Sunday, February 12, 2012

I'm not surprised by DC's Nielsen survey results because I live backwards in time, kind of like T.H. White's Merlyn...

DC's big reboot brought readers a-flockin' to the banner-- but mostly people who already read comics.  Those elusive brand new readers continued to shun superheroes the way financial success does me.  That's pretty much what I predicted would happen way back  in June, 2011.  Remember?  No?  Luckily for you, I do!  I remember everything because I'm a wizard.  Allow me to educate you by turning you variously into different types of furry animals, birds, insects and fish.

People describing themselves as "avid fans" seemed to love the new DC, accounting for 70% of the sales.  "Lapsed readers" like it, too, making up "a quarter of in store consumers."  But new readers make up a whopping 5% of the buyers.  And most of these are guys.  Women seem to have stayed away in droves.  But then when you step back, most people of whatever gender tend to do that when it comes to comics.

Here's what really interests me in the discussion about this survey:  while reporting a 1% drop in female readership, the DC Women Kicking Ass blog got another one of those "leave DC alone!" type comments from someone claiming women are nothing more than a niche market hardly worth DC's while to approach.  The comments in response to that genius are worth a read, especially when yet another person chimes in to reiterate it.  It's like certain comic book guys go to some kind of school to learn how to miss the point.

The idea is to appeal to as many people as possible.  Because, face it, tiger, comic book readers themselves are the niche market the way things stand.  Everyone else seems to have something better to do with their time.  Or so they think, and nothing DC's tried so far-- or Marvel, for that matter-- has done anything to change this.  You know-- the endless reboots, taking heroic characters and thrusting them into nihilistic stories, the casual misogyny, the massive multi-part stories that undermine any forward momentum the individual monthlies might have, the deaths and rebirths and creative team shuffling.

Nothing really seems to appeal to the general public, of which somewhere around half are women.  Which boggles the mind when movies starring superhero characters are all the rage at the box office.  People in general seem to like Superman and Batman in the talkies, but don't want anything to do with them on the printed page or even in digital form-- which, according to this survey, hasn't turned into either the industry's savior or the death knell of paper and ink-- just the most recent iteration of the infamous chromium-covered variant edition of the regular printed edition for people obsessive enough to need multiple versions of the exact same thing.

What's to be done?  Well, trying something new, some heretofore unseen strategy-- whatever that might be-- could possibly help.  But you know what never will, kid?

Yelling at the girls to keep their icky cooties out of your super-secret he-man boys-only tree fort.

My guess is DC would love to have a vast new readership even if that means losing people like you and the other people who endlessly shift their loyalty from book to book depending on whatever's trending that month.  But you know what?  After reading about this survey, I think you'd probably still buy comics even if they were suddenly colored a gross-out pink and dolled up in ribbons and lace and Batman and Superman started doing a bunch of sissy stuff like talking about their feelings and spending all their time-- ewwwwww-- kissing their girlfriends!  Who probably also have icky cooties, no doubt!

You're a comic book fan!  Buying comics is what you, almost exclusively among your fellow citizens, do!  And to be honest, I don't see those vast new audiences ever showing up to buy comics, so your furtive little hobby is safe in all its sexist glory, buddy.  You did it!  You defeated the fangirls.  Enjoy.  Enjoy the onanistic pleasure of double-bagging your superhero comics in monastic solitude.

Weirdly, over here in Japan, where comic sales are slumping, the reverse is true.  It's hard to throw a rock without hitting a comic book reader.  Let's leave aside the Nielsen survey and some sticky questions about its validity and methodology-- which actually I think are beside the point if DC commissioned it and plans on relying on its data-- let's look at some other numbers.  The top selling Japanese title vastly outperformed the top American book.

I'm talking One Piece, an international sales juggernaut of epic proportions, versus Justice LeagueOne Piece sold 37,996,373 copies in 2011.  That's just in Japan.  DC's Justice League of America sold in the 40,000-50,000 range before it spiked to 180, 709 in September for its second issue after DC chopped off the geographical signifier and entitled it simply Justice League as part of their New 52.  In total, it sold 1,026,441 copies during all of 2011.  To get this figure, I added all the Justice League of Americas and Justice Leagues, including the second month sales of Justice League #1, but I don't know anything about math.  It was never my good subject.

Still, even if I left out a few or a lot we're not anywhere near One Piece's numbers and we live in a world where more people care about what happens to Monkey D. Luffy than to Clark Kent.  If you want to be a stickler, feel free to add things up yourself and toss in Justice League International, Justice League Dark, various Justice League-related trade collections and possibly Marvel's top selling book as well. See how many American titles it takes to equal One Piece.

Look at it this way:  Japan's population is 127, 450,460.  Just over a third of them bought One Piece.  If I ride the train here tomorrow and look at the person sitting on my left and the person sitting on my right, there's a pretty good chance one of them has read One Piece.  How niche-y do you feel now?  Think DC wouldn't love to figure out a way to push their books on a third of the North American population?  Think Time-Warner, Inc. and its stockholders wouldn't love that?

Any strategy that involves concentrating on a very few declining readers while ignoring new markets isn't one that's very viable for the long term.  My palliative-- which is all it can ever be because I really don't think those readers are out there-- is always tell better stories, with better art.  Care more about the characters than the events.  Give books time to grow their readership without involving them in crossover events.  Experiment with genres.  Scout for and cultivate new talent from unexpected places.  These things would bring me back as a regular reader to DC (as opposed to sporadic whenever I go on a jag related to one character or another), but I'm not sure any of that would work for a wider audience because the days of kids riding their bikes to the convenience store to find a spinner rack of brightly colored fun are long gone.  These days they ride their virtual robots to the virtual battlefield to shoot virtual bullets at each other online.  Or something that seems like some kind of horrifying magic to my Neanderthal mind.  Everybody else is too busy voting for American Idol or whatever it is people do.

Gail Simone, however, dissents.  She's pretty sure there's something fishy about these Nielsen numbers.  Hey, she may be right.  I hope she is.  But whatever, I'll keep finding ways to entertain myself over here in my own little niche.


Nathaniel said...

There's no way DC is interested in experimenting with new creators or genres or new anythings. There's a not-so-quiet desperation at DC to bring back the glory days of the '90s. Hence why Rob Liefeld is given three projects, '90s Marvel guys like Scott Lobdell and Howard Mackie are dredged up from the abyss, and half the books look like desperate attempts at '90s-style edginess.

You get the sense from reading interviews with DC's publisher that DC's strategy is "outsell Marvel." And then you read interviews with Marvel's publisher and get the impression that their sole goal is "outsell DC." Neither seems to realize that the ship they're sword fighting aboard is slowly sinking.

At the end of the day, I don't see how anyone expected anything to change. The New DC was the same as the Old DC in everything but name. It was the same people, writing mostly the same books about the same characters. If you've got the same 40-50-something-year-old men at the helm, and if one gets fired or steps down they're just replaced by an identical 40-50-something man, then how can anyone expect anything but the same old stuff?

Joel Bryan said...

Nathaniel, you built that comment entirely out of Truth!