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Interview with Lee and Didio, Part 1

The Market, Being Co-Publishers

Published: 07/26/2012 01:22am
ICv2 got a chance to talk to DC co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio at Comic-Con in our annual conversation about the state of the market and DC’s place in it.  The backdrop for this conversation was very different from what it was a year ago just before the launch of the New 52 and DC’s new digital strategy.  In Part 1, we talk about the changes in the market over the past year and Lee and Didio’s roles as co-publishers.  In Part 2, we talked about the quest for new readers, maintaining momentum, title counts, and the impact of digital.  And in Part 3, we talked about gay characters, creator rights, and upcoming projects.

Looking at last year's interview (see "Interview with Didio and Lee, Part 1"), the situation in the market was so different from where we are today.  Last year you talked about the softening of periodicals, that maybe digital was hurting sales, or the economy was, or maybe the books weren’t that great, or that digital piracy was having an effect.  Now periodical books are on fire and graphic novels are doing really well.  Can you talk about that change in circumstance and what that means for the business?
Lee:  I'd like to think that some of our initiatives were responsible for some of this uplift.  I think anytime you're in a competitive marketplace when one company really takes off, you can either choose to compete or fold.  Between "The New 52" and Before Watchmen, all the things we've been doing digitally, same day digital, and all the other things we've been doing, I think when Diane [Nelson] put this team together, one of the very first things that came out of that first meeting  was a policy to not have fear.  No fear.  And if you look at some of the stuff we've been doing, I think the old DC might have said, "I don't know if that's a great idea."  And it’s not to say that we’re being half-assed here, we put a lot of thought and discussion and analysis in before launching all these initiatives.  But at the end of the day we felt there would be tremendous upside in doing this. I think it's paid off and that rising tide has lifted all boats and, on top of that, it's challenged the other publishers to do their best, too.

Marvel came back with Avengers vs. X-Men, and The Walking Dead is on fire right now, and that's great for the industry.  And now we've got to top those guys.  And that makes the retailers flush with capital, so they’re placing bigger bets on the next project.  You can see from Justice League, which was the #1 book from the "New 52" in terms of sales; to Avengers vs. X-Men, which was higher; to The Walking Dead, which is even higher; you start seeing that we're reaching new top marks for monthly circulations which is tremendous after years of declining numbers.  I think it's super positive for business right now.

Didio:  We made a lot of changes because we knew there were lots of problems.  One of the key changes we did also was to make sure that our books and schedules were back on time.  So much of that was broken in the way we presented our material to the stores.  One of the things we heard from the retailers was they had one of their best January's in 20 years because the books were there, and they didn’t miss delivery, and they were available and people had confidence that when they went into a store, the books were going to be available to them.  I think that was important.
 
The one key number that I've been focusing on and even saying to our talent--we went through a lot of change and it was hard work for everybody and it was a lot of work.  And if the question is whether or not it was rewarded, the bottom line is if you look at the first six months of last year compared to the first six months of this year, we pushed out 4.9 million more units this year than we did last year in the first six months alone, which is a ridiculously spectacular number.

Obviously with the books being sold, that's one of the reasons that the retailers are so bullish in the marketplace right now.  We feel this level is being reached because they're willing to take investment and risk now, too because they have the capital to be able to do so.  And as Jim said, I’d like to think we're an important part of making that happen.

Another big change from a year ago is that there are 600-700 fewer bookstores than before.  Can you talk about the changing landscape for selling graphic novels and what that means for the industry and DC’s future?
Didio:  It's an interesting question because you say there are fewer bookstores, but the reality is there’s always two major competitors and in this case right now it's just changed a little in that one of them is not a brick and mortar and one of them is.  You have Barnes and Noble and Amazon.  Amazon is a giant bookstore, it just doesn't happen to have a store you walk into.  Being one of the largest suppliers of our material, that's important to us.  If things collapse or stores close, there are other entities that rise to fill that void.

I'd like to think that also helps all the of the specialty stores as well, the direct market.  If there aren’t any bookstores then the spontaneous purchase and spontaneous buys can translate to their stores and help us grow as well.

It's been two years since you took over as co-publishers, which is a unique structure.  Have there been any changes in your areas of responsibilities?  Any reflections on how it's worked out?
Lee:  For my opinion, it's been working great.  It is unusual but it does exist in other entertainment companies and corporations.  Dan and I knew each other for many years and had worked together when I was working on WildStorm and he was in charge of editorial oversight for all of DC.  We had a real good sense of each other, not just in the business sense but also we're friends.  Having had that past experience made it really easy to transition to this.  That said, it's tough to have two cooks in the kitchen, and I think we naturally gravitated toward certain things to lead and the other person supports, and what’s cool about it is that oftentimes we'll change that kind of relationship as things evolve and change within the company.  I think we have a really great working relationship.

It's tough because of the time zone difference so there's only a certain amount of time per day.  Honestly, I wish I could be there in person every day.  But given that one constraint that we really can't change, I think it has been really phenomenal working with Dan.  He's got so much energy and passion for the things that we publish that it makes my part of the job very easy and a pleasure.

Didio:  My biggest concern has always been the time difference, because the one thing I always wished we had was Jim's time on the East Coast, working directly with the editors.  His leadership, vision and ideas are exactly what’s needed at times just to really galvanize people and elevate the material.  He has so many ideas; he comes sweeping in and really helps everybody and lifts what's going on there.  I love that moment.  I love to watch it, actually, because it's just fun.  I get excited for the stories as they're being discussed, as a fan and as a co-publisher.

I just basically want say all the same things Jim did; it’s just one of those things that just seems to work.  We have two different personalities, two different skill sets, come from two different places, and we just sort of gravitate to things and mix and match and things work out.  If Jim responds to an email first I know I don’t have to do anything, so that's kind of cool.  It's a really interesting blend, and I can't even describe it as something that's planned out, because it’s not, it just sort of happens--nicely.

Click here for Part 2.

--Interview by Milton Griepp
 
 
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