The DC Relaunch: A Prediction of What Might Happen

Given the uncertainty over the 52 new DC titles coming in September, I have a guess as to what might happen.

1. Fans are stunned. They don’t know how many of these books to preorder. The solicits give only the cover image and a few lines of hype-filled description. So the fan decides to wait and see, planning to browse the comic at her store.

2. Aside from some obvious choices, the biggest name titles, a lot of these books are huge guesses for retailers in terms of how many to stock. They can’t afford to overcommit, because the downside is huge, so they order tentatively. Several books sell out the first day, and fans can’t sample and see the comic before they buy.

3. A fan who misses out on a desired title might spend the same amount of money to buy the online issue … Which gives the sale, instead, to comiXology and DC instead of the retailer. The retailer doesn’t see the higher numbers he could have sold, only that he sold out. That encourages higher orders for future issues, but the retailer is still guessing at what those numbers should be. And the fan, if she’s old school, doesn’t buy those issues in print, because she already started reading online and plans to continue that way. She doesn’t want print if she can’t start from the beginning. End result: lost sales, and decreasing support for the title in stores going forward. The second issue is going to sell fewer copies than the first, anyway, but this problem accelerates that decline.

(However, among certain kinds of retailers, sell-outs are seen as good things, demonstrating that a book is “hot”. Some of those retailers might increase orders so they and their customers aren’t “left out” in future. If shortages occur, expect DC to make lots of PR hay out of them.)

4. Or the fan might not buy online. They might download a free shared copy in order to be able to “try before they buy”. DC could short-circuit some of this with lots of samples, but it remains to be seen if heavy digital sampling is encouraged.

5. While fans can navigate this mess, new readers who want to try out these great new comics they’ve read about (and that hopefully have been marketed and advertised by DC) are much more confused. They don’t come into the comic shop mid-day on Wednesday, so they don’t see the books in stock, and they don’t want to have to come back a week later to fulfill an impulse purchase (when reorders might arrive). For this new market — which is the whole point of this exercise, from one perspective — DC has to get more copies out there. To that extent, DC is providing variant covers, additional discount on key titles, and most important, limited returnability (at a cost to the retailer) in order to encourage increased orders from stores. However, retailers don’t seem to find that enough of a cover to their gamble. What would better help them is free overship, something like “buy 5, get 5 free” offers. DC made the decision to tip over the apple cart — should they take more of the risk? (For more detail on the incentives to retailers and a store perspective on this mess, check out this podcast with Brian Hibbs.)

There are several points here where the situation can be improved. Some retailers are providing significant discounts to customers who preorder the entire set of books, thereby sharing the risk with them. DC will also need to reprint issues fast in order to fulfill demand, if it’s been under-calculated. This could drive a lot of customers to digital purchasing, although if DC is seen to be encouraging that route, expect store orders and support to continue declining. What am I missing? What do you think is going to happen?


17 Responses to “The DC Relaunch: A Prediction of What Might Happen”

  1. Jer Says:

    My only issue with your analysis is point 5 – I think DC expects the new readers part of this equation to be digital buyers, not trying to convert them into weekly comic book store purchasers. And for those folks, “sell outs” are meaningless – as is missing an issue. Digital comics means never having to miss an issue or wait for a trade to catch up again.

    IMO comics retailers should work as hard as they can to get up-front commitments from their regular buyers because I find it doubtful that DC’s reboot is going to be bringing new customers into the shops, no matter how DC might spin it to the retailers.

  2. Johanna Says:

    You’re correct — I should have thought that through a bit more. Digital comics mean infinite inventory, but also no discounts.

  3. Ralf Haring Says:

    I don’t understand why digital would mean no discounts. I see discounted ebooks, phone apps, mp3s, pc games, etc.

  4. Johanna Says:

    DC has announced that they’re pricing the digital the same as print (unless you buy both together). Also, buying digital eliminates preorder discounts for fans, which undercuts the long-established discount system in comics.

    I’d like to think that that will change once digital becomes more established, but that will take a while.

  5. James Schee Says:

    I think in terms of the direct market that’s in general what will happen. On the other hand the podcast that you link to, sort of makes DC’s point when talking about a comic like Mr. Terrific.

    A title like that, or even less superhero connected like Frankenstein, Men of War, and probably Animal Man are books that have no chance in the comic shop market. What will be interesting to see is if there is an audience for comics who will support things like that in digital form (because it sounds cool, has a hero that looks like them, etc.) and the like.

    Also isn’t the plan to still discount them $1 4 weeks after release?(not enough but at least its a start)

  6. Dave Says:

    I think that new ‘digital only’ readers (if they exist…) won’t have that mentality of having to get their new issues on Wednesday, and many will be happy to wait a month and get it for $1.99.

  7. Matt M. Says:

    Online buyers can buy Angry Birds for .99 or they can buy the new game from the same company for 1.99. They might buy a couple comics for cover price, but I suspect they’re not going to feel like they’re getting value for their money if they do. I don’t see these prices maintaining except among the hardcore comics reader (who is reluctant to jump to digital in the first place.)

  8. Grant Says:

    I’m wondering if retailers will stock the new DC stuff at any cost and maybe cut back on orders from other publishers. Harras has said that September isn’t the end and that there are more books coming. Marvel has succeeded in a big part due to saturation. If DC does the same thing that will mean a bigger slice of the pie for someone else.

  9. Lucas Says:

    I will be switching to digital only with this move. Already cancelled my books in store. If I just have to wait a month to save a buck on them all I just won’t start reading until October.

  10. D. Peace Says:

    Regarding number 5: New readers aren’t going into shops. Ever. Period. It’s been 20 years now since new readers have gone into shops. What are you talking about?

  11. D. Peace Says:

    Matt M. – It’s true that $1.99 might seem like a bit much for just a comic for many of the new digital media readers that DC is trying to win over but, for a casual, just-for-fun reader, which I think this industry desperately needs more of and would be entirely healthy, it’s still a steal relative to print costs. Which is an easier sell to a newbie: Scenario A: “Here, buy this #3.99 pamphlet only available through a specialty shop you never visit and have no reason to go to and have to look to find because it’s hidden from plain sight OR, if you prefer, pay $19.99 for the trade paperback version from Barnes & Noble” or Scenario B: “Download this in three seconds onto your iPad for 2 bucks”

    Truly, comics are just absolutely unable to gain new readership among people who are just in it for fun because of distribution and price almost exclusively.

    Lucas – I agree. I have too much clutter, too many stacks of wood pulp in my life. I want comics cheap, easy and accessible via convenient means. This is like the difference between shooting someone an e-mail and writing them a letter in my eyes. And I think all my comics will be purchased digitally because, if this goes off well, the gauntlet has been thrown. Hey, publishers, I’m online, I’ll meet you there or else I won’t see you at all. I can’t be bothered to accumulate kindling any more than I can be bothered to to send a telegraph.

    There are two ways this whole operation could go belly-up: the first is if DC doesn’t market this new launch to new readers of digital media heartily enough, specifically under the premise “Now is the perfect time to jump onboard, even if you’ve never read a comic before” If they don’t send that message, people will think it’s just another nerds-only revamp and won’t bother.

    The second is if Generation Y is simply through with comics altogether, which could also be a possibility. I mean, the nickelodeon died off, Vaudeville died off, musical theater is in death throes outside of a loyal contingent of New Yorkers and obsessives… there’s a real chance this medium is just finished. If that’s the case, I think comics will still be published in increasingly smaller and smaller increments, never entirely dying but never flourishing again. But, before we get to that point, we should at least give digital media a good, hard go.

  12. Johanna Says:

    D, the problem with your assumption is that a casual new reader isn’t going to now that comics are now $4, so they aren’t going to see $2 (for 20 pages they read in 5 minutes and don’t own) as a deal in comparison. They’re going to evaluate whether $2 is worth what they’re getting, and in comparison to $1 video games, it’s not.

    There are a lot of factors that have put comics in the situation they’re in, and yes, price and distribution are two of them. I share your hopes that the marketing is substantial and successful.

  13. D. Peace Says:

    I understand the pricing scheme may not be perfect just yet but then that begs a new question: How much SHOULD comics cost, relative to the willingness of a new audience? I think they need to be really cheap, for sure, but how cheap is TOO cheap? If they’re so undervalued that people won’t pay enough to warrant their continued existence, the industry is in BIG trouble.

  14. Johanna Says:

    I’d like to see 99-cent comics, because that seems to be a key price point online. I know that’s a gamble, that sales will increase by huge amounts in order to cover the costs, but $2 for 20 pages that you read in 5 minutes and don’t even own seems ridiculously out of whack on the cost/value scale.

  15. Anthony Says:

    I don’t think Gen Y is “through” with comics altogether…other genres/styles of comics (manga in particular) seem popular. Probably moreso with the general public than the same superheroes they can get on TV/at movies/in video games (for a better price/value, as Johanna notes, and written with broader appeal).

  16. Dee Says:

    That’s true as a generation Yer I am reluctant to buy something that expensive online to download when I could read something of equal value for free or download for less somewhere else. And why should I pay so much for something I can’t keep or print up.

  17. DC’s New Target Audience Is Younger, Still Male » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] reassure comic shop retailers concerned about the recent relaunch news, DC is holding a series of meetings around the country. Word has begun to spread that the news [...]




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