DC Co-publishers DiDio and Lee dish on Vertigo, sales, more

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ICV2 has one of its periodic high level chats, this time with DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, in
two parts. They talk about Rebirth, returns, retailers and the future of Vertigo:

What is the definition of a Vertigo book now?

Lee:  It’s the home for stand-alone IP that really focus on genre or content, so non-superhero. We’re looking for things that take genre and redefine it in ways that are surprising or innovative. So if you look at a book like Survivor’s Club, it’s the idea that all these people who are survivors from horror movies get together and realize there was a method behind all the madness; that they survived for a reason and they band together and form this team. It’s a really interesting take on that genre and a way of creating a new team of characters in a way that hasn’t been done before. That’s garnered a lot of interest and media. It’s really finding the balance between creating books that find success as books themselves and find properties that have potentially life beyond the printed page in media. So that’s the mission.


One of the more interesting parts is a talking point DiDio has been stating in public quite a bit, that books that don’t sell well in periodical form can sell more in trade. He says there’s a direct correlation:


Unless your trade sales are great.
DiDio:  But we find that trade sales are comparable to periodical sales.

Even on Vertigo titles?
DiDio:  Yes, even on Vertigo titles.

Lee:  There are outliers like Fables.

DiDio:  But for the most part, if a book does not sell well in periodical, it does not sell well in trade. One of the things we need is to make sure our books stay viable, because if we’re lowering our base number of people purchasing our titles it makes it harder for a retailer to stock their shelf because he’s only selling 2s and 3s of titles and not 10s and 20s.  We’ve got to find a way to attract more people, not less.

We did an analysis the day I started at DC. A periodical that sold 40,000 copies made the same profit as a prestige that sold 25,000 copies and a hardcover that sold 10,000 copies.  Everybody’s logic was “let’s make more hardcovers.” And I said, “if you’ve only got 10,000 people and if you lose 5,000, you’re out of business.” If you sell 40,000 and then sell 35,000, you’re still in business. We’re going to find a way to stay in business and stay as big. And there’s no reason why we should be losing people or selling less books at a time when our material has never been more popular.


DiDio is a periodical man, no question, and this is as direct a repudiation as the long running “Vertigo books make money when they’re collected” argument that has been going on ever since sales of average Vertigo books dipped below 15K. I’d been told this by many folks over the years – Vertigo low sellers were money losers, period – so consider this at attempt at a New Testament. 

However, the success of Paul Dini’s Dark Night and the Earth One series have given the OGN format a boost at DC of late. In the above analysis you can see why they weren’t always the #1 pick at DC, though. However all the recent changes to the sales and marketing department should give book sales a renewed focus at DC.

Oh yeah one other thing. From time to time, I hear people saying that Dan DiDio and/or Jim Lee don’t know how to run DC Comics because they don’t know enough about publishing. I think you can argue with various tactics (for instance, I always thought the OGN format would eclipse periodicals and I was right) but reading any interview with the duo such as the above makes it clear that the reason these two have stayed at the top of the game is that VERY few people have their grasp of multiple facets of the publishing business. That knowledge is hard to replace. It hardly needs be said, but they are two very intelligent people, and I would gladly vote for either of them for president before Donald Trump. A pretty low bar, but there you have it.

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