When DC relaunched its line of comics almost a year ago, many pundits kept insinuating that their success might not last long. But the company continues to provide access to its sales executives each month, and the news has rarely been bad.
Image Comics may have been the biggest success story of today's release of July 2012 sales figures, but DC's Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne and Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham were happy to point out the success its company continues to experience since it reboot last year.The publisher had six of the Top 10 selling titles and the bestselling two selling graphic novels of the month - Batman: Earth One and Fables Volume 17: Inherit the Wind. The publisher also sits atop both Market Share categories, 32.71 percent dollar and 36.55 percent unit share.
- July's sales of Batman: Earth One are higher than the similar immediate sales of last year's Superman: Earth One. DC attributes the robust sales to the market being more accepting of the line as it further establishes itself, which should benefit planned sequels, including this fall's Superman: Earth One Vol. 2.
- While the executives would not confirm their sales increase for July, they did call the New 52 initiative a "game-changer," and indicated the company's sales level was at the "up side" of what they had predicted.
- The company plans to stick with its "New 52" format of periodically canceling a few titles and adding the exact same number, keeping its line at 52.
We talked to the pair to get their take on today's numbers and gauge what else might be coming from DC in the future.
Newsarama: Bob and John, it looks like DC had a good month in July. How would you categorize the performance?
Bob Wayne: Any month where we're the No. 1 publisher in units and the No. 1 publishers in dollars through Diamond, we're really kind of happy about that.
The tremendous success of the Batman: Earth One hardcover original graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank certainly exceeded even our expectations, being it's No. 1 through the Diamond side, and it's also No. 1 in the category on the book trade side. So it has just been an outstanding performance for that particular book.
And then everything else kind of pulled along in line as well, so we had a really good month.
Nrama: You said Batman: Earth One exceeded your expectations. Did it outsell Superman: Earth One for the same time frame after it was released? And if so, what caused the difference?
Wayne: Batman: Earth One is off to a much stronger start than Superman: Earth One. I that it benefits from the sales of Superman: Earth One over many, many weeks and months since that book came out. I think we're just seeing a faster adoption of Batman: Earth One than we did on Superman: Earth One.
Nrama: According to the figures released by Diamond, using market share and total sales in July 2012 vs. 2011, we extrapolated that DC sales are up roughly 30 percent over that same time period. Is that number accurate?
Wayne: Well, we're not going to confirm you a number.
Nrama: Is 30 percent in the ballpark? Is the New 52 that much of a game-changer?
Wayne: Certainly the New 52 being a game-changer for us is something we've mentioned in our prior chats with you, and we're very happy with how the New 52 is performing and how our other initiatives are going. When we have the lion's share of the top books and top comics, we're at the spot where we're doing well with New 52 periodicals and with New 52 collected editions.
Nrama: So is that how you're approaching the sales plan? In these kind of building blocks that go beyond the core 52 titles, adding things like "Earth One," Before Watchmen and the collected editions? Are you coordinating that between marketing and editorial to make sure there are layers of sales building upon the core line? And is that at all different from what you did before the New 52 relaunch, say a couple years ago?
Wayne: Yeah. Compared to a couple of years ago, sales and marketing are working closer with our editorial colleagues on advanced planning on these. And we're certainly having our voice heard when we're discussing things for the future.Nrama: OK, so to use a broad example, stage one was the relaunch of the periodicals, stage two was the addition of collections, "second wave," and Before Watchmen, stage three is this fall's events in the Batman, Dark and Green Lantern lines, stage four and beyond will see Before Watchmen collections and other events like Sandman and Trinity War and another wave of titles in perhaps January? Is more about progressively building the total package and less about making the core 52 always sell more each month?
Wayne: Yes, but we've continued to reinvigorate the periodical format for our publishing line, and in addition maintaining and growing our successes in collected editions.
John Cunningham: Where I would say your assessment is correct, though, is, if we just look at it practically, we knew in the planning, when we launched New 52, we would have a degree of success. Every business plan is going to try to look at varying degrees of success.
Nrama: And your degree of success at this point — is it above or below expectations?
Cunningham: I would say we're on the up side of what our success model was.
But like you're saying, we knew that, then on top of that, when we launched Before Watchmen, that it would be an enhancement and that this would help out everything.
So you're right in that sense, and as we go forward and we look at our big events, none of which we will talk anything about today...
Nrama: Of course...
Cunningham: But we know the baseline of where we're at, and trying to find ways to grow from there.
Nrama: You said last month that your addition of a new "wave" of titles in a few months would not be a response to Marvel NOW!, because you said it would have been planned a long time ago. Dan DiDio recently stated that there's a tentative plan for a line-wide crossover event late next year. So you're planning now for what... late 2013? And you're taking that expected "baseline" of New 52 sales and adding events and new comics for next year?
Wayne: Yes, we are planning things and how they'll interact and how they'll reach the largest number of our readers for 2013 and 2014 right now. Yes.Nrama: Since we talked last time — and thank you for the hint last time about the Vertigo announcement — we now know that a Sandman mini-series is coming in 2013 as a Vertigo title. You've been so successful this year with two lines under the DC imprint: the "New 52" line and the "Before Watchmen" line. Why was the decision made to still have a "Vertigo" line, but not under the DC label, and why was that where Sandman made the most sense?
Wayne: In the narrowest of things, we have a number of books in print collecting all the Sandman stuff that Neil has done before that are all branded as Vertigo. So it's logical for us to continue branding future Sandman stories in Vertigo. They all fit together as one cohesive body of work.
Cunningham: I'm just imagining what would have happened if we had announced Sandman as not being a Vertigo title, and what your questions would have been in that circumstance.
I get asking it this way too. But I think it's actually unimaginable doing it another way. It doesn't make any sense.
Nrama: But looking at what Vertigo was when Sandman was at its height of popularity, and looking at what it is now, there has been quite a change. The periodicals under the Vertigo imprint are not doing well right now. Sandman will provide a bump, to be sure, but that doesn't really provide a long-term increase for the imprint. Can you address what the future holds of Vertigo?
Wayne: In San Diego, we had Anthony Bourdain and the team working on Get Jiro! doing panels and appearances. And we're going into a second prints on Get Jiro! It was a New York Times bestseller and has been doing well for us in both channels.
And we announced that we're going to be doing an adaptation of the Django Unchained as a Vertigo title, the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film, because Mr. Tarantino did a walk-on onto one of the panels that Mr. Cunningham was moderating in San Diego. So I think there's plenty of stuff that we've talked about in recent weeks about Vertigo.
And then we also have The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. We have our initial orders in now on the Diamond side. We're getting our numbers on the book trade side as well.
Nrama: Is that looking as good as you hoped?
Wayne: Just on the Diamond numbers alone, right now, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo numbers indicate it will be a very, very strong book. So yes, we're very excited about it.
All those things are going out under the Vertigo imprint. So I think there's plenty of stuff here that you can pull together just from our recent conversations.
Nrama: But these are mostly book-related, as opposed to being monthlies. Can you at least confirm whether there's any initiative at DC to get the Vertigo imprint back to its status of publishing monthly powerhouse titles?
Cunningham: Not yet. You can look at all of that and basically theorize anything anybody wants to out of it. But no, that's not happening.
Wayne: We've had success with the Fairest launch as a companion title for Fables. Both of those are periodicals first. And the Sandman project we announced a periodicals first. We're telling you about things that are involving both periodicals and graphic novels on the Vertigo side. So we're not doing one in exclusion of the other.
Nrama: Has there been discussion of ways in which to capitalize on the additional attention that the Vertigo imprint will get with Sandman next year?
Wayne: We wouldn't be carrying out our responsibility to the company and to the shareholders and stakeholders and fans if John and I weren't looking at stuff like that on a regular basis.
Cunningham: And if there are any other long-term plans, we're certainly not ready to discuss them yet.
Nrama: Getting back to the DC line, we've seen Before Watchmen performing well. How are the future months of those titles looking, and does it point toward more Watchmen spin-offs or other similar non-New 52 initiatives?
Wayne: You will see that three of the four Before Watchmen titles in July were in the Top 20, and the fourth one was No. 21. So we're really pleased with how these books are performing as periodicals. And we're going to continue rolling them out in the way that we've discussed them. And then we'll move into collecting them in book format sometime in 2013. That's our current plan for those. We're just concentrating right now on the stories that are being told now. We don't have anything that we're holding back to announce, if that's what you're asking. There's still a lot of vibrant work going on right now hopefully while we're talking on these current books. We're very happy about it.
We're always looking at things we can do to expand our three imprints: DC, Vertigo and MAD. That's why you're seeing Sandman on the Vertigo side, and we just did the MAD look at Batman tied to the summer movie on the MAD side. So we're always looking to add things that are appropriate to all three of these imprints. Editorial's looking at that. And that's how we stay a vibrant publishing imprint.
Nrama: In September, you have four new titles that will replace four canceled titles. We talked last time about whether you might cancel another batch of titles in January, then replace them with exactly the same number of titles. John Rood had stated back in January that 52 isn't a magic number, but you're clearly intent on only having 52 titles in the main DCU titles. Will that still be true going forward, and why do you think it's worked so well for you so far? Or has it worked so far?
Cunningham: Whether it's worked or not, to go back to the beginning of the interview: No. 1 in units, No. 1 in dollars. Yes, the strategy has worked. So until it doesn't stop working, I'm confident we'll go forward under similar guidelines.
But that said, there is no firm calendar rhythm to what we're doing. One of the reasons we like about the New 52 is that it's easy to remember how many books we're supposed to have. So it does work in that way to keep us grounded in that sense. But yeah, I anticipate this same model, with variations depending on what we're seeing, moving forward until it "don't work no more."FACEBOOK and TWITTER!