Counting the Ways

DC finally announced what we all new was coming, Countdown, a weekly series follow-up to 52. I will give them credit for a creative numbering gimmick (starting at 51 and counting down, presumably to either zero or #1 of Crisis Management or whatever they call their next event series). And, while I don't know that another weekly series is necessarily the best idea, it does give editorial the chance to apply some lessons learned to improve upon the lackluster storytelling 52 occasionally suffered from.

That said, the fairly spectacular sales of 52 will not necessarily be easy to duplicate and that's not necessarily a bad thing. First, in order for DC to do this correctly, they need to make at least the first few issues returnable (something of a theme lately), if not the first 12 as they did with 52. By all accounts there were a fairly small percentage of issues of 52 returned to Diamond, yet I'll guarantee that no retailer would have taken nearly the chances they did on 52 if not for the option to return what didn't sell. And on a weekly series like this, it's important to hit as high of a ceiling as possible as early as possible, because despite the relative stability of 52's sell in numbers, they have been in steady decline. At the moment it appears that DC is content to assume that retailers will treat Countdown as an extension of 52 and order accordingly. If that remains the plan, then DC is pretty much setting the ceiling of Countdown at whatever minimum sales level 52 ends up at and setting themselves up for a series of diminishing returns when they do arrive at their next big event.

A larger problem, however, is the damage another weekly series could potentially do to DC's mid-list. Marc-Oliver Frisch (among others) has put forth a theory over at The Beat that the dwindling sales of DC's mid-list is at least partially due to those sales shifting towards 52. On an anecdotal level, we can't sell an issue of Hawkgirl or Green Arrow to save our lives and judging from Diamond's sales charts we're not the only ones. While I don't think it's a conscious decision by most consumers to stop buying a title like Nightwing in favor of 52, I do believe that it becomes much easier to stop reading a monthly title of middling quality or interest when $10 a month is being eaten up by a weekly series that purports to be critical to the overall universe and has a much stronger grip on the reader simply by virtue of offering a new piece of story every week.

Whether the thinning of the midlist is a good thing or not is open to debate, but if DC isn't careful, they may end up losing some sales without making up for them with a high selling weekly title. Hopefully we'll see an announcement soon about returnability on the early issues of Countdown, allowing retailers and DC to see the best possible sales and offsetting any damage that may be done to the bottom half of the sales charts.

UPDATE: Rich Johnston has the news that the first twelve issues of Countdown will be partially returnable (about halfway into the column). Good news, but it would be even better if retailers actually got this information with the solicitation copy -- or at all.


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