September's Talon #0DC Comics picked a fine time to invite Newsarama to our monthly chat with DC's Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne and Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham. The interview, timed to Diamond's release of the monthly Direct Market Sales data (in this case, May 2012) also happened to take place the morning DC officially announced September's Zero Month and four new ongoing series (along with the cancellation of 4 four current ones, including Justice League International). Zero Month, as readers probably now know, is a September event marking the one-year anniversary of the New 52 and presents 52 special #0 issues for every ongoing series, spotlighting origins for the titles and characters that haven’t has theirs told yet, but more specifically new “reveals” that will fuel the second years of most of the New 52 titles, and begin to set things up for 2013’s Trinity War line-wide event. September's
The Phantom Stranger #0And the four new ongoing series DC is adding in September with their own #0 issues and #1’s to follow in October are Talon, The Phantom Stranger, Team Seven, and Sword of Sorcery. The full details on all of Friday morning’s DC news and Diamond’s May 2012 sales figures can be found by following the respective links. But it gave us, Wayne and Cunningham a lot of discuss, including: are DC sales really better than they were before the New 52? Why industry-wide sales are so strong in 2012? And is it the New 52 anyway?
Newsarama: Alright, gentlemen. There’s a lot of information out this morning, but let’s start with the May 2012 sales data from Diamond. We’ll be offering our own analysis over the next few days, but is there one particular thing about May you want to highlight that’s particularly noteworthy?September's He-Man #3 Bob Wayne: Well, I think it’s noteworthy that we published seven of the top 10 comics for the month of May, and that half of those seven were ninth issues as part of our ongoing New 52 initiative, one was an annual that tied into a current storyline and one was a new launch into the New 52. The fact that we have so many of these New 52 series continuing to do strong numbers after nine months under the New 52 initiative is a big positive.
Nrama: There are people out there on the comics’ sites and blogs who attempt to track and analyze Diamond sales month-to-month. Some of the number-crunching seems to suggest that with the sales attrition natural to the comic book Direct Market, sales much pretty much back where they were prior to the launch of the New 52, or at least back to 2010’s numbers. Do you find any flaws in that analysis?
Wayne: I think our overall market share is up substantially month-in and month-out compared to two years ago. And overall, our sales going through Diamond is up over the previous year. Looking at the industry and market shares, you’re always going to have 100% on the pie-chart, but the pie is bigger now since the launch of the New 52 initiative and I don’t think most attempts at analysis don’t take that into account.
Nrama: Although no hard sales numbers are ever released, those analysts try to extrapolate those numbers from Diamond’s sales index released every month. Would it be fair to say that New 52 sales are top heavy with the Batman titles for example being big a big success, or is it more of a line-wide success?
The Shade #12Wayne: I really think that our top books, our midlist books and even our lower tier books, on average, are doing better than they were, and on average better than our competitor’s titles. I would like to be positive about all of this, but I think some of the analysis of sales figures online are being done in a vacuum; they’re looking solely at our numbers and not all the sales numbers across the board.
Nrama: On that note, according to Diamond’s May numbers, sales are up over 20% year-to-year from the first five months of 2011 to the first five months of this year. There’s a theory some analysts like John Jackson Miller of Comichron advance that when a publishing event like the New 52 success for retailers it flushes them with cash and they then have the money to reinvest in other events down the line, forming a chain of growth that lasts for years. How much do you attribute the success of the first month of New 52 and with the sales for the first nine months so far, allowing retailers to reinvest their profits back into their subsequent orders across the board?Wayne: If our retailers have shared in our success as much as we believe they have, then we believe New 52 has been successful for a vast majority of them. The Second Wave of New 52 started recently with Batman Incorporated and Earth 2 as well as the first title in our Before Watchmen initiative. At the same time, the collected editions of the first batch of New 52 material are coming out. The Diamond charts were very favorable to us on that material, if you look at those numbers. When Justice League is at #1 and Batman is at #2 on the Diamond book format charts, we can’t complain. We have a lot of books on top of that list as well.
John Cunningham: When we launched New 52, we said outright that it was a fairly long-term play and that the collected editions were part of the plan. Now that we’re beginning to release the collected editions of New 52 material to the mass audience, we’re expecting to see the same thing. Of the first six collections release, five made the upcoming New York Times’ best-sellers list. And Scott Snyder’s Batman hardcover is on top of the hardcovers list, as well as a re-issue of Batman material tying into the upcoming movie coming in at #1 on another list. We’ve got the #1 books in both paperback and hardcover. This is all in a month with Marvel is having an event, and we’ve got seven of the top 10 comic books out there.
Nrama: You somehow knocked The Walking Dead off their long-standing perch as the #1 selling comic book collection? If so, that’s an accomplishment of its own, right [laughs]?
Legends of the
digital seriesWayne: I think it’s good for the market as a whole that Robert Kirkman has been so successful with The Walking Dead trades, as its brought a great deal of capitalization into the market. It also shows the importance of keeping books available for re-order. Robert, Image and Skybound all did a great job there. The Walking Dead came in third in quantity at Diamond.
We’re not only happy about how well the New 52 collections launched, but also happy The Walking Dead is no longer running new television episodes so we have some oxygen in the room. [laughs]
Nrama: Turning to the announcements this morning, and I know our Newsarama community wants to know about the titles that will be cancelled in the wake of these new series being announced. Can you address that?
[editor’s note: DC declined to respond to that question at this time.]
Nrama: One thing Dan DiDio said in our interview earlier today is and interesting comment about the development of new series. He said, “We might be developing eight books, and you might have only four slots”, meaning editorially sticking to the hard 52 figure.
Pardon us if this question has been asked and answered over the last year or so, but can you address what the New 52 means from a marketing perspective? Why the hard-line cut-off of 52 titles?
Wayne: I don’t really know if people have ever asked that in that point of fashion. I think this is one of those topics where success has lead us towards several theories that made us reach that point.
I think the pivot point for us in prior years was the weekly series 52, which was a very successful project for us for a number of reasons. One of those was that it elevates characters from a mid-tier status into a place where they would be able to carry a story on their own and gave us a deeper bench of characters. So the number 52 has some resonance for us because of that.Art from Jeff Lemire from
Legends of the Dark KnightAnd at a certain level, the number 52 just worked out in order to maintain a nice production flow on a strictly nuts-and-bolts side of things. If we had a solid number of titles year-in and year-out, then we could plan out our schedule both in the short-term and in the long-term. With that 52 title framework in place, we were able to work really diligently to get our shipping schedule on track, because if fans come to expect a certain title to ship on a certain week of the month every month then we want that to be there for them and not disappointed. The fans would be elated it would be there, and they’d be able to give the nice person behind the counter their money and then read it and enjoy their experience.
I think this really is a question Dan DiDio would enjoy to answer, from his own perspective.
Cunningham: So we’re not going to give him a mathematical equation involving quadratic formulas that made us reach the magic 52 number?
Wayne: [laughs] I know you were threatening to do that, John, but I was hoping you’d hold that until next month.
Nrama: We just passed the first anniversary of the announcement of the New 52, which Newsarama observed on our own way last week and you mentioned yourselves in Friday mornings’ announcements. Now that it’s been a full year, what’s different about the way things are done at DC now that wasn’t that way before? How has the model changed, fundamentally?
And jumping ahead to our final question, is there anything you can share with our readers that hasn’t been announced that they should look forward to in the coming months?
Wayne: I appreciate your attempt to get a nugget of additional information, but I’m not sure we can provide that… but I’d be surprised if you hadn’t asked.Art from Jeff Lemire from
Legends of the Dark KnightIf I can go back to what we talked about in the beginning, I think comparing ourselves to this time last year we’ve improved the revenue flow for our retail partners and certainly improved our on-time shipping ratio. I think we’ve only had two of three books out of 500 that didn’t hit when we said it would, which is better than anytime in the past decade.
On the storytelling and creative side, we’ve maintained our level of diversity. We have a war comic, a vampire comic, we have Swamp Thing and Animal Man back, as well as Demon Knights – we not publishing just one flavor of comics. We’re pushing the edge with so many different things. I’d argue that China Miéville’s Dial H is different than anything we’ve published in years, but it still fits within that superhero archetype.
I also think the readership is more engaged in our ongoing series rather than just being tied to events and event tie-ins. And to see how many of our New 52 titles are at the top of the charts going into their ninth issues is invigorating for us.
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