A little bit more on DC/RH

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A couple of people drew our attention to the following quote from Paul Levitz’s interview with Newsarama on DC going with Random House for their book distribution.

“There’s a combination of things that we think are important about this – one, it’s the first time that any of the major US book publishers will be handling any of the major American comic/graphic novel publishers. There’s a neat little alliance inherent in that.”


We hadn’t paid much attention to this at first, but when you call it out like that, it is a little…odd. Viz has been distributed by Simon and Shuster for years. Fantagraphics has a deal with Norton in place. Tokyopop is distributed by Harper Collins. In fact, DC was previously distributed by Warner Books — a major US book publisher. While it is true that Random House is #1 and the deal should yield great things, it’s not quite as revolutionary as it seems at first blush.

Comments

  1. I interpreted that to mean that Levitz doesn’t view Tokyopop or Viz as major American comic/graphic novel publishers. Cuz you know, really only Marvel and DC are major comics publishers. Everything else besides Image and Dark Horse (independent companies) is the back of the diamond catalog.

  2. I realized I forgot to add a wink emoticon to clarify that I’m not really serious…

  3. Dave Hudson says:

    Do Viz & Tokyopop count as American companies? I thought they were both owned by Japanese publishers?

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    Iff yoo vant zu kwibble, Random Haus ist ownt by ze Churmins. Bertlesmann to be exact, which I think is #4 on the media conglomerate list. But the world is flatter than the color in Classics Illustrated, so it really doesn’t matter.
    And one could argue that Marvel was the first comics publisher to be distributed by a major publisher. Still are, as How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way is still in print via Simon & Schuster.
    also, back in the 90s, Putnam Berkeley distributed Dark Horse, First, And WaRP.
    So, any chance we’ll see some Western/DC crossovers?

  5. ykw06 says:

    Even if you count Viz and TP as American, they’re hardly “major comics/GN publishers” unless you lump the physically and culturally distinct manga category in with the traditional comics/GN category. Makes as much sense as it would to throw trade paperback publishers in with publishers of oversized squarebound newsstand magazines.

  6. Tommy Raiko says:

    Were I to parse Levitz’s words, I’d say that I suspect that when he said “major American comic/graphic novel publishers” he probably means something more like “major publisher who publishes comics/graphic novels that are created by American creators and/or in an American style” rather than something like “major publisher who publishes comics/graphic novels that happens to be located in America.”

    So I’m inclined to accept Levitz’s characterization of the deal, but Heidi’s overall point that this is basically just an announcement of a publisher changing distributors (albeit a major publisher and a major distributor) and our comics/graphic novel world has certainly seen similar publisher/distributor announcements before in recent history.

  7. Eric Reynolds says:

    As far back as the 80s, Berkeley also distributed Fantagraphics and NBM for a brief while. And we’ve been with W.W. Norton since 2001 (I think we were the first to sign such a deal in this most recent era of distribution deals, FWIW). And in addition to all of the other deals in place Heidi mentioned, there’s also D&Q’s deal with Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Just sayin’ – Mr. Levitz has a little myopia sometimes, with all due respect.

    On another note, I wonder how hard Diamond Book Distributors lobbied for DC’s business? They must have tried, given Diamond/DC’s exclusive relationship on the DCD side. I wonder if DC was worried about putting all its eggs in one basket or if Random House just simply looked that much more attractive. I guess we shouldn’t expect to see DC purchasing Diamond anytime soon. I’m referring, of course, to DC’s exclusive contract inked with DCD in 1995, which gives Diamond “the right but not the obligation to buy Diamond outright between the 10th and 16th year” of the deal (i.e. 2005 and 2011), as reported in TCJ #177 (May 1995).

    This new deal is interesting because with Diamond already warehousing so much of DC’s books due to their 1995 deal, there would have probably been a significant cost savings in consolodating their book trade business into DBD. The fact that they chose not to is curious, although I can only speculate as to the reasons.

    In the 1995 deal, DC even seemed to be hedging its bets against WPS and looking towards a future book trade relationship with Diamond. Quoting the infamous “Levitz memo”:

    “Diamond becomes available as a low cost supplier of distribution services which have potential economic benefits for our other distribution venues, including as leverage against the $2 million distribution fees we currently pay WPS.”

    It seems to me that the potential economic benefits are as much or greater now than they were in 1995, given that DBD didn’t exist in 1995.

    I like what Matt Brady does, but I sure would have loved to hear what Levitz has to say about any of this.

  8. walter says:

    to argue that fantagraphics/norton is a relationship akin to dc/random house shows (in this case) a willful lack of understanding of both the comics business and the book business. also, if i read correctly, the difference between dc’s relationship with hachette vs. their relationship with random house is that hachette (or time warner) never actually SOLD DC’s books into bookstores. in that light, having the RH sales force out selling DC’s books is a sea change…

    next time, heidi, when you want to write “A couple of people drew our attention…”, just say that eric emailed you…

  9. Eric Reynolds says:

    “To argue that fantagraphics/norton is a relationship akin to dc/random house shows (in this case) a willful lack of understanding of both the comics business and the book business.”

    Sez you, neener-neener.

    I understand the differences insofar as both DC and Random House are extremely large corporations existing within giant conglomorates, whereas Fanta and Norton are independent companies. But the basic idea of a GN publisher teaming up with a regular ol’ book publisher-as-distributor is not new.

    Your comment about Hatchette vs. RH has no bearing on my comment at all, although for what it’s worth I think you’re correct.

    And actually, I was not one of the people who drew this to Heidi’s attention. I read it here first. So there!

  10. John DiBello says:

    to argue that fantagraphics/norton is a relationship akin to dc/random house shows (in this case) a willful lack of understanding of both the comics business and the book business.

    I’d like to hear the argument behind that statement. I would argue that there is no one who understands the Fantagraphics/Norton relationship better than Eric Reynolds and myself, and I’m curious what you mean above.

  11. Tommy Raiko says:

    > On another note, I wonder how hard Diamond Book Distributors lobbied
    > for DC’s business? They must have tried, given Diamond/DC’s exclusive
    > relationship on the DCD side. I wonder if DC was worried about putting
    > all its eggs in one basket or if Random House just simply looked that
    > much more attractive.

    Oh, I’m sure that DBD pursued the DC’s book trade business. I wouldn’t be surprised if book trade distributors other than RH and DBD pursued DC’s book trade business. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if every other book trade distributor in the biz was trying to get the line…

    But there are so many factors that could influence decision-makers in these sorts of deals, that I don’t know that a fear-of-consolidating-eggs in the Diamond basket would be a central concern.

  12. Eric Reynolds says:

    Tommy, I don’t know, either. Like I said, just speculating. But I do know there would have been some very substantial cost-saving incentives in going with DBD, so I’m curious to know why they did not, even though I doubt any of us ever will know.

  13. Sales reps folks, it is all about the sales reps.

    Diamond’s are great; they just don’t have enough of them.

  14. Tommy Raiko says:

    Eric:

    Yeah, none of us not in the deal will ever know everything that went into the decision, but for what it’s worth, a little web searching turned up this:

    http://www.randomhouse.biz/publisherservices/coreservices

    which is an overview of the capabilities Random House has to offer to distributed lines. I certainly ain’t an expert in such things, but warehouse capacity and fulfillment activity they describe there seems pretty impressive to me. Plus, that site describes RH’s sales force as “the largest, and most esteemed sales force in the industry.” Even allowing for a bit of hyperbole to that statement, if the big difference between what DC’s getting out of RH now vs. what DC got out of Hachette has to do with the sales force, maybe RH’s sales force was somehow more impressive than other distributors.

  15. Tommy Raiko says:

    Ah, leave it Mr. Root to put it more succintly while I’m typing away…

  16. Eric Reynolds says:

    I’m sure Rory’s onto something, but is it really completely that simple?

    Does DC have it’s own “sales force” for the DM? I seem to recall that being one of the advantages to their exclusive deal in ’95, that they would have access to all sales info and could employ their own sales team.

  17. Tommy Raiko says:

    Again, I ain’t an expert, but the 1995 Diamond/DC arrangement seems to be very much a response to the “distributor wars” climate happening at that time in the comics direct sales market. I don’t think it had much to do with the book trade at all, and I don’t think its contingencies have much relevance to the decisions DC may make about the book trade today, over a decade later.

    Getting back to Rory’s comment about the number of sales reps. A major publisher probably has a sales force that numbers in the dozens–several to cover national retail chains, others for trade wholesalers, others for independent booksellers, others for so-called “special markets”, more for big box merchandisers, and so on. Does DBD have that many folks in place as an active sales force? Is DC’s in-house staff comparable in scope? Could DC build its own comparable staff? I mean, yes, I could easily believe that RH’s sales force is indeed significantly larger than DC’s current own, or DBDs, or many (but not necessarily all) other book trade distributors.

  18. Eric Reynolds says:

    Tommy, your first paragraph is well-taken, I actually think you’re right about that 1995 deal not really being about the book trade and being very much a product of the distributor wars, and admit that I’m simply looking at the original deal for curiosity’s sake and attempting to draw connections that may well not be there.

    As for sales reps, I’m certain Rory’s right about Random House’s sales reps being a huge advantage in terms of sheer might, but that’s not necessarily a reason to overlook other huge advantages and cost-savings, especially given how increasingly consolidated market share has become amongst a few major players (B&N, Amazon, Borders, B&T, & Ingram are probaby 85% of the market for most new graphic novels) who don’t need to be serviced by a giant team of field agents or whatever.

    Or maybe it is! I guess I’m saying I could easily make arguments for both, and so I would love to know their final thought process in deciding.

  19. walter says:

    “I’d like to hear the argument behind that statement. I would argue that there is no one who understands the Fantagraphics/Norton relationship better than Eric Reynolds and myself, and I’m curious what you mean above.”

    —meaning, that RH’s position in the book market is not equivalent to Norton’s and Fantagraphics’ position in the comic market is not equivalent to DC’s. It’s not a comment about what you know or what Eric knows—it’s a comment about the positional power of the companies involved.

  20. Eric Reynolds says:

    Walter, I think John and I are both more acutely aware of the relative differences in positional power of the companies involved than you could possibly imagine.

  21. walter says:

    Eric, you are the one who personalized this. This isn’t about you and John—I’m sure you are both wonderful guys. And the companies you work for are both fabulous as well. But the DC/RH realationship is on a differnet level than the others Heidi cited. If you are so acutely aware of everything, then you know this…

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