More DC New 52: Sellout Shenanigans? [UPDATED]

23 Sep
Green Lantern 1 teardrop zoom

Sinestro is either crying or sweating because you can't buy his comic.

So it looks like DC’s New 52 is a sales smash hit. DC announced the other day that inaugural New 52 title Justice League #1 is getting a FOURTH printing (I guess the second and third printings that both came out this week didn’t satisfy the demand from readers), and that ALL of this week’s #1s are getting reprinted, just like the previous two weeks’ #1 titles.

But several retailers are starting to complain behind the scenes. Most aren’t talking on the record (yet), but some are wondering how the heck every title is selling out when they have multiple copies of multiple series still sitting on their shelves. I’m hearing that certain books like Static Shock are getting less than 50% sell-through so far. Now, for a big event like the New 52, it would be nice and ideal if every #1 was on the racks at least until the #2s came out, but complete and total sellouts across the board this late in the month smells fishy.

Oh, by the way, in the meantime, all of the comics are available digitally on Comixology. Why wait? Give DC those digital sales numbers that they’re too embarrassed to reveal in public!

DC sent out a memo to retailers that all reprints of the #1s are, unlike the first printings, NON-RETURNABLE. With some later titles appearing likely to experience some serious returns, could DC be hedging its bets and purposely short-printing the Week 3 and 4 titles to force retailers to reorder non-returnable copies? If the second printings have been pushed back a few weeks, as I’ve heard, this will put a serious hurt on retailers who were shorted or received damaged first printings (which apparently aren’t being replaced at all).

Then, Green Lantern #1 had a misprint “variant” (above) that apparently affected enough copies to warrant a special letter from DC to retailers:

DC Comics has received reports of a printing error on the front cover of some copies of GREEN LANTERN #1 (JUL110218). The flaw is an irregular green loop that appears above Sinestro’s ear.

Please check all of your copies for the flaw and report any flawed copies as damages to Diamond by Monday, September 19. DC is working to pull copies printed for other markets to replace the damaged copies, but we need to know the size of the problem and we need to audit our existing inventories to avoid sending out additional flawed copies.

Replacement copies will be scheduled to arrive in stores October 12, the same day issue #2 is scheduled to arrive in stores.

So, DC is going to take copies promised to other retail customers and give them to Direct-Market retailers? Why, because they’re special? Or is it because DC can fire up the presses and create more “first printings” whenever it wants, leaving the market with inflated demand for a book that will likely be filled with immediate orders for non-returnable second printings while the first printings all go on eBay? But then, if Green Lantern #1 is already sold out, how can DC still have any copies?

And with Diamond Comics Distribution owner Steve Geppi’s money problems over the last few years, it’s unlikely that Diamond is going to do anything to help retailers. As long as the money flows through Diamond, DC’s got Geppi by the balls, and it sounds like retailer frustration – and Diamond retailer representative impotence – are piling up.

Could DC be doing what Marvel did to retailers 20 years ago? Ex-retailer Phill Hall recounted on his site a while back how badly retailers got burned with the sales record-setting X-Men #1:

…Marvel did something it had never done before in all its years of publishing. Shortly after the first issue of X-Force went on sale, with orders already in for the new X-Men launches, Marvel contacted distributors and retailers and basically appealed to their sense of greed. “See? We told you X-Force would be a huge hit. We bet you never expected it would be better than imagined? How many will X-Men #1 sell? How many will the new Uncanny X-Men sell? Have you ordered enough to meet the demand?” Some shrewd people in Marvel’s sales department saw that demand was outweighing supply exponentially. Once the initial orders for both comics had been tallied up UXM was 3million and X-Men #1 was just over 5million. By the time Marvel reminded everyone how successful X-Force had been and threw in some more bulk discount rates at larger retailers, orders exceeded anything ever seen anywhere in the world.

X-Men #1 was pre-ordered to the tune of 8.5million copies. The world’s retailers almost doubled their initial orders. You’d think this was a good thing. You’d think if retailers had that much faith in the product it surely couldn’t fail? But there was a sting in the tail, a really bad one…

X-Men #1 was released in 5 different versions and would ship from the printer on weekly intervals. Four of the five versions would have interlocking covers that put together formed one giant montage. The fifth edition would be printed on glossy paper, have the highest production values Marvel could use at the time and would retail for twice the price. X-Men #1 was a double-sized introduction issue. Issues #1a to #1d were $1.95 and #1e was $3.95. With the exception of the covers there was no difference between #1a, #1b, #1c or #1d. The only difference in #1e was that it was glossy and featured a foldout cover of #1a-d’s cover images. They were the same story repackaged in different covers. That was it – 1a was the genuine, all others were effectively reprints. That was the gimmick that would revolutionise sales and buy me my Porsche.

Can you guess what happened?

The week #1a came into the shop it was like a feeding frenzy at the zoo. I had over 10 boxes full of just one comic, when my standard weekly delivery normally consisted of 2 or 3 boxes with everything in. I had people three deep at the counter buying five copies of this first issue. We sold 75% of them in the first week. #1b arrived a week later and you could see the tumbleweed sweeping across the shop floor. #1c and #1d were even worse and #1e was an unmitigated flop. I had a cellar full of X-Men #1s. I knew of fellow shop owners that had even more. Despite this being the most popular comic of all time it probably only sold about 3 million in total…

Then it was time to pay.

The problem was very few people took enough money to cover their orders. Just about every retailer in the US and the UK took a bath on this comic. The problems started when about 30% of the comics shops owners realised they didn’t have enough money (cash flow) to pay their bills and their ‘friends’ the distributor and publisher were hovering over them like vultures on a rotting carcass.

A LOT of this is based on speculation (and not just the kind on eBay). But I’m hearing from enough places that there’s something strange going on with the New 52. I just hope that, regardless of the situation, customers don’t walk away from comics in frustration.

What have you seen in your shops? What do you think about this situation?

UPDATE: Prominent retailer Brian Hibbs (of Comix Experience in San Francisco) gives his own two cents about his store’s New 52 experience so far in his column. Hibbs is always worth reading, even when his store’s successes are different from others’. Check it out.

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7 Responses to “More DC New 52: Sellout Shenanigans? [UPDATED]”

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