1 Month Review: Retailers Analyze the Good/Bad of the NEW 52
Retailers Analyze NEW 52 One Month In
As Newsarama has been reporting throughout the month, the new #1 issues released by DC Comics for its relaunch have been selling out in stores nationwide, and retailers have been scrambling to fulfill requests from customers for the titles.
With the end of the month, we decided to pose a few new questions to the retailers, asking their overall opinion of how DC handled the relaunch and what they expect from coming months. We got feedback from 10 retailers, and their answers to our questions follow below.
Newsarama: With a month or sales under your belt, what do you think DC did right with the New 52?
Matt Price, owner of Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, Okla.: The promotion was great, the TV advertising really seemed to work. The returnability/additional discount options were good, though I don't think very many retailers found the ceiling in month 1.
John Robinson, co-owner of nine locations for Graham Cracker Comics in Chicago: The promotion arm of DC did a great job getting the word out there. Amazing. DC's support via incentive/discount/returnability was also above and beyond its distinguished competition's efforts. Well done! The titles that were a fresh start were great.
Ralph DiBernardo, owner of Jetpack Comics in Rochester, N.H.
DC gave us a universe that you do not need back-story to understand. They gave us a universe that is easily accessible. They gave us a universe that is modernized. I think DC gave us their characters in our world.
DC brought on new, hot talent and let them create something wonderful.
DC got the retailers behind the idea and promoted the hell out of it.
Overall, DC did one hell of a job of taking almost everything that readers have complained about for years and making it better. I feel like DC spent a lot of time working on this.
Cliff Biggers, owner of Dr. No's Comics & Games Superstore in Marietta, Ga.: They delivered distinctive, well-crafted stories. The superhero books weren't generic "The Adventures of (Insert Character Name Here)" stories; they conveyed something unique about the character or characters. Not every book clicked with every customer, of course -- we all have favorites -- but the end result was that a record number of customers were convinced that they needed to try a significantly large sampling of New 52 titles that we set sales records.
Jason Pierce, owner of Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Ind.: I think DC has a great idea going on. It really has seemed to energize the industry right now. I am extremely pleased to hear how many people came in the store to get comics because they saw a commercial on Cartoon Network or Spike or whatever! They saw a comic book commercial! That is huge! DC is actually reaching out and getting the attention of non-readers instead of staying with their own little circle and grandstanding to fanboys. It remains to be seen if the heat will continue in the coming months, but good for them for shaking things up.
Adam Casey, manager of Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C.: What DC did right with the New 52 is what they excel at: mythology building. They fleshed out a world that was instantly familiar to long-time readers but also possessed some new twists and turns. The immersion in the world was done well enough that many new readers are coming back looking for other issues or books that might help fill in the gaps and tell them a little bit more about some of the characters they've discovered during the New 52.
Dean Philips, owner of Krypton Comics in Omaha, Neb.: The promotion machine worked fantastic. TV ads were great. DC gave retailers many advertising co-op opportunities to affordably advertise.
Mike Wellman, co-owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan, Calif.: I think they've created a bold, compelling and fresh start to their "new universe." Most of the verbal feedback I got from my weekly customers enjoyed what they've read. These are the folks who don't normally go on blogs or message boards to gripe about costume changes and what have you. I file them under "satisfied customers" and they are many. Most said they're trying to decide how the heck they're going to afford all the books they like, so that's a good sign of strong sales for future issues.
Nrama: What did they do wrong?
Robinson of Graham Cracker Comics: [DC] should have spent more money on some well-known artists. Way too many amateurish efforts graced those relaunch books. Unacceptable. I understand not hiring Art Adams, who can't produce on time, but there are some great artists that could have been used and were ignored for mostly unknowns who couldn't cut it.
Some books were confusing as far as the timeline goes. It should have been spelled out more clearly when events took place, even if it was vague like "several years ago."
I need some general audience books. I can't have everything be "for teenagers or up" (besides cartoon tie-in comics). What do I sell to the 8-to 12-year-old from DC?
Wellman of The Comic Bug: Wow! It's hard to accuse them of much wrongdoing at the moment. I mean, they offered us full returnability and I ordered four times of what I'd normally order for most titles. Now, I'm kicking myself for not ordering ten times as many! At this point, I can't really accuse DC of doing anything wrong.
DiBernardo of Jetpack Comics: Retailers should have been trusted with the info sooner. If I had read comics like Detective, Batgirl, Swamp Thing and Animal Man, I would have ordered three to 10 times as much as I did. The same goes for many other titles as well. I think sending retailers physical previews of every comic would have increased their overall sales by twice as much, at the minimum.
That's not to say that I sold out. I ordered well but if I'd seen the product I would have ordered even more. The same goes for most the retailers across the world.
Part of me still feels that the low overprint & set 2nd print runs (prior to F.O.C.) were a push towards digital but they just be my paranoia.
Price of Speeding Bullet Comics: I think you can always find fault with individual creative decisions, especially spread across 52 titles. I think also there might have been a better chance to find the ceiling in month 1 if the returnable titles didn't come with the 20-cent per copy penalty.
Biggers of Dr. No's Comics: In some cases, their desire to play things close to the vest resulted in fans (and more significantly, retailers) not having an adequate idea of what each book was about. Voodoo, Grifter, Demon Knights, Men of War, Stormwatch -- all of these would have been better represented in the marketplace if readers had a better idea exactly what the focus of these books was.
I also wish that DC had considered a strong over-ship program; hardly any of us guessed right on all New 52 titles, and I think in retrospect an over-ship would have ensured those books were on the stands at the right time to maximize reader satisfaction.
Pierce of Alter Ego Comics: I have a big problem with DC's portrayal of some of the female characters introduced in the New 52. I think that some of the books have sexual exploitation of their female characters. I know I wasn't the only one who was infuriated by Starfire becoming an emotionless sexbot, the gratuitousness of the end of Catwoman, Voodoo being purely a T&A comic, and even turning Amanda Waller into a thin, attractive black woman. I don't understand the reasoning for it. To appeal to the hormonally charged 14-year-olds? Even they know how to look up porn on the internet.
DC did a superb job with Batwoman and Batgirl , so that makes me realize they can write strong female characters without them being super sluts. I realize that the comic industry is male-dominated. That doesn't mean that males like to read tasteless comics that demean women.
Casey of Ssalefish Comics: Many may fault DC for not having huge overprints available of the New 52, but can they really be blamed for stores underordering? The amount of re-orders we were able to get lets us know that there was a generous overprint, but if a store ordered less than their normal copies of Teen Titans for this month, whose fault is that? The returnability offer on most of the books made this event a no-brainer to order extra copies. As it is, we ordered heavily (almost to the point of saying "Really?" when entering the order numbers) and still sold out. We believe we had the biggest selection in the western parts of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Philips of Krypton Comics: Many of the series are too dark. While the advertising reached a huge amount of new potential fans, many of the titles feel too dark and violent to introduce to our younger fans. Yes, they have a few titles like the upcoming animated Green Lantern Corps and The Brave and the Bold, but they really missed the boat on the numerous young teens that are too "old' for those titles but not quite mature enough for the rest. How about a Detective Comics that we can feel comfortable selling to anyone?
Nrama: What can they do better moving forward?
Robinson: Get some name brand artists for crying out loud. Clearly mark Action and Justice League as taking place in the past. And whenever an event (see Green Lantern Guardians) takes place prior, make a note on the book.
DiBernardo: Maintain shipping schedules and creative teams. If a team can't be on time, replace them.
Biggers: Clearer communication on key events, title synopses, etcetera, would help. At this point, every books needs to deliver a significant hook each month to keep readers coming back--and solicit info should at least hint at what makes each issue significant.
Pierce: I would love to see them to continue with the TV commercials. It just brings that much more awareness to the industry. It always has the potential to bring in new readers.
Price: Since they made all their ship dates in month 1, it wouldn't be "better" exactly, but I think one of the key things they can do to maintain this momentum is to put product out on time. I think there could be some longer-term discussions about what type of content is appropriate and if there is a way to but this kind of marketing and heat behind a true all-ages line.
Casey: The only thing that could be done better moving forward would be to have footnotes or biographies in the back to help new readers.
Philips: Maintain the quality so we can retain as many new and returning readers as possible. Keep writing books that make us anxious to read the next issue.
Wellman: The best thing they can do is maintain this forward momentum. They've captured the fire here the first month. Now, the trick is maintaining that energy and enthusiasm. That's going to be a more difficult task than this big splash they've made, I think. But at least the big splash has been made. You can't say the relaunch is DOA, that's for sure!
I also love the fact that each and every one of these titles stand independent from one another. You don't have to read Dark Knight and Detective to enjoy Batman. Can we please keep it like that?
Nrama: Will you be returning any product from this month's comics?
Robinson: Ha! No.
DiBernardo: Not from the first two weeks, but a bit from the third and a lot from the fourth. As product started coming in, and I saw the quality, I increased orders dramatically. Not that I felt I was going to be short, but because I wanted to have more than I needed of it. I want to have all of it, in stock, in depth.
Knowing I could return it caused me to up my orders to more than I could use.
Pierce: I don't have any product left to return!
Biggers: Possibly, but it's more likely I'll be wholesaling my few extras to other retailers.
Price: There could be a few books here and there, but for the most part we've been selling very well on these and won't need to return much, certainly as a percentage of overall sales.
Wellman: It doesn't look like it. Most of the first printings were gone on day one.
Casey: We probably won't be returning any of the first issue of the New 52, as most of our copies are in the hands of readers.
Philips: Yes. Red Lanterns was a bust for us, however we are doing quite well on sell through of most of the books.
Nrama: What is your longer-term prediction for the New 52?
Price: That is the tricky question, but I think DC has certainly created more hits coming out of this than they had going into it. Some of the books will eventually be cancelled, and some will have more success than others. Overall, though, DC seems to have revitalized their top-tier titles, created some sleeper hits, and at least temporarily moved the floor up on their bottom tier.
Robinson: Pretty much what I still expected. I'd be thrilled to keep 50 percent of the numbers that I saw, but am expecting long-term (a year from now) will see an increase of about 25 percent of what I did in DC sales pre-September.
DiBernardo: In seven to eight years, we will see another DC Crisis (that seems to be their approximate time frame) that will perhaps reunite the universes, or combine old and new, or revert to old. Nothing stays the same forever in comics.
Wellman: Historically, there's always a drop off. We've actually ordered far more #2's and 3's than we did of our initial orders of #1. We simply weren't prepared for the amount of excitement there would be for this out-of-the-gate. I predict that sales will maintain far above what they were, possibly as much as double. It'll be nice to see a book like Jonah Hex level off at steady sales of 30 to 35 copies per month rather than the 12 copies it was selling.
Biggers: I don't believe numbers can stay this astronomically high (although I'd love if it if they did), but I think the response has made it clear that DC is the trending topic in comics now, and every other publisher will have to scramble to make themselves seem important in the marketplace. For years, DC was dismissed by many as a take-no-risks, play-it-safe, vanilla sort of publisher; that image has been shattered, and now DC is the trendsetter.
Pierce: The cream rising to the top. We can already see that starting to come out now. Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Detective and Batman have all been stellar reads. It is a matter of keeping people hooked and engaged. There will be books that will fail quickly and ones that pick up steam along the way. I think the New 52 or the DCnU has legs. I am sure there is even more exciting stuff planned.
Parks: A high tide raises all ships, so some of the mid-list titles from DC have seen some attention they wouldn't be paid otherwise. Those titles will stick around around, but for how long? Who can say?
Philips: We are concerned that it will be gone in a year. It doesn't seem that DC is breaking new ground here. It seems that they just shuffled their artists and writers around and they are kind of just doing the same thing just tweaked a bit. It all feels like a typical comic book company sales bump ploy. Prove us wrong.
Nrama: Based on what you’re experiencing, do you predict this will benefit, hurt or have no effect on DC sales in your store in 6 months?
Biggers: I will be selling more DC's in six months than I sold in any month prior to the New 52.
Robinson: Six months is easy. It will definitely be at least 30 to 35 percent higher than it was in August.
DiBernardo: If Marvel does not pick up their game, and start listening to retailers and fans, then I expect six months from now, DC will continue to outsell Marvel in my shop. Overall, I have a handful of new DC customers that I think will pick their favorites and stick around. I expect that, six months from now, DC will start to see the leveling-off process.
Pierce: I think this will benefit my store in six months time. I have a ton of new readers that I believe will stick around.
I haven't started turning the new people onto other comics just yet. They are still getting settled in with the New 52; I don't want to overwhelm them or put all of my chips in the pot just yet. When they decide exactly what they want to stick with and what they like to read, I'll start to get them into all of the other great books out there. I am optimistic that I have several long term or even life long readers that have emerged because of the new 52.
Price: I can't imagine this won't still be a net positive for DC in 6 months.
Casey: I expect DC sales to be up in the next six months, but that's all predicated on them delivering solid stories in a timely fashion. Any delays, crossovers, or events are wild cards that fog up my crystal ball.
Wellman: Even if there's a significant drop-off by the end of six months, DC still looks to be ahead of where they were before the relaunch.
Philips: It will benefit, as long as the quality stays and they keep most of those books at $2.99.
Nrama: In a year?
Price: I'm wagering it'll still be a benefit. Individual sales on the titles may vary by a year, but DC getting this much attention and traction could pay dividends for a few years down the line.
DiBernardo: At the end of 12 issues, I think one-third of the titles will be canceled. Some are just too obscure or of little interest. I hope that I get proven wrong.
Biggers: Same thing. DC's sales can't maintain at this level, but they will maintain at a much higher level than we've seen before. DC's commitment to on-time shipping and editorial quality assurances will keep many readers coming back, and will force other publishers to re-evaluate the way they operate.
Wellman: Most of the regular readers that said the relaunch was the perfect "jumping off" point are still picking up the new books. So, you have most of your initial fan-base (at least 85 percent by my estimation) and add-on new readers and bam! Great success!!
Casey: A year out from now, I expect to see stronger sales on DC's core titles (compared to before the New 52) with some of the mid-list falling away.
Nrama: There is still vocal feedback on the internet from fans dissatisfied both with DC’s decision to reboot, and the execution of the individual titles. What feedback are you getting from your regular customers both about the concept and the execution?
Wellman: As I mentioned before, most of my regular customers are excited and intrigued by both the concept and execution of most of the new titles. Even some of the more controversial things you read on the internet are at least intriguing new readers. I really think that most feedback given on some of the message boards needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Pretty much anyone that takes time to go to a website, log in and have an account could be considered a "hard core" reader, right? The relaunch initiative's goal was to reach out to new readers and give them a reason to check out this medium, which, up to this point, was quite the insider's club.
Price: There are complaints about some of the titles. Most of the fans that were upset with the overall idea of the reboot have gotten past it. Overall, most fans seem to be excited about more DC books post-reboot than they were before.
Robinson: There are varying opinions on titles, but overwhelmingly everyone's swept up in the frenzy. I had a line of customers waiting to come in Wednesday morning, which I have not seen the likes of in quite a long time.
DiBernardo: The bulk of customers have accepted it and are waiting to see what happens next. While every comic fan (and retailer) can find plenty to gripe about the over all consensus is that DC put their best foot forward, made a bold decision and have stood by it. The complaints have been few and far between (except by me — I want the old Stormwatch).
Biggers: Not every customer likes every book -- but every book has fans and subscribers, and the same things that make some readers critical of a given title are the precise reasons other readers consider the same book a must-read.
Pierce: The overall feedback has been positive. There are, of course, continuity questions out the face. Does this still exist? Did this happen? We are still unclear on a lot of those kinds of things. Personally, continuity doesn't mean anything to me. I want to read a good story, and for the most part, so does everyone else. I have heard several complaints that mirror my own concerns with the exploitation of the female characters. The best way to silence the nay-saying crowd is to deliver great stories. On the whole, DC is doing just that.
Casey: People complaining on the internet aren't real. End quote.
Philips: Many of our customers are excited about the concept. As many customers that like the new "dark" direction, have complained about it.
Nrama: Are you finding significant backlash from long-time DC fans in your store?
Price: Not significant, no.
Wellman: Nope. One or two holdouts. But then you show them a great book like Snyder and Capullo's Batman. If they hold their nose up at that, then they're just being stubborn.
Robinson: No. They told me there would be, but I've only seen a handful of people "quit" reading most of their DC books.
DiBernardo: A bit. Long-term readers are slowly coming on board. No matter how much you love the old characters, DC has great teams on the new books. Readers are starting to realize it might be good.
Biggers: No. Even the customers who expressed trepidations seem to be enjoying the new 52 titles, and most of them are buying more DCs than they did before. Hardly anyone has responded negatively. (One customer dropped most DC's, but he is the anomaly, not the norm.)
Pierce: Only finding significant backlash on specific comics or events that take place in that comic. I haven't had any long-time fans view this as a "clean break" and jump ship. They are akin to football fans. They love these characters and good or bad... they will stick with them.
Ryan Seymore, general manager of Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio: The loudest negative opinions are coming from long-time DC readers. In the case of the new characterizing of Catwoman and Starfire, I might have to agree.
Casey: The only "long-time" DC fans giving any backlash are the same "long-time" fans of Monopoly who complained about the board being made into a circle or "long-time" Mickey Mouse fans complaining about him being a "bad guy" -- they didn't give two s**ts about the item in question a month before the change, and won't a month after. Someone claiming to be a "long-time" DC fan should be jumping for joy that DC is giving a shot in the arm to the direct market and their comic books, as well as comic books in general (and really, any "long-time" DC fan would actually be a "long-time" National Periodicals fan).
Philips: At first, yes. Now acceptance is becoming the norm.
Nrama: Many of you indicated you've seen new faces. Have you seen those new faces return yet for more comics? Anything in particular?
Price: We had several new people come in each week this month. What will be most interesting will be if they continue to read #2s and up. I think we'll see people be more selective in month #2.
Robinson: The brand new faces have only picked up DC 52, so far, but DC's opened the door for us, and we're hopeful to convert some to other publishers/titles beyond the new 52. Too soon to say.
Wellman: You know what's interesting, is that this is the first time there's been a major initiative like this since the internet has become a widespread tool. We've been seeing a bunch of new faces returning in every Wednesday as well as sending us Facebook messages about how much they enjoyed a particular title or how much fun they had meeting Scott (Teen Titans) Lobdell, Brian (The Flash) Buccellato and Norm (Teen Titans) Rapmund at last night's signing event.
So we can measure how significantly our "fanbase" has grown on Facebook since the relaunch. Somewhere around 200 new fans. Spikes like this usually come with some significant event or promotion (such as the Walking Dead TV relaunch tie-in we did last October). The DC relaunch has been pretty much the major topic of conversation here for the last month, so I think there's a direct correlation.
DiBernardo: The new faces continue to pick up the DC books and some of the older trades of events they heard about. Picking up 13 titles a week is a big budget hit. There isn't room for more, yet. Once they start cutting down their titles, I think we will be able to hook them on other stuff.
Biggers: Sales are up for everyone in our store. This rising tide has lifted all boats, so to speak. Buffy and Angel and Star Trek and Doctor Who have all seen strong gains in sales from newcomers who didn't know those books existed or who hadn't tried them before. The strongest growth, though, is in the collected editions that we stock very heavily; sales are up dramatically among new readers who want to try entire story lines while they're picking up the new DCs.
Pierce: Only being week four of the relaunch, I can't nail down something in particular that they are coming for over anything else. It seems they have come in every single week and bought the "big" title that came out that week and have tried at least two or three other titles. That is what this is all about. It's about making DC accessible to the new reader as well as having a great story to go along with it for long-time ones.
Casey: The newest face we saw was an old face -- an 80-year-old woman said that she was old enough to remember when Superman first came to this planet in Action Comics #1, and she wanted this one as well.
We've seen lots of different kinds of people come through; many have signed up for subscriptions with us. They are branching out to other offerings from other publishers as well as sticking with the New 52 titles that grabbed them.
Philips: They are returning mainly for the new issues of DC. They haven't branched into other books or companies. Hopefully, they will.
Nrama: Do any new readers you've seen seem satisfied or dissatisfied with the product?
Seymore: The newer readers have loved almost everything they've tried and have been back to try other DC titles for their flag ship characters.
Robinson: Glad you chose the word readers, some of these people are just investors/sheep. Overall, readers seem satisfied with most of the line.
DiBernardo: I think they are still getting their bearings. Everyone has favorites but no one is talking smack about any titles yet. I expect that is going to change soon.
Pierce: Overall, they have been satisfied. I have a few new readers that have tried everything and several of the books they have tried, they tell me they couldn't follow it or they had no idea what was going on. But that is on two or three of the 52, so I’ll take those odds.
Price: Satisfied enough that they are trying more, I suppose. The people I've talked to specifically like some titles and haven't liked others, but have liked enough that they indicate that they're going to read more of them.
Casey: The new readers seem generally pleased with the New 52 books they have tried with the occasional complaints that are common in comic shops "I liked the story but the art didn't grab me." "The story was a mess, but the art was gorgeous."
Wellman: I'm sure that not everyone likes everything, but I think that most readers are surprised by how much of the new stuff they actually liked. Hey, this is a great medium and if the definition of "new readers" is "one who has not previously been buying and reading comic books," then you're talking about a division of the population that's been depriving themselves of some of the most exciting and vibrant storytelling available to mankind for the last eight decades or longer!
Once they start looking around beyond the New 52, I'll be waiting there to introduce them to other fantastic, reader-friendly books. From Dark Knight to DEMO. But that's probably another topic of discussion.
Philips: Many are satisfied, but have commented that they are going to be very selective about the #2s.
Nrama: Have you seen comic readers who were non-DC readers trying out the New 52? Any feedback there?
Robinson: Yes! Yes! Yes! On the exceptional titles, they are committed. On the mediocre stuff, they're on the fence and aren't even committing to #2's yet.
Wellman: Yes! The funniest story was one of my customers who is a Marvel Zombie telling me how much he enjoyed both Batman and Detective Comics. He then added, "But let's face it, Batman's a Marvel character." "What do you mean?" I had to ask.
"Well, he's tortured, complex and a bad-ass...".
Philips: Yes, and many returning readers. Many are excited. I hope we can all keep them that way.
DiBernardo: I have. Many! Marvel has left people wanting and DC has filled that gap. Most of the non-DC readers have gravitated to the core characters. It's also been easy to get indie readers on board titles written by creators they followed in indie books.
Biggers: Yes. Every one of them who has sampled the new DC line has found something that he or she wants to continue reading, which is a great sign of DC's success.
Pierce: I have had several customers that are almost 100 percent Marvel try out nearly all of the DC stuff. At the very least, people are grabbing the big titles (Batman, Action, Detective) to try out.
Casey: There's a store in the area that many consider "a Marvel store." We had several of their customers take advantage of our New 52 for $52 pre-order offer. 'Nuff said.
Nrama: Any other opinions about September overall that you want to share?
Price: We had a very strong month with some of the best Wednesdays in our history.
DiBernardo: DC has taken a typically slow month for us and made it spectacular.
Casey: It's over already?
Philips: DC was very vague about the reorder numbers. For an event this large, they, and/or Diamond should have double-checked with every account to make sure they understood the goals. More than one comic book shop I am aware of misunderstood the goal amounts established for their store.
Robinson: The only problem when something is so wildly successful like this promotion is the initial results can be very misleading to a store. Some of the interest is simply speculators, sheep or customers of other shops that have sold out more quickly than you did -- driving the extra 45 minutes to get a copy from you. So while it feels like you've got all these new customers, a good percentage of them will not be around in four months and you need to take that in to account or any money you've made off this initial burst will get lost again with over ordering.
Pierce: September is a beautiful month isn't it? The weather starts becoming more fall-like, the air seems crisp and clean, the beauty of nature starts to reveal itself.....oh! you didn't just ask about September right? Or did you mean our DC sales? Yeah, sales have been great! Haven't you been paying attention?
Wellman: We are extremely happy with the turnout of the relaunch so far. We've had amazing sales, an unprecedented month, actually, in a time when all you hear about is how bad the economy is and seeing first-hand major chains "Border" up their windows. Times like these make me feel that maybe I wasn't so crazy to pursue a life in the comic book business after all!
Seymore: I guess my overall feeling is that the ball is in DC's court. As long as DC can write stories that fill in the gaps in titles that upset long time readers - i.e. four Robins in five years for Batman for example while at the same time keeping newer readers engaged with plots that move the characters forward things will be fine.
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