DC revealed that it will be cutting back on its variants in our monthly interview with DC SVP Sales Bob Wayne and VP-Marketing John Cunningham, plus their thoughts on October numbers, variants, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and Arrow.
It was another pretty incredible overall growth rate for October.  What are your takeaways for the month?
Wayne:  We’ve been very happy with how a number of our titles held up vs. the most aggressive stuff from our competitors for a number of months.  Also that Superman: Earth One Volume 2 HC was the #1 book in units from the Diamond side.  We had nine of the Top 20, and with Image placing a Walking Dead title in the Top 10, we thought it reflected the way in which the marketplace is extremely competitive for October, and we intend to remain competitive going forward. 
Cunningham:  I would agree with your main point, ICv2, that it was a socko month for the market overall.  To me, I reflect back to a year ago at this time when the industry speculation and the numbers was, "How long can the industry maintain these numbers with 'The New 52'?" so to be a year and a month away from our relaunch and to see the marketplace as healthy, and to have the kind of growth October to October, is very, very good for us as well as for the entire business.  Ultimately, the point is that we all have to work to pull new readers in, and whether it Marvel NOW! or The Walking Dead or what we’re doing with Before Watchmen and New 52, I think you’re seeing that pay off for the benefit of the whole market.
A couple of months ago we talked about variants and you talked about what you were doing in support for the 'Zero' issues (see "DC Execs on Variants & More") and you recently announced a variant program in support of the new Justice League of America (see "Variant Covers Jump the Shark?").  DC may have a different approach to variants than some other publishers; what variant usage do you see as appropriate and what isn’t?
Wayne:  The goal here was to point out that this was not the same title as our Justice League titles.  This is Justice League of America and therefore we were trying to highlight the fact that it was going to have the classic title and represent the United States.  We thought the ideal way to get attention doing that would be to have the flags of the various states as variants, and because 52 is a very important number within our current overall corporate mythology, we added the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to it to get to 52.  These are variants to the extent that they’re not the standard cover, but there’s no buying threshold that retailers will have to achieve in order to be able to buy them.  They won’t have to buy all of them; they can pick and choose which ones they want to take.  If a retailer in Wisconsin only wants to order Wisconsin covers, they can do that, and we’re also going to be offering the same solicitation when that comes out--a block of all 52 variants plus the standard cover at a special $149.99 price so there’s no chase collectability to it. 
This is not an assumption that we will take 52-53 facings on everyone’s comic rack, it’s more what we thought would be an interesting, fun way to draw attention to that without requiring a minimum buy-in to participate.  That would probably be a different philosophy from some of our competitors in that respect. 
Are you saying that you don’t think it’s appropriate to still do "buy 25, 50, 200-get one" variants?
Wayne:  We do that where we feel it’s appropriate and I’d think there’s a difference between doing one or two of those and doing 52 of those.  It would have been very chaotic if we had set threshold levels all up and down the possibility and made it where North Dakota and South Dakota were the rare chase variants, I think that would have been counter to our operating philosophy on how to use those to highlight attention on books.  
Bob, we’ve both been around a while and have seen the ebbs and flows in the collectible aspect of the business vs. readership; it’s a careful balance that needs to be struck.  What’s your feeling on the overall comics business right now and the degree to which variants are being used?
Wayne:  Overall we’re running in the zone of Spinal Tap in that we’ve got it up to 11 on that.  We’re going to pull back and drop variants from a handful of titles in the next solicitation cycle to pull back that number ourselves, where it didn’t seem the variant was making a substantial difference in the buy-in for the book or the perception of books.  We’ll be looking at the remaining titles that have variants the following month.
It’s like having a balanced breakfast in the sense that if you only have variants and you don’t have other aspects of how you try to get the attention of retailers and through retailers to consumers, it would be like only eating pizza.  We’re just trying to make sure we keep a balance between the different ways that we can draw attention to books. 
Cunningham: Did you just say you had pizza for breakfast, Bob?  Is that what I heard?
Wayne:  [Laughter]I mangled and switched metaphors in mid-stream, I should have said it would be like only having Golden Grahams for breakfast.  I’ll have to work on that.
We heard that you’re pushing back release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to match up with the TV advertising (see "'The Girl with Dragon Tattoo' Pushed Back").  What happened there?
Cunningham:  Given the nature of this project and how huge a phenomenon it was in the traditional book market, we hit a point where it didn’t make sense to launch it in that split schedule that we have, direct first, and try to launch our marketing to support the direct market on-sale of the book when we had the campaign for the bookstore market coming afterwards.  It had nothing to do with booking the TV, it just had to with getting a blended on-sale date for a book that has enormous potential in the comic market and in the book trade.
So it was matching up the two channels?
Cunningham:  Right.
Are you doing other advertising in addition to TV and your normal PR?  
As a matter of fact, you’ll see us doing extensive banner ads in mainstream sites like Huffington Post and other places as well as TV ads that go to a fairly diverse list of networks--TBS, TNT, Syfy, Bravo, Lifetime.  Because of the nature of the property and the already existing readership, we’re really trying to go far afield here in terms of our usual marketing outlets.
Wayne:  I just have to point out that we do have long experience in this, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a question involving comic book promotion where the question was "are you doing anything other than TV?"
What PR pickup are you expecting? Can you tell?
Cunningham:  I think you’ll see big, huge review attention.  Book review editors and lifestyle editors at major publications already have a really good track record with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo property, so it’s a pretty easy drop kick to get them to pay attention here, which again benefits not just this project but the comic book and graphic novel industry as a whole. 
Do you think there’s going to be enough copies out there?
I would say absolutely, but I know how great our production group is at turning stuff around so I would love to see that capability.  We’re rather happy with the enormous laydown we have in both markets.  
Have you had any feedback on Arrow Day (see "October 10 is Arrow Day") and what orders are looking like on the first print issue with a cover price?
Wayne:  The are orders in keeping with the other things that are somewhat television related, particularly like Batman Beyond and Smallville, the extension of those that are appearing as digital firsts and then move on to printed.  It’s in that same kind of order area, so so far so good. 
Cunningham:  We were very happy with Arrow Day because I think the way that day worked out in store was the same day that Uncanny Avengers launched and then Batman #13 was in-store.  Most of the retailers I spoke to said "what a great time for you to have this promotional item out there," because it was a huge, heavy traffic day for them.  And then the ratings have been spectacular and I attribute all of that to the promotion that we’ve done (mockingly).