I just got home from the DC Retailer Roadshow meeting for their upcoming DC 52 relaunch here in Los Angeles. The meeting itself was held on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank and was pretty interesting overall. I’ll go over some of the stuff that went down at the meeting — I’ll go over what I think retailers will find most interesting first and then follow up with the things that stuck out to me.
In attendance at the meeting, on the DC/WB side, were: Bob Wayne, Jim Lee, Dan Didio, Diane Nelson, Hank Kanalz and a tall, skinny guy in a Green Lantern shirt whose name I am totally blanking on that did most of the moderating. I think his name was John, but don’t quote me on that. (Update: Rich Johnson from Bleeding Cool came through with the gentleman’s name – John Rood. Thanks, Rich!)
In the audience, we had about 20 different stores being represented (40 or so people total) and the regional Diamond rep for the area. I’m terrible with names, but some of the people/shops in attendance were Ed from Collector’s Paradise, Joe Field of Flying Colors, Warren Hayes of the Cargo Hold, June and Mike from the Comic Bug, Carr DiAngelo of Earth 2, House of Secrets, Comic City, Portlynn of Brave New World, Ryan Leiboweitz from Golden Apple Comics, Thomas Gahl from Beachball Comics, 4 Color Fantasies, Jimmy Jay of Jay Company Comics, Hi De Ho Comics, Joel Elad, Jonathan from The Realm, Comic Oasis from Las Vegas, Mike Malve from Atomic Comics in Phoenix…there were retailers from Phoenix and Las Vegas to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and up to Portland, Oregon! Not as many as I thought would show, but a decent crowd.
Just to be upfront, we were instructed there was a “cone of silence” in effect for a lot of the material being covered and I’m going to try my darnedest to respect that. I’m also going to stream of thought a lot of this stuff in an attempt to get it all down, so bear with me if I ramble a bit.
To set the mood, the “story” Dan Didio and Jim Lee were “selling” was that the DC executive team took a look at the comic book marketplace and saw that it was shrinking. The fact that no titles were selling 100,000 copies was a wake up call. They decided to do something bold and drastic to help and turn the tide. The solution they came up was an interesting one, especially considering Jim Lee’s background. The solution, Didio said, was to quit doing boring, talking head comics. To bring excitement and action back to the stands — without coming out and saying it, the implication was that DC needed to become 1990s Image Comics. He talked about “following the examples set by Jim Lee and his previous work.” These statements made sense to me, but I do have to admit to being blown away by hearing them said aloud by Dan Didio.
First up, for those of you who will be attending the DC Comics 52 Road Show at one of its four other stops, you will be getting a “Roadshow” Justice League #1 variant. With that being said, and I know this is the most important thing to a lot of you (so important, one retailer at the meeting interrupted things so he could ask about it), don’t bother taking along a second person in an effort to score an additional copy. They aren’t given out at the meeting and will be sent out to you when the books go to press. Hopefully that’ll save some of you the embarrassment of asking at the meeting and looking like a chode.
Next, while there are 52 DCnU books being launched in September, that is not the extent of their publishing efforts. Obviously, the Vertigo and kids/cartoon comic lines are continuing as is and without renumbering. Also, books will be added down the line (again, obviously). Some books that were mentioned specifically as continuing in October or later were Batman Inc., Batman Odyssey and Thunder Agents. 52 is just the number of titles that are a part of this new initiative, which focuses on the core DC Universe only.
Justice League #1 will actually be on sale August 31 and is the only other DC Universe book on sale that week aside from Flashpoint #5. Flashpoint will be the end of current DC continuity and Justice League will be the beginning of the new one.
On to the “meat” of the meeting itself. The majority of the presentation by the DC crew focused on the content side of things, which was no great surprise to me. Essentially, they read through what amounted to Previews solicitation information and showed off the promo art we’ve all already seen online. Nothing wrong there. In fact, the buzzword of the day from DC — and repeated about 100 times by Jim Lee — was “evangelize.” They wanted to get the retailers present excited about the teams and concepts behind the books so we would be able (and willing) to go out and preach to comic fans. Really and truly, “evangelize” was the key point DC wanted to make to retailers. Dan Didio specifically said “we hear retailers bashing the product they should be selling and it is counter-productive.”
The content portion of the presentation went so long that one retailer finally stood up, after nearly 2 hours, and asked if we could move along to the important part stuff. This seemed to throw off the presenters a bit, although I think it was a fair request.
The rest of the presentation was split between going over the retailer incentives/programs and talking about DC’s digital plans. I’d love to say we talked about specific marketing/promotion plans, but that stuff, to my disappointment, was glossed over and ignored. Retailers were more interested in the damage digital would be doing to their business or if DC was going to change their trade release program than anything else. I’m a marketing guy — I want to know about marketing, damn it!
John (I’m just going to call him that until I figure out what his name was) and Bob Wayne detailed the programs DC was going to use to help encourage retailers to support the new product. At the front of their discussion, we learned that Justice League is the flagship title for DC, with Action and Batman being the next biggest players — at least in their projections. I believed they mentioned 1:25 and 1:200 variants. They went over the plans for their variant incentives for the main titles that would roll out over 4 weeks in September. Bob Wayne said those incentives were there to help people who might be ordering 150 copies of a book to go ahead and order 200 to get the variants.
The next part of the plan involved titles that DC wanted to give an “extra push” to, but that they thought were probably going to under perform in terms of retailer orders. I believe this was already announced publicly in a letter from Bob Wayne that ICV2 ran. They’re offering retailers an additional 15% discount on these titles that need that push. I’m not sure the titles have been listed publicly, so I’ll refrain from doing it here.
There is 100% returnability on the remaining 41 titles. To qualify for the returns, your total Sept orders have to be 125% of your May FOC orders. The returnability is covers only and would carry a 20 cent flat fee per issue returned. You’re talking a lower shipping cost AND less than 10% return fee, which I thought was absolutely fantastic for retailers.
One interesting piece of information was that all of the incentives/retailer promotions/tools would be in effect for the first three issues of the comics. This is to help give retailers a lot of extra support on the normal issue 2-3 drop offs most books see. I loved the fact they were willing to do this for shops. Great to hear!
Bob and John both talked about DC aiming hard at bringing in new and lapsed comic book fans as the main part of their marketing campaigns (still no real mention of what those plans are) and that the target ages were 18-34, with “spillage” beyond that. They also talked about the reason for things like the DC Retroactive books was to catch the attention of lapsed fans for the eventual relaunch. I think that may have been part of it, but I think a bigger part was to get books out and keep people from noticing the fact that all of the “real” creative teams were suddenly absent from the publishing schedule. Of course, that may just be the cynic in me. Dan Didio did say the reason so many books were ended/canceled/delayed was because the relaunch was coming.
A lot of retailers were annoyed that they were losing sales on current books because a lot of fans were dropping titles before the relaunch — that fans were excited about the new number one issues, but figuring nothing coming out right now was going to matter so why waste money. One retailer suggested DC start a returnability plan to help retailers absorb some of the losses on the titles because DC didn’t reveal their plans back when those orders were being placed. This caused a bit of an uproar and Jim Lee smoothed things over. Bob Wayne’s response was: it’s your job as retailers to keep fans excited about these books and if you’re losing sales it might be because you aren’t doing enough to “evangelize” the books. I agree with him in part, but I do think DC should have given retailers some warning upfront on books they were going to be ordering for the summer.
On to DC’s digital plans. I’m not going to go in to specifics here. What I heard DC saying against the outcry from a lot of the retailers present was: Digital is the way of the future. It is a small piece now, but we all know it is coming and it is going to be a major thrust for DC in the future. That DC wasn’t going to do anything to alienate its biggest sales channel, but that it would be supporting digital in all of its ad and marketing campaigns. Everything done for print would be done for digital and vice versa. Obviously, retailers weren’t overly pleased with this, but I was surprised at how restrained this audience was.
DC is teaming up with Comixology to offer what is essentially an affiliate program for comic retailers. If you start up a DC digital specific portal on your store’s website, they’ll actually be kicking in an additional 30% from the DC/Warner Brothers coffers to help incentivize (is that a real word?) things for retailers.
The Justice League polybagged/digital copy book is a test for them. If it is successful, they’d be rolling out additional books in that format.
Their current plan is to have DC day & date digital books go on sale at 9am Eastern Time on Wednesday morning. Being on the West Coast here, retailers flipped a bit that digital copies would be available “before they even had their morning coffee.” West Coast retailers suggested 3pm Eastern and Bob Wayne seemed to think East Coasters would hate that. I’m guessing the difference will be split.
A lot of time was spent discussing the fact that print made up about 95% of DC Comics sales and that the digital customer was going to be different from those who hit comic shops. This was repeated by all members of the DC team. When retailers pressed hard, the answer that came from both Jim Lee and Bob Wayne was: It is your job as retailers to make your stores worth going to. Jim Lee’s comment amounted to the fact that print comics are about collect-ability and the experience of going to a comic shop to “talk to real people about comics” and not necessarily casual reading. DC digital is about targeting new and casual readers for them, I think. Good, bad or indifferent, this is what was said.
This post is getting a bit long, so I’m going to cut things short here. There was a bit more covered, but those were the major points. DC Digital is going to be a growing concern for them, but they do very much want to keep print alive for as long as possible.
I was very much surprised no one asked about what DC’s marketing/PR plans were for bringing in new retailers. We were told they had a “more than seven figure increase” in their marketing budget, but not what was going to be done with it beyond some buzzwords like “banner ads” and “Facebook” tossed up on a slide.
I was surprised no one asked if any of the books were considered to be short or mini series.
I was also VERY surprised that Dan Didio said, on at least 4 occasions, that all of the DC books were “guaranteed” or “came with a guarantee” that they would ship on time. He stated over and over and over again that on time shipping was the single most important thing for success and that DC was guaranteeing ALL books were going to ship on time. No one asked what the guarantee was.
My thoughts on the meeting are that DC is very much interested in becoming the market leader in comics. They want to sell 100,000 copies of all of their titles and are focused on doing whatever they can to reach those numbers. They’ve made an incredibly aggressive move with this new 52 initiative and hope it pays off for them. Bob Wayne said DC was “going all in” with this move and I can’t help but think he’s correct.
All in all a great meeting. I do wish the retailers present had asked more relevant questions and worried less about things like when they were getting a Roadshow variant comic or how DC was going to wrap up storylines. If you are attending one of these events, get more specific information on HOW DC is planning to bring in new or lapsed readers; how they are “guaranteeing” books will ship on time and how retailers can better take advantage of getting new DC Digital customers into their stores. DC did a great job in trying to convince retailers to “evangelize” the product, just make sure to do your job and keep them on point about how you can make the best of the new initiatives.
I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who was looking for me to go off on DC more. I do love what they’re doing with this relaunch and the boldness of their moves, even if I wish they were handling it a bit better. There is a ton of potential to make money here for retailers.
That’s it from me…I’ll post more once my brain recovers and when I think of items I missed!
-Mat Nastos, Super Genius