I do not know which group of fans are being driven more crazy right now, Dr. Who fans or DC superhero fans. I can tell you the Dr. Who fans are having more fun with the huge plot developments in the recent episodes (see: Docbacks -“A Goodman goes to War”. DC fans are reeling with the latest news of a cross the board re-launch in September. You can find the details on the re-launch here, The DC Universe Reboots After “Flashpoint”! (posted by SeanTheComicGuy) and all the news and reactions at Bleeding Cool.
What this post will deal with is the evolution of a New Media Principle shaping the Marketplace. The news out of DC comics is an excellent example of this new principle. So the first thing to do is remind ourselves of first principles. All mass media principles in some way tie back to the first two principles:
1. All Mass Media have specific target audiences.
2. All Mass media have business interests.
When we look at DC comics and the comic-book industry in general, it is suffering from a contracting and aging target audience. Yet in DC comics case, the have some of the most recognizable, iconic comic-book superheroes on the planet: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash,and Green Lantern.
These characters have enormous revenue earning potential, television, movies, computer games, clothing, toys, and more for the company. The company is the publishing division of DC Entertainment Inc.,a subsidiary company of Warner Bros. Entertainment, which itself is owned by Time Warner. Wheels within wheels, media within media, and the only question is how to get the largest possible target audience to receive the message & purchase the product. But unfortunately, your core target audience, the comics fan base is contracting. What to do,…. what to do…?
1. Reshape/relaunch your product to take advantage of the large audience recognition of your iconic product.
2. Take advantage of new technology to distribute your product to the larger, less paper-print friendly audience.
3. Hopefully do not alienate your core audience of long time comic-book fans-buyers.
So this is what DC comics did.
1. It will relaunch all their comics in September, starting with Justice League. All comics will have a number one, fresh start. Characters will be tweaked, made more youthful, and to varying degrees re-imagined to appeal to a new, hopefully larger audience.
2. Re-design the core characters to most resemble their movie counter-parts. ( for specific detail see post : The REAL Reason Behind DC’s Reboot from SeanTheComicGuy ). This means both visually and in terms of character development and situation. For example Lois and Clark have been married in the comics for years, but not in the new movie. So Superman is free and single once again ( can you hear the comic book fans crying in the distance ? If you want to see how much Batman and friends/family are changing, check links above. Read comments from fans if you dare.)
3. Starting with Justice League, all DC comics will have a digital day-and-date for all ongoing superhero comic book titles – an industry first. That means you can go to the local comic shop and purchase a hard copy printed magazine or you can purchase it as digital print to read on your reader/computer/tablet. No waiting, same day purchase day for both digital and paper print publication. Remember that Amazon sells more digital books than paper books.
4. Since the company needs the largest target audience available, it is trying to make the product as acceptable to the largest demographic. Female superheroes wear pants, not shorts or mini-skirts. It is the Justice League (no of a America). Include non-white and as many female characters as possible and expand the brand name. Besides the core team comic, bring back the Justice League International comic.
So to state the new media principle: Mass media, in the past, have shared content or borrowed codes and conventions from the most dominant medium. Now in the age of digital print and the internet, all mass media business interests cross media platforms. Internet and technological integration means that a company, like DC, must view its media content/product as part of an integrated mass media that can be consumed by a global audience. The tipping point was the digital publication date. If you are going to try to persuade new buyers to purchase your product using digital publishing the old magazine numbering will not work. This has to be seen as a new publishing venture with everyone in at the ground floor.
The audience baseline for recognizing familiar/iconic characters must be broader than the typical comic-book fan. Therefore you must try to have characters conform to the larger audience’s expectations, values and beliefs. Note that Marvel has been modifying its Thor and Captain America comics to better match the movie experience of the larger audience. What Marvel will do with its line of comics when it follows with the same day digital publishing is yet to be seen. They will wait to see how successful the DC initiative will be in the coming months, along with the rest of us.