The saga of DC’s 100 page Walmart comics (that are really more like 80 page giants with extra ads) keeps getting stranger. Since last we meditated on this, the secret origin of the Walmart pitch was revealed and one of the distribution rumors turned out not to be a mere rumor.
First, while Heidi was at San Diego, she got to hear Dan and Jim’s recounting of how they had to go pitch Walmart:
- Wal-Mart!!!! – DiDio says it was another part of reaching NEW audiences. Part of building the line was finding stories that are accessible. “We didn’t want impenetrable continuity. “I always go back to Batman Hush – you get a dynamic sense of Batman” but it’s also an intro. “We had to find intro for very particular characters.”
- Lee tells the story of the pitch! “Dan had to hand pitch the Wal-Mart comics directly at their headquarters. They weren’t excited by this idea, so we had to hand sell this. There was pushback, but at the end of the day we convinced them of the format, the cadence of the frequency and the history of look.” The reprint stories are intentional and planned, as well as the new material, to be new reader friendly. “It took some doing but by the end they were convinced. We have to grow the business we have to put comics in front of where people are.” He shouted out The Beat’s piece on how it was only four books. I hate being called out in front of other journos. Oh well.
- DiDio says “I brought my own comics with me. My old 80 page giants and 100 pagers. Flash and told them how these books brought me into the DC universe.”
- If you ever wanted the image of Dan DiDio pitching Walmart with his own beloved old comics, you’re welcome.
So Walmart wasn’t very keen on the idea, eh? Hold on to that thought, because it’s a piece of this bizarre puzzle.
Then a bit later, we find that Graeme MacMillan over at The Hollywood Reporter got Dan to elaborate a little bit on his Walmart plans:
That brings to mind the Walmart books. What’s the longterm plan there? Are you looking to build a graphic novel market for that audience?
DiDio: Not graphic novels, no; periodicals. The goal is to build an alternate style of periodical, which acts as an entry point for new fans, with new material to excite existing fans as well. Our hope is to build that out; right now, it’s four books — if we can expand that up to eight, that’s a big win for us. If we can secure ourselves not just in the 3,000 stores we’re in right now, but with a wider footprint within Walmart, that’s an even bigger win.
Was there ever a discussion about working with other big box retailers in addition to Walmart?
DiDio: We’re working through a third party, so the reality is, it’s really about building the relationship with Walmart first and seeing where that takes us.
Well, now… that does draw the threads together a bit, doesn’t it? And I might need to apologize to the conspiracy theorists. The more that things are discussed, the more the following narrative emerges:
- DC pitches Walmart on 80 page / 100 page giant comics model from the 70s. (Calm down – that’s a newsstand model, so it’s not totally recycled or retro.)
- Walmart balks.
- DC talks their way into store, not directly selling to Walmart, but with a third party vendor. So what I’d been hearing about that collectibles aisle being outsourced appears to be true, at least where DC is concerned.
- The plan appears to be to try and sell enough in that aisle to get Walmart’s attention and get more titles placed and (theoretically) better placement in the store.
- Dan has said, more than once, that the new material (i.e., the upcoming Tom King and Brian Bendis strips) is there for the existing fans. It is entirely possible Dan made a pragmatic move. The placement in that collectibles aisle is so bad, he might not have any other way to create foot traffic to sell those books than to create a collectible and have fans go looking for it. I wouldn’t be getting people thanking me for posting a guide for how to find those comics, if they were easy to locate. Whether it was intentional or not, it sure does look like the DM is driving a lot of these sales, either fans walking into Walmart or speculators acting as a proxy for the DM.
And that choice MAY be generating enough sales to up print runs and potentially get more titles. Presumably this could initially be a dollars per square inch calculation with the third part vendor before it gets to be a Walmart corporate conversation.
This gets us back to the question of how many comics are really being sold. Graeme was saying on the Wait What podcast that he’d heard they were printing up 20 copies per store / 60K per issue. I have personally seen no evidence of that, nor have I consistently heard stories to suggest that displays are being restocked with that kind of velocity. However, the confirmation of a third party vendor does explain why there seems to be prolonged (potentially 2 week) periods between restockings, why different locations may have different restocking frequencies and why these comics aren’t necessarily rolling out on the same day in each location.
And if 60K copies were printed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all 60K are going to end up shelved. Some of them might be sitting in a warehouse somewhere. (And if I were DC and hearing about all these 5-issue sellouts and then no restock for 1-2 weeks, I might be confirming what’s in the warehouse vs. shelves.) Then again, if there are 60K print runs in circulation, these might not be quite as collectible as the initial frenzy would have us believe. It just might be taking a bit of time for these to get into circulation. If 5 copies were being dropped weekly, that WOULD get it to 20 per store. It just doesn’t seem to be happening that quickly everywhere.
When I was running errands over the weekend, I stopped by a couple Walmarts. I was seeing anywhere from one to seven copies of the various issues. It’s a little hard to say how much was restocked from a sellout and what was restock on top of a couple issues that didn’t sell out completely. (I wasn’t seeing total sellouts around here.) I did notice both stores had four copies of Teen Titans, which had previously sold out, which means there are at least 6 copies per store in circulation for that title (theoretically 18K copies accounted for). Could be more, but they didn’t appear to be getting weekly restocks out here, so I’m skeptical 20 copies of any single issue hit the shelves.
Oh, and if you were wondering if a second printing got slipped in, I did check on that. Everything I saw was still a first printing.
It’s also interesting that Dan is adamant that Walmart is intended to be a periodical market, not a book market. That would be consistent with the original stated intent to use Walmart as a feeder system for new readers, but as you may recall, DC only remembered to put the comic shop locator ad in two of the four first issues. For two of those issues, somebody deemed an extra house ad that says to buy the tpbs where you bought your comic (hint: they don’t have tpb’s at Walmart and Dan apparently isn’t looking to sell them there, either) was more important than an ad explaining where to buy what was being advertised. I still think if you get outside the suburban Walmarts, the comic shop locator isn’t going to be revealing a shop within a half hour’s drive as often as people seem to be expecting. The second Walmart I was in is probably around a 50 minute drive to the nearest comic shop if you don’t hit too much traffic. It is what it is.
How is this all going to turn out? It’s way too early to tell. About the only thing we can say with any confidence is they probably had a good-to-excellent sell through rate for the initial stocking or two, even when viewed chain-wide. (Remember, the reports we hear are a self-selected sample and it might not be selling nearly as quickly in more rural areas without speculators buying multiple sets at a time, but I suspect even if that’s the case, the numbers even out in DC’s favor.) They probably need to keep this up for 3-4 months… but we’re still two months away from King and Bendis joining the party.