On Business: The Problem with DC

By | Monday, May 26, 2014 1 comment
I don't pay much attention to DC these days. Most of what I see/hear comes across in a kind of osmosis-like fashion as I'm keeping up with comic book news in general. Nothing specifically against DC, but I just haven't really connected with much of what they were doing since about 1986. But lately, I've caught a couple pieces on how DC might not be doing as well as it should, and not really serving the (even small superhero niche) market as well as Marvel.

Since I'm not all up in DC's business, I'm not going to ponfiticate about they could solve all their problems by doing X, Y and Z. But I will point to what I think is a more significantly noticeable symptom of their broader issue. First, let's take a look at their home page at DCComics.com...
Attractive enough site, I suppose, but let's set asthetics aside. Where do you learn about comics here? You have to click on the "COMICS" link in the navigation. There's nothing about comics visible on their home page.

True, there's some new release information if you scroll down the page a bit, but on that's not, as we say in the trade, "above the fold." Which means that it's not going to be seen by many (most?) visitors because they're not going to bother to scroll to see it. (As an aside, the "above the fold" terminology is actually borrowed from the newspaper industry. No one actually expects you to fold your screen!)

Now, granted, it's entirely possible that I happened to catch this screen grab on the one day that there was no comics news taking up one of the top spots on the page. But that still misses the point. The point is that I've just landed on dcCOMICS.com and I have to select a separate category to actually get to the part that talks about comics. The URL for that section uncomfortably reads: dccomics.com/comics. Which is perfectly serviceable technologicially speaking, but it kind of doesn't make sense. Why would you need a comics section for a comics site?

And once you get into that section, you can read about the comics that are out now and coming out soon and whatever. But what if you, I don't know, wanted to actually BUY a comic? Well, then you have to scroll down a ways before you have the option to go over to another site, depending on how you want to buy your comics. If you want digital books, you go to readdcentertainment.com. If you want printed books, you have to go to http://www.shopdcentertainment.com/category/dcshop_brands/dc+comics.do?ref=DCBUYNOW and then select "Books" from the "Graphic Novels" menu. A menu which, I might, has "Books" as the only option in it. Lastly, if you want a subscription to the pamphlet comics, you can go to https://ssl.drgnetwork.com/ecom/dcc/app/live/dccmultisubs?org=dcc and select from 26 of their titles. None of these locations, you'll note, are actually on dccomics.com.

If you check out Marvel's site, they have the same basic set-up. The home page features more about their movies and shows than their comics, and you have to select "COMICS" to get to a page talking specifically about them. Then from there, you have options to go to a digital comics store, or get a print subscription. Although I don't see where you can buy printed graphic novels through their site, they do have a much larger number of titles available on a subscription basis. The big difference, though, is that regardless of which option you select, you're still on a Marvel.com domain: comicstore.marvel.com, subscriptions.marvel.com, shop.marvel.com.

And at no point does it sound like you're falling into a recursive linguistic loop. It's Marvel Dot Com Slash Comics, not DC Comics Dot Com Slash Comics. (Which is really, when you think about it, Detective Comics Comics Dot Com Slash Comics.)

You know, this all seems terribly superficial and it really is. But it's emblamatic of DC's overall approach, I think. They're not thinking strategically. Or at least not strategically enough for a company of their size with character licenses of their weight. Whatever you might think of his business practices or ethics, when Ronald Perelman bought Marvel in 1989, he called it a mini-Disney. And while there were some seriously bad moves made by the company in the immediate years afterward, I think that they collectively started to address the larger picture. Not just what's going on in the Marvel Universe (i.e. how the latest event crossover epic fits into each individual title) but how that works relative to movies, TV, toys, games, etc. It took them a solid ten years to get that figured out, but they got there.

DC, on the other hand, doesn't seem to ever have had that. (Not in recent memory anyway.) They had a fantastic ten-year run with Smallville and parlayed that into... a single comic book title that didn't even start until a year after the last show aired. They've had multiple well-received Teen Titans cartoons that they seemed to smack in the face with let's-just-call-them-radically-more-adult interpretations in the comics.

I get that the movie production studios aren't necessarily going to work hand-in-glove with the comics people, and that it's perfectly fine to have multiple interpretations of a character out in the public. But look at DC's website. It's a site that's essentially copying what other people (not necessarily just Marvel; they were just an easy counter-example) are doing without any strategy behind how/where/why that might or might not be a good idea. I get that same sense when I hear snippets about them trying to shoehorn a Superman/Batman movie together. I don't know what the solution is, but not only am I seeing evidence that neither does DC, what I'm seeing suggests that they don't even know that it's a problem that needs to be solved!
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Matt K said...

Very telling observation.

I should preface my further comments with the fact that I visit hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com at least daily, and cheer for updates. That having been said, I don't think the site's creators are really creating a gaffe narrative that doesn't exist…

…and I'm often reminded, when contemplating DC, of a John Byrne interview, maybe almost 20 years ago. I recall him remarking something like "Marvel is evil; DC is just stupid." Now, I don't really regard Byrne as an authority on much of anything. I don't know if this represented any real insight so much as just a stopped-clock accuracy, and Byrne accompanied the suggestion with a declaration that he considered DC stupidity preferable, of the two.

All that aside, though, the company seems to continue living down to that judgment, after nearly two decades. DC really, really does seem just plain dumb.