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 2, we talk about the quest for new readers, maintaining momentum, title counts, and the impact of digital.  In Part 3, we talked about gay characters, creator rights, and upcoming projects.   And in Part 1, we talked about the changes in the market over the past year and Lee and Didio's roles as co-publishers.

The DC re-launch has been very successful in three formats now.  We've seen how the graphic novels are selling; the periodicals and digital did great.  The initial research you reported said you’re picking up a lot of lapsed readers and to a lesser extent new readers. One of the goals of "The New 52" was to bring in new readers.  How successful have you been at that and where do you put yourself now?
Didio:  I just think new readers don’t like to take surveys, that's all! [laughing]

Lee:  The numbers that we got from "The New 52" exceeded our initial expectations, so just in terms of absolute numbers I think we got some healthy new readers and some lapsed readers.  Percentage-wise, the lapsed readers didn't really surprise me.  The fact that we're out there every single month is unlike any other form of entertainment--movies come out once every couple of years for a franchise, TV shows have a season and they end.  Comics are continually out there month in and month out.  You can see, unless you do these big kind of events that are very welcoming to people, you’re not going to be able to draw in new or lapsed readers.

At the end of the day I count a lapsed reader the same as a new reader.

The money is the same.
Lee:  Exactly, the money is the same.  The lapsed readers probably would not have come back, because there are so many other things that are distracting them.  So we have to compete with videogames and movies by doing big events like this that garner mass market publicity and with advertising on TV.  We're going out there and competing for that mind share.  We're happy with the surge of new readers.

If you talk anecdotally with retailers and brick and mortar stores, they’ve seen it.  I think that's really positive for the industry.

Didio:  The only thing I can add to that is when you get down to lapsed or new, one thing is certain: it's a younger audience.  We are seeing a younger audience and if they’re coming in younger, they’re going to be here for a longer period of time.

It's interesting because we go sit in the panels now and so many panelist questions are about "The New 52" and such like that, there were less conversations about the archives and things of the older nature, which shows you that they’re really latching onto the new material and want to follow how that develops.

Lee:  And one thing I'll add, through comiXology we had some data from our sales on Smallville and about 40% of people buying or downloading that comic book were new consumers; they had opened up new accounts.  To me, that's a staggering large number and I think it points to the way we’re going to see a lot of growth, especially in terms of new readers.

Now you've got the zero issues coming out in September, which is one thing you're doing to maintain momentum.  Was that planned when you started the re-launch?  After the zeroes, what are you going to do to keep the momentum going?
Didio:  We have a couple of plans.  I'd love to be able to celebrate the anniversary of "The New 52" with something that feels so special and something that unifies the line thematically (maybe not story-wise).  We're leading to probably our first crossover event in the latter half of next year, but you're going to see a better continuity developing through the line.  Hopefully through the zeroes, we'll bring some clarity to our characters.  There might be some questions on how they came to be five years in "The New 52," so to speak.  What I'm hoping is everyone buys in to what we're trying to do and it re-introduces people to some of the books they might have sampled, may have gotten away from, and they come back to see what's happening with the zeroes.  Because it's not just about giving a snapshot or a snippet of what they are in the past, but also setting up stories for the future.

Lee:  I think Zero Month is very much in the spirit of "The New 52."  Again, if you’ve missed it the first time around, you could jump back in.  They're stand-alone stories and they reveal something interesting about the characters and serve as powerful hooks that draw you back in the following month.

Are you going to hold the DCU line around the same number of titles?
Didio:  My statement has always been that I'd like to keep it new and I'd like to keep it 52. [Laughing] No seriously, I think it's a nice number.  We've shown that we can support it.  We can show that one through 52 can all be profitable productions, but that doesn't stop us from making sure we have growth in other types of ideas and products.

We have things that are licensed books that we can continue to do.  We have the Vertigo line that we're continuing to try to build on, as a matter of fact, we're not even talking about Vertigo and Jim and I were just doing a co-publisher's panel and we looked at the Vertigo that we were talking.  We talked about the success of the Anthony Bourdain book, the fact Girl with Dragon Tattoo is coming, the fact that Django Unchained is coming, the fact that we have a new Sandman miniseries coming.  We have Fables going, Unwritten…  As a matter of fact, it's a great time for Vertigo right now.  Just where we want it to be as we’re launching into their 20th anniversary.

Digital has obviously been tremendously successful, and print is going up at the same time.  Do you think this is a sign that we can start to approach the per capita consumption levels in good comic markets like Japan, which are basically 10 times the spend per capita then they are in the U.S.  Is digital what opens up the market to a greater audience?
Lee:  It's tough because it's not really an apples to apples comparison culturally.  Some things work in Japan that don’t work here.  When Xbox launched, it became the dominant platform in North America, but it's not as widely adopted in Japan.  Some Apple products are similarly disdained in other parts of the world.  So, it's a tough comparison to make, but a great goal to shoot for.  It's the fastest growing channel we have and we should embrace it because you don't want to be protecting what you have at the expense of growing into something new.  That's been our strategy: looking to the future, looking to grow, but also paying attention to what we have.  We're not growing at the expense of the direct market; we’re trying to grow by continually building the direct market up with these awesome initiatives every quarter.

There’s some thought that digital availability can affect pirated content by making an easy and relatively inexpensive way to access that content.  Have you seen that happening?
Lee:  I think that’s the only way to combat it.  You have to have the mentality that you can't compete with free unless you give them something they can't get for free.  What they can't get for free is having a library they can sort through, having all the guided view features and a lot of the other functionalities we have on our app.  Honestly, when you start getting into the realm of comics that are more interactive in terms of either storylines and/or touch comics where you're tapping the screen to move the story forward, I think you’re going to see even higher numbers as people realize this is the only place you can get this type of material.

Are you seeing an impact on the consumption of pirated content as the result of good digital availability?
Lee:  I’m not sure how we would measure that per se.  We don’t track that on an active basis.  All the anti-piracy stuff happens at the Warner Bros. level, not on the DC Entertainment level.

You started talking about using digital to enhance the experience.  What does digital open up creatively?  What are you moving toward in terms of changing the comics experience for the digital medium?
Lee:  We’ve had many discussions about this.  There is an experience that's called "reading a comic book" and as you tweak that and change it, it can morph and become something completely different.  So, are you making comics plus, or are you creating motion comics or animation?  At some point you're changing the experience of what you're actually selling.  That said, there've been some pretty interesting experiments and we’ve had our own internal ideas of what we think will work best.  We want it to be an active reading experience as opposed to a passive viewing experience.  To me that’s the crucial difference.

You have to drive the pace?
Lee:  Exactly.  It requires you touch the screen to move the story forward.  Maybe it wouldn't have sound or sound effects because that can take you out that kind of experience.  Hearing that can distract you from the world you’re creating as you’re reading and seeing the pictures.  Those are going to roll out in the next couple of years.

Right now there seems to be a lot of hunger for just having the catalog material in digital formats so people can have that with them and have that ease of collecting the comics.  That's definitely going to happen.  I think in five years we’re going to look back on this era and be very bemused by what we’re selling as digital comics, because I think it’s going to be very, very different.

Click here for Part 3.

--Interview by Milton Griepp