Must Read #2: Brian Hibbs on what Flashboot means to retailers

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newdc Must Read #2: Brian Hibbs on what Flashboot means to retailers
Brian Hibbs expands on his last, somewhat alarming column, with a look at more of the realities he sees in light of the DC #1 relaunch.

That’s the State of the Market in 2011 — we simply are producing too much material for the market to absorb, and the dramatically low quantities that far too many books sell make it difficult to be more than really marginally profitable. It isn’t that people don’t want comics, it isn’t that the business model of Direct Sales isn’t generally smart, it isn’t “the future is digital” or some other nonsense, it is that you really can’t make money selling hundreds of SKUs in single digit quantities at low prices — the cost of inventory and overhead eats up all of your profit.

The distributor (whom I know so many people want to cast as the Devil Incarnate, but Diamond’s really not that bad) has effectively no ability to say no to DC and Marvel (and a much lesser extent to Image and Dark Horse) because Diamond is no longer their customer any longer! That is what allows Marvel and DC do the kind of outrageous line extensions and to make too high of a percentage of what they produce to be largely unprofitable for both retailer and distributor!

Comments

  1. Nope, not my thesis at all, Heidi.

    My thesis is that the “Flashboot” COULD be that change agent, but that the natural tendencies of ordering non-returnable product under the “old rules” means it will be very unlikely that the market will actually react that way.

    Those are structural issues, and this is the first time in a generation that we have one shining chance to potentially change that.

    My thesis is that if something isn’t done drastically differently in stocking the marketplace, THEN this will become more of the same — not that it is inherently so.

    I guess I suck as a writer for that not being thoroughly clear.

    -B

  2. I remain amazed that DC/Marvel just don’t seem to get it. Why is DC producing 52 monthly comics? Who is going to spend upwards of $2500 a year to read just the DC universe?

    The big problem is that neither DC nor Marvel are willing to deal with the lag between change and higher sales. Putting out 20 titles means lower overall sales and panic. The fact that 20 titles would mean new customers might eventually come back to comics (or to them for the first time) is never considered.

    The economics of this reboot don’t make sense…52 comics means unsold issues and lots of creative teams working on low selling titles.

    In other words, if you ranked the sales 1-52, why on earth would you want the 52nd ranked title out there?

  3. Heh, if you’re going to edit out your misthinking about my thesis, edit the comment where I tell you that it is wrong, so I don’t look like some homeless guy on the streets talking to myself!

    Alex: how does “We are publishing 52 comics” get you to “all readers must then be buying 52 comics?”

    -B

  4. Surely not each reader wil be expected to buy all of DC’s or Marvel’s output.

    Tue idea is probably more that everyone will find something tuet like.

  5. Stephen says:

    I would be much more likely to sample more of these new DC titles if DC rolled them out across a 3 to 4 month period. I would sample a few new #1’s in September, and if I didn’t like them, then I might be more inclined to sample a few more new #1’s in October, and so on.

    But there’s no way I’m going to drop over $150 in one month on all of the #1 issues.

    And by the way, whoever is handling the marketing and advertising at DC needs to be fired. As reported in Bleeding Cool this morning, DC is planning a national advertising campaign to promote its new line of comics. Why are they doing this instead of something more targeted, like having people hand out a free comic book to each person as they are standing in line to see the Green Lantern movie next weekend?

    You’ve got a “captive” audience right there who YOU KNOW has already expressed some basic interest in a DC property! Team up with local comic book stores to insert a flyer in each comic telling them where they can go to read more about Green Lantern and other DC heroes!

  6. Alex: I assume the idea is that with 52 books some of them will be hits, or that there will be a wider range of material to capitalise on in other media. They certainly can’t be expecting people to buy all 52. Anyone who’s earning enough to afford that probably doesn’t have enough spare time to read them.

  7. The Beat says:

    I think it’s more a testament to my poor skill as a reader!

  8. Micah says:

    Put a bookstore inside the theater for crying out loud. The store sells trades of the movies they are based on. There’s a kiosk that links to a comic book store locator. The ticket stub has a discount coupon redeemable at the comic store.

  9. Jason A. Quest says:

    You don’t NEED to read all 52 DCU titles, but DC and Marvel have made it increasingly difficult to buy them selectively, with their emphasis on continuity and crossovers between them. It’s damn near impossible to buy just one and enjoy it on its own.

    A friend of mine (one who can afford it) was recently talking about a project he was going to begin called “Cross-Off” (or something like that), in which he would start by buying every single ongoing series that DC and Marvel puts out, but whenever an issue of one of them ended with “continued in [some other series]” or opened with “continued from [some other series]” he would cross that series off his list and stop buying it. It would be very interesting to see how long it took before he’d crossed off every title in the DC and Marvel Universes. I’d guess less than a year.

  10. “And by the way, whoever is handling the marketing and advertising at DC needs to be fired. As reported in Bleeding Cool this morning, DC is planning a national advertising campaign to promote its new line of comics. Why are they doing this instead of something more targeted, like having people hand out a free comic book to each person as they are standing in line to see the Green Lantern movie next weekend?”

    Outside of DC’s current editorial ‘brain trust’ (which has always been dubious at best), this has been DC Comics’ main problem much longer than DiDio’s tenure. TV is fracturing too much for good national exposure, but yeah, a blanket network TV buy is suddenly some progressive and smart idea. DC’s marketing department continues to operate at least 40 years behind the times.

  11. Hibbs writes:

    “The Direct Market simply doesn’t have the capital on hand to order this relaunch in the manner it would need to, to let it succeed.”

    Which is why I’m not expecting any huge effect on DC’s overall sales, to be honest. From looking at the books, I’m not even sure DC really believes that reaching “new readers” is still something that the direct market is equipped to do at all anymore.

    So no doubt there’s going to be an uptick in overall DC sales for September, October, November — but by 2012, if they’ve managed not to LOSE too many of their direct-market sales in the process, I would rate the relaunch as a success, as far as the direct market is concerned.

    Because the real news here is “day & date.”

    Sure, the pricing strategy is still nonsensical and prohibitive. But give Jim Lee some credit. He’s a smart guy, he seems focused on DC’s digital efforts, and I’m sure he knows what he has to do to sell some product online.

    The thing is, no single publisher can afford to piss of brick & mortar retailers at this time. But now that DC has broken the “day & date” barrier, the other publishers — mainly: Marvel — will follow sooner rather than later. And once “day & date” is the norm — and I’m pretty sure it will be so before 2011 is done –, SOMEONE will, sooner rather than later, start to drop the prices, and then all bets are off again.

    It’s a process that the industry has to go through very slowly and in small steps so no one takes a bullet. But it’s started, and the next steps — across-the-board “day & date” and lower prices — are inevitable.

    So that’s the point everybody in the market — retailers, publishers, creators — should be preparing for. There’s a countdown now on the way things have been run for the last 40 years.

  12. I’m a brand new retailer and I opened my shop in April. My funds are depleted and and I’m barely making ends meet. So imagine my dismay when I heard that DC was giving their readers ’52 jumping off points’ for their longtime readers. How am I supposed to sell any of my DC books before they reboot? Nobody wants to touch them because none of it will matter once the reboot happens. 52 number one issues? Maybe I’ll carry half that line, but even then nobody wants to gamble on any of these new titles. I just don’t think this was a great idea and could potentially do more harm than good for DC.

  13. Scott says:

    Although I think an entire line reboot is a good idea and has great potential, doing 52 #1 issues in one month is unreasonable for retailers and readers. Neither can afford the sampling that DC wants readers to do. I am on board for splitting it up over 2-3 months.

    I think Brian is right, retailers just can’t afford to support this. Returnability is great, but returns 2 months later don’t help making the Diamond bill due next week. DC should also consider delayed billing until after the returns are due, to encourage bigger orders.

    I think the big losers will be titles like My Greatest Adventure, Grifter, Stormwatch, Mr. Terrific, and Deathstroke which will likely be low on the “must try” lists. At this point, I doubt I will order any additional copies of these titles outside of subscribers.

  14. Snikt Snakt says:

    Dave, why did you open a comic book store NOW of all times, when comic sales are tanking across the board and shops are closing all over the place?

  15. I’m sure DC will see some sales boost in September if only because of people trying out the bigger new launches. I think almost nobody will buy all 52 and I don’t fancy the chances of the lower-profile new books. But on the whole they’ll go up.

    If they don’t, of course, then we’ll have the debate about whether it’s because sales are migrating to digital – which is ultimately unknowable. The key indicator may be how long DC stick with the books that crash on the Diamond chart.

  16. “I’m sure DC will see some sales boost in September if only because of people trying out the bigger new launches. I think almost nobody will buy all 52 and I don’t fancy the chances of the lower-profile new books. But on the whole they’ll go up.”

    I expect they will, for the first few months.

    But ultimately, I agree with Brian: The market doesn’t seem to have the resources to permanently blow up sales on an entire line, certainly not on 52 titles. Which is why I’m wondering if the direct market is DC’s primary target here at all.

    They didn’t have to relaunch their entire line to get the effects they’re going to get in the direct market.

  17. TonyJazz says:

    Regarding the ‘cross-off’ idea, until the reboot, at least Jonah Hex was immune (yes, I know there are others).

    But now, it’s not!

    I do the same thing. I was a Green Lantern fan, but the crossover stories (and lack of any progress in the main title) have made the series a great dissappointment for the last couple of years.

    I know continued stories are a separate issue, but they are part of the problem of distributing such books (even for free) at movies. Who wants a tenth of a story?

  18. thefreakytiki says:

    @Dave

    If you talk up how COOL this new vision is (and your a good salesman) you will have nothing to worry about. If you are middle of the road or pessimistic, your customers will feel that and walk away. It’s on you my friend.

    the Tiki

  19. thefreakytiki says:

    you are*

    (damn you auto correct) :)

  20. Snikt Snakt
    06/10/2011 at 4:07 pm

    Dave, why did you open a comic book store NOW of all times, when comic sales are tanking across the board and shops are closing all over the place?

    I couldn’t sing or dance so I opened a comic store. Just not that bright I guess. :)

  21. Dropped Green Lantern like a brick… maybe in January? Too many crossovers, holding pattern of a plot (if that) and it felt like if there was a plot moving forward, it was in a book I wasn’t buying.

    Anyone think this relaunch will be crossover-free?

  22. saipaman says:

    The issue with digital sales that no one seems to talk about is that there is no reason to buy any given issue when it comes out. Let’s say you are a digital buyer, you don’t need to buy any of the 52 #1 issues until you see which ones succeed and which ones fail. At that point, you can swoop in and buy up the whole run because digital comics should never, ever go out of print.

    Anyone that would pay $2.99 for a digital comic now, rather than $1.99 for a digital comic later either has money to waste or needs to seek professional help.

  23. Dan Smith says:

    I think the real question is, who is this new audience that DC are trying to get with this nonsense? What is the mythical golden demographic they are shooting for yet just keep on missing? How will this grow the audience in any measurable way? When all the issue #4 rolls around how many will be at the same circulation level they are at now or worse? I’m all for trying something new, but this isn’t new. Honestly the most interesting thing I’ve found about some of these books is the coloring and that isn’t enough to get me to spend money.

  24. Christopher Chance says:

    Dear Brian,

    Heya Long time no see! I used to read your stuff in Comics Retailer. God I miss those columns they were great. I am so glad to found you here through a link on Facebook.

    I used to manage a Game store in San Diego that sold comics called Game Towne. And I used to send in my retail comments card religiously I still have a bunch of old isues where they were actually printed lol!

    Glad to see you here, hope you post regularly am saving this site to my favorites and look forward to reading you again.

    Have a great week and God bless!

  25. Matt in Phoenix says:

    I used to own a store from 2003-2007 and Brian is pretty much right on the money with the structural issues that exist.

    I remember the Death of Captain America (my store was opened then). Lots of fanfare the week it hit, but I was caught short on copies, not knowing it was his death (just that it was a BIG issue) and I couldn’t get in more copies till one week at the best case, two more than likely. Tough to tell that to a new customer who comes in to the store. I couldn’t figure out why Marvel did just double or triple print and ship extra copies on consignment to every one, and in one month time, have Diamond bill us for copies we didnt send back? (They did a similar process for winter/xmas GNs and TPBs).

    I’m wonder now:
    1) Why doesn’t DC tell retailers: We’ll send you three copies for everyone one you order, ship back covers by X date six weeks later and you’ll get full credit. If DC really is planning massive national promotion, that promotion is gonna be for naught if new customers come in to buy product that is not there (and new customers will not wait. Time is of essence).

    2) With day and date digital – how long till DC (or Marvel or ???) decides to do a flat subscription price for downloading comics? Pay $50 a month and read every title published? This is off-topic a bit from this current topic, but makes me wonder if DC’s ultimate plan is to boost readership digitally and cast the DM to the wind.

    I do not envy those currently in the trenches with a store.

    Matt

  26. Here is my take, as a consumer:

    I currently buy about 10 DC titles a month. I may take a risk and bump that 20% to 12 this month. If I like those twelve, I will stick with them. If there is a hit that I didn’t pick up at the beginning, I will expect a trade and add it to my pull list. As far as I can see, DC wins. And the $2.99 price point is a huge factor for me. Thanks for that!

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