Justice League #12When DC Entertainment announced a year ago that its titles would all be relaunched with a new #1, the reaction from comic book retailers was mixed.
Some thought it was a gimmick, while others questioned the decision to offer same-day digital. But most knew something had to be done, because they'd been watching their sales slide and their customers become less interested over the last few years.
But a year later, the retailers we polled were all saying the same thing. This was exactly the kind of shake-up the comics industry needed, and digital sales haven't impacted their stores substantially.
"There were things I liked and didn't [when the New 52 was announced], but I felt like comics did need a kick in the pants of some sort," said Matt Price, owner of Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, Okla. "This has turned out to be it."
"My perception of the event hasn't changed at all [a year later]," said Adam Casey, manager at Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C. "I thought it was a much needed shot in the arm to both the comics industry as well as comics readers, and it has been a massive success. The only ones who complain it about it are the ones not reading DC titles, and weren't reading them before the New 52."
"While I had some initial skepticism about the plan, I saw it as, if you'll excuse me, both 'Brave and Bold,'" said Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif. "This was an event that could have gone both ways — either a major jumping on point for readers, or a major exodus for long-time readers."
A few retailers admitted they've lost a few DC readers because of the changes, but the gains in new readers have far outweighed the losses.
"DC Sales are so far up now it is ridiculous," said Ralph DiBernardo, owner of Jetpack Comics in Rochester, N.H.
"Our DC numbers have doubled from what they were before the New 52," said Ryan Seymore, owner of Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio.Action Comics #12 "Now nine issues in, DC comic book sales are quite a bit higher than they were pre-New 52, when there were far more titles," Field said.
"Marvel fans who thought they'd never enjoy DC found the relaunch as the incentive they needed to give them a try," said Charlie Harris, owner of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz.
In fact, every one of the retailers who responded to Newsarama said they are not only selling more DC comics now than they were a year ago, but they're also experiencing higher sales overall.
"DC brought in dozens of new faces and brought many readers back," DiBernardo said. "Sales are up! Way up. "
"Overall sales have increased, but the New 52 is just part of a zeitgeist of comics right now," Casey said. "The New 52 brought people into our store and the quality comics kept them around. Titles from Image piqued their interest, and the better made Marvel titles have caught their eye as well."
"While I don't look at what other publishers have done as reaction to DC's New 52, I do see that publishers are responding by making substantial efforts to put out their 'A' game month in and month out," Field said. "We may be closer now than we've been in many years to having all the major publishers clicking on all cylinders. So kudos to not just DC, but all publishers."
So was everything perfect about DC's relaunch? Retailers said they came pretty close. But we asked a few to share their own "best" and "worst" list, and here are a few of the responses:
Best thing DC did for retailers concerning the New 52?
"If I have to pick one, I'll say getting the books to us on time and on a regular schedule," Price said. "But they did a lot right: Marketing the event, running commercials, providing new forms of co-op, offering returnability and additional discounts: all very good things."
"Mainstream TV advertising. I had a number of people come in, new people, saying they had heard about this via a TV commercial and wanted to know more," DiBernardo said.Batman #12 "The best thing DC did for retailers regarding the New 52 (aside from having the guts to do it) was the returnability offer," Casey said. "This is a great practice, and any smart publisher would be wise to offer it for at least the first issue of a title, if not the first three. This offer allowed us to order substantially on titles and people were driving from an hour and a half away to come get them. We didn't order crazy numbers just to order crazy numbers and bank on returnability later, but we believed in the titles. Having an insurance plan if something went wrong was just a bonus, but we ended up returning very little actually."
"Strip cover returns. Period," Seymore said. "They knocked it out of the park with all of the marketing DC did, but without the confidence from strip cover returns, I wouldn't have been able to order enough copies of unproven titles to meet demand. Best move they could have made and it allowed me to get concrete sales figures to work with for issues #6, #7 and #8, while also allowing as many guests as possible to try out as many different titles as they could with out forcing shops to go bankrupt guess at how many copies to order."
"Keeping us in the loop and allowing us to profit from the digital comics without any capital investment," Harris said. "DC chose to keep the retailers in the loop as their sales force, while Marvel tried to cut us out. The digital age is upon us and not welcoming and accommodating it will leave comics shops in the same position that Sam Goody and Blockbuster Video have found themselves in."
"It's all about the re-energizing of the market. More people excited about comics, more customers in the store every day and more publishers upping their games to add to the dynamism of the market," Field said.
And the worst thing DC did for retailers regarding the New 52?
"The returnability offer could have been extended to more titles," Casey said. "Another area that could have used a bit of improvement would have been informing readers about what exactly was going on and what had happened previously to the characters. Obviously, they had to keep some things secret, but a few more clues in the first couple of issues about what exactly happened in the past of some of the characters would have saved me from hearing a middle-aged man complain about something the Teen Titans may or may not have done."The Flash #12 "Not having strip cover returns on Flash, Green Lantern, Batman, Action Comics and Justice League because of the 1: 200 variants," Seymore said. "I think they should have made them returnable if you didn't order 200 copies or more, or if you also returned the 1: 200 variants. They still don't have posters for any of the New 52 titles or characters. How hard is it to take the cover of Justice League #1 and do a printing of posters? Any of the big iconic characters issue #1's cover art would have sold banana hammock level numbers as posters had they made them available between September and December of last year. Action figures? Batman is out this week so I hope you don't like Superman. The side merchandise is where DC really is dropping the ball with the New 52."
"Some of the creative choices were poor and risky at the start of such an endeavor, especially allowing a few artists to try their hands at writing," Harris said. "And that's still a bit shaky; a couple artists proved that they couldn't handle the writing and the art, some just couldn't write well, even with mentoring writers and strong editors."
"You can second-guess some of the editorial decisions, but from a strictly retail standpoint, they didn't do a whole lot wrong," Price said. "It might have been easier to find the ceiling in month one without the 20-cent returnability penalty, especially given how few I assume ended up being returned. However, that's a small complaint given how much went right."
"The lack of immediate information was a killer," said DiBernardo, bemoaning the company's demand for secrecy about storylines during the relaunch. "If I had known more, further ahead, I could have prepared better. That being said, it has all worked out fine."Wonder Woman #12 "At this point in the game, there is no 'worst' thing," Field said. "DC economized its line, matched its most popular characters with top-flight talent, gave retailers incentives to go deep in ordering (given the multiple printings on some issues, most obviously didn't go deep enough), added some needed out-of-market promotion and real-world advertising to the mix, and that added lots of customers and dollars to the retail sector. What's not to like?"
However, Field -- who serves as president of the retailing organization ComicsPRO, said there are lessons from the first nine months of the New 52 "from which all other publishers can learn":
1) Fans love reasons to get even more excited by the stuff they buy every week.
2) Fans love knowing that certain titles will ship the same week each month, month in and month out.
3) Sometimes less is more. With fewer titles and better talent on those titles, DC has captured significantly higher sales.
4) All the doomsayer talks about how comics can't attract more buyers is ridiculous. I believe there are even more people willing to by comics if they are given the proper product and proper invitation.
5) Other publishers should learn that pressing the reset button is something that really can't be duplicated any time soon with the same success DC is having.
6) Publishers should look to more outreach promotion to draw new readers to comic specialty stores. The general media has never been more receptive to what comics have to offer.
But one year after first hearing about the New 52 initiative, it was Seymore that summed up most retailers' thoughts: "I'm glad DC had the guts to make this move. That's all."
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