I read what I can.
I suspect that’s the way it is with a lot of comic book fans. They love the medium, but time and financial constraints force them to pick and choose from a glut of books which ones they’d most like to read.
As a lower middle class DC fan currently between jobs who does a lot of trade reading from the library and reading of current comics via other means, I snag approximately five DC books a month. Most of that’s because of the money involved in funding my habit, but the overwhelming volume of available DC titles is also a big factor.
In the TAW article, comics retailer Brian Hibbs posits that most books from Marvel and DC that sell fewer than 30,000 copies are forcing comic book retailers to try to accurately stock issues that sell fewer than 10 copies per store. Such a scenario rarely makes money for the retailers, and it can’t make too much money for DC and Marvel, at least not compared to bigger selling titles.
Now, I doubt the situation is as simple from the publishing side as it is from the retailer side. For one thing, DC and Marvel are jockeying for position (even if they claim they’re not), and for one publisher to severely reduce its number of published titles would seem like a statement of defeat to many of the less savvy.
There’s also the matter that Hibbs brings up of how DC and Marvel shouldn’t have any “borderline books.” That’s almost certainly something that The Big Two would take issue with, as you have to account for kiddie comics, imprints and non-event miniseries, which typically sell lower than ongoing superhero books do. The publishers would also probably argue for the merits of publishing a low selling series to help “expose” characters they believe will become more profitable down the line, something that very well could be the case for DC’s upcoming Katana ongoing. Katana certainly has a following, but DC is right to believe that she could become much bigger.
That being said, another factor in why there are so many low-selling books from The Big Two is surely one of quantity. If DC only published 20 ongoing superhero titles instead of 52, there’s no chance that Superboy would be clocking in at under 30K.
I submit that if you got rid of the titles that sell under 30K, you would not lose the thousands of readers who read the lower-selling titles. Some might flee, but I think more of them would begin reading the titles you kept around, particularly if you do something to draw in many different kinds of readers. This would lessen the headache for retailers and presumably cut costs for the publishers as well, as long as they could keep a comparable level of readers. Sales would be boosted across the line.
There’s also another side effect of book reduction that I think hasn’t been discussed: accessibility. I know from years of trying unsuccessfully to get people into comics that the medium can be a confusing labyrinth for the uninitiated. With 52 ongoing superhero titles at DC, do you pick and choose the books you think will give you the best overall picture of the universe, or do you focus on self-contained titles? Which Batman book has the best Batman for you?
It’s arguably worse over at Marvel, which is starting its Marvel NOW! soft reboot with enough Avengers and X-Men titles and mashups to make your head spin (Uncanny Avengers, A+X, plus several other titles containing “Uncanny,” “Avengers,” “X+word” and so on).
You know what would guarantee my purchase of more titles? Fewer titles overall. If DC cut its mainline superhero titles to 10 books a month at three bucks a pop, I would buy every book, every month. I suspect many people would do the same. If there was a sense that you could get your brain around a superhero universe without spending $150+ a month, people would be lining up to do so.
OK, now let’s take a look at the numbers and enter the fantasy world in which I make DC’s policy. In October, of the 35 DC titles that made more than 30,000 orders, 28 were mainline New 52 titles (FYI, the other seven were annuals and Before Watchmen installments). Of those, 11 (!) were Batman-related titles, four were Lantern titles, three were Justice League/Justice Society titles, two were other teams, two were Superman, and six were other individual titles. How can we take DC’s best sellers and turn them into a line that can take advantage of what should be a diverse readership?
Well, first of all, let’s take that number of 28 and bump it up to 30. With fewer books, readers will theoretically bump up sales numbers for the remaining titles. The next two highest-selling New 52 books in October were Supergirl and Suicide Squad. On Monday, we’ll start looking at the demos we want to hit.
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