DC On March Sales; Tease FCBD Surprise, GREEN LANTERN Event


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While March numbers indicated a sales success for Marvel Comics with their Avengers vs. X-Men event, Newsarama's monthly chat with DC executives about sales numbers was anything but down.

In fact, the executives touted the increase in market share they got from the month, despite the loss of a few Top 10 spots.

DC's Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne was joined by DC's Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham to talk with Newsarama about the sales figures released by Diamond Comic Distributors on Thursday.

Much of the talk about March ended up focusing on what's coming up for DC's spring and summer, since both executives pointed out that most publishers hold their big guns until later in the year. But they said the first quarter, which is traditionally slow, had sales numbers that indicated readers are sticking around on the most successful DC titles.

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Among their revelations about the numbers and what's coming up at DC:

- Executives hinted that the next big thing in the New 52 will begin on May 5th with the Free Comic Book Day issue, DC Comics:  The New 52 Special Edition. The cover for the title features the "purple-hooded woman" named Pandora (who appeared in every New 52 #1), indicating that the hints readers got in Justice League #6 are related to DC's next major storyline.

- DC execs teased an upcoming Green Lantern storyline that the publisher expects will increase sales, with Cunningham comparing it to the sales the company is seeing from the "Night of the Owls" story in Batman titles. (Check back for Newsarama's interview with Geoff Johns about his plans for the title.)

- Executives implied they're pleased that there are other publishers in the Top 10 this month. In fact, they pointed out that DC's overall market share grew this month along with Marvel's, which indicates DC benefits from Marvel successes.

- The lowest-selling New 52 periodicals (which many fans have been worried about) will not necessarily be the next to be canceled. Besides the Diamond sales number, DC is also using re-order activity and sales of the collected editions to make their decisions about cancelation.

- Early order numbers for Batman:  Earth One, the July graphic novel from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, indicate that title will see the same kind of bookstore success that Superman:  Earth One experienced last year, supporting the decision to expand that line of graphic novels.

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- Orders for the "Second Wave" titles in May show that Batman Inc., the Grant Morrison title, will add significant sales numbers to the already successful Batman line, comparable to how Batman and Detective are both selling.

- Collected editions of the New 52 titles are already selling better than any trade paperback offered by DC in the first quarter.

To provide perspective on those announcements and what today's release of the March sales numbers really means for DC, Newsarama spoke with Cunningham and Wayne.

Newsarama: What good news did you see for DC in the March numbers?

Bob Wayne: I think the most interesting thing we see in March numbers is that we have a lot of interesting things happening in the industry, from us, and we also have interesting things that are getting traction from Marvel and from Image and from Dark Horse and other publishers. And I think it's a good thing when we have interesting things happening in the market from multiple publishers. I think it creates enthusiasm for the readers — it makes them think, "oh, I'd better go check on this this week, because I might have missed something." And I think the retailers are also invigorated by that, by having a lot of things happening. It's just a fun time.

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John Cunningham: In particular, we're always happy when our market share increases, and our market share was higher in March than it was in February. So we think that's very good news.

Nrama: From the numbers we've seen calculated, with what information we have from Diamond, the retailers are spending quite a bit more this quarter than they did a year ago during the same time period. Do you think that's because of the fourth quarter they had in 2011 and the cash flow the New 52 provided for retailers?


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Cunningham: I think it's fair to say that not only did they make more money last fall, but that continued on into the first of the year. When we were at the ComicsPRO meeting in February, we heard from a lot of retailers about how terrific their Januarys were. So I think one strong month in our industry leads to another. To me, that's the most positive story, is that it looks like the momentum didn't end with the end of fall, that it's been continuing through the first quarter of this year. Based on how we schedule and how everybody schedules, as we get into the meaty months of releases, there's no reason to think this momentum isn't going to continue.

Nrama: Okay, that's the good news. Did you see anything in the March sales numbers that should concern the comic book industry, even if it's something you've already addressed in your plan going forward?

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Wayne: It's difficult with the March numbers because there's a distortion whenever you're comparing a month where the number of release weeks is different from one month to the last year because of how the calendar works out. There's a bit of softening in the amount of money that was invoiced during the month, just because of the number of weeks that were in the month.

Nrama: John, what about you? Is there any bad news in these numbers, or anything that DC or the industry in general should be looking at closer?

Cunningham: I don't want to seem that Pollyanna-ish, but I can look through the numbers and not really see that's worth citing as a negative. The numbers actually look really strong for a March, which is a weird month in the year, in terms of where people's publishing schedules are.

Wayne: We see strong product building for us throughout the year, so if we feel this comfortable about March at this point, we feel good about these numbers.

Cunningham: Seven out of the top 10 in issue #7? And our market share up March over February? Yes, please!

Nrama: You mentioned that "everybody schedules" the release of comics so that there's more momentum to be gained during coming months. What do you have coming up, and how do you feel about your sales plan going forward overall?

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Wayne: We're very bullish on the stuff we have coming up. We've got some titles that are reaching their conclusions, but we have six Second Wave titles for the New 52 titles that are going to be starting in May. Then as we go into June, we have Before Watchmen as a weekly presence for the next few months. Plus we have the collected editions of the New 52. The first batch of those will be arriving the first week of May. Then in July we have Batman: Earth One.

Nrama: OK, let's start with the Second Wave titles. How do sales of those break down? I assume you've got a big seller in Batman Inc., but what else are you seeing in those initial sales numbers from retailers?

Wayne: The initial numbers for the six new titles are on target for what we expected or higher than we expected. Batman Inc., as it returns to publication, Grant Morrison's title joining the New 52 is coming in as strong as any of our other titles in the Batman family and is going to have a very strong debut. The introduction of the Earth 2 element that is in the Earth 2 title and the World's Finest title, both of those are exceeding expectations already. We're really happy with how those numbers are trending already. It really looks like it's going to be six additions to our line that will raise the average that we're selling per title.

Nrama: You also mentioned that your sales plan includes the collected editions. How are the early orders on those?

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Wayne: The orders that we've received so far on those titles are almost all higher than any book numbers we had in the first quarter, so we're very excited about that.

Nrama: Will the sales of those trades have any effect on the survival of the actual comic? For example, if some of the low-selling Edge or Dark titles do well as trades, which one would anticipate from the fact that Vertigo trades seem to do so well compared to their monthly titles, will that influence whether their comics are canceled or not?

Wayne: We actually had a conversation with the co-publishers yesterday on that topic, and we'll be doing some analysis as more of our numbers come in, but it certainly is — we're not canceling New 52 titles solely based upon what their current periodical sales are.

We're also taking into account the creative direction and the feedback from editorial as to where they think the title is going, the re-order activity we have on the title, and the initial orders we have on the collected editions.

So when we get back from C2E2 and go a few more weeks, we'll have another large batch of data and we'll be chatting with the co-publishers and our colleagues about that.

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But you're absolutely right. We're not just taking a Sharpie on a printout and just saying, "here's where the Earth ends." We're looking at these books on a case-by-case basis with editorial, with the co-publishers, with our colleagues in sales and marketing and publicity.

Nrama: One thing that sticks out about the Top 10 selling comics is that most of them are $3.99. Even those comics in the Top 10 that are still $2.99, several are changing to $3.99 soon. Do you think that, because these numbers indicate there's a willingness among readers to buy $3.99 comics, perhaps the efforts by DC to hold their prices at $2.99 wasn't as important to readers as you once believed? After all, you're raising those prices, and the numbers in the Top 10 indicate they're willing to spend it.

Wayne: I think the fact that the vast majority of our titles are staying at $2.99, and that the ones that are $3.99 have additional content and story pages, that it's not just the same exact goods being priced differently based upon perceived demand that the market can handle that higher price, I think that our having that low price on our average title helped readers be able to sample the New 52.

And in the first seven months of the New 52, it also helped the retailers be able to take the bet on that many titles starting with #1's.

So I think that the $2.99 price point has been a good thing for us.

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Does it mean that we're not always as competitive as competitive as we would have been on the dollar market share? Sure. Of course it does. But we're in this for the long-term. It's more important for us to get as many people sampling and reading our comics as possible, than it is to maximize the revenue just for a short period of time by up-pricing things without getting extra value.

Nrama: I know we usually only dissect only the direct market numbers, but by this point, you guys have gotten initial bookstore orders on Batman: Earth One. Are sales coming in well for that title?

Wayne: Yes, we have amazingly strong numbers already in on the Batman: Earth One.

Nrama: OK, but while you've obviously got a sales plan ahead that includes some books that look to do well, like Batman: Earth One and your almost certain sales bump from Before Watchmen, those don't impact the core titles in the New 52. After the game-changing move you made last year with the relaunch, how would you respond to the belief that you're now sitting back and living off that initial sea change of September 2011?

Wayne: I don't think the sales numbers on the titles indicate that most of the readers think we're sitting back and coasting on any of these titles. And I think some of the things we're doing may not be going out with a bright light shining on them, but they're getting attention from readers and retailers and we're seeing orders increase on a lot of the Batman titles right now going into the "Night of the Owls" storyline.

And we're seeing an up-tick on I, Vampire right now, as that book begins to add a few elements from other parts of the DC mythology.

Those are strong things. Our overall shift in titles between February and March is minimal, and we expect a reinvigoration of the books when the six new titles show up in May.

Cunningham: When we look at the March numbers and see where we are on issue #7, after September, and the numbers continue to be as strong as they are, and in the cases of things like the "Night of the Owls" crossover, where we see sales numbers increasing right before the next Green Lantern storyline kicks off. And those numbers will go up.

I think the way we look at it isn't so much in how it's perceived in that overview sense, but the fact that, as these numbers keep selling, it means readers like what they're reading. And at the end of the day, we're judged by what people pay for at the cash register, more than some over-arching perceptual issues.

From a marketing point of view, we look at it and say, people are very, very happy. The numbers are staying strong. And they like what they're reading on the page. And as long as the creative keeps delivering in the fantastic way that they have been, and having seen some stuff that's upcoming, whether it's Before Watchmen or even especially New 52 books, I have great confidence that that trend's going to continue.

Nrama: OK, the hint about a Green Lantern storyline is interesting. But are there any more initiatives that DC will be taking in the New 52 that readers don’t know about yet?

Cunningham: We feel that the Second Wave is an exciting kick-off point for us, and that's going to start on Free Comic Book Day, and I think when fans get a look at the Free Comic Book Day book and what it promises about what's coming the rest of this year from DC, they're going to be more than pleasantly surprised.

Wayne: And I would recommend that fans go early to their local comic shop on Free Comic Book Day and get the DC titles, just in case the retailers run out.

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