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DC's Rood Talks About Digital Sales


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:

  1. Justice League #1
  2. Batman #1
  3. Detective Comics #1
  4. Action Comics #1
  5. JusticeLeague #2
  6. Batman #2
  7. Detective Comics #2
  8. Justice League #3
  9. Action Comics #2
  10. 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.

  1. My challenge to DC and Marvel… Drop your prices on all digital titles to1.99 for one week. Then wait a bit and drop them all to .99 another week. Measure the elasticity of demand. See what it tells you about potential profits.

  2. Bradydale – I would add to your challenge and have them create something – a one-off – for the Direct 2 Digital market that is totally outside your wheelhouse.

    I am thinking a mystery, a thriller, or an espionage tale might be a good bet. Certainly fantasy and the supernatural would work, but would be a safer bet, as would action-adventure ala “Challengers of the Unknown”. Now is the time to do some one-offs and test the limits of the digital audience. Hell, do a videogame tie-in!

    Most of all, use this opportunity to grow your audience base slowly beyond the wednesday capes and cowls crowd. Based on those successes and failures you can follow up with print versions at various price points.

  3. “Most of all, use this opportunity to grow your audience base slowly beyond the wednesday capes and cowls crowd.”

    Er… what’s Vertigo?

    I mean, that might be a legitimate criticism to lay on Marvel, but DC has spent DECADES trying to break new markets that aren’t superheroes…


  4. “Bradydale – I would add to your challenge and have them create something – a one-off – for the Direct 2 Digital market that is totally outside your wheelhouse.”

    Like Zuda? Free webcomics, later collected into trade editions.

    Much like Maxwell Gaines, it seems that DC took a free digital product, slapped a price tag on it, and started selling copies to the general public.

    Mr. Hibbs is correct. The DC morgue (in both definitions of the word) is littered with failed imprints, all of which tried to break new markets (Minx, Paradox, Piranha, CMX, Wildstorm, Matrix/Helix, Zuda…) Vertigo succeeded by building a core around established series (Swamp Thing, Sandman, Hellblazer) and having a strong editorial vision.

    Among the graphic novel e-books, Batman: The Complete Hush ranks #7 ($9.99), #5,489 among all digital titles. DC has 16 GNs in the top 50 ranking, 25 in the top 100.

  5. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
    ―- Thomas A. Edison

    “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”
    — Dale Carnegie

    “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”
    — Vincent T. Lombardi

  6. Zuda was a great idea executed terribly at every step of the way. They began by pissing off established web comic creators, continued on by having a terrible interface to match their terrible content (the only content they could get with those awful contracts), and topped it off by trying to sell the content at premium print prices.

  7. I wonder if the 6% and 16% that Rood used to illustrate his explanation are random numbers or indicative of the actual figures. Are digital titles selling between 6% and 16% of what the print titles are selling? Not bad for an additive market.

    That said, digital may not be the new hope if it’s demographic is the same as print. If digital is to be a game changer, it has to bring in new demographics other than lapsed readers.

    Unless it attracts a large new audience, I really hope it remains additive. If we’re just slowly moving the current customer base over to digital, that’s going to be a painful process. You’ll have stores closing right in the thick of it all and publishers hemorrhaging from lost print customers who didn’t find their way over to digital.

    Also, as someone who participated in one of the last Zuda competitions (Villain, December 2009) I can say it was pretty tough to generate any excitement over the content. They had some killer comics(High Moon, Bayou) that nobody seemed to care about – even when they were FREE to read. I’m sure they could’ve marketed it better but I wouldn’t call the content or execution terrible. Flawed, sure. But not terrible. They built the damn field but no one came.

  8. >>>Mr. Hibbs is correct. The DC morgue (in both definitions of the word) is littered with failed imprints, all of which tried to break new markets (Minx, Paradox, Piranha, CMX, Wildstorm, Matrix/Helix, Zuda…) Vertigo succeeded by building a core around established series (Swamp Thing, Sandman, Hellblazer) and having a strong editorial vision.

    Torsten — veteran Kremlinologists have various theories as to why only Vertigo survived, Ishmael like. The editorial vision is definitely part of the equation however.

  9. Vertigo was the perfect combination of excellent leadership (Karen Berger) and great young talent that was able to develop a strong backlist under her. It was a lightening in a bottle situation of great people at just about every level.

    Zuda had one good comic – Bayou – hidden behind an awful interface. There were so many mistakes there, it’s hard to figure out where to start that autopsy.

  10. @ Chris Hero
    I don’t mean to harp on the Zuda issue but…one good comic? Dean Haspiel’s Street Code? Gallaher and Ellis’s High Moon? The Timony’s Night Owls? Vella’s Supertron?

    Zuda had quite a few good comics. It just so happens that you only liked one of them.

  11. I can’t comment on the quality of Zuda’s Comics because I could never get their horrible interface to work on any of my computers, and I just gave up trying. I even had a good friend with a comic in the running one month, and I could log in and vote for his comic but couldn’t actually read it…it was horrible. Why they stuck by that awful Flash interface is beyond me.

    I think using video game tie-ins is a great idea. It has certainly looked well for, say, Pocket God.

  12. Based on the number of comics which have gone on from Zuda competitions to their own books — and the list of people who had strips in competition which lost — I would say there was a TON of talent at Zuda.

    However, the whole “competition” thing — presumably thrown in as a nod to social media — meant that the most video game like strips usually won and editorial oversight was minimalized. Throw in the Flash interface and you have a mess.

    Oh plus, after Zuda did manage to build up a very engaged social component — which is what all the marketers say you need these days — the whole things was taken down literally 10 minutes after the brand’s closing was announced.

    IF Vertigo was the best conceived DC imprint, surely Zuda was the worst. (Sorry Zuda pals.) But a lot of very talented people came through its halls even so.

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