On change, the DCnU and Star Wars Galaxies … Part 2
In Part 2 of this yet-to-be-finished series, we briefly reviewed what change management is and how it works, and we looked at a few real world examples, namely the black berets that are being removed from the U.S. Army’s standard combat uniform, the NGE for Star Wars Galaxies and a brief comment or two on New Coke.
With that overview out of the way, let’s get back to comics now.
CBR recently conducted a survey which, although not especially scientific, suggests that DC may have misread its market. The only comics that more than 50% of respondents said they would absolutely buy are “Justice League” and “Action Comics.” The remainder of the titles in the top 5 comics that respondents absolutely plan to buy are “Batman” with 47%, “Green Lantern” with 45.3% and “Aquaman” with 34.5%.
To put that in perspective, the comic ranking fifth out of the most anticipated comics from the reboot has barely more than 1/3 of respondents absolutely planning to buy it. Another 25% may buy it, while almost 40% of respondents say it’s unlikely that they’ll pick it up. That’s the fifth most-anticipated comic out of fifty-two. And “Detective Comics”? The title that gave DC its name? Only 25.4% of respondents definitely plan to buy it.
Now, there are all sorts of ways to spin these numbers - respondents are self-selected, it’s unscientific, it wasn’t conducted by an organization that is known for doing surveys, etc. The important part is that these numbers represent the people who cared enough about comics to actually answer the survey and sort through 52 separate comics and determine whether they plan to buy them. It wasn’t possible to submit a survey which did not have an answer for each of 52 separate comics. And while it may not have been scientific, more than 10,000 people responded.
But where the survey really gets ugly is in the Not At All column. As one example, nearly 70% of respondents said they are not at all likely to buy “I, Vampire.” “Omac” and “Voodoo” are in similarly dire straits with 66.9% and 64.2% expressing no interest, “Hawk & Dove” is at 63.8% uninterested and so on.
Of the 52 new books? More than 50% of respondents said they were not at all likely to buy 13 of them. That’s a full 25% of the new titles being launched. If we lower that threshold to 40%, which is still a greater percentage than the people who are absolutely planning to buy the fifth most-anticipated title? That number increases to thirty-three. And if we add Unlikely to Not At All Likely? We start seeing comics which over 80% of respondents express little to no interest in.
Now, spin the numbers all you want - 80% of self-selected respondents indicating limited interest, if any, still indicates that a large number of people could care less about the book. Based on that, it’s reasonable to ask whether DC did any sort of market research - any focus groups talking about possible new titles even without mentioning the possibility of a line-wide reboot, any surveys, etc.
CBR’s survey was accepting responses only for a few days and got these numbers; surely DC had a more vested interest in finding out their customers’ opinions about possible titles, settings, genres, etc., and yet we’re seeing comics that a large number of people show little to no interest in. And these comics haven’t even launched yet.
With 52 separate titles and about 2 months remaining before those titles start hitting stores, there simply isn’t enough time for DC to do the necessary advertising, marketing and other work associated with building interest in each of those books. Comics fans seem to have made their mind up about a large number of these comics, sight unseen, purely based on the covers, concepts, creative teams and, now, solicits. And since publishers release this information so readers and store owners have an idea of what’s going on and can get excited about it, they have no room to complain if people are unimpressed with their new direction.
DC took this risk in springing the revamp on fans and trying to build excitement by announcing who was working on the books. Comics fans, for the most part, seemed to offer a giant shrug of indifference so DC’s big announcement to entice fans seems to have had an undesired - and, in fact, the opposite - outcome. At this point, DC can advertise in Previews, but it seems that the core customers have already made their decision.
And that is completely ignoring the amount of work which needs to be done to reach people who aren’t already comics fans. DC has repeatedly indicated that at least some part of the reason behind this change is reaching new people, yet ancient marketing wisdom handed down on stone tablets suggests most people need to see an ad several times before they even remember it, much less have any interest in the subject.
How will DC manage to get those impressions, given how diffuse media has become? It’s no longer a matter of advertising on ABC, CBS and NBC during prime time - it’s magazine ads, banner ads, co-branding, product placement, cable ad buys and so on. Doing a blanket, one-size-fits-all ad announcing the reboot, new number ones and digital issues may result in a temporary cash flow increase due to speculators buying multiple copies of “Batman,” “Detective Comics,” “Action Comics,” etc., but those sales won’t last. And does DC really think that announcing Lois and Clark were never married on TMZ, of all outlets (which most people seem to think means they were divorced), will draw new readers in?
So how does DC then reach potential customers and convince them to try comics? Or to try digital distribution on release day? How does DC educate new customers about when to expect those books? And what happens the first time a creative team on one of the major titles ships late? Unless DC communicates outside the typical media channels that comics fans are familiar with, DC will be pitching these new comics to the same people who bought the old ones and are angry or frustrated about the changes. Furthermore, there is no definition of new in which existing customers can be considered new business because they continued buying your product.
So DC not only has to identify where to market these titles and who to market them to, they can’t effectively market “Frankenstein Agent Of SHADE” or “Justice League Dark” to people in a 30-second TV ad which will focus, rightly so, on “Justice League,” “Action Comics,” “Batman,” etc. DC also has to embark upon an educational program to help potential customers find local comic shops (because if DC tries sending all this business to digital downloads, local comic shops might just revolt), which means diplomatically educating customers about what they may find - sporadic hours, employees who may not be as helpful or courteous as new customers who are not familiar with comics stores might expect and so on.
On a final note in this post, DC is apparently trying to reach 18-to-34-year-old males who are, based on the titles being published, also predominantly white or Caucasian. These are the same people DC has been failing to reach for years. At the same time, reports from Comic Con suggest that Dan DiDio and Jim Lee are, if not actively mocking questions from concerned female readers, failing to take and address concerns from female readers seriously.
These are DC’s executives. If they respond to questions about gender inequity in creative teams with “Who should we have hired?" (completely ignoring female creators who worked for DC in the last couple of years on incredibly high-profile and top-selling books like "Y") and questions about prominence and roles in group dynamics by asking if they want women "dead center or off-center," there are larger, systemic, gender inequity problems at work (which was already evident to anyone who saw the percentage of female creators before and after the reboot).
In the next part of this series, I’ll address what DC could have done to smooth things over, to reach new readers effectively, to expand the market, to create comics accessible to readers of all ages and so on.