DC VP John Rood Discusses Nov. Sales Win & Future Plans
LEE BERMEJO Talks BATMAN: NOEL
Since September, it's become a monthly occurrence for executives at DC Entertainment to talk about the publisher's market domination in Diamond's sales numbers.
Ever since DC started over the numbering on all its comics in September, rebooting some of its most popular franchises, the company has had the largest market share — something that was previously rare for the company, with Marvel holding market share dominance in the past.
November was no different. DC held the largest market share — although by a much closer lead — and had most of the top-selling comics and graphic novels sold to comic book stores.
DC's success has stopped the sales slide that the comic industry had been experiencing recently. In fact, November finally saw an increase in the industry's year-to-date sales.
John Rood, DC's executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development, has said in the past that market share isn't a measure of success. But he's apparently enjoying the chance to talk about it each month with Newsarama.
Today, we talked to the executive about that market share, as well as discussing how sales look for December and beyond. Within the discussion, Rood said:
- DC has a good chance of emerging with the top market share again in December, or at least that's what Rood insinuated. He also pointed out that DC is winning the market share battle each month despite Marvel releasing more titles, often with higher price points.
- Orders for DC's top titles are increasing month to month.
- DC will probably be ending some of the lower-selling New 52 titles around issue #8, and those will most likely be replaced by other new titles.
- In 2012, one of DC's big marketing pushes will, apparently, be the release in May of the New 52 collections, going after the "wait-for-the-trade" market.
- DC is also toying with the idea of 99-cent offerings in print comics.
- DC will be putting digital graphic novels and collections on more e-readers, similar to its recent exclusive offering of 100 digital books through Amazon's Kindle Fire. The company will announce book deals with "more partners and devices," Rood said.
- The results of the Nielson survey that DC conducted after the launch of the New 52 is planned to be released to retailers first, particularly at February at the ComicsPRO meeting. But Rood said the survey supports DC's initial belief that the initiative brought in new customers and lapsed customers.
Below is a transcript of the discussion:
Newsarama: John! Another month where you have the largest market share?
John Rood: We have to keep meeting like this!
Nrama: Yes, we do. Perhaps you can make it a monthly thing?
Rood: [laughs] I'm as surprised as many that we keep having this nice opportunity to talk monthly.
Nrama: Even though you have told me again and again that you put no importance on it whatsoever, did you expect to have the largest market share this month?
Rood: I didn't expect it months ago, but I expected it last month, that we would keep "winning" a couple more months, so to speak. And every time I say "winning," you need to put it in quotes. I read somewhere that Rihanna has 10 No. 1 singles and Led Zeppelin and R.E.M. have none. You know? So how do you measure one versus another. "Random House beat Harper Collins!" So what? Let's talk about the stories and characters!
I'm being flippant. But I'm just trying to make the point that we followed DC's November performance closely. But we followed it more closely as compared to DC's October performance, and as compared to DC's November 2010 performance, right? We have to show growth month-versus-previous month. We have to show month-versus-same month a year ago. That part concerns us a lot more than what the other publishers are doing. And I'm sure the other publishers would tell you the same thing.
Nrama: So as you were following DC's November performance closely, what were you seeing in those specific DC month to DC month comparison, and what do you expect going forward on those?
Rood: We've seen titles go up, which defies historic performance in any kind of launch or sequeling. So when the most conversely successful titles are particularly strong and F.O.C. [Final Order Cutoff] is exceeding orders for the issue N minute 1, that tells us we're continuing to defy the gravity.
There will be a natural decline. But the decline is slower and smaller than we could have ever anticipated in the planning of the New 52.
Nrama: How do the F.O.C. numbers that you've gotten so far for #5's look?
Rood: Really exciting. I don't even think about it in terms of "winning" December, but when you take that strength of F.O.C. #5, and then you add things like graphic novel performance, where we've always had a great advantage, and recently driven by titles like Lee Bermejo's Batman: Noel, then you're like, wow, this is something that could continue to be goofy.
And I say "goofy" because our books are at $2.99 largely.
Again, we have to keep meeting like this! I expect we won't eventually. But that won't be the measure of the success or failure of the New 52, is how many months we "win." It just won't be that. That doesn't matter.
What matters is that the retailers are telling us that traffic is staying strong, the retailers are telling us that lapsed and new customers are making up this attendance, and we're having as much internet chatter about the improvement of books as we are about the predicted decline of books, in terms of their stories and characters. And that's fun to watch.
Nrama: You watch that?
Rood: We don't operate against internet buzz, but we certainly monitor it enough to feel good when the ratings keep staying high on books #3 and #4. And we keep following it when people are as excited about some creator changes as they are excited about creators staying the same on books.
Nrama: Obviously, the top books from the New 52 are still very strong. You've changed some creative teams on several books going into the next storyline, which I know is an editorial decision, not marketing. But looking at October and what we know of November so far, the new #1 issues that have been introduced outside the excitement of September have not sold well. In particular, a maxi-series like The Shade seems to have really missed out by being introduced in October instead of September. As you go forward, you're going to have to eventually replace some of your lower performing New 52 titles with new #1 introductions, correct?
Nrama: How will you market those new #1's when there's evidence that the #1's you've introduced since September have not done well at all?
Rood: Yeah, that's a good question. And I'm glad you associated it specifically to marketing, because I'll try not to make editorial discussions here and leave that to the capable hands of Jim Lee, Dan DiDio and Bob Harras.
From a marketing standpoint, some of this is just the law of diminishing returns. The 11th hot fudge sundae is not as tasty as the first. The market only has a certain capacity for newness.
You can send all the postcards that you want that something's coming. But ultimately, there will be a satiated quality to bringing out #1 this and #1 that.
Books get lost in the shuffle. Absolutely. And we were asking both the retail system — the local comic shops — and the customer to sip from a fire hose in September.
We'll have new titles and replacement titles and other publishing events across DC Comics and Vertigo in 2012.
But we've got finite resources. And the retailer has finite order capacity. And the reader has finite purchase and reader interest.
So figuring out Sophie's Choice on where to put our publicity and advertising attention is the big question.
Nrama: So no answers yet for how to market future releases? Nothing you're considering as a marketing push in 2012?
Rood: From a marketing standpoint, holding everything else constant, I'm very excited about collected editions, because I just know there is a bunch of readers like myself that wanted to wait until you buy the whole season instead of buying one episode at a time. And so when May 2nd rolls around and the New 52 comes to market in earnest in a whole new format, via collected editions, volume 1, I'm pretty excited about the retailer attention, readership attention and publicity attention. So there are calories and dollars that are going to go against May and the summer, as it pertains to the New 52 collected editions.
And I'll tell you, from a marketing standpoint, I sure thought we were going to have to start talking about replacement titles in 2011. So how delightful for me that I can wait until 2012 to talk about replacement titles.
We were at the "road show" last summer talking to retailers, saying, "Well, we'll probably wait until Issue #5 to make any replacement decisions." And gosh, it's going to be closer to something like issue #8 before we entertain that situation, which is in the "great-problem-to-have" department.
Nrama: You mentioned the success that Batman: Noel had, and you've talked about your expectations for the collected editions of the New 52. How important is the bookstore market to the success of those initiatives, and what do you expect from those collections and graphic novels being exposed now on digital?
Rood: We've always had a strong business at DC Entertainment with graphic novels and collected editions. And we've done a lot of good things to make sure local comic shops sell those as earnestly as they sell periodicals. Certainly the landscape in bookstores has changed.
And we have contributed to the introduction of the e-reading phenomenon. But we're not done making news there with other partners and other devices.
What is delightful to be able to keep reporting — and I think other publishers would say the same — is that this is continually additive. And we may have mentioned this in discussions with you in past months. We're not talking about replacing one type of reader for another: physical cannibalized by digital, or periodical cannibalized by collection. We're moreover saying there is a new, robust audience that is additive to our core audience.
And there is no medium, especially across all of print — newspaper, magazine, books, etcetera — there's no medium, no category other than comics, that I can tell, that has successfully embraced new platforms and new audiences in a way that is far more additive than it has been replacement or cannibalized.
We, by the math of our business at DC Entertainment and by the great stories that we tell with Vertigo and DC Comics in the graphic novels and collected editions, have to put a measure of attention to that.
And like I said, I just think there's a lot of folks that, specific to the New 52, that are going to want to wait until collection time. And we'll continue to do the incentivizing and marketing to make sure that job one is with local comic shops, and then jobs two and beyond are with bookstores and digital partners.
Nrama: You mentioned that the retailers have given you feedback that they're seeing new faces and some return customers. I know you guys did a survey with Nielson, but do you have evidence of new readers either through that data or elsewhere? Do you have anything concrete to know this is adding readers?
Rood: We do. We do. And it's affirming what we've heard anecdotal.
We talked to thousands, so I feel great about what Nielson NRG has been able to do with us in terms of a significant universe, a respondent class that we've got. We've talked to many retailers live and talked to many retailers via online survey. We talked to many consumers via online survey with both physical and digital consumers. And we talked to several of them live through this kind of multi-faceted research process.
What we have yet to do is bring some results outside our walls, firstly to the retailers. And we'll be doing it in many, many ways, including at the February 9th ComicsPRO meeting in Dallas.
But we also owe it to press representatives like yourself who've been reporting on the business of the industry.
So to your question, the research that we've done has validated the fact that the audience includes new customers and includes lapsed customers at very heartening levels.
And other things too, like that it wasn't a speculative buy. That people didn't come in buying #1's only, thinking they're going to make a lot of money at Sotheby's in 50 years. But rather they are customers, and customers that are going to come back.
Customers that are cross over too. We see a good self report about digital customers becoming physical customers, which was exactly what we wanted to do with our mix of product offering, price parity and local comic shop incentives, to try to make sure digital customers become physical customers.
I applaud Marvel for their digital coupon that's intent it to drive comic shop traffic. And we're going to try to do tactics like that. Because that's a very important industry-wide imperative.
Nrama: I know you saw growth of your digital market in September. Since then, is that digital market getting any bigger? Is it holding steady? Or is it decreasing since the big September launch?
Rood: Digital sales for the titles that are decreasing physically are also decreasing digitally. But they aren't decreasing at a faster click. In other words, if the digital sales of a comic have been about 10 percent of its physical sales, we haven't seen that percentage number change from issue #1 to #2 to #3 to #4.
So they seem to be holding their percentage nature, title to title.
And then there are obviously innovations that have goosed our digital numbers, from comiXology having its app on Kindle Fire, and that kind of thing.
But by and large, the numbers are strong and staying strong. There's no decline that is unexpected or an anomaly.
Nrama: What's the feedback you've gotten on the retailer digital storefronts by comiXology?
Rood: I wish there were more people participating in it. I think every comic shop who participates in digital, whether it's through comiXology or not, has seemed pretty excited by that prospect. And I'm hoping that, just like booksellers are calling themselves stores and showrooms, that hopefully all of our local retailers will embrace all of the media available to them. I expect more compliance over time, but that's just a guess.
Nrama: The original digital content that you're doing with Batman Beyond Unlimited, will we see more of that? And will you stick with the format of doing a weekly at 99 cents, or are you toying with other things?
Rood: We're toying with other things. It certainly isn't a first step in a grand plan to do digital-specialized books. There will be as many 99-cent innovations in physical as digital next year.
This is a delightful time in business development. And comic shops feel the same way. We're trying new things. Understandably, our comic shop partners just don't want to be surprised by things, or be denied things that are offered elsewhere. So we're trying to experiment, but experiment responsibly.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!