With a New Year comes new sales numbers and a look back from Diamond Comics on the year that was -- and DC Comics had a big showing on 2012's sales charts. With a majority of the top 100 comic books and graphic novels of 2012, DC didn't hold back when it came to new content in the first full calendar year of its New 52 relaunch that also included the debut of its Second and Third Wave of New 52 books, a month of Zero Issues, the launch of "Before Watchmen" and DC Universe crossover events "Death of the Family" and "Throne of Atlantis," and the highly anticipated continuation of the "Earth One" original graphic novel series.
In CBR's monthly talk with DC SVP of Sales Bob Wayne and SVP of Marketing John Cunningham, the dynamic duo looked back at DC's full editorial 2012 at the sales trends and successes of the year, looking forward to 2013 as a year to develop its "Superman" backlist in anticipation of Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" and launching collected editions of "Before Watchmen." Plus, in looking at our exclusive digital sales rankings for the month, Wayne and Cunningham discuss the correlation between print and digital sales, teasing big happenings for Digital First series "Batman Li'l Gotham."
CBR News: Gentlemen, let's kick things off with a look back at 2012. DC had a very strong showing in Diamond's top single issues and graphic novels for 2012, taking a majority of the entries for the top 100 of each. For anyone who's been following the numbers, it's indicative of how DC's performed this year. What do you see as the major factors that led to such a strong year and how do you plan to build on that success in 2013?
Bob Wayne: I think the continuing strength of the New 52, the tremendous response to the "Death of the Family" storyline in the Batman titles, the "Before Watchmen" titles and just very strong backlist sales for the Batman titles -- in particular during the time of the third Christopher Nolan film -- are things that were real drivers for us. Going forward, what we're trying to do is get people who work with us to not watch "The Walking Dead" so the ratings will drop. We're not having any luck with that whatsoever, by the way [Laughs].
John Cunningham: Yeah, I disagree with Bob Wayne. I don't want people to stop watching "The Walking Dead." I think one of the more interesting trends we saw through the year, and it was extremely evident in the holiday season, was the graphic novel category within the bookstore universe and the Diamond universe was a hot destination this Christmas season. Casually, one of the things I noticed looking at Bookscan's top 50 numbers each week was the total unit sales in their top 50 was running between 40% and 50% higher than it was the previous year week on week. I think that speaks directly to how many people are in the category. Even when you look at the bestseller list and you see the dominance at the top end of that list of those "Walking Dead" books, the key to understand is those numbers were so extraordinary that the books under them on that list are still selling more than they were in previous years. That's something Bob and I have seen a lot of over the years with big properties -- when "Watchmen's" movie came out or when "The Dark Knight" debuted, people are driven into comic book stores, driven into the graphic novel section in other bookstores. I think we've been well-positioned over the years to take advantage of that. Again, I think that bodes well for 2013. When we see our core backlist selling, when we see those "Walking Dead" books selling, we know those are new readers -- and there's nothing we love more than new readers, except people who have been reading our books for a long time.
Wayne: To clarify, I really don't want people to stop watching "The Walking Dead." John and I agree this is definitely something where the more people that are thinking of having graphic novels and comics for entertainment, it helps all of us -- especially those of us who have books that are continuously available. We've had great sales increases on titles that I didn't even think possible -- how could there be any more people out there who want to buy copies of "Watchmen?" There are still plenty of people in the world who have not bought "Watchmen" and would love to buy a copy. There may well be people who come in through "Walking Dead" and if they're working through comic options alphabetically, they'll be at "Watchmen" quickly! So we're really happy. This is the kind of success that helps all of us.
DC had an especially strong showing in this year's top graphic novels, with the "Earth One" OGNs performing especially well for the year. Last month, you mentioned building your schedule for 2012 somewhat around "The Dark Knight Rises," making sure the Batman backlist was very strong, and structuring each season around more mass market friendly titles like "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." How will your approach to 2013 differ from 2012, given the strong DC trade sales this year and especially the strength of DC OGNs?
Wayne: We're expecting to sell a lot of Superman backlist and very strong numbers leading up to the release of the "Man of Steel" feature film. You'll see some of the key Superman titles we'll be promoting and talking about in the next month or so. We think those titles will do really well, especially ones that have any type of thematic or representational linkage into "Man of Steel." As we go into the collected editions of "Before Watchmen," the majority of readers of "Watchmen" have never experienced it as a periodical comic. They've only had the experience of reading it as a book. We think we have an enormous potential upside for the "Before Watchmen" titles when we get to book format.
Let's talk about "Before Watchmen" and its affect on sales this year. Judging by the year end numbers, it seems as though the gamble paid off in a lot of ways. Considering the strong sales of the miniseries in the top 500, how are you planning the structure of the collected editions for 2013?
Cunningham: I think the way I would characterize 2012's "Before Watchmen" experience is from a business point of view, it was obviously very successful based on the numbers you just cited. I think the thing I am really most proud of is its artistic success as well. The review acclaim, but really just in terms of sheer beauty, in terms of some of the best writing of the year, those books were tremendous. One of the reasons that's important to me is, obviously as a reader I love doing that, but also from a marketing point of view, that helps position those titles when we get them into book format. The way we're approaching it is in July of this year, we'll be publishing four hardcovers that collect, ultimately, seen by author, by writer of each of the series. We're still working around how that's going to be strategized out by week or how that release pattern's going to go, but I think when we laid it out and saw how they were collected, it was pretty exciting. As Bob alluded to, that's been the goal of this all along, that the periodic publication in 2012 was really only phase one, and Bob was wonderfully strident in a lot of meetings by pointing out the vast majority of people came to "Watchmen" in book form. That's really where the endgame is for this property and it's what we've geared up for in 2013.
2012 was the one-year anniversary of the New 52 as well as the launch of the Second and Third Wave of books for the initiative. Looking back at the first full calendar year of the New 52, which saw a lot of competition from Marvel's relaunch toward the end of the year, what's the challenge of adapting to the market for 2013, especially as it relates to Marvel's staggered #1 launches and other surprises?
Wayne: We expected that when we did the New 52 that if folks felt it was successful, we would see people doing other things as well. We anticipated we would have a tightening in the marketplace as other people stepped up and responded to what we had done. We're certainly happy with the overall growth in sales for the comic shop and specialty market, the very strong uptick happened on the top charts with some of the Marvel stuff recently. If you were characterizing anything as a surprise, I certainly would put the "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" #1 as kind of a surprise. I did not personally anticipate that -- I'm not nearly as big a "My Little Pony" fan as John is, but overall it was a very strong year for periodical comics. It was not to the detriment of the collected editions subsequently, so we're continuing to grow this market in all directions.
Cunningham: I think the reality of all this is the number that matters the most when we sit and look at this stuff and the overall market numbers for Diamond last year. We see that Diamond was up 15% on comic book sales and 14% on graphic novels. That to me is the shining statistic of the year because I feel like we are playing a major role in trying to drive that. I get why somebody might think it's a competitive situation -- and I'm not going to deny that there's an element of that -- but really, if what we're doing is driving other people to be aggressive, their aggression is driving more people into the market and then we respond to that by being aggressive and driving even more people into the market. That's the long-term win for all of us and is the most impressive part of the New 52 launches. Marvel responded, the indy publishers have stepped up, everybody's put pressure on and the end result is the pot is bigger for everybody. It doesn't get better than that.
Switching over to December's numbers, "Batman" and "Justice League" continue to lead the charge -- considering the success that "Death of the Family" has had for the sales of Batman-related books, how do you project the "Throne of Atlantis" event will affect sales for "Aquaman" and "Justice League?"
Wayne: "Aquaman" has been one of the big surprises of the New 52 and we think it will receive even more exposure to fans by this linkage with "Justice League," which has been consistently one of our bestselling comics throughout the entire New 52. We think this will certainly elevate Aquaman, give some readers a sample of the character and tell an interesting story.
When these crossovers take place, how do you approach them from a marketing perspective? Do you expect to see a bump in numbers for all books involved?
Cunningham: I wish there was a clear-cut answer. I think it would be a more clear-cut answer if these things were done more from a marketing perspective and staged in that sort of way. The dirty little secret is that these things happen when creators come together and the stories link up, or they have an idea of how to make these things link up. In a lot of ways, it's easy to look at it from the outside and think, "Oh, this is obviously an attempt to draw this book up." If that level of discussion occurs, it's not on Bob's level or my level. We see that this is where the stories are going and we try to respond in kind to do what it's going to do. It's ultimately, at the end of the day, the quality of the story that's driving those crossovers which drive the numbers. It's evident looking at "Justice League" and "Aquaman" numbers that Geoff Johns hit a nerve, fully exploring the concept of Atlantis and the strength and power of that by contrasting it with the power of "Justice League," just like Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo taking the "Batman" storyline and really making something about the family and the consequences of that. We're just a couple short weeks away from seeing where that storyline ends. That one in particular is ultimate proof of that thesis I put forth; it's really storyline that drives this. It's easy to look from the outside and say, "Oh yeah, it's a Batman family crossover, they just tied it into all the books," but sometimes you have to wait and see where the story is going. In both of those cases, the story is what drove the crossover rather than a perceived desire to increase sales.
Batman (2011-) #15
Justice League (2011-) #15
Batman and Robin (2011-) #15
Aquaman (2011-) #15
Batgirl (2011-) #15
Green Lantern (2011-) #15
Nightwing (2011-) #15
Red Hood and the Outlaws (2011-) #15
Earth 2 (2012-) #7
Detective Comics (2011-) #15
Green Lantern: New Guardians (2011-) #15
Green Lantern Corps (2011-) #15
Suicide Squad (2011-) #15
Superboy (2011-) #15
Wonder Woman (2011-) #15
Action Comics (2011-) #15
Supergirl (2011-) #15
Smallville: Season 11 #27
Smallville: Season 11 #25
Batman: Li'l Gotham #3
Moving over to our exclusive digital chart this past month, "Earth 2" continues to be the only Second Wave title in the top 20. Comparitively, what has the digital response to some of the other Second Wave books been like? Why do you think some of the newer titles receiving a lot of critical acclaim, like "Dial H" and "Worlds' Finest" and even "Sword of Sorcery" have had such a difficult time getting the audience of the first wave New 52 books digitally?
Wayne: These books all appeal to different folks. "Earth 2" has probably been one of the most accessible of those books in print. Digital is somewhat reflecting the print success. It's always tough to get folks to sample new books and sometimes to get folks to sample things that aren't really in the superhero genre -- they're off to the side, but we're continuing to try that. We're very committed to having as diverse a line of titles as possible. In particular, in this case, they're not all one flavor. The biggest success story in that respect has been "All-Star Western," which has done better than anticipated, and it's not a flavor that's a big share of comics publishing in the world today.
Cunningham: It's also a little deceptive -- it's just the nature of how the information's organized and how it's grouped. If you compared a top ten or top fifteen bestselling single issues for a month with the top fifteen of digital, you're going to see mostly homogenization on the lists. There might be an exception here or there. What's odd, or not so odd in consideration, is that we had a general rule of thumb we imparted to the Random House people when we started distributing our books with them into the book trade: there's a great correlation between what we sell in periodic form and what we end up selling in graphic novel or collected edition form. From that perspective, seeing a great correlation between what we sell in periodic form and what we sell in digital periodic form seems to follow that pattern. We find adjustments and exceptions to that rule once in a while, but "Earth 2" has been the best performer of those other wave books on the print side as well. Ultimately, I'm not surprised that's the way it shows there digitally.
2012 was a big year for DC Digital Firsts, and the strength of the single print issues of the material has been mentioned in the past. As DC moves into the second major year for Digital Firsts, how has the data you've gathered been helpful in timing when to launch new digital first series?
Wayne: A lot of the digital series we're doing right now are experimental cases where we're trying to learn what works and what has the most appeal -- in particular, what has the most appeal to people we don't reach through our other sales channels. We've been really happy, for example, with how well the "Smallville" comic has done as a digital first and following up as a print book. It's really a matter of the editorial side having a level of intuition, instinct and experience, coming up with a suggestion, giving it the green light and then we try to see how it works.
Cunninghame: What's interesting is it does allows us to see very quickly when something is hitting at levels higher than we might have thought. To that end, in 2013, you're going to see a lot of "Batman Li'l Gotham" because we've noted right from the get-go not only the sales success, but the fan response to that series. As we go through the next few weeks, we'll have a lot of announcements about ramping up where we're at for "Li'l Gotham" books.