Each month since the relaunch in September, sales executives at DC Comics have met with Newsarama to talk about the latest Diamond sales figures.
This month, the news indicated top tier DC titles were holding steady — and held the Top 10 spots on the chart. DC also held the largest share of the market's units sold, although Marvel had the highest dollar figure.
We spoke to John Rood, the company's executive vice president of sales, and Bob Wayne, the senior vice president of sales, to discuss what the numbers mean. During our discussion, they disclosed:
- Being No. 1 in units indicates to DC that their comics reach more individual people than competitors.
- Any future cancellations and additions to the core "New 52" ongoing titles will most likely be done in groups like the six "second wave" titles coming in May, to maximize the "lift" provided by the additions.
- While there is no current plan to have a third wave, chances are that there will be another batch canceled and replaced before the New 52 is a year old.- While there's a marketing plan in development for the Before Watchmen comics, DC is also already planning how to market the collected edition to the millions of readers who picked up the original Watchmen as a book, not a comic.
- Before Watchmen is not just a one-time comics event. It's a plan to "set in place something that is lasting."
- DC continues to place importance on this month's ComicsPRO meeting, where it will not only reveal the results of its Nielson survey, but will also get feedback to guide future marketing initiatives.
The pair also had a little fun with the fact that they "won" the top 10 spots in Diamond's sales chart — among other accomplishments — as the following transcript of the conversation shows.
Newsarama: John and Bob, you know even more about what these numbers mean than we do. When you look at January, what do the highs and lows of the month say about the viability of DC right now?
Bob Wayne: It certainly says to me that being No. 1 in units sold in the marketplace for the month means that we're able to reach more consumers than our competitors. So I'm happy about that figure, along with us having the No. 1 title for a number of months in a row.
And we're also happy about having 10 out of the top 10 on the comics’ chart, because it's been a long time since anyone has done that particular hat trick.
We're also very happy with the strength of our Batman titles in particular, especially as we're kind of moving into the Dark Knight Rises level of attention for the character from folks who might be more casual.All-Star Western #9 We're already going back to press on some of the Batman titles. We're seeing a lot of interest in Nightwing because of how it ties to The Court of Owls storyline that's building up. And All-Star Western has been a success in part because it merged the Jonah Hex story with historical Gotham City, allowing that book to plant things that can echo in the present, but being completely acceptable within Jonah Hex's story. We've got Harley Quinn and Joker in the Suicide Squad book. We even have a Resurrection Man issue with Arkham Asylum. So we have a lot of Batman things going on to keep readers excited. And it's the readers and the retailers who are helping to fuel what's going on in The Court of Owls storyline, because Batman has great buzz. Scott and Greg are doing a wonderful job on Batman, and all the other teams are pulling along as well. And we're happy to have that as one of the main engines on our January numbers.
Nrama: But wait a minute, Bob. You're raving about how well comics do that interact with Batman, so are there any plans to add to that line, or is there a danger of it getting too diluted if all these titles are suddenly set in Gotham City?
Wayne: We are adding Batman Inc. as one of the second wave of titles, so clearly, we think there's room for Batman Inc. and Grant [Morrison]'s flavor of storytelling, along with the other flavors.
But you have think there is a point where the rubber band gets stretched so far that it either breaks or snaps in some other direction, and people start to go, you know, I love Batman, but I don't want to buy that much Batman.
It's always a fine line we have to walk between these types of things.
But right now, these books are doing gangbusters, and I think it's really driven the sales strongly by the Court of Owls story that's building for its full debut in May. Without doing a lot of promotion on this, there's still a lot of interest in that.
John Rood: What I'd say is two things: No. 1: Dark Knight Rises in theaters July 20th. And then I would say that the intent with DC Comics' the New 52, was not to make us any more top heavy. And so as excited as we are about Batman's performance, we're delighted that readers and retailers are responding to titles like Swamp Thing and Animal Man and Resurrection Man and Suicide Squad.
The health of our whole line — 52 titles deep — is as crucial to us as making sure our franchise characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern, stay at the top of the list.
Nrama: John, what do you think the numbers say about the market overall, beyond DC. You guys are the only ones with books in the top 10. I know they did well, but it also speaks to the lack of competition this month, doesn't it? Taking all 10 spots doesn't bode well for the overall market, does it?
Rood: If I had stood at those Road Shows with the retailers last summer and said that our #5's for the New 52 were going to sweep the Top 10, Bob would have grabbed a large butterfly net and put it over my head and pulled me off-stage.
Wayne: To a round of applause, because they would have thought it was the right thing to do before he could hurt himself.
Rood: We have had so many pleasant surprises associated with DC Comics New 52, but lately, this idea of our #5's sweeping the industry Top 10 — 10 for 10 — is probably the most pleasant of pleasant surprises and the most surprising of pleasant surprises.
Nrama: But my question was, what does it say about the market overall, beyond just DC Comics? What do you think is going on with the comic market not selling anything as well as your 10th lowest title?
Rood: Take it up with the publishers who didn't crack the Top 10.
Nrama: Fair enough. One week after we talked last month, we found out there were six titles being replaced in the 52 line-up. I assume you'll still be continuously tweaking the comic line-up though, won't you?
Rood: I think the tweaks won't be ongoing and ad hoc. I think we will have what we were trying to do with these six titles [coming up in May] — do it at a moment in time and have it as a second wave, and that's what we're calling it. And have the incentives tied to the incentives of the initial New 52, which is what we're doing.But yeah, I'd like to think of it as 46 out of 52 that are continuing, which is crazy good. And no cancelations or replacements until issue #8, which is crazy good. And the anecdotal feedback on our six replacement titles being so favorable is exactly what we had hoped. Actually, all of the New 52 is lifted by our "Replacement Six."
Nrama: Do you think you'll have another wave before the first year is finished, by September?
Wayne: Well, while we don't have another wave planned, my gut is that we'll be making some additional mid-course corrections as we move forward month-to-month and look at the numbers on the titles, and also looking at the creative direction the titles are going.
But there is nothing that we're planning right now to have another six pop out.
And I think it will be more likely that the next time, we'll look at the comics, and it will be more like, OK, this one may have run its course and what do we have that might either hit that note differently, or hit a completely different note, but add to the overall effect of what we're doing?
So there is not a plan for another major group of them right now.
Rood: Which is not to say that when we see Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] next week in person, that they won't go, "we've got a great idea!" We're always going to respond favorably when someone has a really great idea and convinces us it's a great idea, because their track record on this stuff has been pretty good.
Wayne: Top 10 out of 10.
Nrama: John, we've heard you joke quite a bit about how many different titles Marvel are being released, but the Watchmen titles increases the number of releases beginning this summer. What's the philosophy behind adding to the comics line that drastically? That it's worth it for the sake of a massive event this summer?
Wayne: Well, on the Before Watchmen, it was more a matter of, not so much summer, because it's going to be running for a good chunk of time, it was more a matter of, there are some stories people have wanted to tell and characters people have wanted to do stuff with for a number of years, and it just kind of came together and reached the critical mass.
And when sales and marketing is approached by editorial and told, "We've got this idea for something we just don't want to waste, and when can we do it, and what's the best time to do it," there's a lot of strength in that. And there certainly is a lot of interest in those titles that fall under that umbrella.
There's no pre-set number, like, OK, we've got to add two mini-series in July, so let's spin the wheel of available projects and see which ones we're choosing. There's no whimsy to it. It's really based upon, you guys tell us what you've got, and let's hear it and come up with ideas on what kind of response we'll get from the readers.
Nrama: Talking to retailers about Before Watchmen, there was a sense that they fully expect a similar type of promotional and retailer incentive program for this series that you gave the New 52. What's your plan for Before Watchmen?
Wayne: What we plan is that we're going to be meeting face-to-face with a number of our retailers at the ComicsPRO annual meeting in Dallas next week, and we think that will be a topic. And we want get the feedback from our customers before we finalize our plan.
So we don't have a plan set in stone right now. We're going to talk to our customers.
Nrama: I'm sure, though, that when you came up with the idea to do Before Watchmen, you had to think about how this series would be marketed to those "new" and "lapsed" readers, didn't you?
Rood: Yeah, we're definitely mindful of the fact that Before Watchmen has many interesting facets, including the new creators and the character-specific sell.So we have a periodical marketing plan and an incentives plan in development, but then we also have a collected editions marketing plan and an incentive plan in development, because that's how most readers are familiar with the original Watchmen.
And so this idea, just like we've said with the New 52, was not to win a month, was not to do a one-off that drove sales temporarily, but rather to set in place something that is lasting.
And same with Before Watchmen, as with the New 52, we're not in this to win dollar share. We're not even in this to win unit share. But we're in there to tell the best stories, and do it in an efficient model, and with integrity.
Wayne: As head of sales, though, I never complain when we manage to win market share or unit share or dollar share, because even if it's not our overall most important metric that gives us, you know, a sign post to point to, as far as what type of job we're doing and what kind of response we're getting from people.
Nrama: You've talked about reaching new readers through the Before Watchmen collected edition, but your expansion of the New 52 to another earth — Earth 2 — has been questioned by some fans who think of that not being new reader friendly. Are Earth 2 and Worlds' Finest the type of comics that you can market to a "new reader" or a mainstream audience? After all, the Earth 2 characters are at their core WW2 era characters. How hard a job is it for you guy to try to sell WW2 era characters in a contemporary market?”
Wayne: We aren't really, at this point, saying all that much about what's going to be in these titles. That will be rolling out soon. But I think people will be intrigued by some of the ways in which these new titles interact with our existing New 52 titles and how they amplify certain things.
Rood: It's an ongoing challenge in our category, is to take the nostalgic and make it timeless. So that shouldn't hold off any creative. But it also is something we have to be mindful of in marketing.
We're not here to hold up the past at the expense of the future.
Nrama: With the introduction of the Earth 2 comic, are there plans for multiverse crossovers as future events? Will there be a Watchmen/New 52 crossover, or comics set on Earth 6 or 7? Or wait — are the Before Watchmen comics on one of the 52 earths?
Wayne: I don't believe that we have made that claim. I think our intention is to leave that an entirely separate mythology, and to not have it intersect with the rest of what we do.
I think you end up, at some point, losing the effectiveness of the earth numbers as your title names. In the same way that you may have a First National Bank or even a Second National Bank, when you get down to the Seventh National Bank, I think people start to wonder why they would put their money there. So I doubt you see an Earth 7 #1 title coming out at some point in the future.
I think there's a specific reason for Earth 2 that will be much more apparent after you have the opportunity to read Earth 2 and a couple of other titles.
Nrama: For the top-tier stuff that we sense will not be canceled anytime soon, like Action Comics and Batman, is the intention with them to continue with the numbering. Will there be a #13 Batman come September?
Wayne: There's no plan to go to having a year's worth of comics be a "Volume 1" and then we have a "Volume 2 #1" as of the #13. There was probably two or three minutes of conversation in one meeting I was in about that, and everyone very quickly say, nah, we want to do it the other way.
Nrama: Unlucky #13 isn't unlucky for next September, huh?
Rood: If it ain't broke — if it's sweeping the top 10 — don't fix it.
Nrama: Is that the new mantra? Or do you care to sum up what you're feeling today with the release of the latest sales numbers?
Rood: We're holding steady. It's really exciting to see this much interest this far into the renumbering, so to speak, and the selling out continues to surprise us. So it's a testament to the staying power of readers and retailers alike.
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