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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The DC Comics relaunch From a Self-Publisher’s Perspective

DC Comics relaunch From a Publisher’s Perspective

In a previous blog, I ranted about why I was upset about the DC comics relaunch in August. As a long-time comic fan I’m irked about it, but as a publisher myself I have to wonder if Dan Didio and Jim Lee really thought this out from a business perspective.

As a publisher, I’m still scratching my head on why DC is launching its 52 new titles in the softest months of the publishing year. No trade publisher releases anything significant in August-October. If their goal is targeting younger readers, I’d think they’d debut a flurry of titles during the San Diego Comicon, the biggest trade show of the year. At SDCC, hundreds of thousands of casual buyers will be eager to try new product. It’d be the place to hand out free comic samples and get the word out about their new titles.

But August-October? Those are dead months in publishing. Most of the casual readers DC needs for this relaunch to work have bought their beach books during May, June and July. The summer reading season will have passed.

Late summer-early fall isn’t a month where readers, especially younger ones are going to be focused on spending money on buying comics. The tweens and teens will be buying back-to-school items like school supplies and clothes. If they are buying books they’ll be school related.

And on the other end of the spectrum, the older teens going to college will be buying textbooks. Textbooks that cost anywhere from $50-$200 a pop.

Because most younger readers will be focused on back-to-school, Most smart trade publishers usually don’t publish new fiction titles in August. They save those big fiction launches for November to capitalize on the Christmas rush. They also launch a lot of new books in January, because people have gift cards and are eager to spend them on books they wouldn’t usually try. So the timing of this relaunch makes absolutely no sense to me.

What’s even crazier about this relaunch of DC comics is that Didio and Lee still haven’t dealt with the distribution issues that have plagued the comic book industry for close to two decades. While there’s a lot of talk about digital comics, most of the younger readers DC is banking on still won’t be able to find the printed books because they still aren’t stocked at College Bookstores, Wal-Marts, Sears, Targets, Rite Aids, Newsstands or places younger readers are shopping at for school clothes and school supplies. Didio and Lee still forget that most of these retailers still don’t stock comics due to the fact they aren’t returnable for credit.

If this relaunch is going to have any impact at attracting new younger readers, DC is going to need shelf space at big box retailers and supermarkets. A few extra racks in the magazine of the Barnes & Noble isn’t going to help with sales.

Currently on the floor plan of most bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble Comic books are in the magazine section which is FAR away from the YA and children's books. In some cases YA and children’s books are on another floor. If DC is serious about targeting younger readers they need to talk to Barnes & Noble about having their product placed on the sales floor with the YA and children's fiction so tweens and teens can see them, not in the magazine section where they’ll be ignored by women.

In addition to this relaunch of DC comics in print, there’s a lot of talk about DC eComics and how digital comics being the wave of the future. DC’s editors are banking on it to get the younger readers, but I don’t believe the hype. Didio and Lee don’t understand that epublishing is still a tertiary revenue stream (audiobooks are second) for most publishers, not a primary one.

I also know DC’s $2.99 price tag is for a 32-page eComic book is on the high end of the eBook spectrum and many digital readers may balk at that price. In the digital publishing marketplace readers can get a whole 400 page novel for $2.99 or less.

From my experience with eBooks I know new eBook products usually sell well when they're cheap and DRM free, so they’ll be swappable and tradeable among multiple devices and multiple users. Usually smart publishers use eBooks in conjunction with a print promotion towards developing a rep and word-of-mouth, so I don’t understand why DC isn’t releasing a FREE e-title or two to readers. That would work to their advantage, especially with lower-tiered characters or other obscure characters most readers don’t know about In a 52 title launch I feel some of these eComics should be FREE to entice new readers to give em' a try.

But the publishers and editors of DC comics are still thinking like it’s 1994 not 2011. Publishing has changed a lot since then, and I feel DC comics hasn’t adapted to the new world of media or has an understanding of how to target younger readers in print or the digital medium.

From my perspective as a publisher this whole relaunch of DC comics just seems poorly planned and poorly put together with no thought of competition, demographics or even the economy. Many are on tight budgets these days and are looking for ways to cut back on spending. Starting the DC Universe over may give those readers with limited incomes reason to stop buying comics altogether. Seriously, who has over $155 these days to buy 52 comics?

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