A number of people have asked me recently what I think of DC Comics' plan to relaunch their entire line of comics with fifty-two new #1 issues beginning next week. My response has been the same each time; it is not the print version of these comics that is the key element here. It is the digital edition, which will be released "day and date" with the ink-on-paper editions.
It is no secret that comic books have lost a substantial portion of their readership over the past decade-plus. The print runs for many books being published these days are less than 10,000 copies -- numbers that would have had past generations of publishers cancelling the titles faster than a speeding bullet. (Books that were cancelled for "low sales" just a couple of decades ago -- my own 'Mazing Man included -- would be considered top-sellers in today's market.)
The potential new readers have grown used to getting all their entertainment online -- games, TV, movies. They are not likely to walk into a comic book shop and start buying up lots of $2.99 and $3.99 "pamphlets." Nor are they likely to become hooked on anything DC or Marvel is currently publishing by buying a single issue because there are virtually no self-contained stories any more. Company-wide "events" that are spread over seventy-five different issues? At $3 of $4 a pop? It's no wonder even the current fans have been dropping out.
Starting over with all #1s that are also revamps of the existing characters makes sense if you are looking to hook a brand-new audience. And while DC is already crowing about having orders of more than 200,000 print copies of JLA #1 and 100,000 of six other titles, that is probably lots more speculators than new readers. It is the digital sales that will be the telling factor here... and those won't be known until the issues are released.
Should the digital versions of the books build up an audience -- at the expense of the printed versions, of course -- the next logical step would have a substantial number of the titles going "digital-only," with only the most mainstream characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) still appearing in print. That is the game-plan I would be pushing if I were still there.
But then, what do I know? After all, I'm the guy who, back in the mid-80s, said that comic book coloring, color separations, lettering, and even the art could and would eventually be done on a computer screen, only to be pooh-poohed by the powers-that-were.