If you were to read some sites that tread more into rumor and hyperbole, you’d be led to believe that the sky is falling for DC Comics. It has been reported that the entertainment company is over $2 million down for their 2015 financial year budget. Reportedly the move from New York to Burbank is to blame, as well as a “lack of bump” for their June relaunch. There’s much to dissect and discuss, and others have hopped on to the full of questions reporting to write their early obituaries for the comic company.
But, looking through the gaps of what’s written, there’s not just success for the company, but a promising future. You just need to see more than cobbled together sales numbers for a sliver of the market.
First, as said above, their shortfall is a combination of things. If it is indeed $2 million, and the move was a part of it, the percent the move contributed is a key factor. If the move was over budget by $2 million, as an example, then the shortfall is not a big deal, and revenue for comic sales is indeed on target. Context and information is key here to make a proper assessment of the situation. Also keep in mind, a shortfall is not a loss. The company could have projected a $5 million profit, but are really only going to have $3 million. Running a profit is still good, it’s just not what they hoped. And in the business world, when you don’t make your projected profit, but still make a profit, the company still gets hit. That’s just business.
But, there’s more than physical sales today in the comic world. Digital sales are not reported for instance, and as I’m going to show below, the segments where DC Comics have gained purchase digitally. So, we wouldn’t necessarily see a bump in physical sales.
While I don’t have historical trends, DC Comics dominated comiXology’s sales last week for instance, taking 6 of the top ten slots. They also took 12 of the top 24 spots. Those are sales not reflected in the statistics the prognosticators and online chatterrotty go off of. In other words, sales are much better than people are giving credit. While the company had only one comic in the top 10 comics in July with Batman #42, and four in the top ten graphic novels in the same month, add in digital sales, and the rankings would likely be vastly different. In other words, one data set does not make a narrative, it makes a narrow world view, which then turns into gossip, hastily written obituaries, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy due to negative perception.
And the perception for DC hasn’t been good. When the company announced its new #DCYou initiate, instead of celebrating the diverse line-up of characters, series, and creators, instead we got commentary from the peanut gallery about spacing and font choice of their ads. As well as erroneous information as to how diverse the change really was. According to Topsy the #DCYou hashtag has just a 52 positive sentiment (out of a score of 100), while #DCComics is 82. Marvel on the other hand has a 70 sentiment for #SecretWars and 85 for their brand #Marvel. People in general are talking more positively about Marvel. It’s cool to shit on DC right now.
DC Comics has an African-American headlining character in a solo series, written by an African-American writer, Cyborg and David F. Walker. DC Comics has a gay man and bisexual woman headlining series in Midnighter and Harley Quinn (and she’s in multiple series too). There were numerous female and LGBT creators brought on board, not just white men. We have a diverse cast in We Are Robin, as well as numerous series geared towards women and teens including Prez, Batgirl and Gotham Academy. In other words it was a launch aimed at particular demographics.
When it comes to digital distribution, women are much more of a fan than men. Using Facebook’s demographics, 60% of those in the United States who like digital distribution are women. African-Americans also make up 13% of those who like digital distribution, that number is in line with African-Americans who also like digital comic services as well. In 2013, comiXology stated that their fastest growing user base was young women. Who DC is targeting with these new series aren’t buying comics in traditional physical stores, they’re likely buying digitally. More on why this is important later.
DC Comics is making gains with both the female and African-American demographic.
DC Comics is currently on an upswing of interest. Since their relaunch of the New 52 in September of 2011 (the above starts in August 2011 when news began to break), according to Google trends, the interest in DC Comics has increased over time. There’s been ups and downs, but more people are interested. Some of this is the upcoming films, some of it is the televisions hows, some of this is their new recent new direction, but what this shows is, more people are paying attention. There’s an audience there to tap.
But, more importantly, it looks like the #DCYou initiative is actually working. The demographic segments that some of the titles were focused on are increasing.
Leading up to San Diego Comic-Con, I did the second yearly report for Marvel, DC Comics, and Indie/Small Press comics to see what the specific demographics were of those who like them on Facebook. In the month since, we actually see some changes, and especially positive ones for DC.
Like in July, today DC Comics’ “likes” still stands at 12 million individuals in the United States, no change there. The composition of that 12 million has though. 3.4 million of those are women, an increase of 100,000. 1.3 million of those are African-American, an increase of 100,000. Hispanics now stand at 2.8 million, that’s an increase of 400,000. All of those demographic sets have increased in the month and a half since last measured. There’s also other interesting data.
Those age 17 and under currently are 930,000 individuals, that’s a decrease of 270,000. But, out of that 930,000, women 17 and under are now 490,000. That’s right, women 17 and under are a MAJORITY of that age range segment.
The numbers are moving in interesting ways, and since these numbers tend to predict things months ahead of times, I’d expect some gains for DC down the road.
But, how did Marvel compare during this time period?
During that same time period, Marvel’s “likes” decrease from 22 million to 18 million. The number of women who like their brand decreased to 3.5 million, a loss of 900,000. African-Americans now stand at 2.1 million, a decrease of 400,000. Hispanics now make up 3.9 million of the likes, down 200,000. Those 17 and under account for 990,000 individuals. That’s a decrease of 410,000. Men are the majority of them with 580,000.
Marvel is slipping in the demographics they made an effort to make gains in, and recent flaps like the Hip-Hop cover variant blow up, or issues with Hercules being made straight instead of his previous bisexual self aren’t helping with perceptions.
While DC is in an upward trend in many ways, Marvel is has taken a dip in what are likely the fastest growing segments. Could Marvel’s issues also stem from the fact that 65% of their All-New, All-Different series headlined by an individual are male? Could it be that 65% of those same characters are white? Out of the 39 writers announced for the 53 series (not including limited), 85% are male and 97% are white. Out of the 56 artists announced, 93% are male and 68% are white. Their All-New, All-Different is very much been there, done that.
While we don’t know why Marvel has slipped during the same time period, there’s a chance this is a reason, adding in the only thing going on are movies that haven’t performed as well as they should have, an event that while praised has dominated the time period, and no major announcements.
If I were projecting and betting, I’d be putting money right now on DC based on the above, and that’s without having weekly puff piece interviews on a major site to help boost them.
This weekend DC Comics’ co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio spoke to the Daily News about #DCYou and refute rumors of austerity. Some interesting things stood out to me. Unlike their competitor, the company is looking to inspire televisions series and movies, not be a reflection of them. They want to be research development that can be used elsewhere. DiDio explicitly states that their goal is to “constantly introduce new ideas and new concepts.” And we’re seeing that with #DCYou. And with experimentation, there’s going to be success and failure, and plans change, that’s the nature of risk, and this initial risk was a scattershot to see what might work. The next step is to focus on what did.
If you’re trying to build a fan base, a new audience, you’ve got to nurture it. You’ve got to take your time. You’ve got to take your losses. Sooner or later, it’s going to take hold and hopefully be a leader in the business. Right now, our goal is to try and feed out as much product that’s as different as possible to try and attract the widest audience possible.
The above stats show, there’s something that has worked, and DC is succeeding in building that new fan base and audience. Here’s hoping the comics community is supporting that, because out of the big two, when it comes to diversity of characters, voices, creators, and product, DC is putting its money where its mouth is.