Rood & Wayne Unpack DC's New 52 Sales Success

From the very start of its New 52 initiative, DC Comics executives have been saying that their goal in relaunching the entire DC Universe superhero line was not to win outright market share in comic shops. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't take a victory lap when it does happen.

Last week, word hit via Diamond Comic Distributors that DC had won the majority market share and dollar share for the month of October - the second month of the New 52 launch. Aside from beating out chief rival Marvel Comics by over 10% and nearly 20% of the categories respectively, DC also landed 17 of their books in the top 20 releases for the month (led by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's "Justice League" #2) as well as grabbing five of the top ten graphic novels (led by the hardcover of their last event "Flashpoint"). You can read CBR's full report of the early sales numbers here.

In the wake of a second month of big sales for DC, CBR News spoke to Executive VP-Sales, Marketing and Business Development John Rood and Senior VP-Sales Bob Wayne about where the publisher is looking to go next. Below, the pair discuss what strong sales for DC's #1s and #2s hold for the line all together, why market share is the least of their concerns still, what incentives will hopefully keep sales up through next year and how they're preparing for more moves in both digital and the book markets.

CBR News: Gentlemen, congratulations on some very nice sales for October. I wanted to start with your general take on things because whenever these things hit, there are a million folks online who will write a blog post about what these numbers mean. But from DC's point of view, how does the line hold up to sales expectations, and what stands out to you as significant from this most recent crop of data?

John Rood: I think that it shows that the product has staying power. "Winning the month" is nothing we really concern ourselves with, but it obviously suggests that more and more readers are reading more and more stories from more and more DC characters. If we wanted to win the month, we wouldn't have so many titles at $2.99 in terms of winning that dollar share. If we wanted to win the month, we wouldn't put out as few titles as we do, which would help us win the month from the point of view of unit share. We don't do either of those, but we're delighted that this thing is catching on and holding on.

Certain books like "Justice League" I think everyone expected to hit #1 repeatedly thanks to Geoff and Jim's fans, and books like Grant Morrison on "Action Comics" and Scott Snyder on "Batman" also had a certain expectation to chart very well. Were there any stand outs for you in the line that maybe weren't as immediately identifiable?

Bob Wayne: I think we almost all have our own opinions on that. I don't know if there's anything that's straight factual or that our research surveys from July told us X about. But I would say that for me, the success of "Swamp Thing" and "Animal Man" has been very gratifying because those were certainly not what people would have expected a year ago to be DC titles. And the streak for both of them with "Animal Man" #1 going into a third printing and having a very interesting story style...well, those are all very positive things.

Rood: I would say too that we've now got four titles across the Green Lantern family, and they are so very strong that they're in the same breath as Batman and Superman in terms of being a publishing franchise. That was good to see. It fits a bit into your earlier question about what we were pleased with. Yes, we were expecting high performance from the high performers, but the line-wide average staying as high as it is was actually a measurable goal that we set for ourselves months ago, and it's a goal that we're exceeding beyond our wildest expectations.

Let's talk about the retailers role in this. I know that one complaint about the earliest days of the New 52 was that even on books that people had expected to sell well and had ordered up on, sell outs hit quick and reordering could be problematic. As you've moved into month two and month three, what have you been doing to communicate with shops on order expectations and fulfillment?

Wayne: I think the main thing we've been hearing from retailers is that this just exceeded expectations for all our retail customers in terms of how many copies they could sell. Since we were basing our print runs on the orders they had placed, this became a cascading effect. When we did the print runs for #2s, the retailers had better information at that point and we had better information based on how many copies of the #1s we had sold. So we adjusted, our retail customers adjusted, and we should be much closer in balance on the #2s and #3s going into those months. I think that because there was so much volatility and because there were so many readers scrambling between multiple locations to try and find all the comics they were looking for in September, we've extended some of our sales incentives not just through the end of the year, but we're taking them all the way through the eighth month of this process - that's through April - to make sure that all of our readers have a chance to get the books they want. And retailers are able to take a chance on titles they might have been retreating back on. The whole is stronger because we've offered a member of returnability all the way through issue #8. And that's a relatively dramatic statement for a non-returnable marketplace.

Rood: We don't want do disappoint retailers at all, but we'll take that problem across the New 52 than what might have been the alternative problem.

Surely. The other side of the coin from the retail stores is digital. You've generally said that "Justice League" #1 has broken digital sales records, and the folks at comiXology have been crowing about their own continued success in terms of Apple's pay apps. What can you say about how the numbers digitally have held up across the second month? Have sales for the issue #1s continued to be strong just as retailers have been ordering more copies of the #1s for their stores?

Rood: The numbers are holding. There's no volatility from #3 versus #1 as a percentage of total sales. So it's finding a new audience, and it's keeping a new audience. And the fact is that our online research and in person research with physical customers and digital ones both has been telling us that this is an additive audience. That's what we find most exciting. This is not a replacement strategy for people. It's a chance for us to build a global readership of new readers and lapsed readers. So it continues to exceed our expectations. There hasn't been any particularly noticeable change from issue #1 to 2 to 3. There's been no noteworthy over-performance or underperformance of digital titles title-by-title versus their physical counterpart. But we do intend to bring more detail of our research to retailers in the coming weeks.

Let's talk about the market share aspect of all this. The news for you here is that the line has sold well across its titles, we know. And we know also that folks at DC have said from the beginning that market share is not a main goal. But many people have noted with these October numbers that you've beat Marvel by a larger percentage than the first month. What can we take from that? Many people in the press and folks at Marvel noted the slight margin for September. Do those metrics impact your plans or your opinions on the line in any way?

Rood: There are too many other things to worry about. It sounds cute of us to say "It does not matter," but it does not matter. We're more concerned with profitability and with the opportunities after publishing including media and merchandising. We're delighted that this shows that a lot of people are reading our stuff, but that's where it stops. Again, we'd be doing our tactics so very differently with pricing. We'd be doing our tactics very differently with events. And we'd be doing our tactics so very differently with incentives if winning the month mattered at all. But yeah, I'm pleasantly surprised.

One of the reasons Marvel has seemed to handily win market share over the past few years at least is a matter of metrics. They publish a lot of titles every month, and even with 52 superhero series in addition to the Vertigo, kids and media projects you do, DC still doesn't ship as many books a month as Marvel. If your numbers continue to hold up like this, do you foresee a time when DC's line could expand even further in terms of its size? Could we get to an era where the DCU is made up of 60, 70 or 80 monthly books? Is there a ceiling to what you feel comfortable putting on the market?

Rood: We're constantly talking about that. I'm not going to speculate on which direction the number 52 goes, but we're definitely discussing what the market will bear and what our internal structure will bear in terms of putting out quality. We have a market advantage as a collected editions and original graphic novel publisher too, and we're very excited about what "wave 2" of the New 52, so to speak, holds in store. We're hoping that a whole bunch of new readers get into this over the spring and summer via the collected editions. There's a whole lot of folks who want to wait until the first several issues to get into some of these stories. So we're going to have a whole new campaign to roll out these collected editions. And so yeah, we're looking at the line to see what has staying power, and there's certainly a lot of other characters who can have stories as one-offs or minis or maybe mid-season replacements. But that's a shared discussion with Editorial.

I wanted to talk also about the Barnes & Noble issue that's been playing out in the press. DC's announcement to have collected stories and graphic novels on the Kindle Fire was a big piece of news for you that proceeded an announcement from America's biggest bookstore chain that they'd pull the titles from their stores until they were able to sell digital copies too. Everyone has speculated that this stalemate will last as long as DC titles are exclusive to the Kindle platform, but will that impact the New 52? Will those titles be available in book stores at the same time as they're in comic shops?

Rood: We expect them to be available with all our retail partners. We're in talks with several partners beyond Amazon, and Barnes & Noble is a great partner of ours. So we have no interest in denying consumers the chance to read the New 52.

Overall, then, heading into month three of this launch, when you're met with a success like this which in some ways was an unexpected success in terms of its overall impact, what does that do to the plans of both Sales and Editorial about what the next step will be? Do you want to look to ramping things up further, making adjustments to the books currently in play or something else entirely? What's the core focus for you guys going into the next six months?

Rood: It's a great question. I'll tell you that there's never been a more exciting time to be working here. This seems to have infected our entire company to be as fearless as Diane Nelson has encouraged us to be. Sentiment last summer was "It's not going to happen," and then sentiment changed last summer to "It's not going to work." Now sentiment seems to be focused on "It's not going to last." So we're going to keep surprising people.

Wayne: Yeah. This is certainly, in my 25 years with DC, the widest, most sustained level of excitement we've ever had with just so many titles inspiring so much enthusiasm. Most of the new titles show that when you talk to a retailer or a fan or someone on staff - and while there has been a lot of focus on "Justice League" and rightfully so, this is true of titles further down the list of the charts - each series has its own admirers and fans. It's extremely exciting to have so many things going in a positive direction. That also encourages us to do things in other parts of our publishing program. We've been talking to the folks at "MAD" and at Vertigo to try and get some initiatives going with those groups. It's going to be a very exciting time, especially like John said when we roll around to those collected editions of the volume 1s. There are those readers we think who are still out there who are "waiting for the trade" or that's their preferred way of experience a comics story, and we'll have a new wave of excitement and enthusiasm as the book trade comes online.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on the continued response to DC's New 52 line of comics.

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