Retailers Split on DC Comics Relaunch

Fri, June 3rd, 2011 at 11:34am PDT | Updated: June 9th, 2011 at 2:07pm

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

The reaction to the news that DC Comics will relaunch their entire DC Universe superhero line come September with 52 new #1 issues all being sold day-and-date digitally and in print has varied across the internet. Some are excited about the prospects of new jumping on points. Some are feeling burned by a potential rebooting of the fictional DC Universe. Some just wonder who exactly is doing what.

But before fans get a look at what's between the covers of DC's new comics, those books will have to face the ordering judgement of the comics retail community. With a lot of talk surrounding how the move will impact the direct market, CBR News reached out to a wide range of retailers from coast-to-coast to ask them two very important questions. First, "How do you approach setting order numbers on all the 52 new #1 issues that DC has announced as part of their relaunch?" and second, "Do you believe DC's plans to go digital day-and-date with all their new ongoing series will affect sales of these titles in your stores, and how?"

Below, comic shops owners from New York to Chicago and from Portland to Sherman Oaks chime in on how they think DC's moves will affect their businesses. As with any major change to the market, the reactions are mixed, from excitement to questioning to worry, and the responses may surprise you.

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Gerry Gladston, Midtown Comics in New York, NY

I don't yet have much of an answer to the first question, as we'll have to spend some time brainstorming to determine an approach to setting order numbers on all of the #1 issues.

Day-and-date was inevitable. We understand that the idea is to bring new readers to the comic book art form, and that's a good thing. Our sales have been unaffected by the many day-and-date releases so far, and we're not sure they will be [by DC's new initiative], but we'll see. However, I don't think that day-and-date is important to the new consumers that DC is trying to attract, because they don't even know the direct market release date, and probably wouldn't care; it's not like the movie business. Perhaps the comic book industry should adopt a 30 day window before digital release.

Cameron Merkler, Discount Comic Book Service

We think it is an interesting and fun experiment to draw in new readers. We primarily rely on pre-orders, so it won't be difficult for us to set order numbers. Our biggest job will be to look at the incentives DC is offering to see how we can turn those into orders for books. We don't know what those incentives are yet, but we'll do our best to use them to get our sales as high as possible. [Editor's note - DC has laid out their full incentive plan since CBR spoke with Merkler.]

So far, digital day-and-date has been tried on a limited number of titles from various publishers and hasn't had an effect on our sales. This approach of going digital day-and-date on a whole line of books from one of the largest direct market publishers is new. It's difficult to say what the effect will be. We will be doing everything we can to encourage paper sales while also working with the existing digital vendors to add digital offerings to our sales mix.

W. Dal Bush, Challenger's Comics in Chicago, IL

With the information we've seen so far, I guess our attitude is "cautious optimism." Outside of books by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, it's been difficult for any DC Universe title to gain traction in the marketplace. Bold moves like a line-wide relaunch, new titles and different creative teams are the decisions of a company that knows they need to reengage with prospective customers. It's risky, but at least it's getting people talking about DC Comics. If that interest can be maintained as rumors solidify into announcements, that's a nice base for us to build on.

We'll most likely order higher across the board for the new DC #1's, tempered against concepts and creators. A Geoff Johns/Jim Lee Justice League book we'll order on par with books like Flashpoint or Batman Incorporated, or higher, probably. A less-respected creative team launching a less-desirable property will be ordered a little more cautiously. For the first month, though, we'll take a bit of chance, wanting to make sure that new titles are available if people want them.

We're not certain, but it's always felt like the digital audience and print audience are separate entities. We aren't approaching this DC relaunch assuming that people will be abandoning print for digital, but neither are we assuming that people are going to try a DC comic on their iPad and transition to monthly print comics or trades. This'll be the time we find out for sure, though. It'll be interesting to finally see a definitive result, at the very least.

Joe Field, Flying Color Comics in Concord, CA

I'm excited by the prospect of DC being able to invite millions of new readers to get in on the ground floor of their super hero universe. Whether new or returning readers, this is a huge opportunity for DC and its retailers to entice more people to get into DC Comics. I liken this somewhat to Marvel's Ultimate launch in 2000, albeit on a much larger and more aggressive and daunting scale. The Marvel Ultimate U was something unknown that attracted a lot of attention. I hope the relaunch of the DCU will do even better!

I still can't quantify how [day-and-date] will or won't affect print sales. To date, I haven't seen any appreciable migration of print buyers to digital buyers. The print market for periodical comics is still several hundred times larger than the digital market. Also, given that DC is pricing its digital comics the same as the print comics, why would anyone want to rent (digital) when they can own (print)?

My hope is that digital will be an effective sampling tool for consumers to look at what DC is doing, then inspire those digital "window shoppers" to come into comic book specialty stores to buy the cool stuff. 

Jason Leivian, Floating World Comics in Portland, OR

My initial reaction was a mixture of "cool," "ha ha whatever" and "curiosity." For me, it's all about the creative teams. I can't really judge the strength of this reboot until I see the creative teams involved. I don't necessarily agree with the initial fan reactions of, "Oh, this is terrible," or, "52 titles?? What an overload." Fans just love to complain, don't they. The only valid complaints are regarding the books you already follow or buy on a regular basis. For example I'm only concerned about Grant Morrison's "Batman" and JH Williams "Batwoman." I would be bummed if those stories get cut short or ruined.

But yeah, 52 titles is probably too much. Obviously we'd rather just have 20-30 quality titles instead of wasting money on a bunch of sub par junk. Nothing worse than spending money on mediocrity. That'll burn customers out, make them question the value of their habit. We'll see. I'm gonna follow my "Flashpoint" ordering trend, which is to order modestly, unless there's a creative team that merits higher orders. And I'll reorder if we sell out. Got burned by ordering too many "Return of Bruce Wayne," "Siege" tie ins, etc. It's really tough to predict numbers on a new book, when there's no precedent to base the numbers on.

It doesn't bother me that DC editorial is trying a big change. I mean, they just did all the job shuffling and promotion of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. I think it's their jobs to try and do something with their new responsibilities.

Digital day-and-date? Well that's the future, isn't it? I hope publishers have financial success with digital comics. I don't expect it to create new readers for 'brick and mortar' shops. We're here for people who still love books and paper. But if the publishers aren't suffering as much, that should trickle down to better creative environments for creators and fans. Meaning, publishers always make decisions based on the "bottom line" and those decisions are always terrible when it comes to the quality of the product. So when publishers are free from making creative decisions based on fear, "end of print" doom & gloom, cynicism, etc., we'll get more amazing books, more often.

And I'd like to add my 2 cents on what I wish DC was doing editorially: "Final Crisis" set up some really cool ideas for the DCU – the new New Gods for the 21st century! Such great potential -- but I know how it is. Only Morrison can handle those concepts. Too bad there aren't more writers who could work from his "bibles."

Carr D'Angelo, Owner Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks & Northridge, CA

It's exciting and really says DC is trying something new. I keep thinking that Marv Wolfman will be happy that 25 years later DC is doing what he proposed doing after "Crisis on Infinite Earth." DC has been teasing this sort of thing over the last several years with events like "Infinite Crisis" and "Final Crisis" -- the possibility of creating a new status quo comes around any time there is a story dealing with parallel worlds and alternate timelines. "Batman and Robin" was a #1 that came out of "Final Crisis" and was a huge hit. Fan get excited when a new angle on a classic character results in great stories.

Well, maybe all the "Flashpoint" miniseries were practice for this. But when you are talking about Grant Morrison on "Superman" or Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on "Justice League," you are putting in huge orders whether it's issue #1 or #608 or #204. But books will get ordered at different levels based upon the concept or the character's popularity and the creative team just like any other new series. A #1 that looks like an extension of the previous series will be ordered accordingly.

DC thinks day-and-date with brand new series is the best way for them to reach out to new readers, and I hope they are right. I think the current digital offerings confuse people because they are a jumble of 3-digit issue numbers without a clear path for the newcomer who wants to sample a Batman or Wonder Woman story. This was an inevitable move. DC is doing it first, which is good because DC has always shown a willingness to share risk with retailers when the landscape changes.

There is really no way to know at this point [how digital will affect our sales]. If digital creates more readers, that will be good for retail stores because people who get interested in the DCU and its characters will eventually find comic book stores. There are still collectors who want the physical books. They are not going to all get raptured into iPad heaven overnight. And I don't know about other people, but whether it's music, movies, TV shows or comics, there are certain ones that I have purchased over and over in different forms. How many formats do I have Elvis Costello or "Mad Men" or "Planetary" in? A sale in one format doesn't automatically negate a sale in another format.

DC's job is to deliver 52 excellent series that get readers new and old excited. The media attention and publicity is great, but in the end, the comics need to be the best they can be. I can't wait to see the full line-up.

Portlyn Freeman, Brave New World Comics in Newhall, CA

I think that relaunching the entire DCU can't help but be a good thing! Is it the move that's going to make everybody happy? Of course not. If you can tell me what move that would be, incidentally, I'd love to hear it. Retailers can be a notoriously cranky bunch, and publishers tend to be seen as taking a combative stance. But here's the thing that I think DC is really getting this time around: Digital is next. And we're in this together.

As for how I'll order these books, with the notion of returnability on the table, where's my risk? I'm looking at ordering heavily on what I imagine will be a very well hyped new collection of series. Hard core readers, readers with a casual interest, those new to comics -- I expect all of them to have an interest in what's new, what's next and how it's all going to shake out. People are concerned, but nobody has yet told met that they won't be reading DC titles after September. That's just not going to happen.

My reaction to DC offering day-and-date downloading on all of these new titles was initially one of, "Gee thanks, fellas," but the more I think about it and discuss it, the more comfortable I am with the notion that this is what's next. DC is in business to make money. So am I. I sell comics. When comics' format changes, so will my business model. If I'm in business to sell comics and make money, then I have to be prepared to sell what's next. I don't have to like it to sell it, but I won't shy away from it, and will absolutely embrace the opportunity to try something new. There's not a funny book publisher in the marketplace whose goal is to put me out of business.

This initiative will naturally affect sales in my store: first we'll have the boom and rush of people being terribly interested (while feigning fan boy horror at what has been done to "their" characters), followed by the backlash of, "This art is lousy," or, "That story sucks," and we'll eventually fall back into a new normal of fans enjoying reading their periodicals. It's going to be a hell of a ride, but I maintain that DC, and Marvel, Dark Horse and even Diamond -- all want me to make a success of it. I plan to try.

Stay tuned to CBR for more on the DC Comics relaunch.

TAGS:  dc comics, dc relaunch

 
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