Jul 26, 2012

She Is Screaming in the Shower: The Perfect Reboot: How to Bring a Comic Book Publisher into the 21st Century

She Is Screaming in the Shower is a column written by Robert Leichsenring for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archives!

(Note from Duy: Robert's thoughts do not necessarily reflect mine. They don't necessarily not reflect mine either. This article also features Photoshopped images done by Paul Cornish! Everyone go thank him for his work once this is done.)

The Perfect Reboot: How to Bring a Comic Book Publisher into the 21st Century
by Robert Leichsenring

Ave, friends. It is me again. And I brought you pwesents.
Actually, no did not. Germans don't give away stuff for free. Ask Greece.

But I'm here for a new installment of your favorite shower-screaming extravaganza. And an extravaganza it is as our beloved Paul Cornish (check his blogs, they're awesome) has provided me with some unique covers to put a cherry on top of this cream of an article.

Today's madness is centered around the perfect reboot, and how you could use it as a gateway to transform your company in answer to the challenges of the new millennium.

We have seen it couple of times. Reboots, relaunches, renumbering, and whatever else you can do with the prefix "re-." DC is a master at this . . . and by master I mean a 3-year-old with pencils and a printing press. So let's just take their reboot from last year and see if we cannot make it better.

So, where to start?

We already have a bad crossover, FLASHPOINT, to introduce our new status quo. And with the finish of this we have a whole new universe to launch, and enough time to do everything right.

But what are the challenges for publishers today?
  1. Decreasing revenue due to dropping buyers interest and lower sales
  2. Quality decline in story and art
  3. The challenge of online piracy and the digital market
  4. Accessibility for new readers
  5. Gaining new readers
Those points need to be addressed for a publisher to make the transition into the digital age and especially to gain access to new customers, who are naturally intertwined with today's informational technology.

Let's do this.

We finished FLASHPOING, and nothing is as it has been before. A new month, a whole new set of #1s. 52, to be precise.

Total overkill. How can anyone not get lost in a reboot that fires out 52 new number 1s? How can a new reader not get confused with a time difference of 5 years between the flagship and the main line? Especially when the mainline has a complete continuity we do not know anything about?

We start with one book. That's right. First month, one book.

Month 1:

To use the iconic characters as best as possible, we need to have a slower build up, and to make it accessible, please, start from scratch.

And here is the first book:

That's right. ACTION COMICS, introducing the all-new Superman. The twist? It is an oversized issue. See the price tag? 2 dollar. For 40 pages of story. Double the size, half the price.

Now you're going to say that this will be stupid. How is the company going to make money with one book, for 2 dollar, and oversized?

Easy: Advertisement. That is the whole trick. 40 pages of story, and maybe 20 pages of ads. For this we can find different solutions to not interrupt the story without rendering the ads useless. We could try a 7-6-7 approach. Seven upfront, 6 in the middle and 7 in the back. Or, maybe, to break up pages, one or two in between.

The point here is that most monthly and daily magazines and newspapers are only surviving because of the adds. One page in one of Germany's biggest weekly news magazine costs over €40,000. That's a lot of cash (and it was maybe 8 years ago).

Important for the price of the ad is the amount of comics being ordered, which brings us to one big aspect of the whole mess – advertise your own books. DC tried it last year, we have seen small billboards on subway stations and the whole crew frequented every major comic news site. But that ain't enough. Not by a long shot. Ads are meant to draw new customers in. Not the guys who are already buying comic books. The publishers need to tackle the hundreds of millions out there that might just need a little push to pick up a comic book. What we need are TV campaigns, online campaigns (that are not centered on the comic book websites), radio, and movies.

When Green Lantern came out, why not plug a trailer for the reboot upfront, and after the movie is done, just hand out flyers, or have a little teaser with information running after the movie? Be shameless; it's advertisement. PR creates buzz, buzz creates interest, and interest creates sales. The higher the sales, the more you can charge for the interior ads.

And what do you think will happen if DC releases a 40 pages Superman #1 for $2? And if this is the only book coming out this months?

Exactly, Mr. Watson, people will buy.

Now I think we're ready to move on. We have an ad campaign, check. We have a system for interior ads, check. We have our first book coming out, check. We can safely assume that with the right creative team (I rather liked the beginning of Morrison's run). the issue will sell like nothing. A lot of people will see the price tag and just go for it. Because what's 2 dollars, right?

But wait! We forgot the digital side of this whole issue.

Nah, I did not.

The big problem with the current digital market is the following: it's too damn expensive. I do not want to pay the same price for a digital copy that has no physical value. I cannot trade it, I cannot export it. I'm not sure if I could print it. And that's why we're going to price our first issue with $0.99. That's right.

I would include an option so that people can remove the ads after the first or second reading, so that the digital format becomes more attractive.To make the deal perfect, we would give every floppy a download code to download the issue for free, but without the ad removal. For that you have to pay.

Can you see that? There is a system behind it. And I am sure it would work.

We can now enter...

Month 2:
Action Comics #2
Wonder Woman #1

Action Comics #2 will be released and two weeks later we will see the return of Wonder Woman. Same concept: oversized issues, $2 price tag, and digital copies.

For 4 bucks you can get DC's whole line up. For 2 bucks more you'll get ad free digital copies on top.
And 80 pages of story.

Now, we should be at a point where we can slowly introduce more heroes and their titular books.

Month 3:
Action Comics #3
Wonder Woman #2
Green Lantern #1
Flash #1
Aquaman #1

We get the origins out of the way, because not everyone outside your online forum knows what Hal Jordan did before he became a galactic beat cop. Let's tell their stories, give the writers and artists time to develop the characters from scratch, and make them as accessible as possible. We can rewrite their histories, as has been done for decades and create a completely new and clean status quo, from where we can let the universe grow.

Month 4:
Action Comics #4
Wonder Woman #3
Green Lantern #2
Flash #2
Aquaman #2
Batman #1
Detective Comics #1

I didn't forget the Bat, come on.

We let him out later, nice build up, going with a great marketing campaign, and the soon-to-be-released The Dark Knight Rises should create demand with fans that, when stretched out a bit, should result in a sales explosion for the Batman books. While we wrap up the origins in the character books, the heroes can now start to cross over to each other, because we want to bring back the JLA. But not too soon.

The biggest mistake on DC's side was the fact that they tried to push everything into one month of release, overloading the market and scaring of potential new buyers. The DCnU did not evolve organically, unlike Marvel; it's more a like a designed city. Everything is there when you arrive, but it feels artificial and empty.
Nonetheless an organic development is crucial for a shared universe. And superteams took some time to show up.

Month 5:
Action Comics #5
Wonder Woman #4
Green Lantern #3
Flash #3
Aquaman #3
Batman #2
Detective Comics #2
DC Presents #1
DC: A History in 5 Acts #1

Because we do not know exactly what characters to bring back in their own series, we will introduce them in various short in DC PRESENTS, a great format for small serialized stories from various writers and artists.

DC: A HISTORY IN 5 ACTS is supposed to take the role of explaining the backstory of our new universe. You want cram in some Jonah Hex in Gotham? Do it there. WW2 stories? Do it here. Demon Knights? Yeah, you can probably do it here.

Now we have the chance to easily explore this new universe, with one shots, new series and cartoons. And the fans can partake in it for cheap money. $18 for all the floppies and only $9 for the digital.

Anyone interested?

Month 12:
Action Comics #12
Wonder Woman #11
Green Lantern #10
Flash #10
Aquaman #10
Batman #9
Detective Comics #9
DC Presents #8
JLA #1

And there we are, one year to build up the JLA and we are finally ready to put the pedal to the floor and continue in full speed.

Everything is expandable and growing. Not too fast, but not too slow either. The balance here is important, because otherwise readers will leave the titles or feel pushed.

Another significant point is that you have to keep the media campaign running for the year to keep awareness on a high level when JLA finally hits the stands.

I hope you enjoyed this little experiment, and tune in next time when I'm talking about random things and seduce the innocent.

I'm signing out.

Robert "Nemo" Leichsenring

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