The coming end of the Direct Market

200909081412 The coming end of the Direct MarketRetailer Chris Butcher has this Tuesday’s must-read post on how Diamond’s new 2009 policies have left the DM less flexible and less relevant…

…things seem “stable” but really, that’s just a convenient lie that we’ve all bought into. Things aren’t stable, behind the scenes (and sometimes spilling onto message boards and websites) people are very worried. Fans, Retailers, Publishers. Distributors. But the thing that to me is the most disconcerting and heralds the biggest change? Diamond Comics Distributors drastically raising their order minimums. They did this a few months back. This action has shaken a lot of publishers out of the industry, and it’s meant some pretty bad things for a lot of people. But really, and realistically, The Previews catalogue is not any better or of higher quality than it was a year ago. I am reminded of this the last Tuesday of every month, when I race through that thing at break-neck speed, It’s just as tough a slog with most of the same bright spots as before. Hell, 100 pages each of Marvel and DC is more than enough to depress you on its own. But what the increased order minimums have really done is make my job as a retailer much more difficult. Why? Because of the things have been taken out of the catalogue that I have to go hunting for.


Butcher uses the example of a Yen Press manga that isn’t listed in Diamond as the gateway to his discovery that Yen Press’s complete output is not carried by Diamond any more. This, in turn, leads Butcher to use an alternative distributor source through which he can order the entire Yen output.

I can do my job as a Direct Market Comic Book Specialty Store by going outside of the Distributor of the Direct Market of Comic Book Stores. You gotta admit, that’s pretty fucked-up.


We’d quibble with that a little– doing business with multiple distributors is something most retail outlets have to deal with, so for those retailers willing to put on their big boy pants, it’s perfectly fine. But as a symbol of the impending revolution of multiple distribution channels, some not even print based, the rest of Butcher’s essay presents a nice summation of these unsettled times.

Comments

  1. I remember a time when there was more than one comic distributor, and when it went away, we were bummed. It meant no more competitive discounts.

  2. The entitlement mentality that animates so much of fandom never ceases to amaze (and depress) me. Because *I* cannot find something *I* wish to have, the distributor is therefore…what…corrupt? Crooked? Deeply biased against Yen Manga? A meanie?

    Believe me, I’m no fan of the direct market (it’s been a hermetically-sealed economic fantasy for far too many years), but Diamond adjusting its policies to maximize profit is nothing unusual in the world of business. I know…some find capitalism distasteful…or seem to believe every product (no matter how obscure or niche) should be available to all people in perpetuity..but that’s simply not reflective of reality, especially in these economically brutal times.

    Here in the age of internet shopping, tracking down obscure product has NEVER been easier. Heck, I remember when *the hunt* for rare or off-the-beaten path stuff was part of the fun of being a collector/fan of that sort of thing.

    In other words, when did fandom become so whiney, lazy, and entitled?

  3. Mark said: “Believe me, I’m no fan of the direct market (it’s been a hermetically-sealed economic fantasy for far too many years), but Diamond adjusting its policies to maximize profit is nothing unusual in the world of business. ”

    I… I don’t know if you read the whole piece or just Heidi’s summation? It sounds like you haven’t read it. I invite you to do so, it’s going to make what you just wrote seem pretty stupid.

    If you decide to foolishly stick by the above even after you’ve read my post, I guess I’ll engage everything that’s wrong with you’ve just written. But, yeah, I’ll give you a chance here.

    – Chris

  4. Oh and Heidi, your quibble is utterly correct: I firmly believe we should all put on our big boy pants and order from multiple distributors. But doing that ultimately erodes the notion of a Direct Market, which is what I was getting at.

  5. Chris Anderson says:

    I figure since I’m sourcing The Beat while talking to a retailer with a stake in the DM, I might as well comment here, too. When has Christopher Butcher *ever* not wanted to put on his big boy pants and do real business? The Beguiling is probably the best comic book store in the world and the absolute best possible example of everything right with the DM. Further, Chris is right.

  6. Well, since my employer’s ham-handed internet filter blocked the article as “pornography”, I wasn’t able to read it. So, yes, I did base my post on Heidi’s excerpts. I’ll be sure to check out your post when I’m free of “Imperial Entanglements”.

    That said, the fact that you find it “fucked up” having to use an alternate supply channel betrays a naive sense of entitlement so many in our little bubble-world seem to share. So, unless the rest of your piece flatly contradicts the excerpts above, I’m not prepared to issue an apology just yet.

  7. Synsidar says:

    The point of Butcher’s piece is that specialty shops exist to provide what their customers want, within a relatively narrow range of merchandise. Since a store manager can’t know exactly what a customer might ask for on any given day, he relies on distributors and industry publications to tell him what’s on the market. Diamond had been providing that service, but now, with their “minimums” policy, there are significant gaps in their product offerings. In the case of Yen Press, it would have been better for Diamond and Butcher for Diamond to carry all of Yen’s publications rather than some of them. Diamond’s gaps complicate managers’ jobs considerably, make being able to order material quickly from other distributors very important, and might ultimately put Diamond in the position of being just a distributor of presumed “best sellers” titles.

    SRS

  8. The Beat says:

    Chris, I was essentially agreeing with you, and yes, you put on your man trousers years ago.

    Yet, there are a lot of people in the business at ALL levels — including many you cited for the whining of 15 years ago — who have yet to get off the potty pail.

    Unfortunately, the one distributor system has not been conducive to toilet training.

    Also, it is time for me to drop this metaphor!

  9. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I think Mr. Butcher would like very sporting in a pair of checked red and white overalls.

  10. Oh, “snap”. Do Canadians get that reference?

  11. Simon Jones says:

    –>Mark Engblom

    >Because *I* cannot find something *I* wish to have, the distributor is therefore…what…corrupt? Crooked? Deeply biased against Yen Manga? A meanie?

    That’s an awful lot to infer from a single utterance of the f word.

    >Here in the age of internet shopping, tracking down obscure product has NEVER been easier.

    Which is exactly why a retailer who seeks to offer as complete a selection as possible may feel exacerbation that they cannot find everything they need from their biggest distribution partner. It’s impeding their ability to compete efficiently in today’s market.

  12. Right, but say everything WAS available from a single source, people (and in some cases, the SAME people) would bitch that the One Stop Shop distributor was now some sort of 800 pound gorilla monopolizing the market and nosing everybody else out.

    Proving that, in the comic book bubble world, you can have your cake and bitch about it, too.

  13. Based upon the repeated desire to be able to order everything from one place, i.e. Diamond, wouldn’t that be a *bad* thing? I mean, people already complain about it being a monopoly, but I can’t see increased selection as a way to assuage that particular argument.

    *Wait and breathe before you jump on me*

    Take Wal-Mart, for instance. Considered a one-stop shop, it drives mom and pop’s out of business, but it’s one of the few places you can buy car batteries, goldfish, McDonald’s, and rent a movie. A lot of people think this convenience is amazing, while others see it as evil, and they protest Wal-Mart’s business practices.

    I think, in its own way, the current system keeps what little diversity there is in the comic industry. Sure, it could be better, but it could also be a whole lot worse. People just assume that the death of Diamond means more choices, but it’s probably the opposite. The death of Diamond would probably just solidify premier dominance, while leaving small publishers to look to the web or, God forbid, indie motion comics or something.

    Diamond can’t be a warehouse for a million copies of everything, as Jamie Coville wonderfully points out in the comments to the original post. People scoff at what they see in Previews, but the purchase orders tend to support why those in the book, even if one particular retailer doesn’t want a glow-in-the-dark Harry Potter steak knife. (Did I just create that? I think I did. Spencer Gifts is gonna love that!).

  14. Sorry, Mark. I guess we were typing that sentiment at the same time. Hope my comment doesn’t come up in a Swipe File somewhere.

  15. Synsidar says:

    If the comics market was steadily growing, Diamond’s status as a near monopolist wouldn’t be a significant problem, since, as volume grew, other distributors would naturally enter the market, and comics shop owners would be more worried about other shops encroaching on their territories than they would be about distributor problems. Diamond’s policies aren’t helping the overall market for comics expand.

    SRS

  16. Simon Jones says:

    –>Mark Engblom

    >would bitch that the One Stop Shop distributor was now some sort of 800 pound gorilla monopolizing the market and nosing everybody else out.

    Well, no. Having a complete selection and behaving in an anti-competitive fashion are very different things. (I’m not in the “Diamond is a monopoly” camp anyway, so I’m not going to say anything to that end.) This is not the issue the original post (which you have not read in entirety) addresses.

    I’m not sure why you think it is inappropriate for a retailer to raise ire about diminishing selection. This is an issue of degradation of service; a DM retailer who used to be able to depend on Diamond to have a complete selection from a major manga publisher, now finds that is no longer possible. Seems to me a retailer, more than anyone else, has every right to raise this issue, to make his opinion known.

  17. Michael says:

    End of the direct market? Not likely. Change of the direct market? Probably.

    But given that it’s 2009, I do wish apocalypse fever would up and die already.

  18. Okay… gonna state it again: Comic book shops have to decide: Do they become a hobby shop with a significant selection of books and magazines, servicing a specialized crowd just like that model train retailer and the fabric store in a generic strip mall, OR do they become a book store selling sidelines like t-shirts, DVDs, and toys?

    When netbooks replace smart phones (toss it in backpack or purse with a voice activated bluetooth earpiece), digital comics will become common-place.

    Near term, Diamond has to deal with Marvel moving to Hyperion/Harper Collins. Long term, Diamond has to compete with Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and the major GN publishers like Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Random House, Hachette, and Scholastic.

    All it takes is a savvy retailer with a POS system running a test order through Ingram or a publisher, and seeing if the terms are equal or better than Diamond Comics.

  19. Synsidar says:

    Near term, Diamond has to deal with Marvel moving to Hyperion/Harper Collins. Long term, Diamond has to compete with Ingram and Baker & Taylor. . .

    If/when the graphic novel becomes the dominant comics format in the U.S., instead of the monthly comic book, then comics shops will probably no longer exist as such, and Diamond won’t either. There’s no reason for a comics shop to exist only to provide customers access to particular publishers. If a publisher’s comics became digitized, then bookstores wouldn’t deal in them.

    I have doubts about netbooks becoming communications devices too. If your (expensive) all-in-one device breaks, then you’ve lost multiple functions instead of one or two. The parts underneath touch screens wear out after a while.

    SRS

  20. Tommy Raiko says:

    “Near term, Diamond has to deal with Marvel moving to Hyperion/Harper Collins.”

    Torsten…you’ve said this in a few messages (here and elsewhere.) Do you know something we don’t?

    I mean, I understand that among the many, many, many possible ramifications of the Disney/Marvel merger is the possibility that book trade distribution for Marvel’s book format stuff may be moved from Diamond Book Distribution. But I don’t necessarily think that that automatically means that Marvel being distributed by HarperCollins (as Disney’s Hyperion currently is) is fait accompli, nor that any of that is going to happen in a particularly “near term” timeframe.

    I mean, if Marvel had been purchased by an entity that had its own book book trade distribution company, then sure, I’d wager than the typical corporate impetus to be synergistic would compel the suits to eventually align Marvel’s book trade distribution within the services the overall company already has.

    But, as I understand it, Disney doesn’t have a book trade distribution company. That’s why Disney has contracted with HarperCollins to handle the distribution of the books it publishes. Since that Disney Book Group/HarperCollins relationship isn’t one of corporate ownership, it strikes me as one that, though perhaps not likely to change, is at least not guaranteed to continue.

    I mean, who knows when (or how) the Disney Book Group/HarperCollins distribution deal might come up for renewal. Anything could happen then. Maybe Disney will re-up with HarperCollins and maybe Marvel could be part of the mix. Or maybe Disney might move from HarperCollins and sign up with some other book distribution entity (which deal might or might not include Marvel.) Or maybe Disney will chose to build its own book trade distribution division. Anything could happen.

    At this point, what may happen with Marvel’s book trade distribution is, like so much other details of the Disney/Marvel merger, up in the air. But my point is that it’s probably worth realizing that *many* things (or nothing at all…) could happen; Marvel-going-to-HaperCollins-for-book-trade-distribution is only one possible scenario. And to speak as if that’s a done deal is, to say the least, premature.

  21. Alexa says:

    Well, I for one am pleased that my LCS already has a Baker & Taylor account and conducts itself like a bookstore.

    As it stands, it’s not very wise, at least in the short term, for Diamond to cut Yen Press. They’re the ones putting out the Twilight manga, and it would be nice if retailers maybe attempted to draw in new customers with it.

  22. @Alexa: Did you read the article? At no point was it said that Diamond was dropping Yen Press. It sounds more like it was carelesslessness on Diamond’s part that resulted in some Yen titles not being offered in Previews. Until some statement comes from Diamond or Yen Press regarding title droppage, this is fast turning into a game of Telephone.

  23. michael says:

    I don’t think the end of (or lessening power of) Diamond will mean the end of the Direct Market (DM), but I think it will mean more small press will get the power back to them, in the form of revenue. Sure, lots of small press will find it harder to advertise their books, but with the internet these days, it just takes some hype, then all the profit hopefully goes to them and not some mass scheming company like Diamond.

    This is how it was pre-Diamond empire and things were good. Little companies were still able to get books out all over, with or without their help. The difference now, is that we, hopefully have learned our lessons from the spectator market and such.

    I think once stores are able to get books from various sources of distribution, things will be better, overall, for everyone.

  24. Evan Dorkin says:

    I wish the Direct Market had more “lazy” retailers like Chris Butcher. Let him bitch, if he’s going the extra mile to get a customer that one book, he’s a prince amongst toads. Not that I disagree with him, on the whole.

    And I’d say responding to excerpts of an article rather than reading the entire thing for yourself is kind of, uh…lazy.

  25. Torsten:

    “Comic book shops have to decide: Do they become a hobby shop with a significant selection of books and magazines, servicing a specialized crowd just like that model train retailer and the fabric store in a generic strip mall, OR do they become a book store selling sidelines like t-shirts, DVDs, and toys?”

    I doubt there’s a store out there that HASN’T made that decision — but the answer is going to be different for each store. The DM is not a monolithic entity.

    “All it takes is a savvy retailer with a POS system running a test order through Ingram or a publisher, and seeing if the terms are equal or better than Diamond Comics. ”

    For Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image that answer is most certainly Diamond.

    “H” discount publishers (EX: D&Q, FirstSecond) are always cheaper to buy somewhere (anywhere) else.

    Everyone else largely depends more on availability than straight discount.

    -B

  26. G.Alexander says:

    I understand the argument, but I think alot of it is MOOT for consumers. Right now you really can’t beat the internets sheer speed, power and seemingly endless opportunities for buying whatever you want. I buy most everything book and comic related on-line. I am usually disappointed by all bookstores/shops, even the big chains, simply because they just can’t compete with the internet as a collective of shops and retailers all at my finger tips.

    The main disadvantage is not being able to browse a shelf, which in some cases is being taken care of with online previews through Amazon and most major comic publishers, heck even Indies can post a preview of their book pretty painlessly.

    I used to love the comicbook shop as a kid, but now I just don’t know that they are as relevant, aside from being able to stumble onto something amazingly cool or unusual every once in awhile.

    Maybe that truly is reason or virtue enough to hold onto the comicshop experience? It’s nice to go and geek out with friends.

    I feel like I stumble onto a ton of stuff on the internet too.

  27. “Come gather round people wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters around you have grown
    And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
    If your time to you is worth saving
    Then you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times, they are a changing
    Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pens
    And keep your eyes open, the chance won’t come again
    And don’t speak too soon, the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no telling who that it’s naming”

    Sorry, it’s just that I keep watching The Watchmen over and over again, and it’s making me see connections everywhere. Carry on.

  28. Tom Spurgeon says:

    That Alan Moore sure can write.

  29. Don’t be silly Tom. Alan Moore didn’t write that. It was Zack Snyder.

  30. Chris Anderson says:

    “All it takes is a savvy retailer with a POS system running a test order through Ingram or a publisher, and seeing if the terms are equal or better than Diamond Comics.”

    See, Chris, if only you were a savy retailer instead of being a customer driven one, then you’d have nothing to complain about.

    Has anyone else here ever been to The Beguiling? It’s literally the best comic store in the world. But hey, let’s continue to tell the man how to run his business based on excerpts of what he said….

  31. Okaaaayyyy says:

    So uhm….. Somebody finally got slapped with the reality that Diamond happens to be a business first and a distributor second…. Talk about a late and lousy wake up call….*Shakes head* Geez. That uhm… person that compared Diamond to Wal Mart is right on so many levels. Just like Walmart if they can’t make money off something they have a right not to distribute it… also, it could be they honestly have problems with scheduling and what not… I mean there are a lot of reasons… I’m just glad that Chris Dealt with it in the manor he did and he has a happy customer but still… honestly complaining about something like this is wrong… I mean it’s not Diamonds fault that retailers seem to believe Diamond has everything and are not willing to do research of their own… Honestly I bet if Chris would have looked up the company that does this book he would have known that Diamond was not offering the whole line of books and this situation could have been avoided all together…

  32. Simon Jones says:

    –>Okaaaayyyy

    Gosh, I don’t understand why everyone has to make this so personal…

    Because Diamond isn’t carrying a complete selection of Yen Press books (whether deliberately or by accident is irrelevant), a retailer has moved *all* of his orders for Yen books to another distributor. Regardless of their ability to act on it, don’t you think it’s at least in Diamond’s own interest to know that? This is, uhm, you know… business related.

  33. The Beat says:

    JESUS WHAT HAPPENED HERE WHILE I WAS AT THE BALLGAME!

    Edit to add, I’ve shut down this train wreck, but if anyone wants to check out an intelligent conversation, I recommend the comments on Chris’s original post.

Trackbacks

  1. […] And we have another piece on the end of the direct market through Diamond. It appears that Diamond only stocked some of a certain line of books and the retailer was expecting the whole line to be available. I’m not a comic retailer but I do know that I want comic shops to carry the coolest comics they can find. If that’s a reliably selling series then I’d expect Diamond to have the whole series – or at least be clear about which ones they have available. Being vague about this sort of thing just wastes a customer’s time and annoys them. The more Diamond and retailers work together to serve the customer, the better their business. […]

  2. A little more on WB’s restructuring DC…

    Paul Levitz’s resignation as publisher of DC was only the beginning. Apparently, Warner Bros. is taking steps to restructure DC Comics as DC Entertainment, in response to Disney’s buying Marvel last week…

  3. […] 36 The coming end of the Direct Market […]