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DC Retailer Roadshow – A Recap

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.

DC Comics Logo - The DC Comics Retailer Roadshow for their new 52 Initiative

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.

Jim Lee's Justice League is the flagship title for DC Comics' 52 Initiative Relaunch

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.

Jim Lee and Dan Didio talked to retailers at the LA stop of the DC Comics Retailer Roadshow

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.

Digital distribution is a major focus for DC Comics in the future

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
http://www.MatNastos.net

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Mat Nastos
TV, Film, comic book, fantasy & steampunk writer/director, known best for bad horror movies about giant scorpions, killer pigs & dinosaurs in the sewers. You can find his work on Smashwords or at his Amazon Author Page.

14 Responses

  1. Mat Nastos says:

    I completely forgot to mention the store owner who complained about being away from their shop and then went down to get Jim Lee to sign some items. How freakin tacky is that?!

  2. andrew says:

    great post! thank you so much for your thoughts and overview. i am not going to be able to hit any of these shows as the closest is over 5 hours away. with only two weeks notice i wasn’t able to get that time away (especially with the holiday right around the corner). i have a couple of comments that i hope you’ll respond to, either privately or here. 1) it’s up to retailers to get customers in our doors? really? is that why 90% of all small business music stores closed shop within the past decade? that it was poor business management/advertising and not the fact that your average joe could get the music they wanted online? 2) what about the idea of offering brick and mortar stores something unique that the digital people would have to come to our stores to get? i mean, i agree, that hitting the digital people is huge and the future, but why not give them a reason to go to our stores, as we have kept them selling books for how many decades now? why not give that huge potential market to those of us that have stood by DC all these years? if Dark Horse can come up with an idea to try that, why not DC? 3) do you have more information on the comixology discount? is that a refund/discount to the comixology monthly fee? 4) selling 100,000 copies doesn’t really mean much to those of us in the real world if we have to send back 50,000 copies. sure, i understand what it means on paper, to a major company, and on the overall numbers, but if they break that number (which i am sure they will with what you mentioned), what do we think the real number will settle at after returns, etc? and does anyone care about that number? 5) finally, really? a 1 in 200 variant? am i the only one that is tired of variant comics? (sorry, personal peeve i guess). thank you for your thoughts, listening to me ramble and your time!

    • Mat Nastos says:

      Andrew: Thanks for the great comment and questions.

      Please keep in mind, I was just giving my recap of what I saw at the meeting and am not involved with DC or any of that stuff, so I can’t really answer a lot of the points you’re raising. But, let me see what I can do:

      1) The impression I got was that DC was wanting retailers to take an even more active hand in keep and getting current customers excited about the new relaunch. What I heard was that a retailer’s job is to keep current customers happy and DC would be bringing in new or lapsed readers with their initiatives.

      2) I believe cross-promotion or cross-selling digital customers to print is very much in the cards for the DC digital program. Which is exactly what you’re asking. What the specific terms of such a program is going to be wasn’t approached in the meeting, although it should have been and I kept waiting for someone to bring it up. It was touched on very briefly.

      3) I do have a little more info on the Comixology thing, but it was part of their “cone of silence.” Your best bet is to go to Comixology and sign up for the program. From what I understand, the new roll-out will be taking place before San Diego. You should be able to get information from that program.

      4) When they say “selling 100,000 copies,” what I think they meant was selling them to end users and not just having stores getting stuck with product. Their goals really and truly seems to be to grow the market. I think they want you guys buying big and selling out to make sure the market gets bigger.

      5) Some people love variants and some people hate them. That’s not for me to comment on. 😀

      Thanks again!! Oh, and where is your shop?

      -Mat N

  3. Leef Smith says:

    Thanks for the notes! And the questions raised here

  4. Ryan Hill says:

    Its really kind of freaking me out a little that no one seems to care about what kind of mainstream marketing push there’s gonna be for the relaunch. To me, that seems to be the whole point of this. I mean why take such a creative risk if your not gonna try and parlay that into new readership (and take whatever means necessary to inform new readership of this initiatives existence in the first place). It kind of stuns me that no one at this event wanted to know how and where this launch is gonna get marketed. Especially in the limited time frame (Sept isn’t that far away).
    I know retailers want to know first and foremost how this is gonna affect there current customers (any good business person would). But DC is really taking a huge leap with their eyes to the future. I think SOMEONE would want to know what they think they’re looking at and how they hope to ACTUALLY get there.

    • Mat Nastos says:

      I was totally stunned that the retailers at the Roadshow event I attended didn’t ask more questions about marketing, new customers, etc. The DC crew tossed out a lot of bits that were left open for questions and no one asked.

      -Mat N.

  5. andrew says:

    Mat N-
    my wife, Rhonda, and i run our shop in a small town called Midland, smack dab in the middle of Michigan. totally understand that you aren’t part of DC, but that just means i appreciate your comments even that much more, as you don’t have an agenda, and have honest thoughts and comments. (not saying that DC wouldn’t be honest, but i’m sure that you understand what i’m saying….and to anyone else reading, please don’t take anything i say out of context, as i am 100% behind DC, have been a reader/collector since i was a kid and have been selling their product happily for 17 years)

    Re: #4) i have often read trade news (in music as well as the gaming, movie and comic industry) on how well things sell/gross. i do find that a lot of that information is somewhat misleading at times, even though they may not be intended that way. on some level i do believe that larger companies do not care how many items reach the actual consumer level as opposed to as how many they sold as a manufacturer. i don’t know how else they would find out end consumer level numbers, unless they got an accurate count from retailer stores across the nation as to how many copies they were keeping for their back issues, right? so i must assume that they mean that number as amount of copies sold from Diamond. It will be interesting to see if they release numbers on digital comics sold. i would certainly be interested to see that data and compare it to pre-day of sales.

    Re: #1) maybe i wouldn’t be so annoyed by this thought process if they were being more pro-active to help stores do that. and then again, maybe i would feel different if i attended the roadshow and heard what they said in person. i think that for DC to say that those of us that have been running brick and mortar stores for years need to take a more active roll seems at least ignorant and at most offensive as this is what we do to make a living, in addition to it being something that we love. not only do we spend more hours running our shop than we would at a “regular day job” but also so much more by doing research to figure out what our customers will love, go to conventions, attend trade shows, cross promotion with movie theaters, work with local groups to help fight censorship or illiteracy, etc all on our own. eeeerrrrr…….and suddenly i realize i’m on a soapbox and i don’t mean to be. my frustration really does stem from the idea that i feel a little lost, even though i am *really* excited about the possible amazing creative stories that might come about from this re-launch.

    Re: #3: thanks for the information that you gave. i really am kind of annoyed at the “cone of silence” idea, as what could be the possible reason to keep the majority of retailers blind on this information? to draw excitement? personally, with the attendance of 20 stores in LA, that seems to be a fairly small number of overall stores on the west coast. if that number is going to be the average at each roadshow, then overall not many retailer stores are going to have this information. i inquired directly with Wayne about getting a podcast of these roadshows via e-mail, since i was not going to be able to attend, and basically was told ‘it’s not in our plans.’ seems to me like with the new digital age push that they’re doing, they might want to help look out for those of us that helped keep them around the past few decades. they could have even made it only viewable to stores with Diamond accounts if they wanted to try and keep it in a “cone of silence”. again, sorry for the aggressive sounding post.

    on that note, i should probably end this, so i don’t offend any more people 🙂 like i said before, thank you once again, and i really look forward to talking with more people about this in the coming months, regardless of if you’re a fan, collector, retailer, distributor, DC employee, or someone just starting to take a look for their first time! i really do think that the industry does need to change and this will certainly do that! thanks for listening/reading!
    -Andrew

    • Mat Nastos says:

      I love your comments because you’re a retailer just speaking from the heart. Nothing to ever be ashamed of there. Do you follow #comicmarket on Twitter? If not, it is a great place for retailer info, thoughts, ideas and so on. I haven’t seen you pop up there, but if you are, make sure to speak up a bit!

      As everyone knows from the 90s and things like McFarlane’s Spider-man and Jim Lee’s X-men, having huge sales numbers on books that fans aren’t actually buying (meaning: retailers are buying, but fans aren’t) can kill the industry. People always bring up that those books sold millions and millions and millions (up to 8 million for X-men from what I recall) — but fans weren’t buying millions! A large chunk of those millions wound up in landfills. I honestly don’t think DC wants that to happen again because it bites them on the ass in the long run. How they’re going to bring in more readers? I have no clue, but I do hope retailers at some of the other Roadshow stops stand up and ask.

      I understand the thinking behind the “cone of silence.” We all know how information gets changed or misunderstood by people and if that info then gets spread online it can make things more confusing. I’m guessing they wanted retailers to hold off on speaking until the Roadshow tour was done and DC was able to spread it on their terms. Of course, with the Internet being what it is, that was NEVER going to happen. 🙂

      Thanks again and keep in touch!!

      -Mat N.

  6. LCSOwner says:

    Going all in is a bold move, but you better have more than a deuce/jack off suit when you do it…

    I have 6 hard core Gail Simone fans of which 3 have already told me they in no way shape or form will read a Firestorm Story by Her.

    my 40 Geoff Johns fans who have read everything he has done for the last 6 years, at least 15 of those have said they will not touch Aquaman

    and only 30 out of my 50 Green Lantern Readers have said they will try out even 1 of the 2 new GL universe titles

    I have to look at this as a 37.5-50% reduction in sales for DC, and unless this 7 figure marketing deal drives in WAY more then DC 300,000,000 Green Lantern Movie, I don’t see much chance of it driving business to us, but more like driving business to them online.

    I will be there tomorrow in Chicago…we shall see…

    Either way, cutting orders makes as much profit then ordering more and selling more, and makes for way less expenses or risk

    LCS OWNER

    • Mat Nastos says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’d absolutely LOVE to hear your reactions post-meeting. So far only the pro-relaunch retailers have been out and verbal, so it is refreshing to hear another side to things.

      -Mat N

  7. LCSOwner says:

    so the Chicago one was interesting…over 100 retailers…a lot of big name midwest retailers were there, and it seems like we got alot more info then the preceding events. First up only Dan Didio, Bob Wayne and John Rude where there on hand. Eric Hitchcock (i think that is his name) was there from Diamond. They started with 1 hour talk about the books. Biggest revelation was that Action Comic #1 was going to be the YEAR 0 of this reboot, and that JLA #1 would be YEAR 1, and that all of the other books would be about 5 years after JLA #1. they are targeting for 14 and up men and women, but will target market 18-34 MEN (which got a gasp from the crowd but actually is smart, because that is 90% of our market already). there is no “double dipping” of the incentives…JLA is just for sale, 4 titles will have extra variants based on how you order the crappy titles, several title will have deep discounts and the rest will be returnable…so you will have to be on the ball to order a lot of these books. only 4 titles will be 3.99 and the rest are 2.99…all mini series, kids books and vertigo books will start up after october.

    questions are better and the group where thrown off by alot of the suggestions from the audience…one retailers complained that tearing the covers off for returns belittles the art form, another says it makes it impossible to donate to children’s charities, cutting the upc code, stock swaps with retailers and other things were discussed and it was decided nothing was changed.

    It was rather funny, for a company trying to describe how this paradigm shift has to happen, they weren’t interested in any other paradigm shifts that we wanted.

    changes to trade paperbacks where discussed, mainly volume numbering which received a huge applause from the crowd, look of the trades for racking and shelves and trades will be made when they need to be, but they will not tell the writers how big they need to be. I don’t believe much of this, but we will see when we see them. if I see more 5 issue $9.99 trades and more 8 issue 16.99 trades then we will know they were right and I am wrong.

    they gave each retailer a free green lantern movie figure from Mattel.

    but here was the very telling point of the day. After the scheduled 2-5pm meeting, they removed the meeting to the hotel bar, and drinks were on DC…wow…they must really know they need us to sell this thing.

    I think there are several groups at DC.

    The people who thought this up and ordered the company to do this, The people who are trying desperately to sell this when they know how hard it is going to be, and the people who don’t care about what it means, but like to be in the 90% of the US that still have a job.

    Either way in the next year, there will be either a lot of HEROES or a lot of Unemployed/Retired DC Executives and hopefully there will still be 2,500 comic book stores.

    hope this helps

    LCSOwner
    Local Comic Shops…the first and LAST line of defense!

    • Mat Nastos says:

      Awesome, awesome recap! Great to hear that you guys were better at asking questions than the LA group was.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      -Mat N.

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