To understand DC Comics’ move to day-and-date with digital editions of their print comics, you have to understand the intent behind their relaunch.
One crucial thing hasn’t changed. For as long as I’ve known him, Dan Didio has believed the key to a resurgent DC is reclaiming all the readers the commercial medium lost in the 90s. On the DC Retailer Roadshow, he’s been hammering this home. Recent statements about how commercial comics have gotten boring and that there should be more visual punch in the mode of 90s comics movements like the early Image Comics work and (unspoken, but certainly associated) the Marvel style of that general period… have made their mark, but have also misled a bit. It’s all about accessing that hypothetical lost fan base. The impression the recent statements have left is Dan saying “comics used to sell loads back then, let’s do that again.” And that can’t happen in print.</p>
Comics used to sell loads back then, yes. But a big part of that — and this is the part he isn’t mentioning — is that there were ten thousand comics shops back then. And now there are, optimistically and rounding up, about two thousand. There simply aren’t the number of outlets left to sell the kind of volume comics could shift in the 90s.
The gamble here is this: that hypothetical lost fan base is older, has credit cards and disposable income, and an internet connection that can bring the DC Comics section of a notional comics store right to their desks. That, in fact, digital comics services will do the work of those eight thousand stores that don’t exist anymore.
It was in DC’s core DNA to protect and serve physical comics stores. To the point where every 18 months or so they’d pay for a hundred comics retailers to attend a special DC conference, where the retailers could moan at them for two days and then go home and order more Marvel comics. (In broad and crude terms, DC were the attentive suitor, while Marvel Comics treated retailers mean to keep them keen.) Now, there is a fascinating situation where DC will polybag special issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 with a digital-comic download code, a book that will cost an extra dollar. Comics are done on firm sale. Which means, as far as I can see, that the retailer is being charged extra money on each copy of that edition too. Maybe I’m wrong, and comics retailers aren’t being offered a reacharound while getting an mild yet unwelcome pegging. But it’s an interesting kind of support. DC are offering support to retailers in other ways and are making sympathetic noises, but other quotes from this roadshow — one from Bob Wayne, DC’s head of sales, boiled down to “if you’re not selling enough of our comics you’re not doing your job” — tend to suggest that someone at the company has realised that the comics retailers already have a girlfriend and never liked DC anyway.
(Also, Dan and Jim? I love you guys, and I’m greatly enjoying watching you start some shit. But you can’t keep talking about how the old comics were boring when you in fact were the old management too. Someone’s eventually going to call you on it, and you’re not going to have a good answer. That said: keep starting fires. It’s good.)
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