There is a rumor that has reached me of late, to the tune of “is DC Comics going to close?” As with many such rumors that find their meandering lil’ ol’ way to me on the Internet–I let my imagination go *wild!*
Then of course I tried to be serious and actually do some research.
Soooo…the main article that seems to have kicked off this rumor is from Forbes, “Where Does DC Comics Fit In AT&T’s Vision For WarnerMedia?” Though with the recent shuttering of the MAD and Vertigo sub-imprints, there already seemed to be some sort of industry-wide anxiety on the subject.
And then there was the absence of the usually bombastic DC booth at San Diego Comic-Con.
…returning attendees noticed a major change on the show’s massive exhibit floor. The booth for DC Comics, which had been a massive standalone pavilion in the center of the publishers’ area in the center of the hall, was gone. America’s oldest and second-largest comic book publisher had retreated to the far back corner of the hall, where it was incorporated into the multi-level WarnerMedia exhibit…
If you’ve been a regular convention-hopper, this would seem to be a rather ominous change.
But perhaps it’s all a matter of perspective. The Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam movies were all hits. The DC-based TV series on the CW keeps chugging along & doing well. And, of course, the DC videogames are gangbusters–to the point where some of the publisher’s best-selling comic books are adaptations of the games.
…and that, to me, is the issue. The movies/TV/games are the real money-drivers, what AT&T probably has their hopes on.
Again, per the Forbes piece:
AT&T—now the parent company of WarnerMedia and its divisions, including DC Comics (previously known as DC Entertainment), HBO, Turner, and Warner Bros.—does not seem terribly interested in being in the comic book publishing business. It’s telling that in a long profile of AT&T CEO John Stankey this morning in Variety, DC was one of the only WarnerMedia brands that was not mentioned. To the extent that DC matters at all in the company’s future, it’s as a source of owned IP for other media channels and as a lifestyle brand to serve as an ambassador to geek culture.
Furthermore, the revenue from the Direct Market only adds up to a relative “drop in the bucket” to a mega-corporation like AT&T:
The entire comics publishing business in the U.S., including periodicals, digital and trade, adds up to around $1.1 billion, according to 2018 estimates by industry analyst ICv2. On a good month, about 35% of the revenue from the direct market goes to DC, along with a chunk of trade book sales for perennial titles like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. That wasn’t ever very much in the Time Warner days, and it’s a smaller drop in an even bigger ocean following the AT&T acquisition.
If the monthly print editions were producing enough new IP to get the world excited, it’d be one thing. But in a recent interview with industry journal ICv2, DC Comics President Dan Didio admitted:
Where my concern comes from is more about the overreliance on nostalgia, speculator marketing, variant covers, and a lot of things that seem to be driving numbers in sales to give the appearance of a healthy industry, but it’s not built on the ongoing success of the individual titles in order to keep those numbers successful and maintained. If we’re creating these artificial highs on a continual basis, if something pulls that apart, does it break the infrastructure overall…(?)
So basically, it seems like a bit of the “health” of the Direct Market is based on these “nostalgia” type gimmicks for fans…fans that tend to be, according to the Forbes piece at least, “…old and male even by the standards of the comics industry.”
Whereas what AT&T (and hell, Disney…another post in the near future, I assure you) wants is an audience that is ” younger, hipper, more ethnically and gender-diverse.”
This fact, of course, makes the Comicsgate-type crowd apoplectic: believing that “they’re throwing away Comics History!” and “they are discriminating against the real fans!”
But here’s the thing (just so I’m not misunderstood):
Despite not being the “right” gender for such, I’ve grown up with an appreciation of traditional comics culture, including the ritual of New Comics Day and perusing the seemingly endless monthly offerings in the Diamond catalog.
But to the AT&Ts and Disneys of the world…these happy nostalgic rituals **don’t mean shit**.
(Please don’t shoot the messenger.)
And so we go back to the question: is AT&T going to shutter DC Comics?
I don’t believe so. But they are probably going to substantially cull the amount of monthly titles, focus much more on bookstore/YA sales, and pull the publishing works in closer with Consumer Products and their movie/TV/game slate.
But, of course, that’s just a guess.