Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Retailing With Ron - The DC Relaunch

Hello, I’m Ron Cacace and this is the very first edition of Retailing With Ron. You might know me by my pseudonym Rawnzilla or from my time as an intern for Marvel Entertainment. As Chief Comics Officer at Fallout Shelter Comics in New Jersey, I'm the guy who makes sure the orders get done, customers get everything on their pull list, and much more. I'm the Comic Book Guy but without the attitude or the gross physical appearance.

As this is called Retailing with Ron, I’ll be discussing the DC Universe Relaunch, the recently announced “re-imagining” of DC’s superheroes with 52 new #1 issues in September, from a retailer's perspective. Hit the jump for my thoughts and musings on what might be DC’s most ambitious move ever.

The New 52

DC has stolen the spotlight for the past few weeks after revealing that, as a result of the summer event series Flashpoint, their entire line of DC Universe titles would be relaunching with 52 new #1 issues. In addition, DC will release all of their comics on their digital app on the same day the books hit store shelves.
Justice League #1 cover by Jim Lee
As part of the relaunch, DC has redesigned many classic characters and their costumes. Some characters will also have new origins with some even changing their identities entirely.

If It Ain't Broke...

Blackest Night: This still happened. Somehow. Art by Ivan Reis
It seems that successful franchise like the Batman books and the Green Lantern titles will retain much of their history, while the rest of the DC line will undergo retooling. The majority of the recent developments in these titles will remain, as the Red Lanterns are now receiving their own book and Damian Wayne is still Robin.

Despite all of these announced changes, such as Dick Grayson returning to his Nightwing identity and Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl again, DC has been taking the stance that this is not a “reboot.” Editor Eddie Berganza has stated that pivotal stories such as The Killing Joke and Blackest Night still occurred in the new DC Universe.  Needless to say, there’s been lots of confusion, speculation, and misinformation going around the internet about the extent of the changes to DC’s characters and the scope of the relaunch.

Chaos and Ordering

From a retailer’s perspective, it’s easy to get excited about the possibilities that 52 #1 issues can bring. It’s also easy to get completely terrified. My initial reaction was that there would be no way to accurately order all of these comics and not risk taking a huge loss. I could easily assume that most of the people buying titles such as Green Lantern and Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics will stick around for the new issues as these books will remain relatively untouched. (Snyder will move over to Batman, but the creative team on Green Lantern remains the same.) But how should I order a title such as Blackhawks or Batwing? These aren’t characters with a built-in fan base or a previous title that I can judge my orders against.

Thankfully, DC has provided retailers with many different incentives to allow us to order large quantities of their titles while minimizing the risk. If we reach a certain threshold on our orders, we can return unsold copies of 41 out of the 52 new books (with a 20 cent charge), and also receive a steeper discount on several specific titles. This will allow me to be more generous with my orders for the titles, as the entire point of this relaunch is to acquire new readers. You can’t get new readers if stores can’t afford or are hesitant to order enough copies of your first issues.

Will It Work?

The real measure of success for these books (for both retailers and DC) will be in the second and third months, when issues #2 and #3 start hitting shelves. How will these books sell and will people come back after reading the first issue? DC has stated that the returnability offer will extend through October and November, a major help for stores that will receive significant drop-offs for certain books. It’ll allow retailers some breathing room for orders of issue #2’s, and they won’t have to worry about under or over-ordering because any unsold copies can be returned. This is a good thing for both retailers and fans because it will allow for enough copies to be on the shelves for anyone who decides to come back for issue #2 or #3. Retailers won’t have to worry about piles of unsold OMAC or Captain Atom.

These aren't the only incentives being offered for retailers. DC is increasing their co-op sales program, and also offering additional promotional material for retailers. Look for DC to have a sampler comic featuring art from some of the new 52 comics at San Diego Comic-Con. 

DC's Digital Destiny

Cover of a pre-order form created for The Fallout Shelter. 
DC’s decision to release all of their comics in digital form on the same day as the print copy signals a large change in their digital strategy. The digital copies will be the same price as the print editions, and will drop $1 a month after release. Depending on the time of release, this move could end up resulting in the digital copies being on sale before most comic book stores open for business on Wednesday mornings. While this may sound like a bad thing for retailers, I honestly don’t view it as a big deal. Illegal scans of comic books have been available for download on Wednesday mornings for years.

I don’t think that making digital copies available on Wednesdays will impact sales to a great degree. The customers who buy the monthly issues in print will most likely continue to do so, and those that download illegally won’t suddenly feel inclined to pay for something they can get for free. While there will be customers who decide that this is a good time to switch to digital comics entirely, I think that the increased availability of these comics will ultimately lead to more people buying trade paperbacks and collections. This is an initiative to reach a new audience and bring back lapsed readers.

I’ve had customers come in to the store who checked out digital comics on their phone or iPad and wanted to pick up collected editions. The more exposure that these comic books have, the greater the chances are that someone will step foot inside my shop. This whole initiative is about expanding the customer base and getting new readers.

Hey Kids, Comics!
This pic of the new Justice League reminds me of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.
DC has been explicit in stating that the burden is on the retailers to sell these books, but they are also planning on spending millions on print, television, and online advertisements. This is exactly the kind of exposure that comic books need and it’s about time that one of the major comic book publishers decided to spend some money advertising their products outside of their own comic books. By putting advertisements on television stations like The CW or Cartoon Network, DC can reach out beyond their initial customer base and it shows a serious commitment to expanding and reaching new readers.

What Happens Next?

In an effort to inform retailers on the changes coming to their publishing line, DC has been holding meetings across the United States and dishing out new information and artwork. I attended the New York City meeting on June 24th and my next post will go over some of the news and details that I'm able to share. It was a very interesting and informative three and a half hours spent with comic book retailers and some of DC's head honchos. I'll talk about what Dan DiDio calls the "Reboot Curve", some of the additional incentives that DC is offering to retailers and more.

I'll end this first post with a few questions. Have you talked to your local comic retailer about the books you plan on buying from DC in September? What has your comic book retailer said about the relaunch? Do they seem enthusiastic, indifferent, or angry? How will the rise of the same-day digital market affect your buying habits? Let us know in the comments!
The posts and opinions found here are personal and are not associated or affiliated with Marvel Entertainment or DC Comics.

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Steve said...

It's interesting to get a retailer's perspective, as that's a side of comics I know nothing about.

Also, I live about 10 minutes away from New Brunswick and never knew there was a comics store on George Street. I can't wait to check it out now.

Dan said...

Cool to get a peek behind the retailers's curtain!

Jim said...

Thanks for writing this, I have always wondered what goes on in the retail side of things. I hope you continue to write for this site.

I would be interested in hearing what does and doesn't work as far as incentives and giveaways and historic or current examples of dramatic shortages and surpluses with your take on what went wrong.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I despise Jim Lee's new costumes. They're enough to make me wanna quit reading comics. His sensibilities and 'style' should have been abandoned back in the awful 90s. He doesn't make art, he just poses muscular dopes with no personality. Superman wearing armor is nonsensical. I'm actually a little bit relieved that this whole reboot stinks for me. Its going to make my purchasing decisions much easier and my wallet will be less taxed. I'll still pick up Vertigo titles though.

Ryan said...

My retailer was pretty angry regarding the changea, and felt he was being told rather than asked about changes. Either way, as an iPad owner, and probably more importantly, a new dad with a new home and my wife with not enough space for continued monthly comcis, the move to all digital for my DC books is convienient and practical. As for the books, Im pumped.

Tyler W said...

I've spoken with my LCS owner (well, former LCS, I moved, but they ship to me). Most people seem pretty interested. I told him my pull would be increasing a bit to sample some of the new books and it sounds like that's pretty standard. He said that like me, he's heard from several customers bummed about Secret Six (Gail Simone has made FCBD appearances there in the past and her books tend to move well with the push the store gives them), but by and large folks are looking forward to enough of the new books. He attended one of the summits and sounded happy on twitter afterwards.
I do not as of yet own a tablet, but even if I did I wouldn't be downloading DC titles. The pricing is all off for what basically amounts to a digital rental. Honestly, I'd love to see them fix digital and go that route for "single" issues and continue to buy trades (The longboxes are starting to pile up under my bed).

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