Retailer Q | #1: DC Reboot

Welcome to Retailer Q, spinning 52Q’s format at top Canadian comic retailers. Comic Book Daily asks the question and our retail friends give their perspective. DC’s announcement of rebooting their line with 52 series debuting in September, releasing in print and digital on the same day, has taken the comic world by storm. As a comics retailer what impact do you foresee? How will this change affect you?

Welcome to Retailer Q, spinning 52Q’s format at top Canadian comic retailers.  Comic Book Daily asks the question and our retail friends give their perspective.

[box type=question]DC’s announcement of rebooting their line with 52 series debuting in September, releasing in print and digital on the same day, has taken the comic world by storm.  As a comics retailer what impact do you foresee?  How will this change affect you?[/box]

Calum Johnston, Strange Adventures (Trying to make the world a safer place for comix)

There’s several things in this. First off, the 52 new titles being launched in September. It’s an audacious move.  It has certainly garnered a lot of attention in both the comic press and the mainstream world. I hope it’s a success.  It’s difficult to form an opinion without knowing more about the new series. Who are the creative teams? Will these be single issue stories with some plot-lines continuing on to encourage reading the next issue? Will they be aimed at all ages? What happens to the other DC titles such as Jonah Hex that don’t need a relaunch? Once the full line has been announced with creative teams and solicitation info; then I could venture a guess as to how many of each I am going to need to order.

As far as the digital release being simultaneous with print, I don’t see it as a change so much as an evolution. It was coming, now we know when. I think DC is smart enough to know that marketing their digital offerings to the present comic customer is kind of a waste of time. Not to say that current comic readers aren’t into reading comics digitally, just that they don’t need to be told about it. They are already reading comics, the check the DC website and other sites with comic news. They know that comics can be found on-line and some may choose to go that route as it may be more convenient for them. The vast majority of people out there who don’t currently read comics are the ones I hope they try to sell on digital. Millions of iPads have been sold. Hundreds of thousands of apps. Spend the marketing money doing outreach to them about the great stories and artwork that is in the world of comics. Encourage them to take a dip into the medium of the pictorial word. This would actually increase the comic market, creating new fans, new readers. The more people reading comics, in whatever form they prefer, is great news.

Jay Bardyla, Happy Harbor Comics (Wonders why he has such cool ideas but can’t draw worth a lick. Seems like punishment…)

I AM STOKED about 52 new #1’s! My own pull list is going to get much bigger with the announcement of all the new titles and creative teams. I’m personally excited about it and I think it’s a bold move that will drive up sales for DC product which are already dominate our shop. As for the digital, I think it will be a great benefit to the industry, if marketed properly, as it will be reaching people who are unaware of “comic books” and “trade paperbacks” and eventually, when they realize that some truly amazing books don’t translate well to digital, they will seek out the physical copy to get the full, proper experience.

At the moment I’ve gained more customers than I have lost due to digital.

Marc Sims, Big B Comics (Our life is comics and life is good)

At first I had to do a bit of damage control. The announcement came as a big surprise to everyone and a few long time DC readers talked about dropping everything. These are guys who have been buying DC’s off the racks since the 1960s. To them, the continuity and history of DC Comics are a big draw. When Action #900 came out a few weeks ago, people were actually counting down to Action #1000. Now that’s obviously not going to happen. Even if DC re-numbers at some point down the line (which I honestly don’t think they will do), it wouldn’t be the same.

As the days have gone on though, the initial shock has warn off. And as more details have been released about the upcoming books, a lot of people are getting pretty excited. As a retailer, I put faith in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee to use this opportunity to tell the best stories possible. At the end of the day that is going to be what it comes down to; If this reboot results in good stories that get people excited about reading DC’s comics, then all the nuts and bolts of how they got there won’t be as important.

As far as digital on the same day goes, I’m still not overly concerned. The reality is digital day and date has existed for 5+ years with pirated scans being posted on Tuesday nights for comics shipping to stores on Wednesdays. The large majority of young people I know scoff at the idea of paying for anything online, whether that be music, movies, or comics. I think we had a discussion here on CBD a few months back that linked to a Swedish study that showed something like 75% of respondents thought that downloading something illegally was not unethical. It’s pretty sad really but that’s a topic for another discussion.

So I am highly skeptical that DC offering their comics through a paid service will somehow entice bunches of 25 year olds to start buying what they can steal now with extreme ease, especially when they don’t even consider it to actually be theft. The question then becomes twofold. Will older comic readers, those who grew up buying cassettes or records, those who still buy paperback books from Chapters, will they change their buying patterns and switch to digital? My instinct says no. People are creatures of habit and the technology is not so superior (and in fact extremely cost prohibitive) as to make print comics non-competitive. So I do not think digital will have much of an effect on the existing comic reading audience.

The second part of the question then is can DC attract a new segment of readers via the digital service? I hope so. One of the major issues in the comic book industry over the last 20-30 years has been that our market for readers of new periodical comics seems to be shrinking, despite the characters and properties being extremely successful in other media. Every publisher on the planet should be trying to find ways to convert moviegoers into comic readers so I applaud DC for making the necessary effort. I believe strongly, and have seen it in practice, that people who are exposed to comics via digital distribution will often then seek out a full line comic store to REALLY meet their needs.

Jay: Are periodicals actually shrinking? I mean there are dozens to hundreds more titles being published than there was a decade ago and with the exception of the insane early 90s, how does the total number of comics being produced in a month stack up against what was happened 10 years and 30 years ago? Are the same number of people buying more titles or are more people buying?

Marc: Compared to 2000, I think slightly fewer people are buying a much larger number of comics. My average sale price on transactions including comics is certainly much higher now than it was 10 years ago, and that’s with our dollar now at par instead of 65 cents like it was in 2002 so you can’t even blame the cover price increases. In 2002 we were charging $3.50 CDN on $2.50 US comics.

We also have far fewer stores in the DM now than we did 10 years ago. It seems like in the US especially, stores are closing up at an alarming rate with little new blood coming in to fill the gaps. Fewer stores logically equals fewer readers.

Bruno Andreacchi, B.A.’s Comics (Currently celebrating 50 years in the hobby and still seeing the “gee” in nostalgia)

I say, “Bring it!” I’m quite surprised at how many fans, and even some retailers, are acting like the sky is about to fall. I’ve only had one longtime exclusively DC customer expressing dismay and talking as if he may stop cold turkey. But I’m willing to bet that he won’t. Who wouldn’t want to buy a Batman #1? And Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee? Lemme at it!

As a glass half full kinda guy and combined with support from DC like variants, deep discounting and, best of all, returnability, I’m ready to sit down at this buffet and gorge myself. And I’ll have quite an appetite by September.

As a confirmed Luddite, (when I hear “digital codes” I think of fingers sneezing because of allergies) I probably don’t have sense enough to fear the technological onslaught that’s so prevalent. We’ve always cultivated readers and collectors here and if even 1% of 1% of digital comic book readers become curious enough to visit a comic shop to hold “the real deal”, then I think that’s a good thing and life’s too short to fret about it..

I’m not expecting business as usual in September. I’m expecting better than usual business in September! Let’s call it the Leather Age, even if “it’s not a reboot.” Like Charlie Chaplin in Gold Rush, I’ll be waiting with knife and fork, ready to chow down. Pass the salt and, no tongue, please.

Christopher Butcher, The Beguiling Books & Art

I feel like I’ve got a bit more leeway as I’ve answered last, and therefore gotten the roundest look at what’s being offered by DC, sorry to the folks who were more timely with their answers if this goes against the grain a little.

Short version, I just did a quick count and Marvel have about 100 ongoing series and mini-series set in the main Marvel U coming in August, give or take. Looking at the DC list, it seems the vast majority of books getting issue #1s are, in fact, being rebooted rather than exploring entirely new concepts or characters, which means that as retailers we have hard sales data on those books. We know what Action Comics #900 sold, and we know what Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman #1 sold, and we know what really big event books with real-world press coverage tend to do to sales, so we’ve got a usable metric to figure out orders on Morrison and Morales’ Action Comics #1. Again, I think we know the general ballpark of where to place our orders on almost all of these titles, and that they’re #1 issues will largely mean more copies are sold than the previous issue, not less. Compared to Marvel’s 100-title continuity, 52 books in the DCU seems almost quaint, and certainly easier to deal from an ordering perspective. That issue is really a non-starter for me.

The issue for me, and I mentioned this online earlier, is that our sales on day and date digital titles are measurably lower than on the non-day-and-date titles. As far as I can tell looking at the numbers, it’s a correlation situation rather than a causation one, but with the announcement that their whole line is going day and date? It’s certainly something that concerns me.

I understand the modern truism that “digital comics have been available day and date for years,” and to an extent I agree with that idea. Piracy has been a real threat for years, done untold damage, and particularly coupled with the recession is likely responsible for the last few quarters of disappointing sales in the overall industry. But there is a generation of consumer who does prefer legal digital alternatives, and that seems to be the 30-50 year old demo that DC is targeting with these moves. More importantly, by offering my customers an add-on purchase of a digital version of the book they’re buying (as they’re doing with the ‘Previews Exclusive’ Justice League of America #1) they’re directly marketing digital to my customers. We may make an extra buck off the sale, but we introduce our customers to a stream of purchasing that directly bypasses us. I can’t see how that isn’t at least a little unappealing.

Taking off my retailer cap though, it’s all a terribly logical move. The relaunch at #1, the day and date digital, the slow rollout of info, it all makes a ton of sense. Putting that retailer cap back on, I am not convinced that any of this is a benefit to my bottom-line, or even to my customers. It makes sense for me to support it, to get behind it, and to find the good books and recommend them to my customers. We’re going to do all of that–we’re going to have those books in quantity on launch day, and we’re going to read them and talk about them. There is a tremendous opportunity here if all goes well, but there’s also so much potential for this to go wrong too. I am going to be paying the closest-possible attention to this relaunch and how it’s promoted, how it’s received, and ultimately how it sells. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

John Tinkess, Another Dimension (Manager for longer than I’d like to admit)

During the first few days after DC’s announcement there were quite a few knee jerk reactions from customers but as more details have been released we’re seeing a lot of genuine excitement from the majority of them, along with exceptionally strong sales on all of the Flashpoint books which supposedly lead directly into the relaunch. We’ve seen this pattern occur more and more frequently over the last few years as people tend to have very strong reactions to change (or the threat of change) but then don’t want to miss the big event when it happens.

Outside of a few concerns for long running titles like Action and Detective Comics, issue numbers are pretty much a non-issue as so many series have been restarted so many times over the last decade that they have essentially lost all meaning, even to the most die-hard collectors. The bigger concerns I’m hearing surround the characters themselves and the potential changes to their costumes and core concepts. I began reading comics in the mid 1970’s and many of today’s incarnations are nearly unrecognizable as the same heroes that I enjoyed reading in my youth. It seems like every editorial or creative change at the Big Two has been seen as an excuse to revamp characters over and over, resulting in continuities so convoluted that many titles are nearly impenetrable to the casual reader. With their fresh start in September, DC has the opportunity to greatly expand their readership if they can manage to update their characters while remaining true to their original concepts as well as staying away from any continuity-heavy events for the foreseeable future. We can hope that DC’s newest attempt to revitalize their characters will attract a new generation of readers but they are also running the risk of alienating a portion of their current readership.

I’m looking forward to a very strong September as I think we’ll see increased sales across the line. We’ve already had many customers express interest in picking up all 52 #1’s and many more will be curious to see how everything fits together in the new DCU. The one wild card to consider is how much promotion DC will be doing outside of the direct market and whether they will have any success driving new customers to stores. If the media latches on to a “new Action Comics #1” story, we might all find ourselves caught short but that would be a nice problem to have. The ordering incentives DC has announced so far will definitely help us take a strong position on everything up front. After the first month, it will all depend on the quality of the books themselves so the real trick will be ordering properly for the second and third issues.

As far as day-and-date digital goes, I’m not overly concerned by it. As others have already stated, illegal downloads have been available day-and-date for years so any of our existing customers that would prefer digital would have gone that way already. If anything, DC’s digital service might actually serve as a feeder system for us as people discover books online then decide they want to experience the “real thing”. With parity pricing between print and digital for the first month, there is no advantage to downloading unless the reader actually prefers that format. When you can look around the store on a busy day and see a customer smelling the pages of a new Drawn & Quarterly book and another admiring the gloss and matte finish on that lovely Alex Toth book you realize that object fetish is still a big factor in this business.

Jennifer Haines, The Dragon (Where kids get their comics)

When I first heard about digital day-and-date, I was really excited, until I realized that DC didn’t intend to go through retailers, but sell the digital copies themselves. I definitely understand their rationale – they already have a system in place that works. Fundamentally, I really like the idea of digital comics, as it means that we can get comics into the hands of people in under- or un-serviced areas – places where there are few to no comic stores. That can only be positive, as it means more people will get to read comics, which could raise their legitimacy in society further.

I believe strongly that we as a culture are still very much attached to print media. So, if readers in serviced areas choose to switch to digital, or start their comic reading with digital, then they may still come in for collections or for something different (ie. not DC). Certainly parents and friends, who want to buy them gifts, are not going to buy digital copies, they’re going to come into the store and shop. And besides, I can’t think of a single customer who only reads DC. This means they’ll still need to come into the store for their other books and thus likely won’t make the switch to digital.

I think having 52 #1s is going to be cumbersome and stressful to order, even with all the work we’ll be doing to get as many customers as possible to sign up in advance. There’s a lot of extra money that needs to go into bringing in enough speculative copies. The extra deep discount only apply to 6 books, and returnability comes with a fee; I would prefer that DC do overships, to allow us to probe the viability of the titles, without putting our dollars on the line.

On the plus side, I am really looking forward to seeing comic TV ads! I think the list of new creative teams looks fairly strong, and it looks like there’s some interesting new blood coming in, which is great! I personally am excited about Animal Man by Jeff Lemire, Cliff Chiang drawing Wonder Woman, and Teen Titans by Scott Lobdell. I know that creators like Jim Lee, Grant Morrison, and Judd Winick are big draws for my customers, we just have to make sure we inform them as much as possible about the new titles to help them make the transition.

Overall, I’m generally positive about the move. I’m curious to see how Marvel will respond and I’m curious to see what impact day-and-date digital on this scale will have. No matter what, I’m ready to roll with it!

Our image selection this Retailer Q are seven issue one covers from DC’s September solicitations.

Scott VanderPloeg
Scott VanderPloeg

Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.

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Kevin Boyd
12 years ago

Excellent idea for a column Scott — I hope to see this as regular feature on CBD. I’m not a retailer – I’m just a customer, thankfully, but I know a lot of retailers and it’s interesting to see how things are gelling for them after the initial shock of the (I’m still calling it a) reboot news came out. Plans are forming as more information comes to light, and DC seems willing to communicate and work with retailers as there are a few weeks left before the orders have to be placed. Even with a media push and television advertising, 12 new #1 issues per week in September will be tough to push – I don’t envy them.

Ed Campbell
Ed Campbell
12 years ago

I like this column.  I find it very interesting to see what retailers think about things in “comic-dom”, especially when we get to see retails trends from different areas.

I hope the DCU relaunch will draw in new customers and readers to comic books.

Marc Sims
12 years ago

It is planned as a regular monthly feature. I’m glad you liked it!
I am at the stage where the nuts and bolts of comic retail are far more interesting to me than the medium itself so when Scott pitched me this idea I gladly accepted.

Thanks to my retailer homies for generously donating their time. This first one we are getting our feet wet. I hope that in the future we can get more of a back and forth discussion going as well.