When DC Comics rebooted its superhero universe in September, the sales numbers were much higher than just about anyone anticipated.
Yet as the retailers tried to keep up with reorders, they were also hesitant to proclaim the initiative a success. "Talk to me in January," many of them said.
Well, it's January, with the business heading into its fifth month of the DCnU. So we talked to them.
"The New 52 injected some much-needed new energy and excitement into the comics business overall, and made new, lapsed, and existing readers take a new look at DC," said Gerry Gladston of Midtown Comics, the New York City chain.
Most retailers echoed Gladston's comments, indicating that there are more people coming into their stores than there were before the relaunch.
"The New 52 absolutely helped the comic business!" said Mike Banks, owner of Samurai Comics in Phoenix. "It brought in new readers, many of whom have stuck around. I got old readers to come back to the hobby.
And it even helped transfer existing readers over to new titles."
Retailers admitted, however, that most comics are back to the sales level that was common before September, but they're happy to see that others are selling much better after the initiative.
"The high end number has increased," said Matt Price, owner of Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, Okla. "The low end and middle numbers have kind of migrated back to where they were pre-relaunch. But there are more titles in the high and middle than there were before."
"The first two months were phenomenal!" said Mike Wellman, co-owner of The Comic Bug, Manhattan Beach, Calif. "We're now settling into the reality, I think, of what the numbers truly are going to be. Our Batman and Justice League orders are standing head and shoulders about the rest. Some of the other titles have settled in much lower than we anticipated, some at just a dozen copies. But that's how it was before the relaunch. Some books have increased their readership more than four times over, if you consider All-Star Western to be the heir to Jonah Hex numbers. Overall, sales are still very strong."
"Overall sales of the New 52 are a net increase for DC overall," said Carr D'Angelo, owner of the Earth-2 Comics stores in Southern California. "With issue #4, we are finally seeing what is most likely the normal pattern."
The retailer responses were mixed, however, when it came to the effect on other, non-DC comics.Gladston of Midtown said his stores saw increases on titles outside the New 52. "With increased traffic at Midtown due to the New 52, there was a trickle-down affect that caused an uptick in sales by other publishers as well," he said.
Yet others have noticed the increase appears to be mainly among DC readers.
"After all the dust has settled I don't feel that the New 52 has had any effect on the titles published by any other company," said Ryan Seymore, president of Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio. "The people that had initially tried other titles by Marvel or IDW have kind of drifted away from those books and settled into their DC favorites."
Seymore said most of the new readers he's seen also prefer DC. "Generally speaking, at this point, the new readers that are still here are loyal DC readers for the foreseeable future," he said. "They look forward to new book day and have established buying patterns. We now know them by name and have great weekly or monthly conversations with them when they stop in for their books."
"Overall comic sales are up by about 20 percent," said Ralph DiBernardo, owner of Jetpack Comics in Rochester, N.H. "While we've gained DC sales we've lost in others. Perhaps publishers can take notice that there is a finite amount of comic cash available. There needs to be more customer mining outside of the existing base. DC did a great job bringing in new people. We need more initiatives like that."
Banks said his non-DC titles have been affected in "both a good way and a bad way."
"I just had a customer remark to me yesterday how he spent $30 in our store," Banks said. "What stuck out in his mind was that most of that $30 went toward DC Comics. Before the New 52 this customer was a complete Marvel fan and rarely or never bought a DC book. Now he mostly buys DC for two reasons: No. 1, he really likes the new storylines; No. 2, The price point. He really likes the $2.99 price point on most of the books over the $3.99 that most of the Marvel books he used to buy cost."
Most retailers took advantage of DC's returnability in September and October, but few are still returning comics. "We went aggressive ordering issue #2 because we could not determine how many people would come back for the second issues," D'Angelo explained. "We had returns, but we also were able to find the ceiling on all the titles. After issue #4, even though DC is offering returnabilty, it seems smarter for us to go back to our normal ordering patterns than aim for returnability."
So what do retailers think DC did right? And what should DC (and other publishers) do next?
"The regular schedule has been a boost for sales and I hope other publishers follow suit," D'Angelo said. "It really helps the customers when there's a Batman book every week and they know that Action is always the first week of the month. That positive reinforcement keeps customers interested. For other publishers I am always answering the question when the next issue of this or that title is coming out."
Maintain Quality and Continuity"As the sales on these titles fall into a standard attrition, DC needs to show their ability to capture fans' attention wasn't a fluke, and that it can be replicated," Price said. "Quality, timely release and consistent creative teams will all help moving forward as well."
"Readers are responding to titles like Batman, Action, Animal Man, etcetera, in a big way," Gladston said, "but that enthusiasm can erode if the quality is not consistent."
"Make sure that the editors of the titles are all on the same page story line wise in order to keep coherency and consistency that will maintain readership," Seymore said.
Returnability on Unknown Comics
" I'm very grateful that DC offered the returnability for the initial issues of these series," Wellman said. "It was the perfect safety net!"
"The returnability allowed us to reach higher on these numbers than we would have otherwise, so I think it was a good move by DC," Price said. "I would have liked to see a slightly longer return window to give us a chance to sell the first issues through the end of 2011, but I have to applaud DC's efforts in general."
"The returnability they offered to retailers was a huge key for us," Banks said.
"It allowed us to take a much bigger chance on these comics than we would have otherwise. Continuing to offer programs that help brick and mortar stores sell more comics is something DC needs to do moving forward."
Reconsider Digital Approach
"I think that the biggest problem with digital is that it 'devalues' the medium," Wellman said. "First, readers argue that they should pay less for a digital copy than a print copy. Then, once the prices drop on digital, they'll say 'why should we pay $2.99 for the new issue of Superman when I can buy it digitally for $1.99?' There's no way to win that argument."
"I would prefer the comics industry used the standards of the TV and movie industry and look at print comics and digital as different distribution channels with different windows," D'Angelo said. "The movie industry seems to realize that releasing a movie in theaters and on TV and Internet on the same day is generally not a profitable model. If the goal is new readers and expanding the market, I think the publishers have a better chance of catching new eyes with classic stories and collections than random issues of new comics. The same way we are more likely to sell a new walk-in customer The Long Halloween or Watchmen than a random comic. "
"I hope DC can continue doing promotions that reach out to new and lapsed readers," D'Angelo added. "It was exciting when people came in because they saw TV ads for the New 52. That kind of advertising support needs to continue."
Reprint Quicker"Potential damage was done during the first month with almost all title's second prints not being released until the same day as the second issues," Seymore said. "Many potential new readers were lost at that point being forced to wait a month before buying two issues of a book that they only wanted to test the waters on. The lack of a rapid reprinting prevented them from satisfying new readers needs and either sent the new readers to larger shops or just lost their interest all together."
Find More Ways to Attract Readers
"In the long, long term, relaunching to gain consumer attention may be harder to replicate," Price said. "And while certain particulars perhaps could have been handled better, the net result is positive.
"I think certain titles have done well and it was a definite marketing success. There were some editorial decisions I didn't agree with," Price added, "but looking at it from the sales perspective, it's done quite well."
"Any event that turns the spotlight on comics reading and encouraging people to check out a comics shop is good for the business overall," D'Angelo said.
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