On a day when DC Comics itself announced an across the board sellout of all its New 52 titles at the distributor level, retailers continue to report that sales for the relaunch are very strong. Though in the third full week of the month-long release of brand new comics series, the challenges of how to sell books and retain readers are becoming more clear. To help get a good view on the sales atmosphere, CBR News again spoke to retailers from coast to coast (parts one and two are here) to gauge the overall reaction to titles.
Once again, sellouts were a rule of thumb with even DC creators having a hard time tracking down enough copies of their own work. "Mike Johnson came in looking for copies of 'Supergirl' #1, but unfortunately, we already sold out!" laughed Carr D'Angelo, co-owner of Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks & Northridge, CA, "Things have been going gangbusters. We ordered fairly well, but there have been sellouts all around. 'Wonder Woman' is selling pretty briskly, but we still have some copies. 'Batman' has sold out. 'Red Hood' sold out quickly. 'Nightwing' sold out from last week as well."
"It's been basically the same," said Michael Ring of Bridge City Comics in Portland, OR. "DC has done a great job of spacing out the big books from 'Justice League' the first week to 'Batman' this past week. Every week there's been something for people to get excited about. The interest has been high, and what's crazy is the amount of 'Justice League' we keep selling. You think that you'd get a rush the first week, and then after that you'd have a few people coming in who missed it, but we're still selling lots and lots of copies. Every day we're selling 'Justice League,' and it's all snowballing from there."
Josh Crawley of Westfield Comics in Madison, WI agreed. "We don't have many [new books] left," he said. "This past Wednesday, I actually did have some reorders placed for some stuff that I hoped I would get. I did get my 'Batman' reorder in addition to my initial order, but it was blown out by the end of the day. There's some reorders I'm getting this week of last week's book like 'Blue Beetle.'"
While marquee heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman saw strong sales on their eponymous series in most shops, some books with less mainstream brand recognition are selling at lower levels. "We've had good feedback on everything, though surprisingly 'Birds of Prey' is the one title we didn't sell out of last week," said Mimi Cruz of Night Flight Comics in Salt Lake City, UT. "I think we were anticipating that the readers of the old 'Birds of Prey' would read the new 'Birds of Prey,' because we had a huge audience for that and 'Secret Six,' but so far that's not working out so good." Other titles like "Men of War" and "Hawk & Dove" were also noted as selling through less often than their big name counterparts, though sales on all titles were healthy.
And in a week when corners of the comics blogosphere exploded over controversial content in series like "Red Hood And The Outlaws" and "Catwoman," comic shops owners had to watch for what they could sell to which customers. "People aren't used to adult content in 'Batman' and 'Wonder Woman,'" Cruz said. "In these tough economic times, we can't just guess that people are going to want a horribly violent Wonder Woman, from what I've been told, compare to what they expected...I don't think anything was that explicit. Catwoman didn't have all her clothes off or anything, but it's racy enough to some readers."
D'Angelo agreed that with so much mainstream marketing going on, some new readers remained too young for the material DC put out. "To be honest, all these DC books are rated 'Teen,' so they're not necessarily the best jumping on points for eight, nine or ten-year-olds. When parents do come in, we let them know about what else is available for kids so they don't get home and freak out because Catwoman is straddling Batman. They probably weren't expecting that in their comic book. It's a cool story, but it's definitely more in a PG-13 range."
Ring added, "We've been getting a lot of people like this one guy who came in last week saying that his kid is four-years-old, and since he'd read comics when he was a kid, when he heard DC was doing this, he wanted to get comics for his kid. I realize that all of these aren't age appropriate, but I think 'Justice League' was a book that wouldn't have anything too scary."
Another major question is who exactly is buying all these #1 books and why. All retailers reported a notable increase in new customers, be they fans on the lookout for comics that sold out at other shops or the fabled brand-new readers publishers are always in search of. But whether these customers would be interested in sticking with series for many months to come was harder to gauge.
Crawley noted that keeping tabs on what regular business will be like in the months to come has been particularly tricky at his second store. "We haven't had this location open a year yet, and we are really close to the University of Wisconsin, and I had no way to compensate for both increased sales and new customers that are students. It has been insane. I can't easily gauge which is which percentage-wise, but I know I've had both [old fans and new.] I had a couple of people in last night who heard about this on NPR, and I've also had people come in and say, 'I've never had a comic book store this close before.'"
"Especially in a market like Los Angeles, you're going to see people who go from store to store," D'Angelo explained. "There's also people who maybe are playing the eBay market and buying an 'Animal Man' at every store because it's going for $20 online. But we are seeing a lot of returning collectors, and we're hearing that the PR worked. If DC's plan was to get people excited in the stories, it worked. We're seeing couples coming in, and fathers with their kids. Some people want all 52 books, and we hope they're seeing something they like and are coming back for more."
"We've had a lot of guys on a pull list paying for all the #1s in advance, and 90% of those guys aren't ordering #2. If everybody who's paid for #1 wants a #2, they're not going to get it," Cruz said, noting fluctuation in buying patterns across the board. "I'm curious as to whether regular or longtime readers have dropped certain titles and won't come back to them. I've had a number of readers drop 'Green Lantern' and 'Green Lantern Corps' that have been reading those forever. They just felt like the new series was unnecessary. I've had a few people like that.
"So far, it's kind of a mixed bag. I even got a former Goldman Sachs employee, and I looked at him like 'Really? You're going to speculate on this now?' I didn't say anything, but that kind of got me worried."
Ring advertised in local movie theaters with the TV commercial DC created leading to a spot for his store. "We've had a lot of people coming in saying they saw it, or Tweeting us because they saw it," he said, noting that overall he estimates that 20 to 25% of customers have been new.
That continual stream of warm bodies walking into shops have found a wealth of material. "We've had increased sales every week, so it's not like it matters if we're sold out on one or two titles," D'Angelo said. "That easy reorders aren't readily available -- like 'I've sold out of the first Supergirl, let me just put in for some more' -- is a problem, but a lot of the reorders I have placed are getting filled a week later. I think DC when they saw they had a phenomenon on their hands tried to increase print runs. And while the collector fever is great for sales, in the long run we need readers, and readers don't care if they get a second print."
Other comics have done well too, most retailers reported. At Earth-2, "we also see a residual effect for some Marvel books like 'Captain America' and 'Daredevil' which just saw reboots with new #1s. What Mark Waid is doing on 'Daredevil' is amazing, and Ed Brubaker and Steve McNiven on the Steve Rogers Cap book is amazing. People who want to know more about comics are excited that there are book like that that they can get in on the ground floor of rather than looking at issue 600-whatever."
Of course, questions still loom over how easy it will be to keep that interest rolling, though comic shop owners on the whole feel up to the challenge. "I have the feeling this is going to be a temporary blip, but it has brought in new people and lapsed people. There's no denying that...it's up to the retailers to do their best to have a game plan and turn people towards books if they're low on others," said Crawley. "I'm more worried about making sure I have #1s in stock than I am about the #2s. At this point, I want to know I have enough #1s because I know that I can return extra #2s if I order too much."
Since the first round of sellouts, DC seems to be on top of keeping shelves stocked for the retail partners. "I just did my FOC yesterday, and a bunch of second prints were on there. I'm trying to keep those issues in stock, and with DC's incentives, it's easy for me and other retailers to take a chance on this stuff," Ring said.
All the shop owners agreed that what would help them most from the publisher was consistency, both in creativity and business procedures. "Make sure the stuff is on time and let the chips fall where they may," Cruz said. "The more late books like 'The Dark Knight' or 'Batwoman' are, that's what'll kill the series. I've had customers start a death poll to see how many issues of 'Justice League' Jim Lee can do before he craps out. That's funny, but it's not good. That's what's going to hurt this."
Ring added, "I think the best thing they could do is continue the retailer incentives that they've put forth as well as make sure the books are good."
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on the reaction to DC's New 52.