DC Comics didn't win the always ballyhooed sales race for the October 2012 market or dollar share (both went to Marvel Comics), but DC SVP of Sales Bob Wayne and SVP of Marketing John Cunningham didn't seem to mind much. That's probably because the October numbers revealed maybe the healthiest Direct Market numbers since 1997 and showed a growth for DC of 18% overall since last year when their New 52 relaunch was just getting underway.
Beyond a generally sunny performance for the market, October also saw "Superman Earth One" Volume 2 – the sequel to J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis' best-selling reinvention of the Man of Steel – top the graphic novel charts while solid performers like "Batman" – just getting underway with the much-hyped "Death of the Family" crossover – and "Justice League" – welcoming guest penciler Tony Daniel – did their part on the periodical side.
CBR News spoke with Cunningham and Wayne about the sale performance for the month with a particular focus on graphic novels as "Earth One" gives way to TV ads for DC's Vertigo adaptation of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," digital sales as our exclusive look at the top 20 rankings were bolstered by some expanding news for DC's digital platforms and variant covers including the just-announced 52 covers for the incoming "Justice League of America" #1.
CBR News: Gents, there are a few different areas worth hitting today, but let's start with trade and book sales. The October numbers showed a strong start for "Superman Earth One" Volume 2, which may come as no real surprise. But I must say, I do feel like when the first volume in this line came out, we saw a lot more promotional muscle behind it – mainstream stories about "Superman in a hoodie" and ads and the like. At this point, do you feel like the line has been established enough that moves that aggressive aren't needed anymore to land this book with it intended audience?
Bob Wayne: I think that some of this is that we feel what we've done has gotten the attention of a lot of folks because it landed at #1 on the Diamond charts and will be doing very well on the book trade side as well. I don't think normally you do as much promotion for the second volume as you do for the first volume because hopefully there are some people who were enamored of the first one that can't wait to read the second. But I think that John and his team have done quite a bit to draw some more attention to the new one.
John Cunningham: I think one of the things you may be reacting to is simply that the first volume, being the first book in this concept for us, received an inordinate amount of attention. It's very, very difficult to make that happen in the second go round, but we're very, very happy with the numbers we've seen because in the interim, publishing "Batman: Earth One" Volume 1 has brought more attention to the concept and how it works. So in most instances, the promotion that's going on in store and on site is much, much bigger than it was for the first book.
When the "Earth One" concept was announced, there was a lot of talk about "Well, we might serialize it in single issues after the hardcover is out" or other models for releasing these rather than just having the books. With these having been successful, those questions have mostly been laid to rest. Does the "Earth One" line give any additional ammo to what DC will do in the future in the book market?
Cunningham: I think you have to sort of step away from the "Earth One" moniker to understand that this isn't anything new. There really isn't a terribly tangible different between Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's "Joker" graphic novel and the "Earth One" series except for that overarching concept [on the latter]. But I think that for years, DC has shown its market preeminence in terms of taking its concepts out into the mass book channel. So to us, this isn't anything new. It's just a continuation of what we've been doing for years.
So this makes three books in the "Earth One" line that have opened strongly, but unlike "Superman Earth One" Volume 1, we've yet to see an announcement of the next installment on the heels of a good sales performance. Are there going to be more books for this series, more Batman books or maybe even new books in the line with other characters?
Wayne: Watch this space! More announcements coming! [Laughter]
Cunningham: This has been enormously successful, and we'd be foolish to not continue to publish in this mode.
Wayne: In fact, I think we're going to the Editorial folks on a regular basis and going, "So what are you thinking about with more of X?" We're looking out for the readers that way.
In other book format news, DC's adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Denise Mina and Leonardo Manco is on its way very shortly, and I understand you guys are rolling out TV ads to coincide. What do you see as the potential on this book? And what kind of awareness do you think exists for a product like this with fans of the book?
Cunningham: I think you've hit the nail on the head. There's an upside and a downside with a property like this. The upside is that you have a tremendous built-in awareness of the property from the millions of book buyers and the millions and millions of movie goers both from the original European version and then from David Fincher's film. So you're working with a concept that has enormous awareness, but you also have to find ways to promote within that and make sure people understand the distinct difference of this product. I think that's why we gravitated towards television here. We can make that apparent. When you see those ads, as a fan of the book you'll immediately recognize that there's a graphic edition of it based on the artwork you see.
How are you targeting the ads then? My dad is a huge fan of those books, but unlike the geek-friendly TV audience you were pitching the New 52 to, he's not watching G4 or "The Daily Show."
Cunningham: I'll give you the details, as a matter of fact. The ads for "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" are going to run on SyFy, TruTV, TBS, TNT, Bravo and Lifetime. I think that's a pretty eclectic mix. Your dad notwithstanding, we're fully aware that the predominant readers of novels in the country are female, and far and away the predominant fans of Lisbeth Salander are female as well, so we've tried to connect on that level. Also, I should note that we're going to be doing a lot of banner ads in the coming weeks on places like Huffington Post, People, Entertainment Weekly, The Onion and USA Today. So I think that you anticipated my answer with your question in that we were very pragmatic and focused on making sure we got this message out to that potential audience.
|#1||Batman (2011-) #13||9/19/2012|
|#2||Justice League (2011-) #13||9/12/2012|
|#3||Green Lantern (2011-) #13||9/05/2012|
|#4||Earth 2 (2012-) #5||9/5/2012|
|#5||Superman (2011-) #13||9/12/2012|
|#6||Batman and Robin (2012) #13||11/10/2010|
|#7||Batgirl (2011) #13||11/10/2010|
|#8||Action Comics (2011) #13||11/10/2010|
|#9||Green Lantern: The New Guardians (2011) #13||11/10/2010|
|#10||Smallville: Season 11 #19||9/14/2012|
|#11||Detective Comics (2011 - ) #13||9/05/2012|
|#12||Smallville: Season 11 #21||9/24/2012|
|#13||Batman Incorporated (2011-) #13||9/05/2012|
|#14||Green Lantern Corps (2011) #13||9/24/2012|
|#15||Catwoman (2011) #13||9/24/2012|
|#16||Batman: The Dark Knight (2011-) #13||9/19/2012|
|#17||Nightwing (2011) #13||9/21/2012|
|#18||Teen Titans (2011-) #13||9/26/2012|
|#19||Wonder Woman (2011-) #13||9/26/2012|
|#20||Smallville Season 11 #19||9/28/2012|
Let's shift to digital for a moment. As usual, we have an exclusive look at the sales rankings for the month, and as usual of late, there isn't a great amount of change here. But I feel that may change since this week, DC just announced a digital expansion where the monthly periodicals will now be appearing on platforms like Kindle, Nook and iTunes. What made now the time to expand out like this, and what impact do you expect it'll have on sales?
Cunningham: I think we said from the outset when we launched digital in an aggressive way last year that our goal – and I know that [SVP of Digital] Hank Kanalz in a number of interviews has reiterated this – is to take our product and make it available in every platform and format that a reader could want. As far as timing goes, it was just a matter of what it took to get the partners on board. There really isn't much selection of "This would be the right window" or not. These deals are being worked out constantly, and these partners wanted the material from the get-go. We just had to find a way to phase in from a workflow level how we'd get to that point.
But it is great to be at the end of the year, and aside from the terrific relationship we had with comiXology from the start, we now have periodicals and graphic novels both available from those three major platforms – B&N, Amazon and the iTunes store. Like you, I'm very curious to see what that adds to the mix, what sells and what doesn't sell. I'm not sure. Bob and I have these conversations all the time about how what works in the Direct Market tends to work in other markets as well. That's not to say there aren't variations on that. But our strongest storytelling and our strongest books are probably going to work equally effectively in whatever market we have. But again, we're opening up so many new doors here, I can't wait to see what the results are.
Another piece of news rolled into that announcement was word that DC's digital sales have almost tripled over 2012. What are we to make of this? Where was this sales drive coming from? We know that while comiXology has been around for a while, but DC also expanded to Kindle Fire this year. Have all the different platforms kept pace with each other, or has comiXology as the main platform for periodicals up to this point grown bigger?
Cunningham: I kind of feel like it's both. ComiXology has done a great job in growing their business. One of the reasons you notice those sales increases is an algorithmic function. When you launch a new sales platform, you're only launching with a handful of titles. Every week and every month that goes by, we're putting out more product in that channel, and so the number of titles is increasing. We're a long ways away from having a mature list of digital books that we can look at and go, "This is performing better than this" because we're adding so many new channels and new ways for people to get comics that the growth is still exponential.
A big selling point for sales this week is that now that we're a full year away from the New 52's launch, word has it DC is up 18% overall from 2011. Each month when the sales data is released by Diamond, we'll hear responses about graphic novel sales being up while periodicals are down or vice versa. Now that we've got a lot of data to suggest this overall growth, where do you think that's coming form mostly?
Cunningham: I think that's a bit of a product mix question, and as someone who tracks these kinds of things, I'm sure you know that when we have a four-week month versus a five-week month or whatever, there are always things that skew the numbers. But from our perspective, last year we launched the New 52, but it wasn't until this summer that we started putting all those titles out in collected form. So that wave of sales and newness has been going for a while now. We've got a few titles yet to come out, but we're also over a year away from when the comics were first published in periodic form. It's all just a matter of understanding where the product flow is going and how it's working.
One of the things we knew was that in taking those New 52 collections and launching them in May, we wanted to make sure we launched as many of them as quickly as possible. But you'll see that schedule spread out more next year now that we've got a full 12 months to lay all the books in. Even that kind of publishing decision will skew how some of the month-to-month numbers work.
So it's very difficult to get a handle on the sort of specifics you're alluding to. But as long as the overall growth is there and you keep getting new platforms and new titles added, that to me is the formula for ongoing success.
One last thing to ask about this week is the 52 covers coming for "Justice League of America" #1. The prevalence of variant covers these days has a lot of folks in the market worried about their averse impacts, and while this particular sales gimmick is not an ordering incentive based one, who do you think the audience for these covers are? And what do you think the impact on readership will be versus just the impact on sales?
Cunningham: Oddly enough, the best way to answer that question is that back when we did the "Superman walking across America" storyline, we were pleasantly surprised the reaction we were getting from local stores and local media around the sites in that story. I don't assume this new project will be one where people from all over will want to collect everything, but I do think that a lot of stores in individual states will see locals pickup the variant for their state. I think from a media point of view, it'll pick up as well. For us, this was a way to reenforce that concept of "Justice League of America" while providing some support on that local level. Maybe it's just because we're coming through an election week, but that phrase "all politics is local" tends to pop into my mind when I think of a promotion like this.