At the end of the second full week of sales for DC Comics' New 52 relaunch of its superhero line, the question surrounding the risky move has officially shifted from the weeks and days before the titles began to debut in stores. No longer can anyone wonder whether or not the move qualifies as a success as new #1s from the publisher are almost uniformly sales hits, with sell-outs and second printings being announced days before titles are available for customers to purchase. Now the question of where the publisher and retailers go from here is much more important.
Just as we did last week, CBR reached out to various retailers across the country to find out how sales levels are holding, what they need more of to keep the success of the first wave of DC book going and how they're planning on stocking their comics in the months ahead. And the results continue to be optimistic, if occasionally cautious.
"I believe we did just as well as the first week, if not better," Jermaine Exum of Acme Comics in Greensboro, NC told CBR News. "Something else I also noticed was that in the second week, people came in asking for the first week books as if they'd just come out. Information reaches people in different ways, and that's also something we're able to detect. Some of these people have been out of the loop for a while or they're legitimate, 'I have never read comics before now' customers. They're people in their 20s who have never read a comic, and this is their gateway in. So we're asking them where they get their data from and what websites they read."
Exum explained that previous week hits like "Action Comics" and a second printing of "Justice League" remained in demand, while week two stand outs included the new "Green Lantern," "Batman & Robin" and "Red Lanterns."
"Sales were about the same: incredible," said Dan Merritt at Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, MI. "We ordered at least twice what we'd normally order on most of these books, and in some cases, several times more. Of this week's selection, we have zero left. We've sold out on every single release."
Those kinds of sales did more than give retailers a bit of confidence that ad campaigns both from DC and made by local shops were working, as Chris Powell of Texas chain Lone Star Comics and direct sales site MyComicShop.com explained. They also gave retailers a metric on who was returning to comic shops week after week and what they were coming for. "We were just as strong in the second week, which is a good sign for us because you never know how much of it is just people going, 'Hey, this is new,'" Powell said. "We have a pull list people can sign up for, and we've been signing people up for the pull list almost every day for the third week books and going on into the next month. This looks like it's going to be a long term win for us, which is really nice. We're not seeing what we were afraid of at first -- the question of whether this is a speculator thing or people actually reading the books. I think we're going to end up with people reading if not the full line, a larger portion of the line than they already were."
"I think we've added maybe 25 new subscribers at this stage in the relaunch," Exum added. "And they're not just asking for DC. Whatever new stuff is coming in from Marvel or Image Comics or anything we have to offer [is of interest.] And that's just fantastic. Whenever a small business can have a week where 25 new people are willing to say, 'I will see you next week and in two weeks,' that's a huge deal.
Exum went on to say that he and his staff tried their best to honestly gauge what individual reader interest was rather than stack up speculators or hardcore collectors with a wide-range of books. "A lot of stores give incentives, like, 'Get a discount on all 52 new issues.' We chose not to do any incentives here, to try and get as pure of a number as we could from actual people who were interested in the content. That'll help us out with future issue orders."
"I'm definitely nervous about the short term ability to bring back customers," Merritt said, noting that fans with dreams of short term gains and general collectibility were still out there. "A lot of people are grabbing on to these because they're #1s and because they're first prints. I do feel there's going to be a significant amount of people that don't come back for #2. How significant? We'll see. But DC is helping us mitigate our risk here as they've expanded their retainability options another month. That's a commitment from my publishing partners that really helps me -- especially going into the holiday season. It helps me up my stock confidently. This is the start of something big, and it's all about how we continue to support it."
Overall, DC's role as a partner to retailers seemed to earn high marks amongst the retailers surveyed. While last week held complaints that print runs could have been bigger, this week's group of store owners said that looking forward, the publisher has made getting more copies -- whether they be second printings or a bigger first run of new #1s -- into the hands of stores as quickly as possible. "It was impossible for any of us -- and I include DC in that -- to tell how successful this was really going to be," said Powell who noted that 15 to 20% of buyers were either new customers or fans who were new to DC. "We've been taking preorders since the day the information was made public and had cards to fill out ahead of time and all these extraordinary lengths, and I still under-ordered. We did a deal with DC where if you bought all 52 books, you got a t-shirt with it. The week of release, we had people coming in who I had never seen before who showed up, and they're getting into it."
"In spite of our ambitious orders, which we obviously sold through on, we were able to accommodate customers from other stores," said Merritt, echoing the common sentiment of retailers helping retailers. "We had a few other local stores calling us on Tuesday night asking if it was okay that they send some of their customers to us because they'd sold out even before they opened up due to customer requests. So I understand DC's stance on the overprints -- the idea is to make money. But while you can't make money with product you don't have, [DC has] announced a full slate of reprints for every title so far and are obviously dedicated to the new approach. I would have loved for the material to be available for reorder, but our customers are just as happy with a second printing so long as they can read it."
Powell agreed that demand was being spread amongst different common shops to the tune of extra sales across the board. "Part of our numbers are skewed because we have an online business, and in addition to what we sell at the in store level, we then have people across the country who have sold out of these books turning to us for the mail order side of things. As big as the store sales have been, the mail order business has been even more dramatically up. That happens whenever there's a book that sells out dramatically at the retail level. We stock heavily for web sales, but then if everyone else sells out, my stock gets hit harder. My orders for second and third prints have been bigger than I might normally have done to cover the demand."
Exum felt that the initial response to the books revealed multiple things about the current Direct Market. "The bottom line here is two-fold: on the one hand, I feel like a lot of retailers didn't take this seriously. It's either because we've seen relaunches before or because they weren't sure of the quality of some of the titles. I mean, there was essentially zero information. You had a cover and a creative team. That's all you had to go off. From what I'm seeing, with people from pretty far away contacting us about books, I think some retailers just weren't well prepared. On the other hand, there were some cases where there was no way to prepare. If you'd have told me last year that 50 copies of 'Deathstroke' wouldn't last me an afternoon, I'd have told you you were crazy. There's no way to know. If you'd ask, 'What's your feeling on a "Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E." series?' I'd have had no way to know."
But now that retailers do know how big interest is, their concerns are shifting towards keeping readership up not just on the DC titles that are drawing fans in but on the entire stock of their stores. On that front, one major question was answered this week as Marvel Comics' biggest title of the month -- the relaunch of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #1 -- seemed to also be a sizable hit. "The other place it wouldn't have been a win for us is if we just shifted dollars from one area to another," Powell said. "We didn't get a huge bump from the Marvel stories, and I don't know if that's because it got overshadowed in the press or if people are just a bit burned out on Marvel having had so many of these big stories. But our current customers didn't stop buying Marvel in order to buy the DC stuff. The new faces we're seeing are almost exclusively for the big DC press that's out there. So while 'Ultimate Spider-Man' may have been overpowered in the press, it wasn't hurt by the new DC books."
"It definitely did well," Exum agreed. "We did a lot of promotion and had Bendis on our podcast. I've got a window display and posters up and the book is displayed right next to our register. I feel like it was not overshadowed by DC's books. I almost feel like it was two different customers. For some Marvel fans, you can't get them to look at a DC book no matter what, and those people were there for Spider-Man. Also, there were some people coming in for DC books going, 'What's this? Is this that character I've heard about?'"
Ultimately, Merritt explained that it's on retailers to leverage DC's sales into the rest of their stores and the rest of the comics medium. "It's very reassuring that people came in for the new 'Ultimate Spider-Man.' I was worried about the long term strength of the Ultimate line, but Marvel putting new creative teams behind it show its versatility and longevity," he said. "At the same time, I've got a store full of other books, and they're doing well. We're big in the small press. Our stock and trade is diversity. When I run out of one book, I've got 100 other new books from the week right there. We've got the new issue of [Image's] 'Reed Gunther.' I'm still selling 'Reed Gunther!'"
Stay tuned next week for more from retailers on the sales of DC's New 52.