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Saturday, June 07, 2008 

DiDio admits that DC isn't trying to gain new followers

Dan DiDio was recently interviewed by Publisher's Weekly about what they're doing now, including Final Crisis, and to be quite honest, he comes across pretty weak here, yet in a way, he actually admits that they're not, and probably never have been, trying to get new people into comics. Let's see what we have here:
PWCW: You’ve talked in the past about how one of your goals is maintaining a relationship with your existing readers, people who are already committed to following the DCU, rather than necessarily making a deliberate outreach to new readers. But the highest-selling DCU title a year ago sold about 132,000 copies; the highest-selling DCU title in March 2008 sold about 88,000 copies, and the average sales of the DCU line are down more than 20% from a year ago. That suggests you’ve lost a big chunk of those existing readers in a year. What’s going on there?

DD: We’ve lost some casual readers, perhaps, but I think we all know the truth is that we do get spikes around events that take place across all the books and series. What you’re comparing to is when we came out of Infinite Crisis into One Year Later; you’re also looking at numbers from when we had an ongoing weekly series with 52, and that led into the start of Countdown as well. I think there’s a natural attrition of fans that we have on a continuous basis, and our goal is to create stories and events that bring people back to sample the books again and then, hopefully, stick around a little bit longer the next time through.
Maybe, but such gimmicks can and do tend to wear themselves out eventually, and I wouldn't be surprised if quite a few people were feeling less enthusiastic about their latest crossovers, especially when they become more increasingly expensive. In fact, from some of the reaction to Final Crisis I looked for recently, it does look as though it's getting a very mediocre reception. And if Martian Manhunter was really killed off in the first issue, that just enforces the perception that it's all done as a sales stunt. I've got a feeling this could be one of the least successful company-wide crossovers in the two decades since they began to overrun both big companies.
PWCW: The recent 50-cent special DC Universe 0 has taken some heat for being fairly inaccessible to people who weren’t hardcore DCU customers already. How did that issue end up being presented as a jumping-on point?

DD: My opinion is that DCU 0 was accessible to the people who understand and read comics and understand the stories and characters and world. We had DCU 0 for the people who are familiar with and excited by DC Comics, whether they’ve been reading them for five years or 25 years. DCU 0 showcased some of our prime talents and prime characters, and was able to generate interest so that people can go out and sample the stories that spin out from that book. Whether or not we’re going to attract a brand new reader, I also put that encouragement onto the stores themselves—we made that book accessible in price in order to get it into people’s hands. I think the goal for us was to get it into people’s hands, so they could sample it and make the choice of whether they want to follow the DCU paths or not. We put out the best product with our best characters, and from my standpoint, that’s the one way of making it successful.
There, that's where he basically admits that they're pretty much marketing their output to the audience that still exists, and not making any serious effort to find new followers to their audience. Nor does he mention how DCU #0 was written more like an advertisement, which is hardly the way to encourage people to read more.
PWCW: One character that had a lot of buzz a couple of years ago was Batwoman—there was a big publicity moment around that, and then she dropped out of sight for the past couple of years. What happened there?

DD: Well, she hasn’t dropped out of sight: she’s been featured in 52, and she had guest spots in Countdown, Crime Bible and Gotham Underground. My goal was to create a very strong supporting character that stood out as a hero first, and I think we’ve accomplished that goal with her. We wanted to build the anticipation if we ever want to take her out and roll her out into her own series from that point.
I notice he didn't mention that the new Batwoman is lesbian, or how they downplayed her role in the DCU, sparse as it was, because they feared the negative reaction it could cause. I guess they're still embarrassed, and ought to be. What's not mentioned here either is that the new Kate Kane may have made an appearance or two at the beginning of 52, but then dropped out of sight for a long time until the end, and when she turned up again, she was in the hospital after being injured. Not exactly a big accomplishment in making her effective as a crimefighter. Another thing not mentioned here is that Countdown didn't sell very big, and Crime Bible/Gotham Underground sold much lower. Clearly, not many were interested, even for this take on Batwoman, which, like a few other recent products of theirs, is way overshadowed by "diversity", which doesn't equal meaty storytelling.
PWCW: What do you think are the breakout titles for the next six months or next year, besides the Final Crisis titles?

DD: I always go back to our key titles, our key franchises. There’s a big story going on, “Batman R.I.P.,” right now, in the Batman books, that’ll be running through the end of the year; Gail [Simone] and Aaron Lopresti are doing a really fun story with Wonder Woman that will bring out that character really well; and with Superman being written by Geoff Johns and James Robinson, you’ll see a return of the “triangle era’s” crossovers between Action Comics, Superman and Supergirl.
I wonder if that's a good idea? Especially considering that some of these things may have undermined sales as people could find it difficult to afford 3-4 titles of a franchise? With DiDio in charge, I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't turn out for the better. It's certainly nothing new.
PWCW: Do you have a long-term outlook for the structure of the DCU line?

DD: Absolutely. We have a clear sense of what we’re planning to do—we’re trying to contain the number of products that we do month in and month out so we don’t overtax any of our fans; we try to keep as much diversity as possible as we build our line. We’re happy to say that Final Crisis really is the final Crisis, but that’s not to say that we won’t have big events and big stories, and we’re got the ideas and the making of the stories that will take us through 2010 right now.
Oops, there's a strong hint that, while it may be the final crisis, it may not be the final crossover; exactly the problem with theirs and Marvel's output today. And if that's the case, then I'm not sure if they really have a clear sense of where they're headed. Especially considering that these are the same people who've been running the store for at least 7 years now. How can we be so sure then that they'll even be honest by ensuring that all mistakes made in the past 5 years will be repaired? That's what isn't mentioned in this interview, and there's almost nothing here that hasn't been told by DiDio and company before.

I suppose one thing DiDio could be congratulated for is that unlike Joe Quesada, he's at least being honest that they're not trying to win over new readers. But that still doesn't excuse the mess they've made of their universe for almost 5 years now, something that he certainly hasn't admitted to.

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