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Friday, August 26, 2011 

Comic stores becoming barren of readers, and no guaruntee DC's "marketing" will help matters

The LA Times Hero Complex section has written about DC staff's hope that they can bring back readers, but with the way they're going now, still no guaruntee it'll work:
DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio was at a comic-book store in New Jersey when he noticed something alarming. Over the course of an hour, only two customers came in. And, this was a Saturday — the busiest day of the week for most retailers.

“The walk-in, casual fans have gotten away from us,” DiDio observed. “We are down to just the die-hard buyers.”
But he won't acknowledge he has any blame to shoulder on his part, will he? His presence alone at that store would be enough to discourage me from going in. If he was there to sign autographs, I certainly wouldn't want one from someone as disrespectful as him.
Comic-book stores have become increasingly barren, with sales dropping consistently over the last three years and down an additional 7% so far in 2011.
Some stores are even shuttering. For example, the Atomic Comics chain in Arizona has closed down, and the owner sees the downturn in economy as part of the problem.
Theories abound as to why. Some blame convoluted story lines, while others point to cynical publicity stunts like killing key characters only to bring them back a few months later. But the main culprit more likely lies beyond the page: Today’s youth is far more interested in spending its leisure hours in the digital worlds of YouTube, Xbox and Twitter.
While they do have some accountability for loss of readers, they'll have to consider that both bad writing and the publicity stunts are just as much a culprit in the loss. In fact, what if they were the exact reason why some of today's youth aren't interested in their products, and turning instead to the digital world as an alternative?

I think it's quite possible.
The generational shift is not lost on DiDio and his associates at DC. For the first time, the comic-book company will now make each of its issues available on digital devices such as iPads the same day it arrives in stores — a jarring departure for many retailers that only have to look at the fate of record stores to see the dangers that digital downloads present to brick-and-mortar merchants.

As part of a two-pronged strategy to try to revive its moribund business and draw newer, younger readers, the nation’s oldest and best-known comic-book publisher has also decided to start over from scratch. Beginning Aug. 31, DC launches its “New 52,” with well-known titles such as “Wonder Woman” and “Batman” as well as more obscure ones including “Static Shock” and “Blue Beetle” starting at No. 1 and featuring a mix of new costumes, new origins and simplified story lines.
But what if you have to pay to see the whole issues, and it's just as costly to buy a printed pamphlet? And even if it doesn't cost that much, they've already made clear they're only going for more trendy, politically correct nonsense that doesn't make a good substitute for good writing and plausible character drama, something their predecessors mastered in the 80s but was scuttled in the 90s.
The strategy is a calculated risk by the Warner Bros.-owned company to keep superheroes alive in comics as they become more important than ever on the big screen and in other media.

“Publishing is the engine that creates and incubates ideas for the other divisions of Warner Bros.,” said DC co-publisher Jim Lee. “We need to streamline our comics so new fans can come in and know exactly what’s going on.”

It’s crucial to Warner that the gambit succeeds, but not because the tiny publishing business makes a big difference to the bottom line of Hollywood’s biggest studio or its corporate parent, Time Warner Inc.
Well in that case, I fail to see their logic here. If the top brass see the movies as important but not the comics, then it's not too difficult to see them shutting down the publishing arm in the near future, because they could always make movies based on the source material without much need to rely on newly published items. This is because any screenwriter could conjure something up, from the simplest adventure to the most complicated sci-fi backgrounds, technically based on the original material from comics, but could still be their own current ideas, and with the way things are going today, not many are likely to care if they're publishing comic books or not.

One more reason why maybe they should sell off the publishing arm, since it's clear they don't have what it takes to make it run, and the people currently in charge are alienating many customers with their presence alone, DiDio included. A different owner like Simon & Shuster could probably know better what to do with them.
Warner needs DC’s comics to stay culturally relevant and generate new ideas. At the same time, the millions of movie fans are seen as potential comic-book buyers.
But the problem is that for a company claiming to be cuturally relevant, they've only succeeded in being politically correct and pandering to the same. And I don't see how they really need the comics to generate new ideas, when any two-bit screenwriter could come up with a fabulous storyboard without having to base his entire screenplay on the DC output.
“There is a generational opportunity to get new readers,” said artist Rob Liefeld, who is drawing DC’s new “Hawk and Dove” series. “The industry has been stagnant, and it’s the right time to hit the reset button.”
Uh oh, did they ever choose the wrong artist to interview. With Liefeld and his awful art around, not many new readers are going to be enchanted with Hawk & Dove, that's for sure. Which only shows how expendable they consider those two crimefighters.
Some of the biggest changes are being made to DC’s 73-year-old icon Superman, and they go beyond replacing the red Speedo part of his costume with jeans. The hero will be “aged back” to his 20s, and Clark Kent’s marriage to Lois Lane, which happened 15 years ago in the comic books, has been erased.

“We want to return to that classic love triangle of Lois, Clark and Superman that people know so well,” Lee said.
How do they know people want that again? If they don't like Marvel's obliterating the Spider-Marriage, there's every chance they won't approve of erasing the Super-Marriage either. And altering his costume with jeans might only enforce the notion some people have that superhero comics are silly in a different way.
More accessible stories are one part of DC’s game plan. The other is getting comics into readers’ hands.
From what they've had to show for their efforts so far, I don't see how their new output will be "accessible", nor do I see many new readers wanting to get them.
To salve retailers’ concerns, DiDio and Lee have gone on a “road show” around the country touting a plan to let them set up their own digital storefronts and collect 30% of revenue. Gerry Gladston, co-owner of New York-based Midtown Comics, acknowledged that there’s been plenty of angst among his fellow retailers.

“We’re not at all convinced that digital will attract a lot of new readers,” he said, “but we hope that it will drive people to our stores.”
So there's not much optimism amongst the retailers. Marvel's already been offering digital products online, and it's hardly been sending sales through the roof, so DC's efforts to go the same path could be seen as coming a bit late. And if they don't appeal to many new readers, then sadly, there's not much chance the stores will find much luck either.
In the short run, it seems everyone in the comic-book industry will benefit. DC’s flagship title, “Justice League No. 1,” has pre-orders for more than 200,000 print copies, which would make it the bestselling title of 2011. Six other new DC No. 1’s already have more than 100,000 pre-orders.

“Fan interest is huge — much of it positive, some negative, and some very cautious,” Gladston said.

But much-hyped events and reboots have boosted comic-book sales before without much long-term effect. Wolfman wrote one of the earliest in 1985 with “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which was originally intended to result in every comic book restarting at No. 1, before editors decided against it. Since then, events, crossovers and reboots have become a near annual occurrence for DC and Marvel.
And that's just what's been driving away much of the casual readers. Editorial mandates and favoratism for specific writers like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns are another cause for this.
“The stunts have run their course,” Liefeld said. “This is the biggest one in the past 25 years, and nothing else can come close.”
While the former statement is certainly something we can agree with from this otherwise awful artist, to say this is the biggest stunt in the past 25 years in the latter is not really so. There have been plenty of "big ones" and most of them are forgettable, and already worthless.

The ending part of the article is really amazing though:
The worst-case scenario for DC’s new strategy is that few new readers stick around and existing ones are alienated by the changes. But the relaunch’s architects said it’s a necessary risk.

“The truth is people are leaving anyway, they’re just doing it quietly, and we have been papering it over with increased prices,” DiDio said. “We didn’t want to wake up one day and find we had a bunch of $20 books that 10,000 people are buying.”
So he's admitting - though not the whole story of why - that people have been abandoning their products for several years, and not just because of the prices but also bad writing and disrespect for the audience, and that includes even newcomers.

And if they're increasing the prices, why is DiDio saying they wouldn't want to wake up to discover they have a mere miniscule audience? As is so happens, they do have books for $20, but those are trade paperbacks, and the irony is that, if it weren't for the bad writing, more people might be inclined to buy them.

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