Thursday night, a key deadline passed that will shape the fate of DC's New 52.
It was the deadline for direct market comic book retailers to submit their initial orders through Diamond for products shipping in September.
In other words, it was "Decision-Day" for retailers about whether they are buying into DC's promises, or being a little more cautious with their commitment.
"My thoughts [after finishing the order]? Holy crap! I'm glad that's over!" said Jason Pierce, owner of Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Ind. "It was the hardest monthly order I have had to place and probably the most important one to date."
For retailers, ordering from among 52 brand new #1 issues for September feels like a gamble — one that could pay off big, or one that could end in failure.
"I think it is the most exciting gamble I have ever seen in comics. It's like watching the World Series of Poker," said Dennis Barger, who runs Wonderworld Comics in Taylor, Mich., and is promoter of the Detroit Fanfare comic convention. "I just hope DC has pocket aces with these stories and with their media blitz."
"No one knows exactly how some of these titles, especially with long standing characters, will be executed," said Adam Casey, manager of Ssalesfish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C.But DC's approach seems to be working with retailers, if their initial numbers are any indication. According to the numbers that 10 retailers across the country shared with Newsarama, the increases for DC in September will be substantial:
- Nine out of 10 retailers exceeded the 125 percent sales requirement DC instituted for its returnability program. In other words, their total dollar order for DC products in September is equal to 125 percent of their total dollar order for DC products in May.
- Half of the retailers doubled their total dollar order for DC products in September when compared to May. The remaining all had double-digit increases.
- Even though Green Lantern has the same creative team and little-to-no change in continuity, it is being ordered at a much higher level in September, with retailers citing the returnability and the "new #1" as reasons for the increase. Retailers said they've bumped up Green Lantern quantity numbers from 30 to 300 percent higher.
- Justice League and Action Comics saw the largest quantity increases. Most shop owners more than tripled their orders on these two titles.
- Anticipation for the new Batgirl comic appeared to be mixed, with its numbers coming in comparable to Batman & Robin for some stores and closer to Static Shock for others.
- Commitment to titles like Birds of Prey and Teen Titans are also mixed. Even though these comics existed before the September change, their quantity ordered is experiencing huge increases in some stores, but other retailers are changing those numbers more conservatively.Of course, this deadline is called “initial” for a reason. Retailers will still have several weeks to raise or lower their orders on individual titles without penalty, so this first wave of orders is hardly the last word. But this is the key date for which retailers base heavy-lifting budgeting for the upcoming months – where they allocate where they’re going to spend the majority of their dollars.
Also, the numbers should be tempered with the fact that most of these comics are returnable. DC is offering retailers the opportunity to order high because they can return 80 percent of the titles from DC in September.
"Unlike other companies, DC stands behind their product and their changes," said Ralph DiBernardo, owner of Jetpack Comics in Rochester, N.H.
Will a lot of these comics be returned? According to retailers, that depends on just how good they are. And from the responses we received, it seems to also hinge on the level of marketing commitment from retailers.
Mike Banks, owner of Samurai Comics in Phoenix, is planning to offer his customers giveaways and discounts on DC books during September, trying to get them hooked on the new titles.
"We plan to be very aggressive in getting these books into our customers hands," Banks said. "We are already offering a special prepay deal — $99.99 for all 52 #1 issues.
"There may be a scenario where a customer buys a bunch of Marvel & Image books in a week and we give them a Batman #1 for free to try out," Banks said. "We're going to consider it an advertising expense. We aren't even looking at making money on these #1's, and are even willing to lose money on them if it means we can triple the number of DC books we move. Then, if DC delivers on their promises to provide captivating stories and great artwork we will be rewarded by seeing our bottom line go up on their entire line from #2 forward."Others are approaching the comics a little more conservatively, like Jermaine Exum, manager at Acme Comics in Greensboro, N.C. "I see some retailers offering various incentives for buying all of the first issues, but we decided to not do that. We want our long-term numbers to be as true and uninflated by incentives as possible and we believe we have that. Data from truly interested pre-order customers," Exum said.
Christopher Aurelio, who works at Samurai as Banks' subscription manager, said the biggest benefit of DC's September initiative is the opportunity to get new customers. "We're seeing less and less new readers at this time," Aurelio said, "but with the new initiative, we're getting calls and emails asking about the books. We're expecting to grow our customer base come this September."
But most retailers said they've heard little from potential new readers. "The general public is confused, ambivalent or has not heard about it," DiBernardo of Jetpack Comics said. "I liken it to a regular movie-goer. My parents go see a movie every week, but they've never researched a movie on the Internet. The DC change isn't hitting the mainstream media. It's exclusive to our hard core fan base."
Of course, everything about the initiative hasn't been positive. Some retailers are voicing concern about whether the quality will stand up to the promises. And they have real concerns about the digital side of DC's marketing plan.
Brian Hibbs, owner of Comix Experience in San Francisco, said he thinks the biggest detrimental effect of DC's September initiative is the potential for a "massive jumping-off point" for long-time readers."While my customer pre-orders on #1's are generally higher than May's figures, the 'I-want-all-issues-of-the-series' numbers are, at this exact moment, significantly lower," Hibbs said. "This may very well change dramatically in October, however. Too soon to tell."
Others have changed their minds about the initiative after hearing from DC over the last two months since they announced the upcoming changes. "I was at the JLA panel at Comic-Con [International in San Diego] and every one of the creators talking about their respective JLA-related projects made them all sound exciting and thought-out in ways that the solicits just aren't conveying to retailers and fans," Exum of Acme Comics said. "If everyone saw and heard what I did, everyone would be onboard trying out all of the new titles."
"I thought it was insane at first, but after the [traveling DC] Roadshow [where DC executives spoke directly to retailers], it made a lot more sense, and the incentives are worth me trying for three months," Barger of Wonderworld said.
Retailers said some customers are negative about the changes, but they're trying to get them to at least read the comics before reacting.
"I think DC has done a bold and wonderful thing. I'm telling the naysayers that, if 'change' is going to ruin your appreciation of the 'new' DC than go home and reread your back issues. Those unwilling to participate in change are on the wrong planet," said Charlie Harris of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz.
And do retailers really think it will work over the long term? Hopes are high, but few are willing to predict huge successes until they read the comics. "Everything I know about comics tells me 2012 will be a very difficult year for DC," said Barger of Wonderworld Comics.
And as Hibbs of Comix Experience said, the real test of whether the DC initiative will work into 2012 doesn't lie in the initial numbers. The real question, he said, is "are the final books good?"
But many of the retailers said they're just glad someone is trying something to make changes in the industry.
"DC has presented all comic retailers with ... a unique opportunity," said DiBernardo of Jetpack Comics. "We can embrace it, and hopefully all profit, or shun it, and continue to see single-issue sales declines.""The business model of the comic book industry is a very delicate thing," Casey of Ssalefish Comics said. "Readers age out, or are priced out, combined with the rise of digital readers (which is primarily for newer/lapsed readers), so it's hard to not look at the current state of the direct market industry as we know it as the 'end of days.' There will still be comic books in some form, obviously, but they will probably be mainstream, media-friendly properties.
"In short, this is really the last hurrah of the direct market print comics as we know them," he said. "I'm glad that DC is doing something different and putting a shot in the arm of print comics."Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!
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