Several weeks ago, the big news in the comic book industry was Diamond Distributors announcing a shutdown of operations, meaning no new comic books being shipped to comic shops. The big news this week is DC Comics announcing they are bypassing Diamond by forging relationships with two upstart distributors, Lunar and UCS.
On the surface, this seems like exciting news!
- Comic books are being shipped again, weeks before Diamond anticipates resuming operations.
- DC is breaking up the monopoly that Diamond has had as a comic book distributor.
But when you dig just a half inch deeper, the news is less exciting:
- Lunar and UCS are newly incorporated holding companies for Midtown Comics and Discount Comic Book Service (DCBS), respectively. Midtown and DCBS are essentially distributors themselves but they focus on the likes of eBay resellers. So, is transitioning away from Diamond toward eBay resellers good news for comic shops and comic buyers? It’s hard to see how it could be.
- The titles DC Comics are distributing through Lunar and UCS on April 28 are Daphne Byrne #4, The Dreaming #20, and Batman Giant #4, along with reprints of Batman #89 and Nightwing #70. That’s junk, which suggests they are just trying to dump undesirable product through the pipeline, which doesn’t ultimately serve comic shops, nor readers.
- I mentioned April 28. That’s a Tuesday, because, that’s right, this new distribution deal makes Tuesday the new comic book day in order to line up better with DC’s Wal-Mart plans.
- Comic shops will likely not be open by those days in most states. Mediocre titles on comic shop shelves that might not be open and likely won’t have a deep customer base is a curious move. So what’s the plan for selling these things?
- Say what you will about Diamond over the past couple decades – and many folks will criticize them heavily and often – but they’ve supported comic book shops and our weird, nerdy little corner of retail when nobody else would.
So, summing up: DC Comics has partnered with what is essentially a couple of big eBay sellers to bring a few mediocre titles to the shelves of comic books shops a few weeks earlier to a time when the shop may very well may be closed.
A lot can certainly happen in a few weeks. To prevent us comic book fans from being swept up in news that will likely shift several times before it settles, let’s spend a moment focusing on the big picture:
- After WWII, comics were selling millions of copies to everyone from kids to returning soldiers.
- The industry was decimated in the 50s, reduced to what was seen as juvenile throw aways.
- Marvel roared out of the gate in the 60s, coming out of nowhere with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby suddenly making them hip items on newsstands.
- But newsstands had soured on comics by the 70s, as they were sick of trying to shelf a gaggle of floppy titles. So comics were shoved off on spinner racks, desperate for a long-term home.
- The direct market became that long-term home for comics, with titles like Dazzler being comic shop only, helping to form an ecosystem of little shops that catered just to nerds and their love of comics.
- Diamond distributors rose up to eventually hold a monopoly on supplying comics to those comic shops.
But even before this week’s big announcement from DC, the distribution of comics has seen major shifts in the past decade:
- Digital distribution arrived to change almost nothing. This is an article for another time, but despite the hype and hoopla of digital, readership of digital has settled in the 10-11% range, meaning that for each nerd who reads their comics digitally, there are 9 more nerds who are baggings and boarding. (Then you have nerds like me who binge old comics like nuts on Marvel Unlimited, plus maintain a pull box at my FLCS for that sweet smell and feel of paper.)
- Trades took over. Another seismic shift in distribution that has already happened has been the rise of graphic novels. This is due both to the great reading experience as well as the way trades slide into markets other than comic shops, like bookstores and Amazon.
- Kids are reading again. But the biggest change in comic book distribution this decade has been the fact that Scholastic has really become the #1 distributor, as they’ve put tons of graphic novels in front of young readers via their in-school book clubs. As a result, creators like Raina Telgemeier is selling millions of her books like Sisters, Guts, and Drama to tween girls. Likewise, Dav Pilkey is selling millions of Dog Boy to tween boys. These things don’t feel like “real” comics to us nerds, but they have fundamentally changed the financial landscape of comics by bringing in young readers.
So, nerds will have opinions on this news from DC because, good God, we always have opinions, don’t we? But the comic book industry has seen lots of seismic, things will never be the same, this will change everything stories throughout the decades when it comes to the distribution of comics.
Somehow, despite it all, comic shops have held strong. It’s almost like they are heroes.