Home Entertainment Books Earth One: the retail perspective

Earth One: the retail perspective


Today’s big DC news story is WAR OF THE SUPERMEN, the big Superman event for 2010 everyone has been speculating over. James Robinson and Eddy Barrow kick things off with a Free Comic Book Day issue.

While surely notable, the announcement of a new crossover storyline has failed to ignite the website-crashing uproar that yesterday’s Earth One, aka “Ultimate DC” announcement did. And now the retailer perspective — via Brian Hibbs and Chris Butcher is coming in. If this were just another reboot, people might be a little interested, but the fact that it’s a GRAPHIC NOVEL LINE reboot is what has people sitting up.

Hibbs — a pamphlet man to the end — runs numbers and concludes that the revenue stream for an OGN series is less than the revenue stream for a periodical-to-collection model. Actually, it’s a little hard to argue with this — it’s the TV-series-to-DVD argument. Both delivery systems work, and make for two separate revenue streams. Yet no one releases long, complicated stories as a series of direct-to-DVDs. They do however release the occasional standalone story.

But on some matters, it seems to us, Hibbs misses the mark:

The bottom line is that customers are much less likely to plunk down for a Big Ticket item than they are for a periodical, which is one of the reasons that the OGN doesn’t, to my mind, make a ton of sense. And while it is possible that the “bookstore reader” will flock to superhero-OGN work… well, I kind of don’t think that will happen… and, even if it does, I have a hardish time picturing them wanting it again and again — because this theoretical 2x a year strategy IS a periodical, just much slower than usual.

Go into a bookstore and you see that book series are an extremely lucrative staple of the publishing world, albeit mostly, these days, for women and YA.

Now, we DON’T KNOW any of the business details of the Earth One books. Are they YA? Are they $9.99? Are they tankoubon? Or are they $30 deluxe packages? If the former, it’s a very, very different publishing model from the latter, and one that is a proven success — just not yet with superheroes.

Butcher comes at it from a slightly different angle, while also pointing out the lack of format information that would make this line’s target much clearer. Butcher offers informed speculation:

It’s pretty clear to me that DC is attempting to develop a continuity-light series of graphic novels featuring their core characters, to introduce new readers to their IP, and re-capture the attention of lapsed readers. They’re phrasing the move in terms that their existing, painfully hardcore readership can understand, like “new continuities”, in the hopes that the Direct Market-shopping fans of their IP will still support this new format, to give them a large non-returnable sales-base with which to expand their mass market sales. (As a refresher, book sales through comic stores are “non-returnable”, and 10,000 non returnable sales (my prediction) is a great base from which to set your print-run and distribute the work to the larger market, which can return unsold books for a full refund (and which sticks publishers with lots of unsold books).)

Hibbs’ post has a long and lively comment section which interested parties should read.

Bonus: J. Caleb Mozzocco speaks from a reader’s perspective.

  1. In terms of format, DC could be adapting the Vertigo first volume approach. Meaning a 120+ page story at a $9.99 price point. The length and price would make bookstores happy. It would make it easy for folks new to Superman and Batman to afford as well as providing enough story content to make it worth the purchase.

  2. “Hibbs — a pamphlet man to the end”

    No, Heidi, I’m a MONEY man to the end — If I were able to make more money selling OGNs, I’d be all over that, but there’s not a lot evidence that that’s anywhere near the case!

    “But on some matters, it seems to us, Hibbs misses the mark — Go into a bookstore and you see that book series are an extremely lucrative staple of the publishing world, albeit mostly, these days, for women and YA.”

    Not arguing against that, whatsoever.

    What I’m saying is that other initiatives that (at least on the surface) appear to be somewhat similar (say, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, or MAN OF STEEL), appear to have pretty drastic drop-offs after the initial volumes.

    From a bookstore customer’s POV, what’s the difference between EARTH-ONE and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN — “continuity free, new release of self-contained book every few months”, and is there any real evidence that the general public is interested in “slow serialization” for super-hero properties?

    A TP *is* the same as an OGN to this theoretical customer — it’s ALL “new” to them!

    This is, however, an area where I’d be perfectly 100% happy to be completely wrong. And you don’t see me making any bets about eating a bug this time around, do you? :)


  3. “Go into a bookstore and you see that book series are an extremely lucrative staple of the publishing world, albeit mostly, these days, for women and YA.”

    And mysteries. The most successful crime fiction writers write a new book roughly every year featuring the newest adventure of their main character. They are designed to stand alone–so readers can enter the series at any point, but work also as a series with changes an the characters’ lives occurring.

    I don’t see any reason why this can’t work for a superhero except for the fact that there is so much “noise” in a bookstore comic section. By this, I mean that if you are a bookstore customer who wants to buy Superman Earth-One (or whatever it is called), you may be confused by the fact that their are a zillion other Superman books already on the shelves. Whereas if you want to buy the next Michael Connelly book or P.D. James book, it’s not that hard to figure it out. (It’s even easier with Janet Evanovich, who manages to incorporate the volume number into the title of each book.)

    But even if you can get past this issue, I still think it is by no means a given that bookstore customers (as opposed to comic shop customers) are going to go for subsequent volumes of Earth One books the way they do for crime novels or YA adventures or manga series. Different readerships, different habits. We’ll see I guess.

  4. The piece missing in Hibbs’s analysis is the part where DC actually sells their books through channels which are not the comics Direct Market. It may indeed be the case that comic shops, individually and in aggregate, will sell fewer units of this OGN series and gross fewer dollars from an OGN series than they would from similar material presented in pamphlet form. It does not therefore follow that DC Comics, which sells products through the Direct Market, and through online retailers, and through brick-and-mortal bookstores, and probably through other channels that I’m forgetting right now, will sell fewer units and gross fewer dollars of an OGN series.

    Since pamphlets sell only through the DM, and books have a much wider scope, it is only natural for the market to continue to slowly move towards book-format comics. Until and unless the DM starts growing strongly, or pamphlet-format comics start selling in substantial numbers through another channel, this is the future of even dead-ender superhero comics. The only question is how quickly and how soon that future will come.

  5. “The piece missing in Hibbs’s analysis is the part where DC actually sells their books through channels which are not the comics Direct Market.”

    Nah, not really — I just didn’t feel like spending 3-4 hours poring through 5 years of BookScan reports to give a more detailed analysis for a “quick thought about…” the Earth-One announcement.

    Just looking purely at 2008’s figures (which I happen to have at hand at the store [the rest are sitting on my home hard-drive]), SANDMAN v1 sold, in the stores that report to BookScan, 15227 copies.

    v2 = 8635
    v3 = 7325
    v4 = 6099

    Now, of course, it is ENTIRELY possible that they’re selling a shedload of copies of ENDLESS NIGHTS through some sort of source not reporting to BookScan, and, hell, who knows, maybe they’re already worked out some kind of deal with Scholastic or something to take, sight unseen, 100k copies of EARTH-ONE, but one can only argue with the data one can access.

    And I’d submit that said data (BOTH in the DM and the Bookstores) suggests that losing the revenue stream from serialization is, possibly, a questionable decision.


  6. I’m curious to see how DC brings the strengths of serialized storytelling to the OGN space. Pamphlet readers who go in on Wednesday get to share that moment of discovery and finding out how the last cliffhanger was resolved and respond to the content without the benefit of hindsight. There’s that sense of urgency and the short window of catharsis with fellow fans that comes afterwards. When you wait for the trades (I’m one of them), that urgency and a chance to form an unbiased opinion just isn’t there. A good story’s still a good story, but reading archives denies the reader a bit of the fervor that is part of what makes fandom (whether we’re talking comics, YA, movies, games, etc) fun. In theory, this would be a great opportunity to expand that thrill of serials to DC’s TPB readership, but to really work, the stories would need to have surprises, character development and consequences that keep the audience talking for the next six months, preferably building up to a true ending that really pays off. Based on the “Earth One” title and writers who are such major architects of the pamphlet world, I’m not really expecting big things, but I’d love to be surprised, not just once, but every 6 months. I get it with Scott Pilgrim and the handful of OGNs I follow, but I’ve never got to share that with Supes.

  7. Andrew, you seem to be missing Brian’s point. It does not diminish sales to the target bookstore audience if they release it as monthlies first. These books can rock in the bookstore even after being published as monthlies. I would love that.

    What I find interesting with OGNs is that they are required to have the whole work done before publishing. I have heard the argument that they can’t have a whole mini-series in the can before publishing because of cash flow. I don’t understand that argument. Their ability to do an OGN tells me that we should never have a four, six, or seven issue mini series with late books (unless of course they are late only to make sure quarterly sales are attainable the next year). They should all be done beforehand.

    And if this book only sells 50,000 copies. That will not make nearly as much money as any of the top 30 monthlies from the November sales chart. If that is what it reaches, which is pretty astronomical in bookstore numbers for superhero comic books, then they have lost a lot of money on the project. Although the success of Watchmen might have gotten DC excited about bookstore superhero sales. What needs to be understood is that an unknown entity to the mass market with a movie coming out will always sell more books than a known entity that is already known by the mainstream. We have seen this with Hellboy, Sin City, 300, and other works.

    I would think an “Ultimate DC” would sell in the 150,000 range, or higher, at first. Retailers and fans have been asking for it for years. The problem seems to have been that DC did not want to admit that Marvel had a great idea.

    The graphic novel could still ship after the monthlies and still sell just as well or even better if the monthly creates good buzz. However, it would sell worse if people discovered that it was poorly done when reading the monthly.

  8. “Since pamphlets sell only through the DM”

    Untrue… periodical comics are sold in some bookstore chains (Books a Million comes to mind) and places like Hastings (which, I guess, counts as a book store).

  9. We need to nip it in the bud, this calling the DC OGNs “DC Ultimate”. DC isn’t calling them this. Fans and the fan press started calling DC’s All-Star line their Ultimate line, and it wasn’t so.

    And look at the mess that the Marvel Ultimate line has become. Years of confusing continuity, so much so the entire universe has been re-vamped.

  10. It seems to me as though the point of this venture is to provide the casual customer coming out of theatres having just watched THE DARK KNIGHT with a definitive ‘starting point’ for reading the character they’ve just fallen in love with.

    I don’t think such a thing exists at the moment. A Batman fan who knows nothing about comics either has to try to jump into continuity with pamphlets or recent trade paperbacks (a baffling venture at the best of times), pick up older in-continuity books (of which there are none I can think of that I would recommend) or start with out-of-continuity, critically-acclaimed books like THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS which, while great, don’t serve as a ‘starting point’ for getting into reading a comics character regularly (and often don’t really read much like the Batman they’ve seen on the screen).

    The EARTH ONE books do seem designed to serve that purpose though. If you want to get into reading Batman, buy the first volume of BATMAN: EARTH ONE – simple.

  11. I think that, given the lack of unified cover design, packaging and numbering of the various Batman/Superman collections, these will have to be very, very clearly labeled as “starter books” for potential readers to know what they are. Especially if they’re filed in with all the other superhero books at the local Borders or Barnes & Noble.

    Heck, they should just call them “Batman: 1,” “Batman: 2,” “Batman: 3,” if they really want to get the point across.

  12. [“I don’t think such a thing exists at the moment.”


    OK, and the next thing they read is?

  13. I wasn’t reading comics when DC’s OGN line came out around 2000. Specifically, I’m thinking of Morrison’s JLA: Earth 2. This came to mind when I first read the article. This book was also printed as an OGN and not available in single issues. Are there any details on how well this book sold, relative to the market back in 2000? This might be a nice benchmark on what to expect for the new Batman and Superman books.

  14. I’m not a superhero guy, but I think someone could read the Matt Wagner Batman graphic novels after Year One.

  15. You know, I think we forgot the Lemmy factor here or….


    The OGN by Azz and Bermejo sold like GANGBUSTERS last year in both channels. So…it can be done.

  16. Micah:

    ICv2 only appears to go back to 2001 with the sales charts, so no firm numberage. Even if it did, though, the market has changed dramatically since then.


    I’d lean towards JOKER being an aberration because of the film being in the theaters at the same time If it were released this week, the numbers would likely be substantially lower.


  17. As good as Batman: Year One is, why not just hand them a copy of Showcase: Batman? Or Showcase: The Brave and the Bold?

    Or, if you want the current version, Showcase: Batman and the Outsiders.

    If they want a self-contained story, Knightfall or No Man’s Land.

    Does a reader need to start with issue #1? I didn’t when I started collecting Spider-Man… there were 253 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, plus another 200+ issues of Marvel Team-Up and Peter Parker I had not read. But I knew his origin, and picked it up the rest along the way. Hobgoblin? Black Cat? The Answer?

    If written well enough to allow the first time reader (remember Shooter’s Maxim: Every issue is somebody’s first issue), if a GN collection includes a little refresher at the beginning, then it’s accessible.

    DC hasn’t reprinted all of the Superman comics since 1985, but they have no problem selling the current trade collections, even though I would say that at least 75% of the readership has not read 75% of the Superman comics published since 1985.

    Could comics be more accessible? Sure. I’m still a bit confused over that Superboy in Blackest Night, and the one in Adventure Comics, and it took me a while to realize there’s only one Nightwing now. Robin was Nightwing but now he’s Batman, Robin is now Red Robin, and Batman’s illegitimate son is now Robin. And Batgirl? I have no clue who she was, but now, it’s pretty easy to follow even without all that back history. And I’ve been reading comics since 1984!!!

    Give me a nice done-in-one volume (Superman: Red Son) or finite series (Sandman) or anthology of done-in-ones (Superman Adventures) and I can sell it to just about anyone (if it’s good).

    Hmmm… What DC should do is create a trade imprint which has self-contained stories in one volume. Elsewords was this… but add other stories. Some might be DCU #1.5… almost like the regular continuity titles, but not of it. I think Superman/Batman is like this.

  18. I have to disagree with Brian on the impact of the DARK KNIGHT film on THE JOKER gn. Certainly it helped, but according to my POS I received the book very late in Oct (almost Nov). Didn’t DK come out early in the summer? It may have been a factor, but not all that much of one IMHO. I think the holidays may have been more a factor. I pushed that puppy like it was made of gold!

    I sold just slightly less than 60 copies of the JOKER. That’s good number for a store of my size.

    I don’t have any hard numbers on JLA EARTH 2, (since I didn’t have a POS in those days) but I do remember selling a boatload of those also. Numbers that I recall as similar to JOKER.

    I think these EARTH ONE books have a real chance. Of course so much depends on price and format. We’ll see.

    I was just having a discussion earlier today in my store with an employee that I wished that at least the big two would take more chances on format and style (as DC (at least) attempted to do with the newprint weekly book this summer) — this singles to HC to TP is getting old. *YAWN* Note that ICV2 reported another down month for GNs this month. I think they said that this was the 9th month in a row for a GN drop. I think trying something relatively new to the big two (OGNs) is worth a shot.

    But make no mistake, I “loves me the singles” too. I just don’t mind a little variety in approach. Give me something new and different to sell.

    Dewey’s Comic City
    Madison, NJ

  19. I want to see what this Joker book did in book stores. My guess is manga did at least $3.5 mil this year and DC did $600,000.

  20. interesting to put Barrows on the Superman series. I was always interested in his artwork, particularly the Teen Titans stuff, which others seemed to dislike, but I wonder how his art will look in the Superman U? I hope it’s good! :)

  21. You know what really surprises me?

    That DC is coming out with a comic with new content for Free Comic Book Day! How awesome is that?

  22. “My guess is manga did at least $3.5 mil this year and DC did $600,000. ”

    There’s probably very little chance that Manga, as a category, did less than $45m, and DC less than $10m.

    I somewhat doubt that DC will match it’s nearly $20m in BookScan sales from last year — $6m of that was WATCHMEN after all — but, likewise I don’t think that they’ll erase their Random House gains that badly. Without access to ANY numbers, I’ll guess they’ll be much closer to $13m.

    “I want to see what this Joker book did in book stores.”

    JOKER was a (late) 2008 title — chances are that there was a great deal of drop off on its velocity by 2nd quarter of ’09… but that’s a pure guess.


  23. Brian, sorry, I remembered the numbers from last year incorrectly. I think both all manga publishers combined and DC did less by about 35%. That guess is totally uneducated, though.

  24. > OK, and the next thing they read is?


    What? Same creative team. Same kind of story.

    But you do raise an excellent question? Should they read McFarlane’s YEAR TWO? (I wouldn’t recommend it.) And this is the same issue that was brought up by WATCHMEN earlier this year, which DC attempted to answer. Would be interesting to know if there was an uptick in sales of *any* of the books that DC recommended on its website as a good chaser for WATCHMEN.

    I bet “no.”

Exit mobile version