DC scaling back variants as sales setting records

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DC’s sales experts Bob Wayne and John Cunningham have gone off on their monthly round of website chat, and things didn’t go well at Newsarama, where usually affable Vaneta Rogers somehow raised ire with hypothetical questions such as why wouldn’t they publish an ongoing series based on the Sandman canon of of Death/The Endless, etc etc.

Nrama: So if your boss came to you and asked you, “Can you give me a reason why it would not be a good idea for DC,” what would you say?

Cunningham: I don’t know. What a heck of a question. I guess I’m going to respond to that by saying that framework is weird. I’m not going to tell you what I would I would tell my boss.

Wayne: It’s a lot more expensive use of our time than interviews.


At this point, Moby’s “Extreme Ways” started playing in the background. The uncomfortable exchange prompted Wayne to coin a new phrase:

There’s no giant, creative blanket that we’re throwing over anything.


Our hypothetical question would be, can a giant, creative blanket be added to the Sandman universe, but that’s just us.

At ICv2, the conversation stayed on the rails, and alarm over the number of variants seems to have led to a more sensible policy:

Are you saying that you don’t think it’s appropriate to still do “buy 25, 50, 200-get one” variants?

Wayne:  We do that where we feel it’s appropriate and I’d think there’s a difference between doing one or two of those and doing 52 of those.  It would have been very chaotic if we had set threshold levels all up and down the possibility and made it where North Dakota and South Dakota were the rare chase variants, I think that would have been counter to our operating philosophy on how to use those to highlight attention on books.  

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Bob, we’ve both been around a while and have seen the ebbs and flows in the collectible aspect of the business vs. readership; it’s a careful balance that needs to be struck.  What’s your feeling on the overall comics business right now and the degree to which variants are being used?

Wayne:  Overall we’re running in the zone of Spinal Tap in that we’ve got it up to 11 on that.  We’re going to pull back and drop variants from a handful of titles in the next solicitation cycle to pull back that number ourselves, where it didn’t seem the variant was making a substantial difference in the buy-in for the book or the perception of books.  We’ll be looking at the remaining titles that have variants the following month.
It’s like having a balanced breakfast in the sense that if you only have variants and you don’t have other aspects of how you try to get the attention of retailers and through retailers to consumers, it would be like only eating pizza.  We’re just trying to make sure we keep a balance between the different ways that we can draw attention to books. 


DC has also released a few of the “52 flag” variant covers, and as you can see it’s just your standard-issue Iwo Jima riff with added state-i-ness. So you’re really not going to need all 52 covers to feel complete.

John Jackson Miller’s preliminary analysis of October is up, and reports “It’s the best month overall in the Diamond Exclusive Era (1997-present) by a long stretch. Orders topped $47 million; the previous record (set in May) was beaten by probably $2.5 million. This puts us at $394 million for the year, meaning “Gravy Day” — when we’ll surpass sales for 2011 — will likely come Wednesday. From there on, it’s all new money.”

This comes despite the “standard attrition” at DC and Marvel — indicating that sales are at a higher level and that the rest of the publishers have seen increased sales as well.

Wayne and Cunningham are happy to take credit for the expanded marketplace for all publishers, as Cunningham put it to Newsarama, before it all fell apart.

No, I guess if I have a reaction to it, it’s, I think if everybody can go back in the way-back machine for a year ago, when the October numbers from last year were published, I’m not sure it was Vaneta, but there were other journalists out there, “Will the industry be able to maintain this next year after the big New 52 launch?” And it’s very heartening to us, believe it or not, to see those other publishers stepping up and growing the marketplace.

That is really what this is all about, is to continue to find ways for everybody to grow the total number of readers out there, and that certainly seems like that’s what’s going on in October of 2012.


Yes indeedy, and DC not burning them out with needless variants is a good step at keeping them around.
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Comments

  1. blacaucasian says:

    That Newsarama interview was much much more interesting then they have been over the last year.

  2. I’m just glad they were wise enough to scale back the variants before they did anything crazy.

  3. comicsatemybrain says:

    I glanced over the Nrama interview, and I’m kind of scratching my head as to why Rogers’ questions shouldn’t have been seen as reasonable.

    A number of the characters associated with Vertigo moved there from the DCU (e.g., Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Constantine) and at the time the word was that those characters would for the most part not reappear in the DCU. More recently, we see DC moving those former DCU properties back to the DCU. With this as a backdrop, and in an environment that sees DC deciding to monetize Watchmen by publishing new stories for the first time in roughly 25 years, it would seem that Rogers’ questions in this area were kind of obvious. If Wayne and Cunningham weren’t expecting those sorts of questions, then all they had to do is offer up the usual canned response of “We want to do right by these characters / We wouldn’t do that without a having an exciting pitch from respected creators” etc.

    Am I missing something here that would explain why Wayne and Cunningham reacted the way that they did?

  4. blacaucasian says:

    I think their problem seemed more to come to the speculation involved behind these questions and not necessarily the questions themselves. Cunningham notes in the interview that Newsarama already ran a speculative article (possibly, at least based on his reaction) giving the perception from the headline that it was very possible Sandman would be coming to the DCU. Cunningham seems to be saying in the article that they’ve given no such evidence that Sandman would be anything but a Vertigo book.

    It does seem to me that speculation like this from a major comics news site where it can be argued a lot of people get their comics “news” can be taken as “very possible rumor” or “fact” many times because of the readership of the site rather then the speculation it is. Sometimes speculation is just that. Sometimes a thing IS just a thing. While both men do come off as overly defensive in this interview, which is what makes it very interesting, I take their point to be, people taking either speculation to be fact or to take examples here or there as a broad push of the publishing plan is something as the publisher not only takes as destructive to all their brands but also irresponsible of the people covering them.

    Again, it does seem that they overreact to Vaneta’s line of questioning, but I also think Vaneta’s line of questioning this month could be seen to be taking some facts for granite that aren’t necessarily so (Sandman moving to the DCU; Reasoning for the Vibe and Katana series; state of DC variants; etc.) Regardless, it does make for some interesting reading.

  5. Synsidar says:

    The sharpest conflicts in the Newsarama interview came at the beginning, when Rogers questioned the health of the market, and suggested that DC was dependent on events and relaunches as sales boosters. Cunningham and Wayne might have thought that their competence was being questioned.

    If Rogers was correct, and the “standard monthly, non-event comic book adventure is antiquated”, then DC’s campaign didn’t succeed in changing the market or, specifically, attracting new types of readers.

    SRS

  6. Kevin says:

    So he called them on their BS and they tried hopelessly to spin it. Not sure why pretty obvious questions are “strange”.

  7. Kevin says:

    Sorry, “She called them on their BS”.

  8. That interview was . . . peculiar. Vaneta seemed to ask a good amount of leading questions and presented that odd hypothetical. Weirdest monthly interview I’ve read between the two parties. I feel like we could’ve gotten better information if the questions were phrased differently.

  9. blacaucasian says:

    I don’t think that’s what happened at all if you read the interview objectively.

  10. comicsatemybrain says:

    “Cunningham notes in the interview that Newsarama already ran a speculative article (possibly, at least based on his reaction) giving the perception from the headline that it was very possible Sandman would be coming to the DCU. Cunningham seems to be saying in the article that they’ve given no such evidence that Sandman would be anything but a Vertigo book.”

    That’s all well and good, but there are better ways to handle that than in the interview than the way that they did. If their knowledge of prior articles on Nrama contributed to their response, then they should have had a more congenial response planned and ready to go.

    If you’re going to do an interview for the purpose of PR, then be prepared to answer questions in a congenial way (even if all you’re doing is just dodging the question). But if you aren’t prepared for that, then do a press release instead. Cunningham and Wayne are good at what they do, so I’m surprised that they let what was supposed to be a positive PR interview go weird in the way that this one did.

  11. When the comic pro conversation enters the realm of “…continue to find ways for everybody to grow the total number of readers out there…”, I interpret ‘total number’ to mean adding NEW readers.

    Then I wonder what is being done to attract NEW readers. Okay FCBD.
    Get a FREE sampler comic.

    But what else? Cross promotion, free trades to libraries, comics handed out at movie theatres, online giveaways? Anything? Please elaborate.

  12. Yeaaaaaaaaaah, not a big fan of Newsarama, but this interview one of the best that they have had.

    Both these guys came off as dickheads.

  13. “Like having a balanced breakfast” — what an apt comparison.

    “Part of a balanced breakfast” was a phrase used for years in commercials for sugary cereal, a product that is objectively bad for its consumers and actually makes a balanced breakfast LESS balanced.

    Last I checked, even cereal marketers had abandoned that line of nonsense and replaced it with the meaningless phrase “Part of a good breakfast.”

    Variant covers: part of this balanced breakfast, in the same way that Frosted Flakes are good for you.

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