I looked over at the owner, and his face was wrinkled in a look of disgust as my music played over the computer speakers. It was the new Decemberists, which has moved the band away from their deceptively upbeat sea shanty sound towards that of a muted sort of bluegrass. As my grandfather would say, nothing they make today is country music, and so I told him, “Sure as hell isn’t Johnny Cash or Hank Williams” (because that’s all I know about real country music).
He narrowed his eyes. He was not a fan of the music. He’s not a fan of a lot of the music I play in the shop, but he usually lets me run with it, so long as he’s allowed to register his disgust every now and then. Over the years, I’ve come to know what I can get away with in terms of content – for instance, the Decemberists, while a little too country for his tastes – are fine, but a Miley Cyrus song or something by Lady Gaga? That’s going to cause his brain to palpitate, and I sure as hell don’t want to hose down the comics again.
Anyway, it was Tuesday, and we were preparing mail order comics to go out and he was listening to music that wasn’t agreeing with himself, and he was starting to feel ill from the food he’d just eaten, when our e-mail made that sound letting us know that something new was in. So I stopped bagging and taping and I wandered over to the compy and took a look. I was the weekly e-mail from DC. Normally, it’s a fairly boring read – item cancellations, quotes from various reviews, incentives, what-have-you – but this week? Hoo-boy.
ME VS. THE ANGRY MOB | ISSUE #01
I read the e-mail’s opener to myself silently. I read it again. It’s that note that’s been passed around the internet quite a bit – the thing that kicked off this crazy, feverish week of news from the company:
A LETTER ON THE DC UNIVERSE AND SEPTEMBER 2011
To our comics retail partners,
In the time I’ve worked at DC Comics, I’ve witnessed any number of industry defining moments. But today, I bring you what is perhaps the biggest news to date.
Many of you have heard rumors that DC Comics has been working on a big publishing initiative for later this year. This is indeed an historic time for us as, come this September, we are relaunching the entire DC Universe line of comic books with all new first issues. 52 of them to be exact.
In addition, the new #1s will introduce readers to a more modern, diverse DC Universe, with some character variations in appearance, origin and age. All stories will be grounded in each character’s legend – but will relate to real world situations, interactions, tragedy and triumph.
This epic event will kick off on Wednesday, August 31st with the debut of a brand new JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, which pairs Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, together for the first time. (Yes, this is the same week as FLASHPOINT #5.)
We think our current fans will be excited by this evolution, and that it will make jumping into the story extremely accessible to first-time readers – giving them a chance to discover DC’s characters and stories.
We are positioning ourselves to tell the most innovative stories with our characters to allow fans to see them from a new angle. We have taken great care in maintaining continuity where most important, but fans will see a new approach to our storytelling.
Some of the characters will have new origins, while others will undergo minor changes. Our characters are always being updated; however, this is the first time all of our characters will be presented in a new way all at once.
Dan DiDio, Bob Harras and Eddie Berganza have been working diligently to pull together some of the best creative teams in the industry. Over 50 new costumes will debut in September, many updated and designed by artist Jim Lee, ensuring that the updated images appeal to the current generation of readers.
The publication of JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 will also launch digital day-and-date for all ongoing superhero comic book titles – an industry first.
On Wednesday, June 1st, this initiative is expected to be announced in a nationwide feature article, and we’re hopeful the news will be picked up by media outlets around the world. Throughout the month we’ll reveal more details of our plans with articles in both the mainstream and comics press and on June 13th the Diamond catalog solicitations for all of the September titles will be released, followed by the June 29th street date of the print version of Previews.
DC Comics will support this initiative with an innovative mix of publicity, promotional efforts and retailer incentives designed to maximize your opportunity to increase your DC sales. We will discuss additional details of these incentives when we get closer to solicitation later in June.
We’ll be updating you more through email as September nears. But today, I hope your share our enthusiasm for this historic news!
Obviously I thought… this was big. Big enough to share with the owner who is usually fairly uninterested in the minutiae in the weekly e-mails. As he listened to the words, balking at the news of the relaunch and the number ones, even shrugging at Geoff Johns and Jim Lee taking over Justice League (he leans more towards the oeuvre of Garth Ennis), his eyes suddenly went wide as I uttered a few choice words.
Day-and-date digital release.
Which was when the swearing started.
The store owner has always bristled when confronted with day-and-date comics – and with good reason. His main experience with content hitting the internet has been with manga, which has seen sales of the once robust part of the business trickle away to a mere pittance. About five years ago, when I first started working at the store and had to partake in selling manga at an anime convention, within the first half an hour, I had well over a thousand dollars worth of cash in hand from sales – and I was working just an EIGHTH of our booth. Now, with content scanned and available online for sometimes years before its printed over here, there’s been a marked decrease – to the point where we can man our booth at an anime convention with just two people. We still take in a fair amount of money, but it’s nothing compared to the Scrooge McDuck fuck-you money that we were making in the glory days. So seeing the start of something that looks similar? That’s a terrifying experience. That’s like seeing your entire business turning to dust in front of your eyes.
The motherfucking internet.
But as I explained to him on Tuesday, and as I’ve explained on this site before, good comic stores have nothing to worry about – and we’re a good comic store. The day-and-date will not change things overnight, and if we watch what sales are doing and adapt, we’re going to be fine. He seemed to be okay with it, but you could still see the unease in his eyes – and yes, to be fair it is scary. It’s different. It’s something that hasn’t really been tried, outside of what Archie Comics have done with their business model. They’ve been day-and-date for a little while now, but the industry didn’t really freak out, because the direct market is not sustained by Archie Comics, rad as they are. But I digress. Things are changing, and they’re changing in a big way. So how does a store react?
Hmm. If only I had some kind of outlet to let people know…
This big DC announcement has a lot of tendrils to it, but many people tend to be focusing on two big things: the day-and-date thing, and the relaunched universe. Both by themselves would be huge steps, but together, it forms something formidable. Over at Comics Alliance, writer David Uzumeri suggested that both moves are not, as they seem, parts of a whole, but one single throbbing idea. The nutmeat of it all is in the article, but to summarize, he believes that the renumbering and shifting was done as a means to provide this new market with something they can latch onto – something that is theirs, and not bogged in the ideas and rules of what has been before. Now, past performance says that DC will still toss in a heap of nostalgia into the mix for the old guard (because really, much of this relaunch involves a shuffling of the current deck of creators, with maybe a few surprises in the mix), so there’s relatively small chance that everything is getting tossed out with the proverbial baby-flavoured bath water, but really, this push is about a new market, first and foremost. All of print media is crumbling, and the current system of comic book distribution is absolutely crippled by the arthritis of Diamond Distribution – and the future for periodicals, is digital. That’s fact – and in making this move, DC is placing their bet, and they are placing it early. If it works, they’re going to have a leg up on Marvel, and will start seeing a bit more of the revenue the industry used to roll in. And if it doesn’t, well… let’s hope just hope it does.
02. THE SMART MONEY
The original announcement was made without much elaboration. There was the whole “relaunch” thing, the whole “day and date” thing, the Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on Justice League thing, but that was all. For a few days, people were allowed to stew with that information, until some more things started coming out, including titles and creative teams. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be ignoring much of that stuff, instead focusing on the press release that went out to retailers yesterday – namely this:
To our comics retail partners,
With The New DCU – the September launch of our 52 #1s – we have created an event that we believe will generate unprecedented buzz, and, more importantly, unprecedented sales results for you. This is a shock to the system, no question, but we have the quality stories and the unrivaled sales/marketing support and the increased public attention to help you best absorb that shock and profit from it.
As a follow-up to my first letter, we wanted to provide some immediate specifics on September:
We know that you want more details on the creative teams and their title-by-title assignments for the launch. . (And by the way, let me just reiterate this point: this is the launch of the New DCU. It is not a “reboot.” I think you will soon discover why that is.) We will send you an e-mail with more creative details next week, as a teaser in advance of the solicitation copy for Previews going live on the 13th. Once solicit copy is released, we will be sending you a short introductory video, starring our creators and our content. We will also be taking this act on the road, for a series of retailer meetings in markets including New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles, during the days leading up to the release of the physical Previews catalog. Stay tuned for more details, and send us a note to make sure you’re on the invite list.
To clarify from my last note, we will be at “price-parity” for same-day digital. No DC digital comic will be cheaper than its physical counterpart at launch. Same-day (a.k.a. “Day/ Date”) parity pricing is for the first four weeks of release; thereafter, the digital titles will follow our standard pricing, with $2.99 comics dropping in price to $1.99, $3.99 comics dropping in price to $2.99, and so forth. Keep in mind that our goal with our 52 new #1s will be to ensure that the physical comic book is more compelling than ever!
Additionally, we will be offering you an additional special “combo pack” for Justice League. This is a Diamond-exclusive $4.99 physical polybagged JUSTICE LEAGUE comic which will contain a redemption code for a digital copy on the inside cover. So consumers will have three main ways to read Justice League beginning August 31st – $3.99 physical, the $4.99 combo pack, and $3.99 digital. As mentioned above, after four weeks the digital-only price drops to $2.99, per our standard price for oversized digital titles.
For optimal sales impact, each of our 52 titles will have one of three distinct incentives:
For variants, we chose our core iconic titles, the ones that you tell us your consumers want most. And of course, we sought out those titles with the most compelling visuals. At a minimum, this variant plan will be offered for September, October, and November. We will be offering variants on five different titles, with at least one each week.
· 1:25 variant
JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 – 8/31 in-store. This cover will have a 1:25 ordering incentive.
· Weekly targeted variant
FLASH #1 – 9/28 in-store. Retailers may order at FOC up to as many copies of the FLASH #1 variant as were ordered at FOC of their lowest-ordered DCU title for the 9/28 in-store week. (This is an example; each week will feature a title with a variant following this incentive pattern.)
b) Deep Discounting
For deeper discounts, we chose to spotlight potential break-out titles which can help you focus your staff and your customers. Books that have a compelling creator, an obvious jumping-on point for your readers, etc. We will be offering an additional 15% discount on six different titles for orders placed by FOC, effectively giving you a 50% to 72% discount spread, instead of our normal 35% to 57% spread. At a minimum, this deep discounting will be offered for September, October, and November. The lead title is WONDER WOMAN with five others that will be announced next week.
We are backing up our commitment to you and this launch, by putting our copies where are mouths are. We will be offering 100% Returnability on all of the remaining 41 titles. Returnability across the rest of the 52 allows the breadth of these titles to get their fair chance with your consumers. This comes with a qualifier – your total post-FOC September orders in dollars for DC periodicals must be 125% or more of your May post-FOC orders for DC periodicals.
As with prior returnable programs, qualifying retailers will be required to return stripped covers from the returnable issues along with an affidavit of destruction to Diamond Comic Distributors at a date to be named later. Retailers will then be issued credit for each copy, minus 10% of the cover price. At a minimum, this returnability program will be offered for September, October, and November.
Call or e-mail me or my team with any questions.
Thank you for your enthusiasm, your patience, and your partnership. Come make history with us!
Inside there, you can see that DC is not fucking around with this. They know perfectly well what they are doing, and they know perfectly well how some retailers will react to this. You can see it right there in the digital comics area where Wayne talks about how the price point of the digital comics will remain the same as print copies for up to four weeks, and how the first three months of this push are completely returnable. In that, if you aren’t selling what you used to, or what you suspected, DC will eat about 90% of that monetary cost of lost sales, until you can figure out where your new numbers are going to be. Both of these offerings would be missing if DC was being truely ballsy, but they are hedging their bets in a wise way. There’s no proof that this gamble will pay off, that digital sales will help bolster the bottom line, and so they are keeping the price point high and the comic books returnable as a way to ease fears from brick and mortar stores. Rest assured, the moment the numbers prove out that they can sustain their business model on digital sales alone, the cost of comics released day-and-date will drop down to $1.99, with the $2.99 being reserved for the “premium” experience of holding a copy in your hands, and feeling the paper. But for now? As big as this splash is, it’s still a form of easing into the waters.
03. EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT
And it will continue to be. Seriously, there’s no reverse button on this thing, and nor should their be. The way comics are now, there’s a limited audience. Part of its the way the industry has been telling their superhero stories over the past few years, and part of it is the fact that comics aren’t everywhere. Not like they used to be. Here in Alberta, there’s comic stores in Edmonton, comic stores in Calgary, one in Red Deer, and a spattering that start and stop elsewhere in the province. And this shit isn’t America – there’s a lot of space to cover, and not a whole lot of stores. Offering these books digitally means that everyone has access to them with the help of some internet and something that does apps. That’s a lot of coverage inside a market that’s growing.
So really, kudos to DC for doing this. They’re not only looking towards the future, but they are making sure that they can sustain a middle period that could be rough as hell. They’re placing their bets, they are placing them well, and in the end, whether its the time for something like this to work or not, they will survive, and know which direction to go from there.
And the good stores? We’ll be right there alongside them.
Being rad as fuck.
More on this from C!TB as we… you know… think about it.