Six months into the New 52, DC is making our chat with sales executive a monthly occurrence.
Bob Wayne, DC's senior vice president of sales, and John Rood, , the company's executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development, were talking to Newsarama again this month, even though the news on Diamond's sales for February didn't change much from January. DC still held the Top 10 spots in the top sellers among monthly comics, and it had five of the 10 top graphic novels.
DC also indicated that, even six months later, the publisher is still selling the #1 issues it launched in September — for the majority of titles. After inquiring about the status of #1 issues that are still in print, DC released the following information to Newsarama:
"The New 52 #1s that are currently unavailable with no new printing scheduled as of 3/09, with notes on how many printings we've done to date on each: Animal Man #1, four printings; Batwing #1, two printings; Green Arrow #1, two printings; Justice League International #1, two printings; and Stormwatch #1, two printings," a DC spokesman said. "These titles are out of stock at Diamond, with no new printings scheduled."DC was also touting several new creative teams it has starting on comics in June. To that end, the publisher shared covers for two issues that mark the addition of new writers: Batman: The Dark Knight #10 (Gregg Hurwitz, above) and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #10 (Matt Kindt). The company also shared covers for Justice League Dark #10 and Wonder Woman #10 (below).
And although the headlines for today's sales news focused on the fact that Marvel holds the largest market share, Rood has always maintained that the market share number doesn't matter.
We questioned him about that position, and found out a few more details about what DC is learning from the sales numbers and survey results it's seen so far.
Newsarama: OK, guys, I know your priority is not the market share race for the direct market. You've said that time and time again. But I'm wondering if you can speak to those long-time DC fans who look at these numbers and see that, after six months of the New 52, Marvel is back on top, and they feel like you're right back where you started. Can you give those fans any concrete data supporting why the relaunch was worth it?
Wayne: Why the relaunch was worth it?
Rood: Why the New 52 is worth it? You had me until that part of the question.
I mean, to someone who's following it closely, if they want to know why the "share" news has changed — aside from the share news being exactly the same from a month ago that we sweeped the Top 10 with #6's — but if they're focused on whether there's a return to a "share" situation of yore?
Count the sku's. There are more books in the market from the other publisher than from us.
Count the price points. There are more titles at $3.99 and $4.99 from the other publishers than from us.
Count the deep discounting incentive. There's more desperate shipping going on from other publishers than from us.
And then you'll have your share answer. And so that's why we don't follow it absolutely and solely.
I gave you three things that make a "share" number look that way.
Were we to focus on the share — which we keep telling folks we're not — but were we to, then we would worry more about sku count than we do. And we would worry more about high price point than we do. And we'd be more worried about deep discounting than we are.
We choose not to be, and we're pleased with the results.
Nrama: OK, you pointed out the Top 10, and I know you'll probably say that's not where your priority is...
Rood: Wait, now, we always like that part. We weren't interested in unit share and dollar share, absolutely. But the Top 10, we're delighted by.
Nrama: Well, I'm just prefacing my question that way because Avengers vs. X-Men looks poised to put Marvel back into the Top 10. Most importantly, retailers can only commit so many dollars to their orders for each month. Does DC see retailer interest in that event potentially eroding away about New 52 number?
Rood: It hasn't like we thought it would.
We're excited for Marvel AvX, and we're excited for retailers who are going to benefit from it.
We are proud that we made the retailers more liquid so they could order at levels they probably should have ordered back in September.So yeah, we're following it. And again, we're excited for what seems to be a great event for the industry coming up. But we're also very pleased with what we've seen and heard so far about how DC will perform during this time.
Nrama: So does it look like retailers are ordering aggressively on Avengers vs. X-Men on top of their normal DC orders?
Wayne: If the question is, are we losing any sleep because one of our competitors has something that looks like it's going to have a level of success? We're not, because this market needs to have more than one publisher running on all creative engines and doing things, for it to stay successful.
We're pleased that other people are stepping up and doing stuff. There's no reason why they shouldn't be able to place a high concept book like that with some strong numbers. I would be more concerned if they went for another month where all their books sold less than our Top 10.
Nrama: Until you guys release trades for this stuff, are you guys still seeing retailers re-ordering early issues on some titles?
Wayne: Yes. We've got a print run on Tuesday for our reprint on Justice League #5 and a reprint on Batman #5 and Batman Beyond Unlimited #1. So there's definitely a level of us keeping earlier issues in print.
I think we're on the seventh printing of Justice League #1.
As long as we have backorders for an issue at Diamond that we can justify going back to press on one of these issues, we're going back to press. You'll hopefully continue to see, as long as they sell well enough, some level of availability on these at least until the collected editions show up.
Nrama: That's interesting that you're still printing Justice League #1. With a seventh printing, what does that mean? How many Justice League #1 issues are you selling overall, and can you include digital in that number to give us an idea of how many people have read this issue?
Rood: I know it's at 400,000.
Nrama: That's bigger than the numbers we've seen from Diamond. That includes digital, right?
Wayne: Yes, but it's because it's going through so many printings. That number is where we are across all of our platforms.
Nrama: I know you guys haven't released any digital numbers, but is a big chunk of that digital?
Rood: A smaller chunk than you'd imagine. Certainly a smaller chunk than I had imagined.
Nrama: The percentage of overall sales that comes from digital has been estimated as low as 1 percent. But when I cited that number to you a few months ago, you indicated it was too low. So is at double-digits?
Wayne: I don't think it rises to the level of double digits.
Nrama: That seems disappointing. I think fans were hoping you were up there somewhere.
Wayne: We are "up there," but the real story here is the market is not so much that, it's that the print has so exceeded our expectations, and that the digital availability has not slowed down the print market. In fact, we're continuing to go back to press on issues.
Rood: That's absolutely it, that the raw numbers [for digital] are impressive until you compare them to the raw physical numbers [for print], which are super impressive, and that's why the percentage is lower than expected. But that's wonderful news, because retailers and physical consumers are really getting behind the tens of millions of copies we've got out there of the New 52.
Nrama: OK, so you've still got Justice League #1 in print. How many #1 issues do you still have in print?
Wayne: The majority of the titles are still available.
Nrama: One of the most encouraging things about the sales numbers released today for the direct market is that sales are up something like 19 percent over February 2011, for the whole comic industry. Can you give an indication what DC's overall sales are up, February 2012 compared to February 2011?
Wayne: We're must happier this February than we were last February.
Nrama: How much happier? Twenty percent happier? Thirty percent happier?
Wayne: Well, I think, to a certain extent, we were just starting to work on things and ideas were starting to germinate last year, as we started pulling together data and having conversations with Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] and the rest of the editorial team.
You know, we just had the ComicsPRO meeting, and we made an enormous amount of progress from one meeting to the next meeting in that year.
And you've seen that our publishing plan has shifted, the number of periodicals we're publishing and that we're still holding our $2.99 cover price on the vast majority, and certainly on all our 32-page, traditional-sized comics.
So I think we're more than 20 percent happier.
Nrama: Nobody expected you guys would last eight months without canceling any of those 52 issues — well, maybe not nobody. Let's say few people expected that.
Rood: No, nobody! I mean, nobody! Come on, that's crazy. Between our near-perfect delivery and our near-perfect stability of titles and teams, eight or nine issues into the New 52, I don't know anybody who thought it would go as well as it has.
Nrama: OK, John, that was unexpected, but surely there will be more tweaks to the line coming up, won't there? And more often than every eight months? The last time I asked you about a third wave of titles, you didn't have much to say about it. Have you looked at something like a third wave since we last talked? Are you already considering what the next change will be to the line?
Rood: It's not dropping into a frenzy, but it's a fair question. We're mindful of what might be a subsequent wave, but there's nothing on the horizon near-term.And I don't expect the activity to be more frequent or more pronounced than what we've done just now. And that's what's really good to be tracking.
Nrama: The Nielsen results were released last month, and a lot of people read those and assumed you guys were hoping for more new readers than the 5% that were recorded by Nielsen. Is that assumption true?
Rood: The 5 percent reported is not an absolute number, but of those who weighed in on the survey, right? So in retrospect, we shouldn't be surprised that more people who were weighing in on the survey are folks that are more fervent about DC. And that's likely more the current and lapsed fan than new fan. So I don't want anyone to think 5 percent is an absolute number.
We're trying to work with Nielsen and with retailers moving forward so there are additional ways of research. They aren't just in September 2011. They're not just on a Wednesday. They're not just with super-fans. That kind of thing.
We can help the retailers get a better understanding of where the audience continues to come in from for the New 52, and for all of their business.
This is, again, an ongoing commitment that is greater than any single event, greater than any single publisher, that we're trying to help the retailers with.
So yeah, initially, I thought, "Wow, is that a small percentage?" But then we started to work with Nielsen and appreciate that that's not necessarily the absolute new readership percentage.
Nrama: Was that the biggest surprise from the survey? Or was there something else that stuck out as a surprise?
Wayne: For me, I think the biggest surprise of the survey was that, even though these were surveys done by customers, at least on the in-store intercepts and the like, were the people who go in and shop on Wednesday, on new comic day. And even people who have that level of devotion were having a difficult time finding some of the first issues of the New 52 the day that they went in to shop.
So despite the large number of copies that we put into the marketplace, and the subsequent reprints and the like, we still obviously didn't find a way to get enough copies out there to satisfy everyone on their first day shopping experience. And the number of people that reported they couldn't find issues was higher than I would have ever anticipated.
Nrama: And Bob, we've seen your name on Newsarama pretty much since the beginning, so it doesn't surprise us that you got a lifetime achievement award from ComicsPRO.
Wayne: Well, I really thought that I would walk off the stage, and then they'd start telling me that day how I was going to start packing up my office. But apparently that was not the case. So I believe I'll continue trying to run up the score slightly for awhile longer.
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