Monday, July 23, 2007

When Fans Burn Out

Recently there has been some talk about fans getting burned out with all of these comic book events that Marvel and DC have been doing. I have seen and heard complaints like this in the past, but the sales numbers told a different story. People can complain all they want about how Marvel or DC are getting them to buy more comics because of an event, but as long as they keep buying the comics, comic book stores like mine will keep stocking and pushing them, and the comic book publishers will keep making them. Civil War sold great, and World War Hulk has gotten a great start so far. Then there's DC...

Last week the fantastic Heidi discussed on her blog, Comics Fairplay, the DC announcement of the "Final Crisis," their next event after Countdown. She reads a LOT of DC comics, but she is starting to get tired of these events. This is what, the third consecutive year of event driven comics for DC? Those that commented on her blog post seemed to share her fatigue.

This week comic book store owner Brian Hibbs discussed DC's Countdown and how it compares to other comic book events, on his monthly Tilting @ Windmills column over at Newsarama. He says that his subscribers are dropping the Countdown title and that it isn't doing nearly as well as the previous "events" DC has done. One reason he gives is that it isn't labeled well. Most of the Countdown tie-ins just have a little label by the bar code. Another reason he feels is causing the lower sales of Countdown is that it's largely event driven, rather than character driven. Marvel's events so far HAVE all had well labeled cross-over books -- some that barely tied in, but that's a different issue for a different day. And Marvel's events have been very character driven. Prior to Countdown - 52 and Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis all were events, but they involved a lot of character driven stories -- we felt for the characters as we watched them change and grow from the events. So far, Countdown hasn't really seemed to do that much. It seems to be more about what's coming after, or at the end, than it is about how it's impacting the DC universe right now. And that's odd to me, since they were selling it as the backbone of the current DC universe, as it happens. And Hibbs' final reason for this DC event's lower sales numbers vs. other events is that there isn't much hype. They seem so focused on keeping things a secret that no one is developing an interest or curiosity for the story.

As for Countdown's sales in his store, Hibbs says, "52 was, for the entire year, very nearly the best-selling DC comic for us – only a few issues of Justice League of America beat it – a remarkably consistent and strong sales pattern for the year.

"Countdown? Well, we’re only at the 10th week, as of this writing, but no, not nearly as strong and profitable. At this point in time, I expect to be returning more than a third of my initial orders on the first three months to DC...

"Obviously, I have no idea if I’m at all typical (I’m probably not), but if I am, then Countdown wouldn’t even be a Top Fifty book in these early days, and history shows this type of series does nothing but decline for the rest of its run. It is, I think, conceivable that Countdown is going to drop under 50k during its year. 52 stayed more or less over 100k its entire run..."

I looked at our sales numbers on Countdown and 52, just to see how they compared. Keep in mind that 52 is over now, and has a much longer time to sell. At my store we ordered fairly heavy and did our best to keep the issues in stock for the entire year. Countdown has only had 11 issues out so far, and not nearly as much time to sit on the racks and sell. But, to be honest, most of the issues that are going to sell do so within the first two weeks of the comic's release.

With Countdown we sold 44% fewer of the first issue (#51) than we did of the first issue of 52 (#1), and only 26% more of Countdown #51 than the final issue of 52.

With both issues we saw a drop in sales numbers on the fifth issues. My guess is that people were giving it a month to see if they liked it, and then those that didn't like it stopped buying it. On 52 we sold 39% fewer issues of #5 than #1. With Countdown we sold 23% fewer copies of issue #47 than #51.

After the fifth issue, 52 saw a drop of only 31% from issue 5 - 52. That's pretty good for a year long event I think. We lost only 2 subscribers through the event. So far, our subscribers have stuck with Countdown, and have been just about equal to the subscribers on 52 -- it seems to be the shelf copies that aren't selling as well, while the die-hard DC fans continue to keep in on their lists.

Countdown has seen a 33% drop from issue #47 through the current issue. Now, keep in mind that that should improve slightly in the next couple of weeks. But even if we can close the gap to around 30% - we're only 11 weeks in and typically the numbers should continue to slowly slide down over the life of the series, regardless of what event or comic it is. (See my post on Death Sells for numbers on how one-issue events are used to get comic sales up.)

I like the idea of a weekly comic book. I enjoyed most of the issues of 52. I'm reading Countdown also, but I don't feel nearly as interested in it as I did with 52. One reason for this is that I wasn't reading comics when the monitors and multiple earths events happened before, so I feel like I'm missing something when I read Countdown. The other reason is partly what Brian Hibbs says - the story isn't as character driven. I am interested in the Mary Marvel story, and Jimmy Olson having powers is interesting. So far that's it. It isn't as integral to the rest of the DCU as I'd like it to be - I just don't feel like it ties into the main titles at all. And if it does, but "all will be revealed later" then DC needs to evaluate this tactic because it seems like people want some gratification now, or they're just not going to keep reading. So far this Countdown event feels like there is no point to it, other than to have a weekly comic and to pull us into this "Final Countdown" event that's coming next year.

Again, I have no problem with a weekly comic. In fact, I think it's a great idea. But I also think people want a solid story with solid characters and some events that give them a bit of gratification and get them to stick with it to the end. I do enjoy Countdown, but not as much as other comics, and if I was a shopper, rather than a store owner/buyer, and had a budget, this might be one I'd drop if I found something better, unless the story starts to pick up soon.

Events are fun. Events sell comics. But, if consumers get burned out, or if the stories stop appealing to people, the events become tiresome and are no fun for anyone. I want event driven stories - as long as the publishers do their part to sell them with: hype, quality stories and good art. (Yes, HYPE - Civil War and Planet Hulk both sell well partly due to the media, both main-stream and comic book fandom based, and internet buzz that they've received.) I want event driven comics - as long as people continue to want to buy them. I don't want event comics just for the purpose of making more comics to sell -- there are already more than enough comic books on my racks.

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