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Superheroes Need Saving

Faced with declining print sales and the closure of specialty shops, comics powerhouse DC plans a digital reboot

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For fans of Superman and Batman, September will be a momentous month—Time Warner’s DC Comics is clearing years of superhero continuity by resetting the numbering on all of its titles back to 1. More significantly, the company is acknowledging that the future of the comic books may not be on paper.

Like its rival Marvel, DC has been working with startup comiXology to bring its comics to Apple’s iPad and other devices. And now DC has gone completely “day-and-date” with its digital releases, issuing the physical and digital issues on the same day. (DC announced this plan in the spring; Marvel followed with the news that it will take some of its top titles day-and-date as well.)

DC executives pitch this as a move to save a struggling industry. The top comics sold millions of copies as in the early 1990s, but now only the most popular titles sell more than 100,000 copies. DC senior vice president of digital Hank Kanalz and comiXology CEO David Steinberger both point to the reduction in comic book stores as one of the culprits. Steinberger says that only 60 percent of the United States is currently within 50 miles of a store.

Thus the move by DC to find new ways to reach its audience. Kanalz says wherever they looked, the answer always seemed to be “digital, digital, digital.” Kanalz says that in DC’s day-and-date digital tests, sales have actually gone up. That doesn’t mean the digital releases increased physical sales, but they don’t seem to have hurt them, either.

“People who go to comic book stores like going to comic book stores,” Steinberger says.