DC relaunch is working, but for how long?

Posted by CB Droege

DC has released pre-sales figures for the #1 issues of its New 52 lines, the first of which debuts on the last day of August this year. That issue, Justice League #1, has already topped 200k sales, still more than a week before street date. Several of the other lines have already exceeded 100k.

For reference, top-line comics usually sell about 50-70k, and the previous record holder for 2011 was the Ultimate Spiderman death issue at around 160k.

The New 52 relaunch will see new #1s for 5 of DCs superhero lines, which will be all the lines currently taking place within the DC comics universe. Of course, it does have a few titles which sit outside the DC universe, and those are obviously unaffected.

The objective is to draw in new readers, and to invigorate existing readers, and it looks like this strategy working - so far.

The problem is that relaunches have been tried many times in the past. Sure, the story is always a great sales record for #1, but afterwards?

More often than not there is a rapid tapering off, sometimes leaving sales ultimately lower than before the relaunch.

Never has a relaunch been so inclusive or so drastic before, however. It’s truly a unique event, with little or no precedent to look back at. Will this be the move that saves the comics industry, or at least this one publisher?

Personally, I think the one issue that will hold them back is unrelenting high prices. Comics were once affordable, but as the readership declined over the last twenty years, the price has risen dramatically in response, and most would-be readers just can’t justify that hurdle.

DC’s main lines, like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc, all cost $4/issue, even for the ebook. The secondary super hero lines like Green Arrow and I, Vampire all cost $3/issue. For stories which are only 15-25 pages long, that’s quite an expense, especially if you want anyone to read all 52 different titles, which will all have monthly books.

When I talk to people about the New 52, a frequent response is "really, that’s cool, maybe I’ll get into/back into comics now! Do you know how much they’re going to cost?" I’ll tell the person, and then watch them so a bit of mental math.

"Are you kidding?" they’ll usually come back with, "How could anyone afford to read those?"

The cost is prohibitively high.

They have done a little bit of cost cutting for the New 52: If you wait four weeks for each issue, the eBook edition will drop $1 in price, but I think that’s still not enough.

The cover price would need to be $2 for the main lines, and $1.5 for the secondary, before people will start to consider purchasing them. This at least must be done for the digital books, as no one likes paying full price for an ebook. We know that it costs less to send us a digital copy than to send us a paper copy, and that should be reflected in the price. 

It would also help to offer discounts for subscriptions, and to allow subscriptions of the ebook versions. I know that both of these things would be a big ‘nuts to you’ to the on ground retailers, but at this point I don’t care.

The comics industry is going to fail without some serious changes, and if some comics retailer go out of business because of it, okay; If the industry fails, they’ll be out of business anyway.

I would rather read my comics - cheaply - on my Android tablet, and have them come to me automatically each month, than have to go to the store anyway. Times are changing, and it's bad for on-ground bookstores all over. We shouldn't all suffer high prices because we feel bad for a few small businesses.