Before making their holiday weekend getaway, DC’s Senior VP of Sales Bob Wayne and VP of Marketing John Cunningham graciously took time from their schedules for a brief interview with ICv2 concerning March sales in which they discussed the influence of the number of ship days on monthly comic numbers, the different approaches Marvel and DC employ to interest retailers in their major publishing programs, and their expectations that graphic novels sales will rebound this spring and summer as collections of the “New 52” titles become available.
First off, what are your impressions of sales in March?
BobWayne: Our general impression of sales in March is that we were really, really happy to have our market share increase over what we had in February, and that we had seven books out of the top ten on the Diamond chart. 
It’s interesting that in March Marvel got three titles in the top ten after getting shut out in February, but still DC closed the marketshare gap by over a point in March?
Bob Wayne: We are pleased that we gained share, and we never expected that we would hold ten out of ten at the top of the chart for ever.  I think it is better for the business if everybody is firing on all cylinders, that our competitors are doing interesting things, and we are doing interesting things.  It keeps everybody on their toes and it keeps enthusiasm in the readership.  The retailers remain involved wanting to make sure that they have enough of everything.  I think it’s a good thing all around.
Year-over-year comic sales were down in March for the first time in 7 months, does the fact that there were five ship weeks in March of 2011 and only 4 in March of 2012 have something to do with that decline?
Bob Wayne: Yes, I would say that is probably the most substantial factor in that drop.  When we do internal conversations here about this stuff, we always make it a high reference point to figure out how many Wednesdays (on-sale days) there were in a given month, because it definitely is a factor.  You also get more reorder books that add to those sales numbers in a five-week month than you do in a four-week month, in addition off course to having five weeks of product (versus four).
Is that why is better to analyze the numbers over a longer period of time like a quarter?
Bob Wayne: That’s why we try to take the long view and not look at just one month’s results.  Looking quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year gives you a better idea of what the trend line is.
How would you contrast the ways in which Marvel promoted their Avengers Vs. X-Men event with what DC did with the launch of the “New 52”?
Bob Wayne: Well there’s a different approach in how we sell to retailers and what we use as incentives to encourage them to order extra copies.  Marvel offered the possibility of getting very deep discounts on these titles, certainly deeper than any of the discounts that we’ve offered on the launch of the “New 52.”  We tend to use other tools to get retailers’ attention and get our books on the shelves. DC and Marvel just have different philosophies at this point on how to do this.
Do you think that part of the malaise in the graphic novel market has to do with the hangover from DC’s re-launch of its entire line, which made collections of the final pre-“New 52” story arcs largely irrelevant?
Bob Wayne: Well, I think because we were in our transition point in our publishing plan with Flashpoint as kind of the bridge between our former publishing plan and going into the “New 52,” we expected that we would have some folks ordering tighter on graphic novels.  The number of periodicals with very strong sales has affected graphic novel sales.  Retailers are expecting to get quick replenishment on the book-format product so they may be ordering tighter given the dollar demands of the hot periodicals.  That said, we have already gone through initial orders on a number of the hardcover and soft cover collections of the “New 52” material.  We’ve already been through final order cut-off on some of those and the numbers are very, very strong, so whatever perception of a dip in the graphic novel market is going to be reversed by the end of the second quarter. We also have things that are not related to the “New 52” that are very strong.  We have the Chip Kidd Batman, Death By Design original graphic novel coming up, and we also have the Geoff Johns Batman: Earth One HC book coming up and both of those are going to surprise folks with the number of copies we will be shipping out in both the direct market and bookstore channels.
John Cunningham: In that forward-looking way that we have to employ when we look at book publishing planning, given the requirements of that side of the business, as we look at the rest of 2012, graphic novels looks like a huge category for us.  The “New 52” collections beginning in May and running through the end of the year, plus the Batman: Earth One and a Superman: Earth One Vol. 2 in the fall, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the fall, the Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland original graphic novel in the fall.  I think that our business, looking down the rest of 2012, will be extremely bullish in that category.
Comic sales declined slightly in March, the first drop in seven months.  The “New 52” titles have reached issue #7—what have you got coming down the pike to energize the periodical side of the business?
Bob Wayne: We have a batch of new titles joining the “New 52.”  In May we have six new titles in our “Second Wave,” led by Batman Inc., which is a Grant Morrison title that is making its “New 52” debut. Then the following month we have the start of more Watchmen in periodical form, so six “New 52” titles in May and a weekly presence for Before Watchmen periodicals starting in June.  These should help create a lot of demand at retail for periodicals, and I think we have our schedule kind of balanced that we will have a major new comic book in most reader’s minds, at least one of them every single week, and possibly more depending on how diverse there purchases are.
What have you seen in your bookstore channel graphic novel sales since the advent of the “New 52”?
Bob Wayne: Bookstore sales don’t seem to have shifted a lot on the perception that the books coming out right now don’t matter.  The strongest batch of stuff we have right now in both channels are the Batman stories that Scott Snyder is doing, the ones that lead into where we are right now in the Batman stories.  We have been through four printings in hardcover of the Batman: Black Mirror.  It’s just very, very strong and it’s gotten a lot of good buzz, and soon we will be shipping the first of his (Snyder’s) “New 52” Batman collections.