By now, industry watchers and fans alike may have heard of DC Comics own boasts about their high sales numbers for the publisher's New 52 relaunch of its entire superhero line. With at least one book over 200,000 copies ordered and ten more topping out over 100,000, the numbers seem to show that September will be the biggest month DC has had in years and likely the biggest month of ordering for Diamond Comics Distributors all year. Of course, in the Direct Market system of comic shops high orders and high sell through aren't always the same thing, so to test the waters of the New 52's full response, CBR will be tracking the in store response to DC's launch all month long by checking in with shop owners across America.
"Sales in general for this week have been very good," W. Dal Bush of Challengers Comics in Chicago said. "Traditionally, our DC new comic sales are on par with our Marvel new comic sales, maybe a little more Marvel. This week our DC sales were double our Marvel sales, with no noticeable dip on the Marvel side. Just extra sales for DC."
Smith and his partner Patrick Brower's positive response echoed sentiments heard from many retailers about the first full week of DC sales: namely that demand seemed to be up even with store preparation being at a premium. "Most titles have at least met our expectations," Bush continued. He noted that while the winner of the week was Grant Morrison and Rags Morales' "Action Comics," titles from "Batgirl" to the twin launches of "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing" also saw big sales. "If there's been any surprises for us, it's that Detective Comics sold through within 24 hours, and that Animal Man and Swamp Thing found readers as quickly as they did. We expected both books to need more hand-selling, but folks have been excited to try them, with a few already telling us how much they enjoyed them."
Nick Purpura, General Manager of Jim Hanley's Universe in New York City, concurred. "So far I'm getting a pretty good response," he explained. "For sure, the nicest thing around this and what I think is the success of this is that everyone was curious. Everyone who walked in the door was curious. I had guys who have been bashing this for weeks, and they came in and were looking at them...and some of the guys were buying them! Everybody was interested. If the concept was that DC wanted everyone talking about them, then mission accomplished."
Jason Leivian of Floating World Comics in Portland, OR reported sell outs on about half the titles including "Green Arrow" while the expected hits of "Action Comics" and "Batgirl" hit their highest numbers. "So far, it's kind of exceeded people's expectations, which was good. Probably the best part of it was that I had a lot of new customers coming in. I had a lot of people saying 'I haven't read comics in five years, but this is getting me back into it."
The customer base was a question broached by many retailers. Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics of Concord, CA and ComicsPRO said that "We saw some new buyers, we saw some returning comic fans, and we did see people come in from stores in this general area that had sold out too quickly" calling the launch "an unqualified success."
Moving forward, Field is not only expecting sales to remain high for future issues, but a possible lifting of DC sales across the board. "DC has a new 'Huntress' mini series coming, and I think sales on things like that and the new 'Penguin' mini coming out [will be higher than expected.] I look at my numbers and see that we're selling 12 times the number of 'Justice League' that we were before the relaunch and five to eight times the other titles, so I think there's going to be a nice effect on some of the other series as well. A year ago or six months ago, how would I order a Huntress mini series? I'd go maybe 25 copies on that #1, which was about a third of what 'Batman' was selling regularly. That would be a pretty strong number then, but now...not so much. I'm thinking more along the lines of 50 or 60. Then we'll see how things go."
Not all the retailers were quite sure that the momentum would stick that strongly. Purpura said, "There's always a drop off between issue #1 and 2 – for every comic book that's ever been printed that's true. We're going to be aware of that and aware of the guys who came in and bought all of them for the novelty of having all 52 comics and the collectibility of that. Now that a bunch of them have sold out quick, the prices on the secondary market will jump up too. There will be a buzz about it, but I think the #2 [orders] will be based on what we think was the sell through to customers who came in more so than the attention-seekers. I feel like almost two-thirds of the people who came in on the first day are going to come back and try the second one. We also did 25% off all month long on all these DC Comics. We ordered up higher than we expected, and it was even bigger than we expected. We sold through, and DC is very quick to get second printings coming our way, and that's exciting."
Most retailers agreed, the longterm success of the series will depend on the quality of the comics over the months ahead. So far, Leivian was encouraged by what he'd heard in terms of reader response. "It looked like the quality of the books was better than expected too. I was flipping through them, and it seems like DC knows they've got the spotlight, so it looks like they want to do something impressive with them. They got it together. We'll see next week [what readers think] but 'Animal Man' and 'Swamp Thing' look pretty good, and people are seeming to like 'Detective' better than I thought they would. There's seems to be less decompression...and they're relatively self-contained. Some of them do look kind of lame, actually, but they can't all be winners."
Bush explained that quality aside, some dropoff will be expected as readers find their regular level in the New 52. "There's likely to be a lot of sampling from readers this month, as with any company's new initiative, so we'll likely trim numbers slightly on certain books. I'd say with around 40-45 titles, though, we'll hold our numbers for Month 2, maybe even raise them if second prints are available before the second issues arrive."
If there was one overall comment that retailers offered on how the launch went, it was questions of availability both in terms of reprints and more importantly overprints on the high-selling series. "With as much promotion as DC has put into the New 52 launch, it's a little surprising they didn't create better reserves of backstock for these first issues," Bush explained. "I know that retailers may be as much to blame for not stocking heavier, but DC's unit cost is way lower than a retailers, so I'd hoped they'd be ready to resupply us should this New 52 prove to be a hit. Instead, we're weeks away from getting restock should we sell out, and the rush of new customers are likely to face disappointment as the weeks of Month 1 go on and more titles become unavailable. The last thing DC should have to worry is that new customers can't buy the books they're excited about, but that looks to be the major problem DC faces this month. We've been contacted by a number of stores nationwide looking for key books, and that's something for which DC should've been better prepared."
Purpura offered another perspective: "I think they did a really nice job with this. I wish there was a stronger overprint. I know they gave everybody the returnability option, but that puts it on the retailer to return the books and pay a fee on the books you do return. Big books like 'Justice League' which hit 200,000 copies could have hit 400,000 copies if there was returnability on the big book that they were really behind. It's very easy for us to play Monday morning quaterback on this, but they gave us an opportunity and a good discount to buy up as many copies as we thought we could sell."
Levian also had questions on returnability and what the specific policies and thresholds for books would be moving forward in terms of what could be returned and what incentives would hold through on the books past month one. A DC rep confirmed that all ordering incentives in place for the #1s would remain through December's issue #4s.
On another front for retailers, DC and comiXology's new digital storefront initiative that saw retailers able to sell copies of books for iPads directly to their customers seemed to strike less strongly. "Can I report to you what my digital sales were on 'Justice League' #1? We have sold one copy, and that was to another retailer," laughed Field, though he said that his store overall had made about 15 sales overall with their comiXology storefront in its first few days online – mostly virtual backstock on titles like "Batman & Robin."
Purpura said, "A couple of people have tried it out. We thought 'Why not and see what happens with it?' If we don't like it in a few months, we always have the opportunity to let it go" while Bush noted " I will say that several customers I do have told us they plan to supplement their comics purchases with matching digital copies, for convenience sake."
Still, the overall picture painted by retailers on DC's New 52 is a very rosey one. Not only is in store sell-through seeming to back up DC's record numbers, but the sales are likely driven by genuine interest from an informed customer base. "The best thing about this is that we're not seeing people buying multiple copies to try and flip on eBay," Field said. "What we're seeing is a genuine interest from people who want to buy into something new from the groundfloor and see how it all develops. To me, that's the key to maintaining a readership and sales base. Then again, we're still not even halfway through Month 1, so the jury is still out to how we'll be down the road."
Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more from retailers on DC's New 52.