Levitz on the industry

200908241319 Levitz on the industryICv2 sits down for its yearly or so confab with DC Publisher and PresidentPaul Levitz and it took all I could muster not to title this post “a wobble feel”, but I resisted. The interview runs in three parts and Levitz seems relaxed and more wide ranging than in some previous editions; and why not? DC has had a good few years with Batman and WATCHMEN driving GN/backlist sales. A few quotes:

Do you feel like the American graphic novels are up then?
They were massively up.  I don’t have the numbers we pulled in front of me, but I think the American graphic novel business was up, certainly more than the book store business.  On a title-by-title basis, we’re seeing individual titles that are the logical after-effects of Watchmen op anywhere from about 25 to 200%.  Two hundred per cent would be for V for Vendetta, which is an obvious sort of next purchase after Watchmen.

Part Two:

You’re transitioning away from, for lack of a better term, the homespun period of the business. When you had a very small section of graphic novels in the comic shop it was very easy for the proprietor to bet on anything that happened to be in the catalog. It doesn’t matter whether I know anything about the writer, or the artist, you got a good little blurb. When you go to a world in which the large publishers are sending you out a galley version of the graphic novel six months in advance, and are announcing on the back cover the five-step marketing program that they’re doing for it, it’s a lot harder for the little guy who’s launching it from home to do it.


and Part Three:

I think there are a couple of important threshold questions you’re looking at. One which doesn’t get nearly enough exploration in these situations where people are considering transmedia, is that different properties have different levels of intrinsic comfort with collaboration. I’m not sure why that is, but if you look at the properties that have succeeded in transmedia, a very high proportion of them are properties that have had a lot of different creative people executing the property early on.


A couple of other interesting bullet points: DC is taking a wait and see attitude on digital distribution: “But it’s not a game changer, or certainly wouldn’t be a game changer for us.  Will that be different any minute now?  Maybe.” We can see a few people shaking their heads over that one.

And the assertion that in the new BookScan environment, creators who don’t come through will stop getting infinite chances.

Comments

  1. Evan Dorkin says:

    “I think there are a couple of important threshold questions you’re looking at. One which doesn’t get nearly enough exploration in these situations where people are considering transmedia, is that different properties have different levels of intrinsic comfort with collaboration.”

    Thanks for today’s daily requirement of gobbledygook.

  2. Evan Dorkin says:

    Actually, I shouldn’t make fun, because this really does hit home, for me at least. I have been considering transmedia a lot lately…but I have all these important threshold questions…true, I haven’t explored this situation enough…I don’t know, maybe my problem is a low level of intrinsic comfort with collaboration.

    Yeah. That must be it.

    Yeah.

  3. DC still undecided on digital strategy. Wha a surprise.
    Meanwhile news on marvels psp deal has been been all the rage on my google alert. Which company is better prepared to last through the next ten years?

  4. I think DC is waiting for digital distribution to hit the mainstream. That might happen with an Apple Ipad, or a color ereader, or Amazon going open source. Seeing how much criticism they received over the Zuda reader, it’s probably best to wait for the dust to settle.

    When DC does enter that market, it will be momentous, not just because DC is entering the market, but also because the market will be vital and mature enough. Dunno how the comicbook stores will react… we might see a contraction similar to the speculation bubble.

    Working at B&N HQ, I am seeing quite a few small-press graphic novels which make me wonder if they will ever sell. There have also been a lot of great titles published this Summer (Asterios Polyp, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, A.D.) with more to come (Boilerplate, Smile, Copper, Stitches, Toon Treasury…) that I think the medium is robust and mature.

  5. Todd Allen says:

    If he’s talking “transmedia,” there’s a good chance Henry Jenkins is rubbing off on him.

  6. Kate Fitzsimons says:

    OH NO! Jenkins cooties!

    Next thing you know he’ll be talking about copyright and remixing! It’s a disease, I tell you.

  7. Nate Horn says:

    “Transmedia!” I love it! What a great word to use! I wonder what it means, though….

    I honestly don’t understand why anyone would give Levitz’s words any weight. DC’s sales numbers alone should show they don’t have a clue how to sell a book unless it’s 20+ years old and written by Alan Moore. Further, he’s just in the dark when it comes to manga sales. You can’t blame manga sales for bringing everything down and then claim DC is having huge sales without actually proving that sort of thing. Hibbs’s Bookscan numbers have shown 5 years of solid sales for manga, so its hardly a fad at this point.

    Wait – maybe that’s transmedia – transforming the sales numbers to make them fit your version of reality!

  8. Nate Horn says:

    Here’s another of his quotes:

    ” Some of the opportunities that existed because there wasn’t enough interesting graphic novel material are going to fade really fast, in the same way that it did for the manga guys. ”

    Really? Opportunities have faded for the manga guys? I’d love too see a comparison of sales between Naruto and Batman….

  9. “DC is taking a wait and see attitude on digital distribution: “But it’s not a game changer, or certainly wouldn’t be a game changer for us.”

    I have to wonder if digital distribution would even be a factor in today’s market if it weren’t for Diamond making it so hard to get books out to the comic book stores. With Marvel’s awareness of the times and their keeping up with the cutting edge, will DC soon be the only publisher in Previews? Don’t get me wrong. I love DC comics too, but I don’t understand them the way I do other publishers. They’re enigmatic.

  10. mark coale says:

    Isn’t transmedia bad for your health?

  11. “Hibbs’s Bookscan numbers have shown 5 years of solid sales for manga, so its hardly a fad at this point. ”

    Actually, last year showed a great weakening, and I’ve heard that they’ve gotten *dramatically* worse this year. I won’t see the figures for another 4 months or so though…

    “I’d love too see a comparison of sales between Naruto and Batman…. ”

    I’d be pretty confident that if you added up all of the dollars Naruto and Batman both brought in, Batman would be mega-light years ahead of Batman.

    Even just looking within comics alone… well, figure in the “bad” months, and by this I mean not looking at the debut of Morrison’s BATMAN AND ROBIN or something, the bat books, combined, sell roughly 150-200k pieces each and every month just as a periodical — that’s easily north of 2 million periodicals a year; and that’s not even considering TPs and GNs!

    The combined sales on BookScan of everything with the word “Naruto” in the title in 2008 was about 1.07 million pieces.

    So, yeah, I’ll go with the Bat.

    -B

  12. “Batman would be mega-light years ahead of Batman.”

    THat second one, obviously, should be “Naruto”

    -B

  13. Well, DC could still buy Diamond (with them flipping Diamond Books to Random House)… Or wait for Diamond to collapse, then move to digital distribution, thereby signalling the end of the periodical comicbook.

    If Marvel is so cutting edge, why are they anchored to their superhero properties? Aside from Marvel Classics, Marvel Adventures, and Icon (all small imprints), they do not have much diversity. DC is much more diverse: superheroes, licensed properties, manga, literary, creator owned titles…

    The manga quote refers to the fact that there aren’t many big properties left… everything’s been mined, that segment is mature, the fans are more sophisticated.

    “they don’t have a clue how to sell a book unless it’s 20+ years old and written by Alan Moore. ”
    1) Joker by Brian Azzarello $20 hardcover November 2008
    2) Fables by Bill Willingham first collected January 2003
    3) Y The Last Man Brian K. Vaughan first collected January 2003
    4+) Batman RIP, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Final Crisis, All-Star Batman, All-Star Superman…

    Here’s ICV2’s GN numbers for July 2009 (Diamond comics only):
    http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/15634.html
    (DC = 12/25)
    http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/15339.html
    June DC = 12/25

  14. Love it when the DC haters come out.

  15. I dunno. I kinda like that DC management under Paul Levitz is conservative in its approach to digital media. Even though I’m a former web developer, I’d be confused as to which direction to go.

    Kindle’s still not there yet until they can handle color, Apple’s iTablet is vapor-ware, Flash doesn’t work yet on iPods/iPhones… Nothing’s solid yet as a good platform. There’s no one presentation that will transfer across multiple platforms yet. Meanwhile people are still reading books so DC’s ok.

  16. “If Marvel is so cutting edge, why are they anchored to their superhero properties?”

    That’s a whole other discussion which I can not keep up with, with my broken finger limiting my typing and all, but I was speaking of their superior printing, and their up to the minute use of technology and up keep with trends.

  17. …and Ryan, just for the record, there’s a lot of DC stuff I’m just crazy about. J.H. Williams III for starters. I wish they’d do a little better job printing his stuff, but as long as they keep it and many other great titles coming, I’ll always be a DC fan. They just seem a little behind the times is all.

  18. Torsten Adair says:

    DC has always been conservative… go-go checks, avoiding relevancy until the 1970s, late to the manga market…
    However, they have been proactive in getting comics into bookstores and libraries, they have an experienced senior management team (Levitz, Wayne, Berger…), and they keep testing new imprints, exploring new demographics and markets.

  19. Come on. How about a fair fight at least? Comparing Batman and Naruto?! One is a single-creator, single title work that’s only existed for 7 YEARS(!) while one is 70 years old and was essentially created by a Walt Disney want-to-be and has ever since been in multiple titles and multiple transmedias (whatever the hell that word means) and worked on by thousands of creators. That’s comparing apple pie to orange tree saplings.

    I love how Levitz seems to believe “the manga guys” (I guess Clamp and Rumiko Takahashi don’t count here- sorry “gals!”) can’t come up with new properties or repackage old ones. Yes, the manga market was built quickly on being able to rummage through the last few decades and release the “best of” in a 5-10 year span but the fan base is there and waiting for new material. It’s almost surreal that the guy leading a company that is constantly re-booting 70 year old properties ad nauseum is trying to pluck the mote from the eye of “the manga guys.”

  20. Nate Horn says:

    @ Joe Willy:

    Hey Joe, I just grabbed Naruto off the top of my head as a manga character with a self-titled book. I was going to say Goku, but people would throw out the strawmen of the Dragonball Z craze subsiding in the US. But yeah, bad on me. Gundam vs Batman would be a more apt comparison since both have been translated to different media. Because, yeah, you’re right, Naruto isn’t a good comparison….

    So, Brian Hibbs – Gundam v Batman?

  21. Nate Horn says:

    @ Torsten

    The sales charts you link to show DC in the top positions, but the sales numbers themselves are anemic.

    @ Brian Hibbs

    Of course the manga sales will slow this year – the retail channel has taken a major hit. Plus, we’re in the middle of a massive recession and a lot of people have lost their jobs or taken significant pay cuts. As for adding in the floppy sales of Batman comics, that’s not playing fair. The Naruto digests are reprints. If we add in the sales of the manga anthology Naruto first appeared in, then once again Naruto crushes Batman. Sure, those are world wide sales, but it’s a global market. Beyond that, Joe Willy is right – Naruto was a poor example on my end. Gundam is a property on a more level playing field.

  22. Hey… sales charts are comparisons, not actual numbers. That chart shows how graphic novels, shipping from Diamond Comics to comicbook stores, fare when compared against each other, each month.

    A better comparison might be the overall sales rankings on BN.com or Amazon. On BN.com, anything in the Top 100 is a bestselling title. Anything in the Top 1000 overall is selling well.

    Search “graphic novels” on BN.com.
    On the left, under “Browse Graphic Novels” select “bestsellers”.
    http://browse.barnesandnoble.com/browse/nav.asp?env=web&endecaid=&visgrp=fiction&bncatid=1133349&cds2Pid=16864&linkid=1017972

    Currently, Mercy Thompson: Homecoming holds the top spot, charting at #72 overall. Persepolis, Maus, and Dark Tower Vol. 2 are selling well.

  23. Tommy Raiko says:

    “And the assertion that in the new BookScan environment, creators who don’t come through will stop getting infinite chances.”

    I find it interesting that this isn’t generating more comment, because I think it’s a very interesting development. Were I a creator, concerned with my career development, this sort of thinking would almost certainly influence the way I chose my projects, or at least, be of interest as I try to figure out why my projects sold as well (or as poortly) as they did.

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