More Diamond thoughts

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§ Chris Butcher finally weighs in with his thoughts on the Diamond changes and it seems we’ve reached the end of an era:

I have always argued this, and while my arguments haven’t fallen on deaf ears, exactly, many companies have made decisions that embrace a “streamlined” DM, to what I feel will be their eventual detriment… Once you eliminate the bottom, the middle becomes the new bottom. I’m having a hard time seeing how anyone is going to be renegotiating their exclusivity deal with Diamond from a position of anything approaching “strength” in the next few years. Diamond has just told you that they want the low-hanging fruit, and that fruit’s just gonna get lower and lower.

But even more importantly than that: Diamond is pushing content out of the Direct Market.

Let me say that again:

Diamond Is Pushing Content Out Of The Direct Market

We established this way up at the top there, “Diamond’s job is to serve the direct market.” So you tell me, by denying entry to creative people, by setting the minimums above what _all comics_ not in the top 300 can accomplish, and only ‘working’ with their core publishers, how are they serving the direct market?

For historical counterpoint, John Jackson Miller looks at the just-pre-Diamond era, and finds that about 2/3rd of the publishers of that era released four or fewer issues a year.

Using the shipping lists and cancellation lists from every week in 1997, the staff of Comics Buyer’s Guide and I calculated that Diamond had shipped 5,695 different comic books (not trades, but comic books); we also counted 391 different trade paperbacks. These are not Top 300 entries; this is everything.

Now, one of the interesting things about that calculation was the representation of publishers, and the number of issues they shipped. Those 5,695 comic books, we counted, came from exactly 500 different publishers, from A & T to Zub.

More than two-thirds, or 340 publishers, released fewer than four issues — not titles, but issues — in the year, meaning they weren’t even releasing a quarterly series. And more than one-third — 169 — of the publishers only put out exactly one issue in the entire year. More than 10% of the issues Diamond released represented publishers releasing three issues or less; single-issue publishers accounted for about 2% of all items.

We weren’t able to run market shares based on the whole 5,695-issue list, because we only had estimated sales for the Top 3,600 issues or so. We did find that the 32 publishers that only placed one comic book in the Top 300 all year accounted for 0.16% of Top 300 units and 0.23% of Top 300 dollars for the year. Some of those publishers probably also had issues under 300th place, but we can kind of see the numbers we’re dealing with; it’s possible that a third of the publishers Diamond was dealing with were producing less than 1% of its combined sales.


I’m torn. On the one hand, it’s easy to see that Diamond’s cost cutting in the present era is based on a similar principle — a disproportionate amount of manpower was directed at selling one percent of their product line.

On the other hand, there’s no saying that that one percent doesn’t contain the greatest comic of the year.

It seems to me that the more profound problem is that we, at present, have a system set up where it’s very feasible that the best comic of the year couldn’t be published in such a way that it would make $2500 at wholesale.

Thank about that one for a while.

Comments

  1. Here’s how I sum up the whole situation:

    1 Diamond is, by all real-world definitions, a monopoly.
    2 A Monopoly never serves the best interests of the public unless regulated by law (and even then not so much).

    That’s it. All the other problems seem to fall naturally from this big one at the heart of the American comics industry.

  2. Even though it look like it may be a hard start for them, it may all be up to Comics Monky, now. At least from where I’m standing. I know most retailers I’ve talked to arn’t going to hitch up with them just now, because of the whole 35% thing, but maybe out of some altruistic love for comics, some will sign up.

  3. M High says:

    >>On the other hand, there’s no saying but that that 1% doesn’t contain the greatest comic of the year. It seems to me that the more profound problem is that we, at present, have a system set up where it’s very feasible that the best comic of the year couldn’t be published in such as way that it would make $2500 at wholesale. Thank about that one for a while.

    And whose fault is that? The distributor for not carrying the product? The retailer for not carrying it? The comics fan for not buying it? The comics media for not talking about it? The publisher for not promoting it?

    There’s plenty of blame to go around.

    In my mind, this just makes comics no different from any other media. The “best” music and bands are usually struggling artists playing small gigs. The “best” movies are arthouse flicks that disappear after a few short weeks. The “best” books are left moldering on the shelves in the corner, far away from the Oprah book of the month club pick.

  4. I have to agree with M High… these market conditions are in no way Diamond’s “fault.” They became a monopoly by default and have no obligation to sell product that loses them money.

  5. Actually Josh, they became a monopoly when they signed both Marvel and DC to exclusivity contracts, almost at the same time, in essence making it imposable for any other major comics distributor to survive. That was a power play. Nothing default about it.

  6. Diamond did not sign Marvel and DC to exclusivity contracts at the same time. Marvel withdrew its circulation from Diamond effective in July 1995; DC went exclusive with Diamond at that point and Image and Dark Horse followed. Capital was purchased by Diamond in July of 1996. Marvel did not return to Diamond until April 1997, after Capital was already gone.

    The history of this is fairly complicated and involves several steps; I’ll get the timeline online at some point. It was a time when, once Marvel had set the ball rolling, a lot of actors were in motion; Capital sought exclusives itself following the Marvel announcement. Had Capital offered the major publishers brokerage arrangements similar to what Diamond was offering, things may have developed differently. Or not: the retailer base for all comics was contracting at such a rate in that period, it’s hard to say what would have happened.

    The 1997 numbers cited in the article, thus, are not entirely Diamond exclusive era, but on the cusp; the number of issues mentioned includes three months worth of Marvels that Diamond was not allowed to carry. However, I did reconcile the top sellers lists from Diamond and Heroes World, so the Top 300 market-share mention reflects all the comics in the market in those first three months.

  7. So if I’m understanding this correctly… great comics may in fact go undiscovered by the masses and get canceled?

    Wow. That hasn’t happened since… every year I’ve been alive. ;)

  8. Alan Coil says:

    As long as I get my 6 issues of Wolverine, my 4 issues of Avengers, my 4-5 issues of Let’s-Make-A-Deal-With-The-Devil Spider-Man, and my 23 issues of X-Men every month, it doesn’t matter what books are in the lower half of the Top 300. I’ll have everything that is important.

  9. “Diamond did not sign Marvel and DC to exclusivity contracts at the same time.”

    The span of two years is almost at the same time, to me. I don’t know about other people, but I blink and the year is over. Besides, we could all see Diamond gathering everything to them in that time span.

  10. I can only say when I was covering the distributors and publishers in question back then that it was not clear to many people in the business what the end result would be when Marvel bought Heroes World — not for a long time. No one knew the Marvel bankruptcy the following year would make it more palatable to close Heroes World than to fix its problems, for example — and it was an open question for a while whether Capital might get enough exclusives to maintain critical mass.

    There were all sorts of possible scenarios that could have spun out, and the list changed from month to month. But for a good while, two or three distributors looked like a more likely future than one.

  11. Let’s also remember that we can not expect a company to be moral. Diamond only do what is good for them, as any other company do. The real problem is the monopoly and so many people wanting that monopoly to stay in place.

  12. Perhaps a better way to think of the current set up in comics is with Diamond, DC and Marvel acting as a cartel; essentially controlling the flow of product through distribution. These guys got what they wanted ten years ago; essentially giving the DM over to their superhero franchises. And what we have now is the unsustainable result: a dwindling base of superhero fans addicted to simplified storytelling and “events”.

    Its time for comics to reinvent itself, but the cartel has cut off the grass roots creativity that can do the job. If anyone in Timonium has any sense, they will work to break the cartel before Diamond becomes a casualty.

  13. I do remember my days back when I was working in retail over at Rookies & Allstars that Capital did have one major ace in the distributor wars and that was when Kitchen Sink went exclusive with them – and they had all the Crow comic books – and if you remember, back in the day – that was one pretty hot commodity. I had to make trades with a store out in Tarzana to get ten to twenty copies of whatever latest Crow miniseries that was out there for a couple of Heroes World reorders.

    We couldn’t secure a Capital account because they wanted us to order a certain limit of product that we knew we couldn’t sell except for the Crow.

    And then we would get hell from a Diamond rep for breaking some kind of clause in our contract that forebade us to carry anything from Capital.

    Those were certainly crazy crappy times back then – but yet a sign of unity between comic book retailers who wanted to help each other out with merchandise that was out of some stores’ grasp.

    ~

    Coat

  14. It looks like the comic book industry could be in for some major changes. Many indie creators have expressed their thoughts, views, and ideas on how to go beyond Diamond and put their focus on new services. I would like to invite you to read the latest article on the Septagon Studios News Blog written by Dave Baxter of Broken Frontier on “Life after Diamond”.

    Dave goes into great detail explaining various topics surrounding Diamond, Copylefting, Digital Comics and privateering comics. Hopefully this helps make sense of things and the new opportunities that are turning up.

    Killing the Grizzly #3: Life after Diamond
    http://news.septagonstudios.com/?p=617

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