU is going to come off a bit monochromatic. Both of these guys have a style -- very apparent in the image released so far. However, if you think about it, all of these characters were created by very different individuals with very diverse dynamics, style and background. Bob Kane is unmistakeably different than Siegel and Shuster. The influences were different and the characters had very different identities, origins and execution-not just upon their creation but throughout their history as DC icons. 

"I'm concerned that this change is not organic at all, but more like a company policy," Wellman added. "Gone is the potential for great stories like Dark Knight Returns or Superman: Red Son. This all seems like it's more about branding than anything else and that's a little sad because 'branding' and 'creativity' don't necessarily mix."

Jumping On or Off?

Retailers also voiced some dismay over the enthusiasm publishers have for new #1 issues, which they have found to usually be detrimental to their a comic's sales.

"The new #1 has ceased to be a jumping-on point and has become rather a jumping-off point," said Adam Casy, manager of Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C. "People like to know there's a finite number of issues to collect, and if they have a full volume, they're happy and see no need to start another one.

"No #1 has maintained higher sales than its previous incarnation," he said, "thus creating the need for a new #1, which doesn't maintain sales, which demands a new #1, and so on."

Price of Speeding Bullet said he expects a short-term sales boost from the launch of 52 new #1 issues. But in the long term? "It depends," he said. "I think renumbering some of the long-running titles could have negative consequences."

"The small, short-term gain of #1's is always followed by a downward spiral right back to a little less than the original numbers," said Dean Phillips, owner of Krypton Comics in Omaha, Neb. "Comic companies across-the-board need to concentrate on making their books have better art and better stories, not just put out an endless sea of mind-numbing #1s. This is not a great place to jump on; it is an opportunity to jump off."

"I understand wanting to keep things 'fresh and hip' for the modern reader, but does that come at the expense of the long term reader?" Pierce of Alter Ego said. "In this model, it gives the long-time reader a 'fresh and new' jumping-off point as much as it gives someone a good jumping-on point."

Demumbrum also wondered if the relaunch of so many titles wouldn't end up hurting new readers down the line. "I think re-numbering us a marketing ploy that is ultimately confusing to readers who have to figure out what volume if the series they are reading to make sure it's the right issue," he said. "[I'm concerned] that they will return to the old numbering in two years like Marvel did, confusing and frustrating readers."

Ordering Challenge

One of the problems comic shop owners face every time there's a new #1 issue:

How many to buy?

With ongoing series, retailers are aware of how many comics to order, because they've been placing orders for that comic over time. But with a new #1 issue, there is no history from which to base numbers.

And 52 new series means a lot of head-scratching.

"I am sure most people will pick up some of the new #1 issues," Pierce said of the 52 new series that DC has promised. "It is going to be somewhat of a challenge ordering that many #1's in a month. Time to rub my Buddha with my rabbit's foot while smoking a four-leaf clover."

Other retailers said it will all depend on how similar the series are to existing comics. For example, they know how to order a Batman comic or a Grant Morrison comic. But until DC announces what the new series are, nobody knows how it will really affect how many the retailers will decide to order.

"At this point, the announcement raises more questions than it answers, which is probably the whole point of it," said Adam Casy, manager of Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C. "In short, I don't think it matters. To be a little more detailed, it will matter to some. Right now any discussion of the initiative is moot as we have very little details. A few titles and some images have trickled out, but until we see the solicitations, there's little to go on."

Digital Day-and-Date

Although it may have surprised some readers to learn that DC will begin releasing its digital comics on the same day as print in September, retailers said they were expecting a publisher to make the move soon.

"It is inevitable," Demumbrum said.

"You'd think we'd be more concerned," said Wellman, co-owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Calif. "In a perfect world -- the world I grew up in -- kids would be getting introduced to the wonderful world of comics in places like 7-11, K-Mart, drug stores, grocery stores, on spinner racks while their parents were shopping for everyday necessities. However, we live in a world where the most mainstream introduction to these characters is the cineplex.

"The world we live in today is short-attention span theater," Wellman said, "always ready to start over again from the beginning, so maybe a relaunch makes perfect sense, at least on a business level."

Although the move wasn't welcome to most retailers we polled, several of them thought it would have little or no effect on their sales.

"[Day-and-date digital releases] seemed like something that might eventually happen," Price said. "We'll just have to see what effect it has on the print marketplace. Right now, I don't think it will make a huge difference. But I could be wrong. Given the relative sizes of the marketplaces at this time, I assume DC doesn't think it will hurt their print sales."

"[The digital release schedule] doesn't matter," Casey said. "Comic book buyers are comic book buyers. Digital downloaders are digital downloaders. The twain shall rarely meet."

But Pierce of Alter Ego was less optimistic about the long-term effect. "It feels a lot like the music industry doesn't it?" he said. "How many Karma, Virgin or Sam Goody's do you go to?"

Phillips of Krypton Comics said this move is just the first step in a series of publisher efforts to boost digital sales and hurt the local store.

"Digital comics day-and-date is just another step in the digital comic switch," Phillips said. "Next is a couple days early, and then a week early. The final steps are pricing the new comics way less than comic stores and offering exclusives earlier."

Brian Michael Bendis, who writes for Marvel, put it bluntly yesterday -- implying that DC was screwing local comic retailers by releasing digital comics on the same day and date as print ones.

"If people want to see the local comic shop stick around," Pierce said, "they need to support brick and mortar stores."

Though some skepticism was expressed, one retailer we spoke to had little to no reservations…

“Wow! DC must have some special plans if they are relaunching their entire Universe," wrote Todd McDevitt of New Dimension Comics a four-store chain of comic shops in Pennsylvania.

"After 25 years in this business, I have come to know DC as a publisher that doesn’t make moves lightly. For them to make this bold decision means they have a plan to rock the comic book industry.”

“From a retailing perspective only, September sales are usually pretty slumpy. I’m glad we will have a bunch of exciting things from DC to keep the cash flow rolling.”

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