The NEW 52 is Selling Out, But is it Really SELLING?

Is the Sold-Out NEW 52 Really Selling?

Green Lantern #1

2nd printing

DC Entertainment announced on Tuesday afternoon the latest round of “sell-outs” and new printings of the first full month of New 52 titles, which makes it (according to DC) a clean sweep. All New 52 #1s “sold out” and received additional printings.

For the record, that’s four printings for Justice League #1 (the standard version), three printings each of the Justice League #1 Combo Pack, Action Comics #1 (all of which were offered on a non-returnable basis), and Batgirl #1 (which was returnable, more on that later), along with second printings of everything else on sale September 7 through September 28.

But astute comic book readers know that when Diamond and/or a comic book publisher reports a title “selling out," what they mean is the body of retailers have purchased all copies of a print run through Diamond. It does not measure store-level sales and does not necessarily mean there are no longer copies sitting on the shelves of comic shops. The publishers often go out of their way to make this clear.

These titles are currently out of stock at Diamond, but still may be available at comics shops,” reads a recent DC notice to retailers about the sell-outs.

Simply, there is no method to determine retail sales to customers in the comic book direct market, only wholesale orders from publisher to retailer.

The retailers Newsarama have spoken to almost uniformly report brisk, better-than-expected sales throughout the first weeks of the New 52, but those anecdotal accounts are only from a handful of stores out of many across the country.

So what does a “sell-out” really mean then, if it does not measure consumer demand?

By itself? Little. A “sell-out” could mean retailers simply under-ordered titles, and that demand exceeded supply. It doesn’t necessary mean a title is in relative "great" demand by consumers. Very likely, some of that probably occurred with the New 52.

Theoretically, a “sell-out” could also be a product of a tight print run. Once publishers receive orders and have to tell the printers how many copies of each title to produce, they traditionally set print runs at level over their existing orders (what’s called “overprint”) both to account for damages and copies lost during shipping, as well as to have some level of supply to make available to retailers in case of underestimated demand.

Batman and Robin #1

2nd printing

In the past, publishers have been accused of manipulating overprint in order to produce quick “sell-outs” and the marketing opportunities this presents, but DC claims for the record this was not the case for The New 52.

"The overprints for DC COMICS-THE NEW 52 have, across the board, been at much a greater percentage than DC Entertainment's normal overprints,” replied Bob Wayne, DC’s SVP Sales & Marketing in an email statement, asked by Newsarama if any changes were made to standard overprinting practices for The New 52.

At the end of the day, “sell-out” and print run announcements, and Diamond’s monthly sales charts, merely act as individual barometer readings for what actual consumer demand is. If one tracks changes in sales “pressure” over time and does some deeper digging into other data Diamond makes available, some indicators of the relationship between retail orders and retail sales can be extrapolated.

After a title goes on sale, perhaps the best (and only) indicator of what’s known in the industry as “sell-through” (retailers actually selling the titles they ordered) in comic book stores is reorder activity.

“Reorders” is as simple as it sounds — retailers ordering more of what they already ordered. Comics shop owners and managers place the bulk of their monthly orders before what’s called the Initial Order Cut-off. This date is usually a little over a month before titles begin to go on sale. For example, today, Thursday 9/29, is the cut-off for initial orders for products going on sale in November 2011.

Diamond distinguishes reorders into two categories — advanced reorders and standard reorders.

Advanced reorders are orders placed on a title after a retailer has already submitted their Initial Order, but before a title has shipped to stores.

Standard reorders are orders placed on a title after it has shipped to stores.

What reorder activity can do is indicate how the retail community is reacting to an issue as it gets closer to the on-sale date, or more telling, after it has gone on sale. Assuming retailers are reordering titles anticipating what they can sell, Diamond reorder charts can serve as one gauge of what’s relatively in demand at the store level.

We’ve published Diamond’s Top 25 Reorder and Advance Reorder charts from each weekly period from 8/1-8/7 through 9/19-9/25, and they can be found right here. It should be noted the charts are merely rankings and are based on dollar value, meaning which product was most ordered by cumulative dollar amount.

Suicide Squad #1 
2nd printing Suicide Squad #1

2nd printing

First, looking at advance reorders, what can clearly be seen from the very first chart is DC’s New 52 titles were well represented. But for the first three weekly periods, this was mostly based on speculation — retailers estimating levels of demand in their store and/or their own initial orders. No New 52 title had actually gone on sale at this point.

But after Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1 go on same on August 31, you can see a noticeable shift in advance reorder patterns, with New 52 titles increasingly making up more of the top 25.

In the first week retailers had in-store demand to inform their reordering decisions (8/29-9/4), New 52 titles make up the first 13 titles advanced reordered industry-wide, and 15 of the top 25.

The next week (9/5 - 9/11), New 52 titles make up the first 16 and 22 of the top 25 (and this was mostly for #2 issues).

The week after (9/12 - 9/18), they account for the first 12 and 24 of the top 25 (including #2 issues and additions printings of #1 issues).

And for the most recent week (9/19 - 9/25), all of the Top 25 titles are New 52 titles, including the Justice League #1 fourth printing. In short, as of last week, there is nothing (of the Top 25) retailers are anticipating needing more of in October than New 52 titles.

A look at the standard reorder charts shows a similar — if not quite as dramatic — pattern.

As it pertains to The New 52, the first three August weeks of standard reorders (again, these charts are for titles that have already gone on sale) are mostly irrelevant, as no titles have gone on sale yet.

It does, however, give a glimpse of what a standard Diamond reorder chart looks like. Because it’s ranked by dollar amount, it usually includes lots of higher-ticket items like hardcovers and trade paperbacks, and includes representation by a wider variety of publishers like Top Shelf, Image and IDW, in addition to Marvel and DC.

But then August 31 comes around, and again a noticeable shift takes place. For the reorder week of 8/29 - 9/4, Justice League #1 makes its first appearance, as the #4 most reordered title in the industry.

The next week (9/5 - 9/11) — the first full week of reordering after Justice League #1 went on sale — 13 of the top 25 reordered titles, including the first four, are New 52 titles (including Flashpoint #5), with Justice League #1 moving up to the chart’s second position, behind Action Comics #1.

The following week (9/12 - 9/18), Green Lantern #1 is the third most reordered title in the biz, and 14 of the top 25 are New 52 titles.

Justice League #1

4th printing

The next week (9/19 - 9/25), Justice League #1’s third printing (which is non-returnable) is the #1 reordered title in the industry, and New 52 titles make up 12 of the top 15.

We’ve mentioned “returnability” a few times now and that should also be considered a factor in all this.

For retailers who ordered September DC comic books (including Justice League #1) at 125% (or more) of the dollar level they ordered May 2011 DC titles, 41 of the 52 new titles can be returned for a $0.20 per issue fee.

Action, Batman, Batwoman, Flash, Green Lantern, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Justice League, Stormwatch, Swamp Thing, Teen Titans, and Wonder Woman were the 11 non-returnable titles, but the highlighted ones qualified for a larger-than-normal (“deep”) retailer discount.

This means retailers can reorder more aggressively on those 41 titles not named above, with the safety net of being able to return them later if they don’t sell for a modest fee.

But again, these incentives were in place when retailers placed their initial orders and the reorder charts don’t appear to show any discrimination against the non-returnable titles. So while you can’t discount the factor, the reorder activity still suggests a shift or a trend in retailers’ positions on the first two waves of New 52 titles.

The takeaway from all this appears to be pretty straightforward: It can be somewhat safely assumed comic book retailers are collectively becoming increasingly bullish on their position on at least the near-term prospects of New 52 sales, and that for now anyway, momentum is on its side. That the "sell-outs" are at least partly a product of under-estimated demand and not just occurring in a vacuum.

However, the longer-term — and perhaps ultimately more important — questions, like how will retailers be ordering this after three, six and 12 months and more, remains to be seen.

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