With DC's June initiative Rebirth gaining fan buzz ever since the company's creative team announcements on Saturday, retailers are reacting positively to some of the elements that they hope will help sales of DC books.
"DC books are always good and often times great," said Bret Parks, owner of Ssalefish Comics in Winston Salem, N.C. "I think we're in a slight [sales] slump. Rebirth is acknowledging that and I think the message is clear: DC wants to deliver."
Several retailers mentioned that they first learned about Rebirth at the ComicsPRO meeting in February in Portland, Ore. "Going into the meeting I was ready to be disappointed," said Mike Banks, owner of Samurai Comics in Phoenix. "Since the move to California, DC Comics had seemed to have a lack of direction. This has been reflected in declining sales at all of our stores.
"Instead of disappointment though, I came out of the Rebirth presentation very excited," he said, echoing the statements by most the retailers we surveyed. "DC was quick to admit to mistakes that they had made, and presented us with a publishing, editorial, and creative plan that I'm confident will result in DC sales going back up."
Joe Field, owner of Flying Color Comics in Concord, Calif., said he came to the ComicsPRO meeting with a list of things he wanted to see from Rebirth, including a solid business plan, strong promotion, retailer sales incentives, and a focus on storytelling rather than stunts. "I believe DC's presentation hit all those points in convincing ways," Field said.
But some retailers were a little more cautious. "If done well and as an honest combination of feedback from long term and newer readers, this could be incredibly huge for DC. It could help potentially even align their comic universe more closely with their vision of their cinematic universe," said Ryan Seymore, owner of Comic Town in rainy Columbus, Ohio.
"If done as an emergency reaction to a downward trend in sales, this could blow up in their faces," he added. "The big downside to that will be the readers and stores who will be the ones caught in that fallout."
There were some specific elements of the Rebirth initiative that retailers addressed in particular:
New #1 Issues
Retailers said they're getting used to seeing publishers relaunch their titles every once in awhile, and most see it as a positive for overall sales — particularly when it's coordinated across the line.
"I think having a line-wide publishing initiative, like the New 52 or the slate of Vertigo #1's recently, is exactly what comics needs," said Adam Casey, manager of Ssalefish Comics. "It's a lot easier to tell people 'hey, check out this new storyline' and they can easily follow #1, #2, #3 instead of #66, #67, #68, etcetera.
"There is a weird stereotype of DC 'rebooting' all the time, yet no one has blinked twice at Captain America having five #1 issues in 10 years," Casey added "I think we're moving to a period of time where what matters most is the story and not numbering."
Twice a Month
Most retailers also weren't surprised to see DC moving toward series that ship twice a month.
"This really isn't a new idea," said Carr D'Angelo, owner of Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks and Northridge, Calif. "DC has done some great weekly series with loyal followings and most top Marvel books ship about 18 times a year but on an erratic schedule (sometimes two weeks in a row). The good news is that for the fans of DC characters, there will probably be something new each time they come in."
"No one has really batted an eye at Marvel releasing 46 issues of Avengers in 30 months between 2013 and 2015," Casey said. "We are moving to a 'binge' culture, for better or for worse, and people demand more content in a timely manner. DC is giving people what they want."
That said, retailers recognized that it's a bold commitment for DC to ship two comics a month on time. "[It] could also get people coming in to shops more regularly," D'Angelo said.
Some retailers also said the more frequent shipping schedule will challenge their usual approach to ordering. "Books shipping twice monthly will be harder to stay ahead of sales trends than monthly shipping titles. The added wrinkle of a rotating team of artists will simultaneously ensure timely shipping, but might be a turn off to readers that follow titles based on the artist or art style," Seymore said.
Field pointed out that DC is offering incentives that will make ordering easier, at least initially. "The first six issues of the new regular series will be no-strings-attached returnable to mitigate retailer risk and to allow us to find a sales ceiling," Field said. "I wouldn't quite say 'desperate times call for desperate measures,' but the incentives are strong. I do believe DC needs to extend that incentive to the Rebirth one-shots so that retailers can better find what the top is for DC sales."
Charile Harris, owner of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz., said he prefers comic books that have the exact same creative team on it for an extended period of time, but he thinks having multiple artists is a "necessary evil" of books shipping more often than monthly — something that's usually a good thing. "[DC's] weekly series have definitely been a welcome sales boost these past several years," Harris said. "And with a more frequent shipping schedule, more complex plots are possible."
"At the ComicsPro meeting they also said each bi-monthly title will have a third art team assigned that can step in if needed," Banks said.
Retailers earn a percentage of the sales price of each comic book, so a lower price point means they earn less per comic. However, most retailers didn't complain about the drop to $2.99.
"The hope is that $2.99 means more comics sold," D'Angelo explained. "If I sell twice as many Superman at $2.99 per month than I did of one issue at $3.99, then revenue increases. "
Plus, if a reader has to come into the store twice a month, there's more foot traffic. "I'd rather sell 50 copies of a $3 comic twice a month than to sell 50 copies of a $4 comic once a month," Field said. I think this initiative invites a better buy-in from more readers."
Seymore also pointed out that, although retailers receive less profit per comic book sold when the price is lower, they save more when a comic book doesn't sell. "Getting "stuck" with overstock is more palatable if you have invested less in it," Seymore said.
"The ability of DC (and Image) to put out $2.99 books will hopefully put a stop to the ever rising prices (and decreasing paper and creator quality) at Marvel," Harris said. "I expect smaller companies who base their business model on licensed properties (IDW, Dynamite, Boom) to keep the $3.99 price point, but DC's quality but lower priced books are very welcome, as customers can get more story for their money."
Characters and Creators
Several retailers pointed out characters and comic book creative teams that seem exciting to them, particularly on Wonder Woman. "Seeing preview art from both Liam [Sharp] and Nicola [Scott] has created some real buzz about Wonder Woman at a time when the world is eager for some great Wonder Woman stories in the wake of her debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Field said.
But the name that was most often cited as a positive for Rebirth was Geoff Johns, DC's chief creative officer who is the architect of the initiative.
"His track record speaks for itself with the creative and sales success of Green Lantern Rebirth and Flashpoint," Banks said.
"Like most retailers on the front lines and many readers who have been engaged with DC characters for a number of years, we know how good Green Lantern Rebirth and Flash Rebirth were," Field said. "Geoff Johns was behind both of those surprising and successful stories. This total DC Rebirth is, in a sense, being creatively directed by Geoff, so I do expect that fans and new readers alike will want to jump aboard."
"Full disclosure: Geoff Johns is a partner in our business, so I do have a bias," D'Angelo admitted. "But DC has looked at the sales charts and come up with a strong way to re-brand their line and focus their creative energies on the core characters. They have listened to the retailers and readership and responded."
And although the move toward Rebirth seems to be a response to lower sales, Seymore pointed out that the industry is still doing well for retailers. It's just among more publishers. "With DC's second relaunch in five years and Marvel's constant renumbering of their titles, more and more readers are trying out creator owned titles from Image Comics and other publishers," he said.
"There are so many high quality works out right now, a title or genre can be found for any reader. The sky isn't falling," he said. "The industry and medium are just evolving."