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DC Comics’ #DCYou Shows Strength. Looking Beyond Physical Sales.

comixology_top_24If 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.

comixology_top_tenBut, 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_interest_since_new_52_launch

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.

DiDio states:

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.

Almost American

36 comments

  • Well thought out, well researched and we’ll written piece! It’s nice to see pieces like this instead of knee jerk reaction pieces that don’t paint the full picture. I think DC are doing some really interesting and different things right now, they’ve encouraged me to try new series that wouldn’t normally appeal and in the process have made me realise that my tastes are much broader than I thought. I’ve also found it much easier to recommend comics from DCYou to people that don’t normally read comics because there’s such varied choice.

  • I wonder how much of this reflects with a recent Bleeding Cool news bit. They talked about how some behind the scenes wanted DC to stop “Batgirling” their books. In other words, trying all the new things that DCYou is attempting: diverse titles, thinking outside the box, not being as tied down to a shared continuity, etc.

    I must be honest, I stopped buying DC Comics some years ago. The last bastion of my collection was Swamp Thing and Animal Man, which I stopped after the Rotworld crossover. My girlfriend lent me the first volume of the Batgirl relaunch and I rather enjoyed it. But I still don’t like how DC’s main universe title still feel more like 90s Image titles than anything I grew up on.

  • Excellent piece! Super informative. It will forever drive me crazy that they don’t take digital sales into account. Why the hell not? I buy a lot of digital. Comic book shops haven’t always been the most welcoming to ladies, not to mention it’s just super convenient. Attitudes have changed and I frequent shops much more now, but even so… I really hope they fix this. Why even sell digitally and not monitor sales?

    • Thank you. I think there’s a lot of folks out there like you, and what you’ve said is a very common experience. I’ve heard it from quite a few folks. As far as digital sales? No idea, it’d be fairly easy to do.

      • Would it really be all that easy to do? With the physical sales we have actual rankings where we know how much each book sold in comparison to one another. This information is used by people who have calculated these numbers for years to determine the sales of each book.

        With digital sales we have very little info to go by. If we look at the Comixology charts all we can really see is that the top book did better than number 2 which did better than number 3 etc. We have no idea how much each book sold other than it did better than the ones lower on the chart. Right now there are 987 books listed in the top chart, so if the bottom book only sold 1 copy the top book could sell as low as 987 copies. In fact since it would probably be safe to assume that books that sell the same number of copies would be listed alphabetically so some if two or more books sold the same the top book might not even sell 987 copies.

        It would be interesting to take digital sales into account but aside from the fact that it can show us something about whether or not the interests of digital readers differ from those of physical books it i s hard to really get any numbers out of it. Also do we even know if the chart is based on daily sales or weekly sales?

        Unfortunately as it is much of it will be based on purely guesswork which is why digital is generally not taken into account, but based on what we’ve heard from some publishers it seems that we are still only in the low two-digit percentages compared to physical.

        All that being said I do agree that digital is worth considering and it was an interesting article.

        • You’d need cooperation, but as far as sales figures, digital is much more accurate. Here’s the issues with physical sales:
          1) Diamond is what you see reported. Diamond doesn’t cover book stores or Amazon for instance, so many books and comics are underreported
          2) What the physical sales show are how much is sold to stores, not what stores sell. A store can order 100 copies of a book (look great), but it might only sell 1 (not so great). So the Diamond stats are very bloated and off for reality, it doesn’t indicate sell through

          Digital is a straight up sale, there’s no “store” ordering, just what’s sold on platforms. You’d just need the cooperation of digital platforms and it’s very easy to compile that data. As is now, difficult, as the data isn’t public/available.

          • But as you say yourself the data isn’t publicly available and while you “just” need cooperation of the digital platforms to get those, that a very big “just” as that is very unlikely to happen. As for physical sales you are right that it is not sellthrough but only very stupid storeowners would continue to order 100 copies if they only sold 2. So once a book has a few issues under its belt the numbers will show something fairly close to the actual sales. They will always be a bit higher than the actual sales in the stores as they aren’t very likely to all sell out.

            However, to the publisher this won’t really matter as they get their sale no matter if the retailer is able to sell the book or not. At least unless the publisher has offered returnability on the book.

            But yes, if we could get the digital numbers they would be more accurate (for the digital segment of course) but we can’t get those numbers. That was my point.

            • But that sell through should matter to publishers, they need that to better project how a series is doing. Not having that creates bubbles and makes it difficult to really figure out the health of a series. Archie #1 sold how many? How many are still sitting on shelves. I counted 100+ between the two stores I visited. Bubbles are bad for the long run.

              And for digital there is a few gatekeepers, but there also hasn’t been a real movement to do a digital sales chart.

              • You are absolutely correct that it should matter to them. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case as they keep offering stuff like variant cover incentives where the main objective seems to be to get retailers to increase their orders well above their usual order levels with little interest in the sellthrough.

                What’s important is that they get the retailers to buy a lot more product. Whether or not they can sell those books or offset their extra spending by selling the variants at a higher price does not seem to be a worry for the publishers as they get their Money and that’s a huge problem.

                As for the digital sales I’d say there are plenty of people interested in looking into them but without the help of publishers it is an almost impossible task. Some sites still do their best even of this can only be done on a yearly basis when they can look at the company’s overall results.

                Back when Comixology still had in-app sales on iDevices it was actually easier to get an idea of the volume despite Apple NOT supplying numbers, but simply because they had indicated how much the top 100 apps did on average daily and Comixology was among the top 50 most of the time.

  • I am a lifelong collector of DC. I support trying something new. I hope the rumors of austerity are exaggerated, but it is clear DC has lost market share over the last year. In fairness, if we take away Star Wars from Marvel, their superhero line is closer to the lower market DC sales.

    It is hard for me not to feel hurt by DC’s complete abandonment of the pre-flashpoint universe. I loved it and supported it from its inception in 1986- 2011. Now Didio states they are seeking a “new audience”. DC does not have a single title that caters to the old universe fans despite having tens of thousands of old school established fans. Why not? With 52 plus titles, why not have a couple to older fans like me? I understand the need to grow and find new audiences but there is no reason why the old need be so callously discarded and blatantly disregarded. Convergence was insulting poorly written money grab that resulted in retailers returning a large number of overstock due to DC returnable policy which was increased for the event. (This also contributed to the 2 million shortfall).

    And the two million was a loss. Warner leaked it for a reason. Clearly certain players at Warner want changes at DC. The writing is on the wall. Attracting new blood is a noble objective, but when the strategy consistently pushes your most loyal current fans to the wayside, eventually the sales will reflect that.

    Also the Facebook numbers referenced above are not particularly useful . In fact if they showed one thing above all else it was that Narvel is more popular. Furthermore, any comic book observer who is actually paying attention knows that it has been Marvel and decidedly not DC that has been leading the way in terms of popular female characters. DC is always playing catch up on trends. It is not setting them.

    Ms Marvel, Thor, captain Marvel, Silk, Alias, Black Widow are all prime female leaders in Superhero comics. Other than Harley Quinn, what female character has received much attention? Batgirl and Black Canary have unique artistic styles and are great new incarnations. Starfire is cool too. But why can’t some of the old pre- flashpoint incarnations stay around too? Why can’t DC attract the new AND keep the Old?

    I am pleased to hear that DC will be creating a series with the old Married Superman which will also have a son with him and Lois. Maybe that will address some of my sense of loss. As it stands, Marvel has managed to satisfy both their old fans AND new. Marvel satisfies continuity buffs AND attracts new readers with their female characters. DC continues to lose readership under their nonsensical insistence that flipping the bird to existing fans will somehow attract replacements in the long run. Maybe it will work . But at some point DC needs to focus on the present and please current fans; the ones that they actually have…. As opposed to the ones they imagine are still out there. Frankly I think they are chasing rainbows and they want to get patted on the back for it. I hope for their sake that they find that pot of gold. In the meantime, I don’t like standing alone in the rain.

    • Do you have any citations proving Warners telling you that was a purposely leaked loss? I’ve seen nothing to corroborate this personally but I may have missed something.

      I can’t say whether I’ve been a fan of DC as long as you, I have a collection however that spans from mid 60’s up to last week and yes there are many aspects of the pre-flashpoint universe I miss, there’s a lot of very interesting books being put out by DC right now. I’m glad they’re taking the risks because the reward is that everyone wins. More people buying comics means more are made, it’s that simple. There’s still plenty to enjoy as an old school fan, up until the recent change in status quo Batman fit that role, Green Lantern continued with a mostly untouched continuity, Gail Simone’s Batgirl run could have easily been a pre-flashpoint series in tone and style. Justice League has been a fantastic run throughout.

      Those fans they imagine are still out there, a lot of them are reading already. Their strategy is working, they are pulling in new readers, that’s a fact. The average client in my local shop has changed drastically recently, and they’re shifting an awful lot of books that don’t conform to the old ways and you know what? Some of them are damn good books. Try them, go into them with an open mind, you might be pleasantly surprised, I know I was.

  • So, if the percentages of white males writing and drawing Marvel comics has such an impact on sales, then why didn’t your article compare the percentages of white males writing and drawing DC comics?

    • Also, why didn’t you compare the percentages on DC’s character’s gender and ethnicity? You spent the time to break it down for Marvel, please do the same for DC, I’d like to see how those numbers turn out.

      • Good question. Here’s the stats for comparison, but keep in mind DC had legacy series too. Marvel is starting from a blank slate. I also haven’t gotten this double checked for accuracy for DC (Marvel has been).

        Solo Series:
        Marvel – 65% male, 65% white
        DC – 72% male, 69% white (2 solo series with a gay male, 1 solo series with a bisexual female, and another with a female LGBT lead)

        Writers:
        Marvel – 85% male, 97% white
        DC – 83% male, 88% white (currently only black writer in David Walker)

        Artists:
        Marvel – 93% are male, 68% are white
        DC – 88% male, 75% white

        DC is a bit more diverse I’d say, but just barely. And with Marvel’s announcement today, the writers got more male and white (not included in these stats), and artists are a bit mixed with a white female and African American male (also not included).

        • It should also be mentioned that DC has two of the leading Asian-American writers in comics today.. Pak and Yang plus one of their co-publishers is a Korean-American as well.. where the leads at Marvel are.. straight white men.

  • I really wish they give back Supermans traditional powers and suit its coming in off New 52 feats like Super Brainy Doom or Unchained and incredible stuff he was doing in the span of new 52 in general to this is just a huge degrade to see him in riots when he should be the becon of reason to both sides

  • Forever Evil was the end for me. That’s when I decided to stop buying DC Comics and just read all my old ones. In that time, I’ve managed to read the complete run of New Teen Titans, most of the Perez Wonder Woman, and I’m now getting in to Waid’s run on the Flash. I’m a lot happier and I’m saving a bunch of money. I don’t miss it like I thought I would.

  • It’s sad to see how some commenters here are missing completely the point of this article .

  • For those who also want more evidence that the Diamond sales numbers aren’t the be all end all, Amazon tells a very different story as well. Their various Best Sellers section is an impressive mix, http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Comics-Graphic-Novels/zgbs/books/4366/ref=zg_bs_unv_b_2_3325104011_1

    And again, DC does quite well there.

  • A few thoughts:

    First, I’m not one to say that “the sky is falling” over the rumors that were reported. However, I do believe what specifically the rumors state – that the failure to meet financial goals may/will result in less experimentation, and possibly some page rate changes. I do not side with the people who think it means the new52 was a failure or DC is about to go bankrupt unless they bring back White Wally West or whatever other nonsense people are saying.

    Now, to a couple of your points:
    “If it is indeed $2 million, and the move was a part of it, the percent the move contributed is a key factor. ”

    Not necessarily to DC. The company is down 2 million. They need to make it up. Increasing sales and cutting costs may be the only way they see to do it. You can make the argument that losing 2 million doesn’t mean that the comics themselves are bad, sure. But it doesn’t change the fact that they still may have to go back to “tried and true” formulas to make more money to make up the 2 million, regardless of where the shortfall came from.

    You also bring up information on digital sales. But whomever it was at DC who determined that they were 2 million short would have had that information. So that 2 million would include digital sales.

    You also bring up what Marvel is doing. Whoever decided that sales needed to be at a certain level knew what Marvel was going to be doing, so this is no different than any other month where they have projected sales numbers.

    So I get that you are trying to say that DC has a lot going for it, but none of this changes the likelihood that DC is going to do less “Bat-Mite” and more “Justice League”.

    • But, the point I was trying to make about the $2 million, that number is a sliver of the story. Examples and why more data/context matters:

      *If the $2 million was all the move (and that’s possible), then the comics themselves are healthy and met their expectations and goals. Yes the money needs to be made up, but the comics were “successful”
      *If the $2 million was all the comics not meeting expectations, then that might lead to less experimentation and more Batman

      Also, a shortfall isn’t necessarily a deficit (which some folks are forgetting):
      *If they projected $10 million in profit and only made $8 million. Then sales weren’t as strong as they’d like, but things are still profitable
      *If they project $50 million profit and only made $48 million, that’s not quite as big deal

      The above is key information, and without knowing it, it’s hard to pontificate on the health of the line.

      Going forward, I expect a mix to happen. There’ll be some experimentation, and there’ll be some tried and true. But, you can also lower costs and still experiment, digital opens up that world. I’d expect to see more digital first series tied into their films and television projects.

      • I suppose my point is, the health of the line is irrelevant, as they will likely change the line no matter what to try to make it more short-term profitable to make up the 2 million that was expected and not obtained. The comics might have been successful, but they weren’t successful enough to make that additional 2 million they wanted. And while it’s not a deficit, big companies take their projections very seriously. Other planning is based on those projections.