by Leo McGovern, Crescent City Comics
Growing up, I wasn’t very good at complicated Math. I’ve got the basics, I can balance a checkbook and pay my bills, but I understood high school Geometry and Physics like a good ol’ comic book expository splash page of science–it totally sounded right while it was being explained but don’t ask me to repeat or apply it because I won’t make any sense. The DC 3-D allocation fiasco has left me feeling like I’m in Algebra class, staring at an equation that sounded easy when the teacher explained it but seems impossible to solve now.
If you’re confused, that’s how I feel. I’m going to try and recap what’s led us to this point.
DC announces Villain’s Month, where regular titles are to be replaced by villains and each copy is to have a 3-D cover. Info starts to trickle out at the Retailer Summit, DC Roadshows, etc. that due to the complicated nature of printing the 3-D covers the print-runs on all titles would be set before initial orders were due and (as my understanding from being at DC’s presentation to retailers at C2E2) it was highly suggested retailers get their numbers as high as possible at Initial Order, because FOC obviously wouldn’t be an option. (Brian Hibbs laid out DC’s botched communication with retailers.) What I’m wondering about is the mentality and purpose DC acted with when they set the print runs and how that reflects against what they should’ve expected retailers would order. [Note: I’m operating under the notion that DC is not losing money on the 3-D covers, rather they’ll earn less profit than they would on a normal $3.99 book—both sides have been reported but I think DC wouldn’t put together a massive event unless it looked to be profitable.]
Retailers had every reason to believe that September 2013 would be an outreach month for DC Comics. The New 52 launched in September 2011, September 2012 was #0 month and promoted as a jump-on point. This September they’ve put most of the New 52 on hiatus in favor of up to four issues of their best-selling titles, with 3-D covers. All this can be viewed as being aimed at gaining more readers, which is what I’d expect out of DC come September. Conceptually, it’s sound logic–when you need a sales bump, promote and expand on the stuff selling well and forget what’s not doing as well. As a retailer, I would expect sales to be bigger than normal–moreover, it’s logical to assume DC would expect sales to be bigger than normal.
The Initial Order was tricky–how do you order four Justice League issues when none of them purport to feature the Justice League? Ultimately we decided to treat the 3-D covers as an event rolling out in tiers. We thought Week 1 would be biggest, as customers would want to see the crazy covers and begin to determine how “important” the whole thing was. We thought that by Week 4 everyone would be used to the gimmick and sales would trend more towards regular levels, with the exception of issues more pertinent to Forever Evil, the upcoming DC event, like Secret Society, or big-time name villains like Joker, Bane and Harley Quinn. Until this weekend we had just a single customer want to get “one of each”, so I felt good about our gambit– it seemed folks were interested in the stunt but leaning away from completism. That was our logic in placing our order, and overall our DC order was higher than normal–what they wanted, yes?
Since Initial Orders were due, we’ve learned that allocation on these 3-D covers would be heavy, but retailers didn’t know to what extent. Added to the mix was the revelation that standard, regular-covered versions would be made available. Adding to the confusion was the appearance of all first-week 3-D covers on last week’s (Monday’s) FOC. We didn’t know allocation was so likely, so this was out of the blue. We debated but didn’t change our orders much. On Tuesday the allocation news hit, and the internal debate on what we’ll order on the “regular” covers began. Friday night retailers learned the quantities of 3-D covers we’ll actually receive, and here’s where it gets complicated.
It’s been speculated that there’s (oh, boy) a formula DC used to determine the level of allocation on these 3-D covers, and that it was based on our average orders for the flagship Justice League title and our orders on all other New 52 series, relative to Justice League. If this is close to correct, it means that a) DC decided to release four Justice League issues with all the bells and whistles, b) asked us to order at top tier levels across the board for 52 titles, c) we did, with a reasonable expectation that even with print-runs set ahead of time, surely DC would anticipate a big response and be ready to meet demand, d) only to learn that DC crowbarred Justice League into the title of Dial H so retailers would order it like Justice League but then set the print run at Dial H levels. DC told us to order more like Justice League and we did–and we’re being rewarded with shipments matching our traditional Dial H orders. Our Diamond fulfillment list reflects this logic.
I’m repeating myself, but I can’t believe I’m writing this about the second-biggest comics publisher in America. DC set their print runs at a level that will only fill the 3-D covers at a rate we’d have ordered the series they decided not to print in September due to low sales! The notion that they didn’t believe in their product enough to practice what they preached…well, it’s depressing. It’s the biggest mistake made in the comics industry since Eric Stephenson said Image wouldn’t second-print Saga. I understood Stephenson’s frustration, which stemmed from a great series experiencing quick sell-out after sell-out despite a gross overprint supply Image expected to last for months, not days. He reversed course, but his frustration was just. Retailers were creating a low ceiling on the potential of Saga, which was steadily selling well. Stephenson wanted us to love the book and believe in it as much as the publisher did, and now it runs neck-to-neck with Walking Dead on the sales charts. Saga Vol.1 is our top-selling graphic novel of 2013, for what it’s worth. And Saga #12 our best-selling single issue.
It would’ve been nice if DC believed in their product the way Stephenson believes in his–their September sales could’ve been much higher. They may yet be, though–our orders for the non-3-D covers for Villain’s Month were on FOC and due Monday, August 12th. Now that the 3-D covers will be coveted by speculators due to the rarity that DC has created, the question is how many non-3-D covers to order. Our allocation on first-week 3-D covers was lowest of the four weeks, so for simplicity’s sake I took the difference and rounded up to the nearest double-digit, with the exception of Green Lantern #23.1, which writer Robert Venditti promoted himself and might move a few extra copies. I hope and think it’ll be enough, but we’ll see.
All is not dire! This Wednesday promises to be especially fun, with a new issue of the Walking Dead, the debut of Infinity, the return of Saga and the “actual” Batman #23. What a perfect time for consumer feedback–we’ll have a lot to talk about this week, after I bang my head against my desk a few times.
[In addition to running Crescent City Comics, Leo McGovern is the publisher of Antigravity Magazine, and a character in Josh Neufeld's New Orleans After the Deluge.]