DC announced a few more cancellations and creator switches yesterday. That’s not unusual in the days leading up to releasing the next batch of solicitations. A six-title cancellation is a little larger than we’re used to seeing, but there’s a slightly bigger picture on the business side of things.
First off, the titles that were cancelled were selling poorly. Very poorly. By the numbers, some were overdue for the chop. Some of the titles, DC has given every possible chance. Firestorm, in particular was given a lot of leeway. If the powers that be liked canceling titles, that one would have been gone a long time ago.
If you look at DC’s overall sales, everything’s been pretty stable for the last 8-10 months. DC’s been recycling failed series and launching new ones. It evened out. More importantly, the Batman family crossovers are selling huge numbers for DC and that really been papering over the free fall at the bottom of the charts. A free fall that has been partially addressed by the latest culling.
Why now? Actually, the better question is why didn’t they cancel those titles for April? April will be the start of a lull between Batman Family events. Sales will inevitably drop across the board. While it will be interesting to see if a title like Suicide Squad, which roughly doubled its sales, drops back to pre-event levels or gains a little, all that papering over the bottom of the chart is going to be curtailed. That may be why DC started talking up April as “WTF Certified” after the April solicitations went online. Six cancellations mean six new books in June and DC needs some new books.
One of the problems has been too many titles aren’t lasting a full year. When you’re canceling a book when issue 4 is hitting the stands, you’re replacing the replacement title instead of replacing a book that’s merely suffered from attrition. That drags everything down. We’ve got 6 new titles coming in for June for the May cancellations. I, Vampire and DCU Presents were cancelled in the April solicitations, which should be replaced in the upcoming May solicitations. That’s 8 out of 52 in 2 months. 15% turnover in 2 months.
DC has not been having a lot of luck pushing the 2nd and 3rd string characters and even less luck with war comics. They probably need to go back to more commercial properties. That probably means milking Batman even more than they milking him now. We know there’s a very commercial Jim Lee/Scott Snyder Superman comic waiting to be scheduled. There’s no Robin comic yet. No “traditional” World’s Finest / Superman-Batman teamup comic. They’ve been scheduling Shazam! and Martian Manhunter as backups in the Justice League titles, so those seem likely to spin-off soon.
Rob Liefeld had some insight on that, not too long ago:
Look for a Red Robin, Martian Manhunter, Superman/Batman, DC Comics Presents and Brave and Bold to enter the 52 arena sooner than later.
— robertliefeld (@robertliefeld) January 28, 2013
A Batman team-up would seem like a pretty safe book right now. DC Comics Presents… I want to question what kind of a market there is for another Superman book right now, but Lee and Snyder are heading to that franchise and if (when) there are Superman family Events, an extra title will help, if they can replicate the Batman family experience. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see a Damien/Robin comic in addition to a Red Robin comic.
I also half expect to see a Warlord revival, since there’s a clear effort to try and get something going in non-superhero genres.
At any rate, DC really needs to launch a few more titles at 30K+ (preferably 50K+) that can run a couple years and concentrate on finishing overhauling the bottom of the chart. That’s the business reality of it.
As all this is happening, Kevin Tsujihara has been tapped to be the new Warner Brothers CEO. When there’s a new CEO, there tends to be an assessment of the unit for the new guy to look at and frequently there are some changes. If I were Diane Nelson/Dan DiDio/Jim Lee, I’d want my numbers nice and polished and consistent by the time the DC unit gets its time under the microscope. Now, given how recently that announcement was made, it isn’t likely that it directly caused a wider cleanup of the lowest sales tier. Don’t discount the watchful eye of corporate transition as DC makes more announcements between now and SDCC.
Let’s face it, if a Jim Lee / Scott Snyder Superman comic sells like Batman, that’s the same sales as roughly the bottom 10 of the “New 52” core. That makes the numbers go up all by itself, and there’s something wrong if that doesn’t do Batman numbers. They do need to address the problem with the rapidly sinking bottom 10-25% of the line, though. You can cancel forever, the trick is getting the replacement to stick.
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.