Justice League #4
coverIt's being called a record-breaking month for DC Comics, but also for the comic industry, which has suffered from shrinking sales numbers over the last two years.
Right now, that shrinking has been stopped dead cold, for a few months at least…
This month, DC started over the numbering on all its comics at #1, rebooting all of its most popular franchises. The initiative, which DC is calling "The New 52," has been declared a success by the company, which today touted the fact that sales of Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1 are challenging established sales records for the company.
Here are some of the numbers and success stories, according to DC:
Earlier today, Diamond Comic Distributors officially announced that Justice League #1, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams, is the bestselling comic book for the month of August - and to date, all of 2011.
With a first printing exceeding 200,000 copies sold to retailers, Justice League #1 is again the bestselling Direct Market title in 2011 and is the highest first printing of any DC Comics' title since 2006's Justice League Of America #1 by Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes and Sandra Hope.
The 200,000 first printing figure includes the digital combo pack and all variant editions, but not digital sales. As previously reported the first printing was sold out at Diamond within hours of going on sale. The second printing of Justice League #1 also sold out in less than 24 hours and the issue is now in its third printing.
With its second printing, Action Comics #1 has joined Justice League #1 with a print run over 200k.
The publisher reports Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1 are two of ten titles so far from The New 52 with print runs of more than 100,000, a list that also includes Batgirl, Batman, Batman and Robin, Batman: The Dark Knight, Detective Comics, Flash, Green Lantern, and Superman.
All 13 of the Week 2 titles from The New 52 have sold out from Diamond and are going back to press - Action Comics, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batwing, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Hawk & Dove, Justice League International, Men Of War, O.M.A.C., Static Shock, Stormwatch, and Swamp Thing.
Additionally, DC reports that all 13 of the Week 3 titles from The New 52 have sold out from Diamond in advance of publication and are also going back to press. The list includes Batman and Robin, Batwoman, Deathstroke, Demon Knights, Frankenstein, Agent Of S.H.A.D.E., Green Lantern, Grifter, Legion Lost, Mister Terrific, Red Lanterns, Resurrection Man, Suicide Squad, and Superboy.
And though talking only briefly about digital sales, DC reports the DC Comics App "peaked" at #4 on iTunes for top-grossing iPad Apps for during the first week of The New 52.[Editor's note: See our side story for recent historical perspective on the sales figures released by DC so far .]
The drastic move by the publisher was in response to what DC called a shrinking market.
"We need to be the best we can be right now, because if we look around us, we see a market that is shrinking," DiDio told Newsarama yesterday as he and Lee addressed the upcoming changes. "We feel like we're in the position right now that we have the ability to really start rebuilding ourselves and rebuilding the brand and rebuilding our characters for the future."
While DC has been publicizing the initiative through advertising and mainstream media coverage, the publisher's sales department has been working to make sure they are giving comic book retailers enough incentives to aggressively stock shelves with DC's new product.
Those incentives, including an unprecedented returnability program, appear to have paid off, if feedback from retailers is any indication. DC is extending many of those incentives through December on New 52 products.
Behind all the retailer incentives and sales programs are Bob Wayne, DC's senior vice president of sales, and John Rood, the company's executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development.Detective Comics #4
coverNewsarama had a chance to talk with both executives about their September achievements, and how they intend to maintain this level of success.
Newsarama: We saw the DC app ranked among the Top 5 highest grossing apps on iTunes. What can you tell us about what happened to your digital market the last couple weeks?
Bob Wayne: We had an uptick in digital, because Justice League is certainly the most desirable comic that we released day-and-date. But it was within the range we expected.
The success we're having with brick-and-mortar retailers — with comic shop retailers around the world — would tend to support that whatever sales we're making through the app and through the other ways of buying digital comics, that it's almost entirely additive rather than substitutional, because it doesn't seem to be slowing down the sales of the printed comic. In fact, on Justice League, we're going to a third printing now on Justice League #1. It was a beyond my imagination to think that the number of copies we already had original we were going to be going back to press at all.
So this has exceeded my expectations, and most of our expectations, both in print and digital without harming either one.
John Rood: We're delighted by the sales of both, but to me, the physical sales have exceeded expectations greater than the digital sales have exceed expectations.
Nrama: So you had sales projections, and print far exceeded those, more than digital did?
Wayne: Yes. And I would go further in that it certainly seems to have exceeded many of our retailers' expectations based upon the rate of re-ordering and the number of people contacting us saying they need more. This outstrips everything we've done back to the time around the Death of Superman story arc, which is quite awhile back.
Nrama: So did the retailers under order Justice League? Was that maybe because it wasn't returnable?
Wayne: It wasn't one of the returnable comics, but it had the largest number of copies printed and ordered. So I don't think it was necessarily under ordered in terms of pointing fingers at anyone. This has just exceeded everyone's expectations. I think it's a good problem, not a bad problem.
Nrama: We've heard about digital, but there's no indication how big it is. Can you give any indication of what percentage of your overall sales are digital compared to print?
Rood: I can't give you numbers, but I can sure say that the physical business is alive and well and growing for us. And it is by far and away the majority preferred way of enjoying the New 52, just as we had expected, and just as we'd hoped for our retail partners.
Nrama: I know you're on a third printing on Justice League and on a second printing on everything else. Doesn't that suggest that you guys had a conservative overprint on these? Or is that not an accurate assumption?
Wayne: No, that is not an accurate assumption. I set print runs that were high enough and with large enough overprints that I actually sent along an explanation to my colleagues of why the print runs were so high over the orders, which I only do when print runs have certain parameters.
It just means that although the orders were aggressive and the print runs were aggressive, the fans were even more aggressive when they showed up to buy than any of us had expected, so we're rushing a bunch of stuff around and are playing catch-up as quickly as we can.
Rood: It's a very frenetic time right now for the retailers, whom we overwhelmed with an embarrassment of riches with so many titles versus how we usually roll titles out, of course. And it's a frenetic time for us as we try to anticipate what's the right incentive program, what's the right reprint program. But I'm not playing the blame game. As Bob mentioned, these are wonderful problems to have.
The focus is having copies available in store for consumers — current, lapsed and new.
Nrama: The Final Order Cutoff for the first wave of #2 issues is this coming Monday. We've already talked to some retailers who have indicated they're bumping up orders for October after the sales success they've seen in the first two weeks of September. What are you seeing in terms of the reaction from the first two weeks of sales and how it's affected your October numbers? Can you give some context to the figures you're seeing?
Wayne: We saw an uptick in the final order cutoff numbers for the fourth week of September, even before looking next week at the October numbers. The October numbers we have now are solid. But based upon the tremendous volatility we've seen at this past week's final order cutoff for the end of September, and then beyond final order cutoff with people placing reorders for books the next day that they've just put on final order cutoff, I think you're correct that we'll see people taking aggressive positions on second issues to try to keep from being sold out on #2's as we restock, reorder, reprint and repackage stuff among the #1s to try to keep the supply chains full.
Nrama: What were you seeing as far as the October numbers before this? Have you seen it change? Retailers usually cut orders on #2 issues.
Wayne: The retailers who turned their initial orders in for #2 were basically doing that at the same time they were doing final order cutoff for the fourth week of September. So they reflected an aggressive position already at that point, and we expect that we'll have even more interest and higher orders when the final order cutoff cycle comes around for October books.
Nrama: How are you hoping to maintain this level? What's the plan in place beyond September?
Rood: Yeah, this is not a one and done idea. This is our solid commitment to the field, to sustain this bump as long as possible. That's why Bob's team has such compelling incentives for retailers for months to come, that's why John Cunningham's marketing team has a national campaign that lasts longer than September and has a co-op co-investment with retailers that last far beyond September. So yeah, deterioration on individual books beyond September is expected, but as slowly and gradually as possible, per what we're trying to do editorially and from a sales/marketing standpoint.
Nrama: Well, there's a unique marketing draw to #1 issues. Now that high numbering isn't as important for DC, will you continue to add #1 issues? Is that part of the marketing plan?
Rood: We haven't made plans for additional #1s beyond these 52, although there are characters in the DCU who will be featured in upcoming editorial who didn't get exposed yet through the New 52.
Wayne: John and I had a great idea to have every month, every title start with a new #1. You know, we'd have Action #1 September, then we'd have Action #1 October, but other people talked us out of that.
Nrama: Just to be clear, you're kidding, right?
Wayne: Of course. There may not be a new batch of #1 issues in the coming months, but the incentives we have for retailers are being extended through the fourth issues. So we're giving the retailer every tool that we gave them on #1 on through #2, #3 and #4, to make sure they feel comfortable taking a position on these.
I think a lot of people clearly didn't take enough copies on the first month worth of books. I think it's good that we're going to continue to help buffer some of the risk for them for months two, three and four.
Rood: And the quality imperative has only begun. Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] as co-publisher, and Bob Harras as editor-in-chief and Eddie Berganza as executive editor, they're really keen on continuing the quality imperative, and no one is resting on their laurels or in great self-congratulation mode right now, because the stories are just beginning. And they're getting better. And it's exciting.
It's really heartening for me to see system-wide, or corporate-wide at DC Entertainment, everyone knowing that we've only just begun with these #1s.
Nrama: Was the Justice League/digital combo pack a success?
Wayne: We're doing a second printing on the digital combo bag for Justice League #1, and I believe that if we're not sold out of that yet, we should be sold out of it by the time we get off the phone.
Nrama: Do you think you'll do more of those with other titles?
Wayne: We've certainly chatted about it, but I don't think we've made a decision yet about adding any more.
One of the concerns was just, as John mentioned the embarrassment of riches we provided to retailers with this many comics being launched in one month, and if we had offered this on every one of our comics, it would have meant 104 SKUs that retailers had to manage, and it seemed like just too much for the marketplace to absorb.
Right now, we consider the combo pack Justice League as a test, and we'll be watching to see what percentage of people who purchased that comic actually redeem the download, and we'll go from there.
Rood: As we're also watching how the retailers who have digital storefronts are enjoying the sales of both media, with the New 52.
Nrama: John, we interviewed Tom Brevoort recently, and he admitted that Marvel does better when DC is strong, so he's kind of secretly rooting for you guys to do well with this.
Rood: Yeah, I saw that.
Wayne: And it was an amazingly well kept secret for Tom.
Nrama: We apparently outed him. But John, you took a pointed shot at Marvel recently, commenting on their Point One issues and events — but do you also secretly root for Marvel's success?
Rood: We have a friendly competition with our competitors. And I know that sounds like a cliché, but those are the best words I could use to describe it. The other guys have been encouraging and supporting to Geoff and Jim and Dan and the rest of us, both off the record and even on the record lately. So I really do appreciate that.
We follow every one of their successes, in publishing and multi-media, and I kind of do that with some combination of envy and appreciation. Like Tom mentioned, what's good for any publisher is good for all publishers, and our retail partners.
For any competitor to say they're not following the New 52, or not reacting tactically to the calendar or the big events of any of us major publishers.... can they be believed, Vaneta?
Nrama: Good point. But turnabout's fair play here, John. Can you be believed when you say you're not interested in that #1 market share position?
Rood: It is an obvious connection that one might make. It's just not a wise way to measure how business can be done in this day and age. We have to look at profitability. We have to look at media and merchandise opportunities downstream. We just can't buy up market share. We can't do fire sales and nonsense to just try to claim #1, 'cause it's a fleeting ambition.
We're really trying to play for the long haul. We're really trying to focus on quality and consistency of delivery like never before, and those things are far outweighing some type of gold medal.