DC Sales Keep Batman High & Digital Changing

One year ago, the comics industry was following a rush of interest, expectation and speculation about the launch of DC Comics New 52 initiative. Today, that launch has placed the publisher in a stronger position in a stronger market. But a year after widely debated reset to all-new #1s, the Direct Market sales charts now tell a very simple story for DC: Batman is popular.

The August sales estimates from the Direct Market of comic shops saw DC splitting unit share and dollar share with chief rival Marvel (a regular occurrence at this point) while DC's big monthly titles took the majority of top sales slots (also regular) and their graphic novel performance was maybe strongest of all (ditto). For the second month in a row, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's "Batman: Earth One" topped the sales charts while the remaining titles of the New 52 did their part to look better off than they were in August of 2011.

CBR News spoke with SVP of Sales Bob Wayne and SVP of Marketing John Cunningham about the continued power of Batman to sell even after his latest blockbuster movie has been seen by millions, the digital rankings that alongside the New 52 sales charts have settled into a pattern they're happy with, the continued growth and unpredictability in the digital market especially in graphic novels and other turns in the sales picture one year after their big change.

CBR News: Gentlemen, this month was a strong month for DC, though there was no new or breakout product making a splash. Probably most notable was a second month of strong sales for the Batman trade paperbacks, which likely picks up on interest from "The Dark Knight Rises." But in the Direct Market, we also know there's a special draw for new Geoff Johns in "Batman Earth One" and the big Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Owls material. How has that material faired in the wider market like book stores and particularly now in digital graphic novel form?

Bob Wayne: We've definitely seen that the interest in Batman books has been strong all summer - on the comic shop side and on the bookstore side - and we've had "Batman: Earth One" on the Diamond side as the #1 graphic novel for the second month in a row with "Batman: Court of Owls" at #5. There's also Frank Miller's classic "Dark Knight Returns" and "Killing Joke" making the charts. But at the same time, the top titles on the Bookscan chart from bookstores in August were also Batman titles, so we find that the interest in Batman comes in both our primary sales channels. And it's the ones that have the most resonance with the movie and also the ones that are New 52 related that are having the most success.

John Cunningham: We have a very strong track, and we knew from our experience with the previous two movies in Chris Nolan's trilogy that we had the ability to sell those core Batman backlist titles against the film. What's been really great is that this time around, we've been able to wedge in both the New 52 collections of all the Batman books - most particularly the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo collection - but also the "Batman: Earth One" graphic novel. Those books are selling at levels that are at or above expectations for core Batman titles where the sales patterns are known for when a movie comes out. So it's following a trend line we've seen over the course of what Chris Nolan has done, but what you saw this year was our ability to maximize it and sell new products against that, which I think stands in direct contrast to what you've seen in other superhero movies this year and last year.

Tell me a little about the digital side of things. One thing we've had this year that didn't exist when "The Dark Knight" film hit is a graphic novel bookshelf for platforms like the Kindle Fire. Is that market doing well on its own terms and/or in comparison to the print market?

Cunningham: I wouldn't hesitate to say that what we've seen in graphic novels both in print and digital this year mirrors our experience with the New 52 last fall. That is, everyone's concern was whether digital was going to cannibalize print, but we've seen is significant digital sales and rising print sales. I think if you have products that people want, what the world is finding is that they can get that product in any number of formats. That's not leading to less overall sales. It's leading to more overall sales.

Like I said, it was a strong month but a stable month. At this point, we know which New 52 series perform strong on the monthly chart, and we know where things like "Before Watchmen" are landing. We're at a normal level for DC's performance. Even though there are some new things on the way with the #0 issues and some events in the DCU, what kind of discussions are you having about pushing the envelop forward to build market excitement. How are you challenging your market position in the future?

Wayne: We have a lot of stuff we're working on for 2013 and 2014. We're not just going to be laying back and coasting and making sure the trains run on time. We're adding more cars to the train and new trains to the track. Don't worry. We'll have plenty to talk about. [Laughter]

On the digital rankings side of the chart, again, we're seeing things we expect. Big books in the DM chart here as well. Digital original series pop up near the top. Overall, now that we're a year in to day-and-date sales, have you found that that business is still growing? Are you getting more readers overall through comiXology, or has that market found its level.

Wayne: I think we're at the point now where it depends upon the books. Some people have sampled thing, and some people are sticking with digital. And some of the audience is growing on certain titles. I think where we're going is that it's more the story we're delivering [that makes an impact] rather than the method by which we're delivering that to the reader.

Cunningham: I think the other reason it might seem tough to pin down a trend line on this is that the nature of that business is changing every day - every day and every week. And by that, I don't just mean that there are new readers coming in to digital platforms, but even the relationships we have to digital vendors and what project are available...we're working on new deals all the time, and every time a new outlet comes online, we see those numbers go up. But it makes those number skew a little bit in a way that makes it difficult to read. But that every format is growing is an amazing sign, if you ask me. I think it runs counter to a lot of other entertainment trends we see right now. It's a challenge and exciting to see how we can keep that going.

Projecting forward a bit, what do you feel will happen or can happen with the #0 issues celebrating the New 52's first year? There hasn't been as wide a push as the #1s with TV commercials and the like, of course, but do you feel there's a chance that these issues will offer up another opportunity to sell the whole line to people?

Wayne: We're certainly seeing that overall retailers have increased orders on the #0 issues by measurable percentages. So there are more copies of the #0 issues of any title than there are of the prior regular issue. And we really are just at the start of getting the fan feedback on those titles. That will be coming in all month. But we're encouraged so far by the response from retailers to the concept, and that's one reason why Dan DiDio and I are looking forward to talking to people at the Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend about what they think about that first week of books.

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