Bookscan Shows DC Still Hates the Web

By | Tuesday, April 16, 2024 Leave a Comment
Late last week, Brian Hibbs published his annual review of the year's Bookscan numbers. Comprehensive and powerful stuff, as always. But also as always, there is a crap-ton of data to unpack, so even Hibbs' nearly-30,000-word analysis skims past a fair amount. As I did last year (that was a year ago?!?) I'd like to make a few call-outs.

Hibbs calls out the new-to-the-Top-750-list publisher Webtoons Unscrolled...
New this year to the Manga charts is another new publisher: Webtoon Unscrolled – they formed right at the very end of 2021, and Bobbie Chase is (was?) the EIC, but they’re already regularly placing books in the Top 750, and they are thus the #7 manga publisher according to BookScan 2023 reporters. They place five books in, all Korean Webtoons, for 92k copies and $1.8m in sales.

Their best-seller is True Beauty where v1 (#1) sells 29k, and v2 (#3) sells 19k. This is followed by Cursed Princess Club, where v1 is #2 (22k) and v2 is #4 (12k), and Doom Breaker where v1 is just a hair under 10k.
Hibbs is comparing them (justifiably) to other manga, but I'm curious how they compare to other web-first comics...
Clarion/Etch was a formerly Houghton Mifflin Harcourt middle-grade imprint. Clarion places a dozen titles within the Top 750, led by the success of the web-first Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur – v1 (#2 overall for HarperCollins) leads with almost 77k copies, while v2 (#4) comes in at 75k sold, while v3 (#5) sells 73k – that’s a remarkably consistent sales pattern.
... and...
I was also a little surprised to see a fairly low number for the webtoon-originated Batman: Wayne Family Adventures where v1 only trickled in about 6700 copies. And let’s maybe try to forget the other webtoon titles Zatanna and the House of Secrets or Vixen NYC where v1 of those didn’t even sell enough copies to pay for the printing costs – 757 and 302 respectively.
And I suppose I should make the semi-obligatory reminder that Raina Telegemeir's Smile was a webcomic before it became a perennial best-seller. Hibbs reports that book came in at 103,000. That's something of an outlier for what I want to compare, so let's set that aside.

So what does the above look like in a somewhat-easier-to-digest presentment?
Book Publisher Sales
Hooky vol. 1 Clarion/Etch 77,000
Hooky vol. 2 Clarion/Etch 75,000
Hooky vol. 3 Clarion/Etch 73,000
True Beauty vol. 1 Webtoon Unscrolled 29,000
Cursed Princess Club vol. 1 Webtoon Unscrolled 22,000
True Beauty vol. 2 Webtoon Unscrolled 19,000
Cursed Princess Club vol. 2 Webtoon Unscrolled 12,000
Doom Breaker Webtoon Unscrolled   10,000
Batman: Wayne Family Adventures   DC 6,700
Zatanna and the House of Secrets DC 757
Vixen NYC DC 302

I think it's worth looking at in this format to see the breakdown more readily. First, each publisher has its own ballpark that it's playing in, sales-wise. You can probably chalk that up, in part at least, to the fact they've got on their physical distribution methods and varying degrees of expertise there. Webtoon Unscrolled is, after all, a newer publisher here in the States, so that an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt wildly outsells them should be no surprise. But the chart, I think, even further highlights just how piss-poor a job DC is doing. Hibbs expresses his surprise at this as well, but I'd like to add that DC has ALWAYS done a phenomenally bad job at digital. Over a decade ago, when DC shuttered their first digital comics initiative, I wrote...
Frankly, I'm not at all surprised Zuda has closed. It was almost inevitable. Not because Zuda was doing anything so wrong, but because office politics and "this is the way we've always done it" stood in its way. Zuda was always "not-DC" within the DC offices, and it's likely that DC Comics getting folded into DC Entertainment and Diane Nelson's subsequent appointment as President last year is what's kept Zuda alive this long. (Not infrequently, an incoming leader likes to take some time to survey the status quo before making significant changes.)
Several years later, when DC closed their website, I posted this...
That obliquely points to one of DC's problems: they still don't know what they're doing online, despite running a company website of some sort since 1994. Back in 2014, I talked about how they seemed to approach their whole online presence with no sense of strategy, like they were just copying what other companies are doing without understanding why. But even so, they seem to be deliberately holding one hand behind their back in their approach to digital comics...

Digital comics aren't part of "DC-proper" and they're given the short shrift. Which is mind-boggling to me! I can almost guarantee that Marvel is making tons more money than DC when it comes to digital comics, because they've given digital comics some measure of consideration and have a strategy around them. They don't have an also-ran "well, we've got the files digitally to send to the printer anyway" approach...

You'd think somebody in the publishing division wouldn't continue to approach the web as if it's some strange new thing that no one has figured out how to monetize yet. DC's management has changed several times since 1994 but they don't seem to have altered their thinking about the web since then.
Decades later, DC continues trying to half-ass their online efforts, offering no support to the people producing them, and then using the inevitably poor showing as "proof" why the web doesn't work. When the world wide web was only a couple years old in the mid-90s, that was maybe a valid excuse. EVERYBODY was still trying to figure out what the web was back then. But thirty years on, after multiple publishers have proven what can be done with it? That's just sad and pitiable, DC.

Hibbs still remains surprised that Marvel is doing a worse job than other publishers at selling their own material. I pointed out last year that this is precisely part of Marvel's long-term plan in order, I think, to get out of publishing altogether. DC's spent the past several years trying to copy Marvel's franchise success in movie theaters; maybe they should try copying their publishing plan too. Even if they do as bad a job imitating that as they do Marvel's movies, that'd still almost certainly be better than paltry 302 copies of Vixen NYC!
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