The DC Retailer Roadshow Hits London

Yesterday the DC Retailer Roadshow hit London, UK, at the Warner Bros HQ in Holborn. I know that because they wouldn’t let me in. Chiz, chiz, etc.

Thankfully I had my people on the inside who reported on what went down…

After a brief mingling session in the lobby the presentation began by going through the same information as the previous retailer roadshows in the States. The plan to tell “innovative stories” with “world-class art” and give the entire company a shot in the arm was stated as the main reason for the relaunch. The September solicitations were shown again, with no new surprises.

The advertising for the relaunch is DC’s biggest spend ever, with print, TV and movie ads in the US trying to appeal to new, lapsed and loyal readers. The buying target for the ads is Men 18-34, with a delivery target of Adults 14-54. It is expected that thirty million of them will be seeing super-hero movies this summer, and that is the main demographic the ads are trying to appeal to.

The midnight opening on August 31st was confirmed to be for the US only. Diamond simply can’t get the titles to UK stores fast enough due to the bank holiday at the start of the week. However, the possibility of UK midnight openings the following week was mentioned, which a lot of people liked. Not only will there be a much wider selection of #1’s on offer that week (13, as opposed to just the 2 titles out on August 31st), but there is an American bank holiday that week meaning US shops will be getting their titles a day late, though DC are working with Diamond in the US to deliver comics on the Tuesday after the US Labor Day holiday to any account that is a Tuesday deliver account.

The biggest topic of discussion was digital sales. As previously covered at Bleeding Cool, it was confirmed that Apple is already selling $2.99 comics on iTunes UK £1.99. It was later confirmed by Wayne that $3.99 comics will be proportionately lower £2.49. It also lead to some spirited conversation between Wayne and the attendees, and among some of the attendees themselves, since that is a lower price than pretty much every UK comic shop is selling them for.

One solution that DC are thinking about is printing a UK cover price on all of £1.99 on all of their comics. Again, the majority of retailers protested this idea, since they would still have to lower their prices. Wayne did mention that it’s possible retailers will get to order in the comics at a lower price to keep our profit margins the same, but the general feeling in the room was that we wanted the freedom to set our own prices. Wayne said the reason they were thinking about setting a fixed UK cover price was that DC had no say in the price Apple set and couldn’t change it, and that they didn’t want any readers to switch from print to digital. Ultimately, no conclusions about what will happen were reached, and Wayne asked that all UK retailers email him or Diamond with their thoughts on the topic, since he felt it was a topic best suited to private discussion. Wayne said that while the Apple price was already set, DC wanted to discuss possible solutions with the UK retailers.

There was a lot of debate about what DC were going to do to support brick and mortar shops after the day-and-date program comes into effect. A lot of retailers mentioned that they wanted a longer period of time before the digital price dropped. Currently it will drop by a dollar after one month of being on sale, but most people wanted that to be increased to three months to better reflect the shelf life of print comics. Wayne made of note of that point and said he’d bring it back to New York. It was also mentioned by retailers that more promotional materials such as the flyers, badges and rings would help to act as an incentive to bring readers into physical shops, and they are something that digital couldn’t offer.

There are no current plans to release any sort of digital versions of collections or graphic novels, and that they would be something unique to brick and mortar shops. In response to questions, Wayne said that DC was currently offering only periodicals in digital, but that eventually collected editions and original graphic novels would also be sold digitally.

The examples of the HEROES graphic novel collecting stories that had been offered for free on the television series website and of MEGATOKYO where the strips were available online as examples where book product had been successful at retail even when the contents had been available on the internet.

Wayne mentioned that they are considering digital gift cards (like the iTunes gift cards) that could be sold in physical stores for purchase of digital comics. This would offer us some small share of the profits of digital sales.

On the topic of graphic novels, the release schedule for them will be tiered so as not to flood the market all at once. As an example, a plan could be for all the series that start on September 7th to have their trades released in May, and series that start on September 14th to have their trades released in June, and so on in that style. There will be somewhat fewer hardcover collections coming out before the softcover release. Some retailers suggested the possibility of the first volumes of series being sold at a lower introductory price (like a lot of the Vertigo series do).

It was mentioned that digital sales currently make up for about 1-2% of DC’s market share, but that is expected to rise to 3-5% when the day-and-date digital program starts.

A few little tidbits were then alluded to.

When asked about Oracle, Wayne noted that Barbara Gordon’s history had not changed. The events of the Killing Joke still happened, as did her life beyond that point. As for what happens next, retailers and readers would have to wait until Batgirl #1 next month.

The James Robinson/Nicola Scott JSA series was neither confirmed nor denied, but he did mention that they aren’t getting rid of the characters.

Earth One: Superman Volume 2 and Earth One: Batman Volume 1 will both ideally be seen in the next 12 months. Wayne said that he had seen pages from both of them. Earth One Superman is still selling well as a hardcover, so they see no reason to publish a softcover version at this point.

There may be some digital only comics in the future. Licensed titles such as World of Warcraft and Fringe tend to sell better digitally than in print, and Wayne said he could see a future where those comics would move to digital first publication.

After the presentation we got shown the Dark Knight Rises trailer. I’m pretty sure we’d all seen it before, but Wayne mentioned it would be a shame to sit in an exclusive Warner Brothers screening room and not take advantage of the actual screen, which was quite jolly. We then got onto the Q&A session.

All-Star Western is the title that Bob Wayne thinks has been most under-ordered. He said that it was very different in terms of storytelling to the Jonah Hex series which has just wrapped up, despite being by the same writers. Rather than the single, stand-alone stories of the previous book, the new title will have long form, multi-part stories. He also mentioned that a member of the Cobblepot family appears in #1, and the book will tie-in to the rest of the DC titles in certain ways.

Animal Man and Swamp Thing will have a “yin-yang” relationship. Swamp Thing will be focused on ‘The Green’ and the power of the natural world, while Animal Man will focus on the “world of meat”, as Wayne put it.

Wayne described Flashpoint #5 as “the best conclusion for that type of story” for a long time, saying it will serve as a satisfying end for the series as well as leading directly into the relaunch.

Wayne said that Batwoman had been planned at one time to launch earlier in the year. The decision to hold the release until The New 52 meant that Batwoman has more pages ready than any other title.

Astro City will be relaunching as an ongoing monthly title. It was decided not to launch it too close to the New 52, since it will have it’s own continuity and DC didn’t want to confuse new readers.

Vertigo will continue as normal and there are new series in development, a batch of them will be debuting in 2012. Wayne pointed out that SPACEMAN #1 is set for October with a $1.00 introductory price, and that the creative team of Azzarello and Risso had also done a great job on their Flashpoint tie-in title.

Variant covers will continue to be released for just the 5 core titles up until December, but then they could potentially increase or decrease in number. When asked, the general consensus was that retailers wanted fewer variants to make them more of a collectable item.

All of the Wildstorm and Milestone characters are available to DC. Apart from the obvious ones like Grifter, Stormwatch and Voodoo, it was hinted that we may see more of them down the road.

The number of titles published each month is expected to level out by January. The plan is to have fewer monthly titles than in the past, but have a higher number of orders per titles. The idea of a core set of higher profile titles with higher orders does seem to make more sense than flooding the market with a huge amount of titles that no one is buying.

When asked where he thought the industry will be in five years time, Wayne very honestly answered that he thought digital and print comics will co-exist. He expects digital sales to be 2-3 times higher, and that the physical books will be more suited to the collectors market. He also thinks special editions of graphic novels, with them moving more towards being art objects (such as the Absolute books) that can’t be translated to digital will become more common and be more of a focus for shops.

In general, it was a useful experience. Digital comics were definitely a sore point for the majority of the retailers in attendance, and there was a feeling that DC weren’t offering enough incentives for readers to visit physical stores rather than buy the digital versions. We all got free Wayne Casino poker chips at the end and I for one was appreciative that Bob Wayne made the effort to come over here in the first place.

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