From the earliest days of its announcement, DC Comics New 52 relaunch of its entire superhero line had high expectations. Executives at the publisher spoke about the launch not just in terms of its potential to draw new readers but of its ability to revitalize their bottom line. While the final word on all those expectations may take months to know for sure, one thing is certain at this point: sales are very, very good.
In a post on its The Source blog, DC has announced in conjunction with Diamond Comic Distributors that one week into sales at comic shops, multiple titles from the promotion have racked up big numbers. The very first #1 issue on sale – Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's "Justice League" – has seen orders of over 200,000 copies at retail while ten titles have passed 100,000 in sales including "Action Comics," "Batman," "Superman," "Flash" and "Green Lantern." DC trumpeted the news, noting that "Justice League" is the best-selling comic of 2011 on the whole and their best-selling title since author Brad Meltzer relaunched the same franchise in 2006. They also declared success on the digital front for the day-and-date methods that saw all issues on sale through iTunes, though those boasts came with less specific numbers.
"We have back orders that are larger than some of our print runs were two months ago," DC's SVP of Sales Bob Wayne told CBR shortly after sharing the news. To help place all of this in context, Wayne and Executive VP of Sales, Marketing and Business Development John Rood spoke with CBR News about how the sales so far have exceeded expectations, what they've learned already about how to approach print runs and reorders for retailers, what the real picture of digital is and what's next for a company trying to keep the momentum of a very successful launch going into the months ahead. Plus: DC shares an exclusive first look at the cover to "Action Comics" #4 by Rags Morales.
CBR News: I think the 200,000-plus sales number on sales for "Justice League" that we've been hearing about for a few weeks and now so many 100,000 books certainly qualifies as a headline grabber, but I wanted to talk about all this in terms of expectations. Are you guys on pace for where you thought you'd be? Better than you thought? Maybe even lower than you thought?
John Rood: We're exceeding expectations. It's fun to note certain benchmarks that have been cleared. I think many of the executives would tell you that we're more excited about the performance across the line – the orders across all the 52 titles being at such a significant multiple than what they had been recently – so that to me is more exciting than hitting any certain landmark.
What has the discussion been like in terms of how you should respond to this initial wave of interest? In other words, when you see numbers come in like this, what's your immediate thought on what the next step of the promotion is?
Rood: You're absolutely right that this has only begun. We've had very little time for or interest in celebration or self-congratulation aside from sharing the good news that we're hearing from the retailers. Now the focus is on making sure we keep this audience that's been kind enough to come to us or come back to us. That's done with consistent delivery and quality of Editorial, but it's also done with sustained marketing support, sustained sales incentives for retailers and making sure that they know September is just the beginning. And further than that, as you can imagine, when we start collecting DC Comics: The New 52 in the spring, that is a whole different audience who will come on board that we have to be mindful of how our retail partners will bring them in.
There's been a lot of advertising for the campaign – TV ads and ads in shops and ads on sites like ours. Is there a way for you to really gauge how successful that's been? Are you doing surveys and market research to try and connect point A to B here?
Rood: We intend to do more surveying than we've done as we're in these first days of the New 52. We're very pleased with the web metrics that rise as associated with our publicity and advertising activity. Have you seen the spot on air?
I have not yet, but I understand it's playing during "The Daily Show" so I can't imagine I'll miss it for too long.
Bob Wayne: Don't fast forward if you're DVRing or Tivoing! You don't want to miss the commercials. [Laughter]
Rood: We have finite resources, but we're very excited to be able to put such a significant spin behind the campaign. We had to balance our current selves with our intended future selves. What do we do for our core fan, and what do we do for the pop culture enthusiasts and action-adventure consumers that we know are near to being our in-store visitors? We've had a media campaign that I think has effectively targeted both types.
There's obviously a celebratory feeling at DC around these sales, but with any launch this big, there has to be areas for improvement. What have you discovered so far in terms of areas you can improve on moving forward?
Wayne: I think the main thing is that when we get to setting the print runs for the issues #2 and 3, we'll have to look really hard at what the totals are for print runs on the #1s not just in terms of the initial orders or the FOC adjusted orders or the reorders or the reprints but also the level of demand that we let build as far as back orders and see exactly where it's going to right size itself. Right now, it looks like the #2s were being much more aggressively ordered at retail than normally an issue #2 would be, and in order to keep the retailers comfortable with going heavy on the book, we're extending the sales incentives we already have in place through issues #4 on sale in December.
In talking to retailers this week, while sales have been great and they've been very happy with the response in general, I've heard a lot of folks saying that they're having difficulty with the ceiling they've hit in terms of print runs already having sold out at the distributor level. How are you responding to that idea and feedback?
Rood: Well, for me, I can appreciate the sentiment of "Will you still love me tomorrow?" With great books and on-time delivery and marketing support and co-investment and compelling sales incentives that celebrate the idea that a #16 would be far different from a #1 – and then certainly another wave of support when collected edition time comes in the Spring – what we've been hearing and what we've been most mindful of is how we can continue this wonderful momentum in the nascent days of the New 52.
Wayne: And certainly, we're getting a lot of folks to sample a lot of titles, and the Editorial group is working to try and keep the quality of these books consistent and to keep the stories interested and exciting to hold these readers so they stay with us beyond the second and third issues. I've visited stores in California and Texas in the last week, and the levels of excitement that people seem to have about the characters and the individual issues and concepts for titles has been astoundingly positive. I actually think I only encountered one person who was kind of unsure about it, and the thing they seemed unsure about was "Why are you renumbering 'Detective' and 'Action'?" which was one of the things that came up internally at the start. So I haven't heard of anyone yet who wasn't intrigued by a lot of these 52 titles.
Rood: In so many stores, I've heard first hand that the retailers aren't just getting new readers, but in a lot of cases they're getting old readers who haven't been in in over a year. The store staff is like "Where you've been?" to hear "This has gotten me back in." That's music to our ears in terms of the retail promise we set forward on the road show and that we went out with with our sales staff.
Let's talk a bit about digital. I know Jim Lee was out there talking about "Justice League's" digital sales being good, and we've heard about the DC App being high ranked on iTunes, but those are really non-specific metrics. Can you guys tell us how many copies "Justice League" or any of the books have sold so far through the iPad app?
Rood: We can't. We can't provide specific numbers. I'll tell you were delighted by the digital sales, but I can't say that they've exceeded expectations in a way that the physical sales have exceeded our forecast and expectations. In the "nice problem to have" department, we've got both media clicking in a way that can only tell us that this is by our design [digital] is working as an additive media and not a replacement one.
We've heard lots of people talk about digital sales in terms of their size being significantly different than print sales – IDW famously citing that digital makes up about 3% of total sales. Looking at that idea, do you feel like you're at the point where this format is going to be strong enough to support material sold only there, and if so, when is that going to happen?
Rood: We definitely have an innovative bunch of creative minds here who are thinking about tomorrow's products today here at DC, but more to your question, this is definitely about a digital compliment to the physical imperative. And that's going to be our main focus in digital periodicals for a long, long time.
To wrap, what's your plan for the rest of September? Are you at the point in the printing process where September is totally in the can in terms of what's available, or are there still adjustments and changes you're looking to make for the next few weeks of releases?
Wayne: Because of the Final Order Cutoff system that retailers have access to through Diamond, our numbers shift once a week as we get that batch of adjusted numbers. We set our print runs that morning once we get the totaled numbers from Diamond. These numbers are so volatile right now that we're having to look at these a lot more vigorously than we ever have done in the past. This has been enormously volatile, but September isn't over with in that we still have books that are on press so we can change some stuff. We changed some print runs last night that we got new numbers on, so we are tweaking things up until the last possible minute.
Stay tuned to CBR News this week for more on the sales response to DC's New 52.