Comic Book Retailers Weigh in on the DC Comics Reboot and Same Day Digital
After nearly a year of experimentation in the digital comics sphere that could fairly be characterized as toe-dipping, DC Comics took a surprising leap out into the comic book industry's little pond this week, and performed a mighty cannonball. Not only will DC be rebooting almost all of their comics with new #1 issues in a younger DC Universe this September, but also digitally releasing all of their new titles at the same time as print.
As gambles go, it is a big and bold one, and one that has heightened worries about the stability of brick-and-mortar comic shops. ComicsAlliance reached out to a variety of comic book retailers across the nation to get their reactions to the big news, and as might be expected after such a dramatic and far-reaching shift in publishing strategy, their reaction was far from unanimous.
Retailers on Same Day Digital Sales
Portlyn Freeman, Brave New World Comics, California:
Digital has a lot of potential to help the brick and mortar retailers. I think we're going to have to see what the affiliate program is between DC and ComiXology. The letter from [DC Senior VP of Sales] Bob Wayne to retailers... doesn't give any indication, just that they're going to work together with us, which is great. Everybody just has to roll with it. At the end of the day [DC] needs to make money. They're concerned that I make money as well, but that's not their #1 concern; that's on me. Digital's next. It just is. I'm not thrilled it's an option but we have to move forward. You can either be on the train and able to move forward with them or you can rail against them and be cranky.
DC doesn't want to put me out of business, I'm sure of that. It's not to hurt me. It's not the end of the world. It's just what's next.
Buddy Saunders, Lone Star Comics, Texas:
Day and day digital could be very good or very bad for comics stores, but if it's bad for comics stores it'll end up being bad for DC Comics. If DC can pick up extra sales from people who don't have access to comics store that would be good, but obviously comics retailers don't want their regular sales to be affected. I'm not concerned about it. There's no point being concerned about anything you can't do anything about. You hope it's going to be a good thing, and if not you redirect your business. That's how we stay in business: We play by whatever rules are thrown at us. It could work. This is all uncharted territory.
If there's any saving grace in the online stuff, it's that more people will read the online stuff and want tangible copies or to see what else isn't available online. Comics need to have two kinds of accessibility, one where you don't have to drive 50 or 60 miles to get it, another where you can pick it up and read it and not feel like you're reading code. Maybe this online stuff will go that way.
Or the long-term trend could be a world without bookstores or comic stores. We want to widen the market, but if we widen the market through online stuff and it causes the shops to disappear... I'm not sure you could publish comics anymore without the existence of comics store. I have no problems with the publisher trying to figure out other ways to make money including digital, but they need to be careful.
Gerry Gladston, Midtown Comics, New York City
Day and date was inevitable, and we understand that the idea is to bring new readers to the comic book art form, and that's a good thing. Our sales have been unaffected by the many day-and-date releases so far, and we're not sure they will be, but we'll see. However, I don't think that day-and-date is so important to the new consumers that DC is trying to attract, because they don't even know the direct market release date, and probably wouldn't care; it's not like the movie business. Perhaps the industry should adopt a 30 day window before digital release.
Chris Rosa, Meltdown Comics, Los Angeles
I want one thing from [DC Senior VP of Sales] Bob Wayne, in the wake of his letter to retailers: Full returnability. Do that, and then we can talk about a "partnership."
Portlyn Freeman, Brave New World Comics, California:
Current readers, hardcore fans and new readers -- the reboot could be good for all three. For existing readers, how can Superman continue for 60 years? If he doesn't reboot occasionally, he just becomes an old guy in a cape. For hardcore fans, it's the same thing. The rabid fanboys and fangirls are going to take issue no matter what you do, but this is another chance to do the reboot right. As for the new readers, this is a chance for everybody to jump on, to read comics from the beginning. And here's a chance to draw even more [former readers] back in.
The customers that have come into the shop so far -- it's been like a natural diaster, the people flooding in to talk about what happened. And what's happening is the business of comic books. They're interested, they're concerned, but their attention is piqued. Here's 52 new titles to check out. But that's where it's incumbent on DC to have a great editorial staff, great artists and writers, and have things out on time.
[Customers] may buy more comics when they're angry, but they also buy more comics when they're interested, when talking about it more, when they're coming into their local shop and saying, "What is going on with this?" And we can put that comic in their hands and say, this is what is going on. And that helps us whether or not they go back home and buy more 10 issues on their iPad.
Buddy Saunders, Lone Star Comics, Texas:
I started reading comics in the 1960s, and now DC has rebooted I don't know how many times. None of the characters I started with bear resemblance to the comics I was reading in the '60s, so to me this is just another reboot. I'm not going to presume to say whether or not they should do a reboot; each reboot stands or falls on its own merits, and if it's done done in the right way, and not in a way that disappoints fans, any reboot can be postive.
Will it bring in new readers? Probably not, because they may change the characters, but they're not going to change the basic format, which is serialized. To get casual readers, you have to be able to pick up an individual comic and read it, skip three or four issues, and then be able to read another one. That's how comics used to be, and you didn't have to read every issue. You could buy them at random and you didn't lose your place because there was no place. With the comic of the direct market, the fans took over, and everything had to be serialized. It kept comics alive, but it started to ghettoize it and shut out new readers. Now, you almost need a degree in X-Menology to read X-Men. And pretty soon, the average the comics reader will have a beard and be walking around with a cane.
Jermaine Exum, Acme Comics, North Carolina
I think there will be a knee-jerk reaction from those fans who have been waiting for a way out or a jumping off point... Will the brand new or returning readership that is born of this offset that? I have no idea. They say they will be retaining continuity where it matters most and only time will tell what that truly means. We will monitor this closely and pay extra attention to wording. We will regularly poll customers about their feelings... And I advise all retailers to do the same and gather as much data as possible before hitting the commit button for the next Previews order.
In today's world retailers must be cautious, but this is the time to be cautiously optimistic and think about the opportunity and sacrifice DC Comics has made here in the name of what they feel is right. DC is asking fans and retailers, the last representative of their print comics before it is absorbed by the public, to trust them. And I would like to see them trust us with the data we need to make good choices, and strong titles with stable creative teams and long term planning... The rolling out of big, but capable, newly-acquired creators would be a confidence building part of the multi-part scenario needed for this venture to succeed!
Adam Healy, Comics Monkey Comics, Portland Ore.
A classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, this is a confusing move for DC to make. It is unclear where they got the idea that revamping the entire line would attract new readers without alienating current readers. I don't see any evidence that this is anything but a disastrously desperate attempt to reacquire relevance in today's pop cultural milieu. In the process, DC risks destroying all that is attractive about their product.
Reaction to the news has been universally negative in our store so far. After investing a great deal of time, energy and money in the Batman and Green Lantern lines, many fans feel betrayed that all that work is tossed out to make way for "New Coke." The compelling nature of these characters combined with 70-plus years of wonderful and ridiculous storytelling by a variety of eccentrics is what gives them the gravitas to be taken seriously by millions... DC has seriously miscalculated what the market needs and what readers want. This may lead fans to abandon the line early out of fear that nothing happening between now and September matters anymore. "Continuity" is the core component of any viable "comics universe" and they've breached the core!
The confused folks at DC should reconsider this short-sighted and desperate revamp and instead focus on solid storytelling and making the best comics they can. Batman and Green Lantern are commercial successes because of the talent behind them, not because somebody tweaked the costumes and made the characters younger.
There is most likely no new audience waiting to jump on board an expensive and often frustrating monthly superhero comic experience. The market is clearly moving away from this format and shooting yourself in the foot isn't going to change the course of the race; it will only impair your ability to compete. Long story short, I think this will make a bunch of people sad.
Chris Rosa, Meltdown Comics, Los Angeles:
The reboot announcement first struck me as DC trying to answer all of the complaints non-diehard fans (and, to be honest, sometimes even the diehards) lodge about superhero comics: inaccessibility due to continuity, seemingly never-ending events, and the ever-expanding shared universe. I'm glad DC recognized that the status quo couldn't stand: despite Meltdown being a "DC store," in that most of our core customer base are DC loyalists, sales on DC comics have collapsed (Morrison, Johns, & Gail Simone books the lone exceptions). However, it still feels like a half-measure: Starting over is fine, but how is DC going to change their storytelling to avoid standard attrition? Are they switching to a Hellboy/BPRD model of continuous miniseries? If not, what happens when we get to Superman #47?
What also bothered me, from a new readers perspective, is that the growth areas for DC are Vertigo and Johnny DC. Vertigo, for people who have avoided comics all their life because they "weren't for them," only to learn about Sandman, Y, Scalped, et al, which showed how comics are a medium, not a genre, and turns skeptics into superfans. Johnny DC, for the kids who watch the cartoons and can't get enough of their favorite characters - we can't keep Tiny Titans/Batman B&B/et al in stock. While TPB sales of Big Two books have stagnated, all-ages books have become our biggest growth market.
Paradoxically, by DC focusing on what's "wrong" with their universe -- honestly guys, nothing to follow anymore, start here -- and ignoring everything but their core superheroes, they could end up pushing away the new readers they are courting.
Would any CA readers/retailers like to weigh in on either the reboot or day and date digital sales? Let us know what you think in the comments!