By Todd Allen
Over at CBR, Kiel Phigley had a chat with John Rood, DC’s Executive VP-Sales, Marketing and Business Development, about DC’s digital sales and it’s worth taking a closer look at.
The biggest question, which is still utterly unanswered, is how many copies these digital comics are selling. The second biggest question is where these sales are coming from and Rood does get into that, just a little:
Yeah, anecdotally there’s every type of digital reader under the sun. There are folks who bought plenty of physical product that week but also wanted it digitally because of their media consumption habits. Then there are folks who don’t know where their local comic shop is. So our consumers run the gamut. What I expected to find in our primary research through Neilsen NRG was some staggering difference in terms of demography or age or history in the comics category or the genre, but I haven’t seen anything like that that’s jumped out. We’ll be sharing more specifics with the retailers at the ComicsPRO convention on February 9, but there won’t be anything shocking. It’ll be, “Hey look, there’s a measure of physical traffic to the stores that is current plus new plus lapsed readers, and then there’s a measure of self-reported readership from our digital resources that is a balance of current, new and lapsed.”
I still am delighted that this is a genre — and I trust other publishers are equally delighted — where we’re not talking about cannibalizing [the core business]. We’re not talking about one platform being a replacement for the other. Who else in print can say that? Not “Businessweek” or “The Washington Post.” No one else can say that the addition of a new medium or platform or consumption behavior has been additive to your business
To a lot of people, that’s going to be a “duh,” followed by a “that’s because the Direct Market has a smaller footprint than the newsstand.” But, there seem to be a fair amount of Direct Market people that need to hear that.
The next biggest question is what’s selling? Rood does a little bit of a soft shoe routine on this:
But consistency is the right word — especially consistency in the digital end. There has been no shake up of numbers when you look at the percentage of physical sales by title. So if something is selling 6% of its physical sales digitally for issues #1 and 2, then it’s about 6% in issues #3 and 4. And if another title has been selling at 16% of print sales in the early titles, the latter titles have stayed at the same level. So there’s been no fluctuation. And the fact is that the makeup is largely the same and the performances you’ve seen in the data provided is largely the same in digital as it is in physical, yet we know from both anecdotal and primary research that this is a different audience. It suggests that the people might be different [for digital and print] but their tastes and their demos are largely the same.
Please note, he’s not saying that number of digital copies sold is proportional to print across the board. He’s saying change in digital sales from month to month is consistent with the change in print orders from month to month (with the assumption that the change in orders reflects the change in retail sales). This suggests that the digital audience decides they don’t like a title and drop it or hear buzz and start picking up a new book in much the same way the print audience does. It also lends some credence to the theory that you have one audience, it’s just that some of that audience prefers a different reading format.
As to what’s selling, here’s the Top 10 List:
- Justice League #1
- Batman #1
- Detective Comics #1
- Action Comics #1
- JusticeLeague #2
- Batman #2
- Detective Comics #2
- Justice League #3
- Action Comics #2
- Superman #1
Rood does mention that people do tend to go to brands they recognize, like Superman and Batman, but this list is interesting. By giving us the top 10 for the first 3 months, it masks how different things look for the line as a whole. Justice League looks to be the digital bestseller by a significant margin, the third issue’s sales lapping the second issue of Action Comics. Detective Comics, one of the pleasant surprises of the relaunch, is even more popular (relatively speaking) in digital. Superman #1 also pops up higher than you’d expect it, though you imagine it’s having sales drops in proportion to its less well-received print counterpart. What are we not seeing here? Green Lantern and Flash. Green Lantern, in particular, had print orders a lot higher than Detective Comics and Superman, but Green Lantern #1 didn’t crack the top 10.
Now, if we go by familiar brands, Justice League had a popular cartoon and has all the DC mainstays in it. Batman has had MUCH better films than Superman has of late… and more cartoons. Use that logic and the sales fragments make perfect sense. The “new” readers and perhaps some of the lapsed ones are most likely to go with the familiar. It’s why Transformers is one of the largest franchises in digital comics.
It would be interesting to see where a few books like Batwing and I… Vampire fall in the digital rankings. Books that aren’t on the top of the print heat that might inspire some more mainstream curiosity. Normally, I’d be curious how the science fiction branded comics would be doing in digital, but DC doesn’t have a designated “cosmic” wing like Marvel does. Green Lantern is probably the closest to that corner, but it’s pretty firmly branded as plain old superhero in the eyes of the mass audience.
Finally, Rood talks a little about anticipating “digital collections,” which is to say, “digital tpbs.” He’s right in that it’s WAY too early to get a handle on how the Amazon Fire collections will do, but the mass audience has traditionally liked to get their comics in book form, not serial. With serial format now more easily available to the digital reading audience, we’re about a year away from being able to better evaluate what the serial vs. collection patterns of the digital audience are.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.