Last Friday Brian Hibbs had one of his usual thought provoking columns at Newsarama, and this one looked at a very interesting trend: comics shops opening up accounts with Baker & Taylor to buy graphic novels. B&T is NOT a comics distributor, but rather a traditional book distributor, meaning the books are returnable. B&T even has an online brochure called “Graphic Novels At Your Doorstep”.
…Diamondâs next big challenge isnât coming from a Direct Market distributor (theyâve killed most of those) â itâs coming from the bookstore distributors.
This next part is hard, because it takes me having to admit Iâve been a dumb-ass. I should have read the deal and figured it out two years ago (no, this isnât a new program) when my peers first started telling me about it, but I, as many comic retailers, am slow to change sometimes.
Baker & Taylor has a program called âFirst Callâ? where you agree to make them your primary source when buying from the book channel. It makes no claims over the Direct Market channel. Thatâs about it â there are no minimums, or any other hoops to jump through. B&T doesnât have a fixed discount per book like Diamond.
Hibbs runs through some numbers which shows that a retailer can order a small number of books from B&T at just about the same discount as through Diamond, while the books are still returnable.
In addition, B&T has been making lots of actual graphic novels available as much as a month before Diamond. In a post at his LJ Cold Cut’s Matt High basically agrees with Hibbs and offers this:
This is a trend I’ve really been tracking for the past two or three years, from inside the comics distribution chain (I can certainly tell, based on ordering patterns, which of Cold Cut’s customers have switched their orders over primarily to the bookstore distributors). I’m sure Brian Hibbs and various other retailers have been aware of it for some time as well, it’s just really never been talked about much. One recent example is a discussion on the CBIA board a month ago, where one retailer said “Hey, don’t forget to order the latest Bone trade paperback, which only appeared in the Diamond weekly update, and not in the Diamond Previews catalog”. Half a dozen retailers replied back immediately with, “Yeah, we’ve actually had that book in stock for weeks now, ordering it from Baker and Taylor, and we’ve restocked it repeatedly already. Anyone who’s waited to order it through Diamond missed the boat.”
Everyone, including myself, was lamenting the death of virtually every comic book direct market distributor, leading to a de-facto monopoly of comic book distribution in America. But very people were noticing that a new form of competition was growing outside the direct market, as mainstream book distributors gained a tiny toehold in the comics market, and have been edging into Diamond’s territory little by little ever since.
Naturally, only stores that carry a significant amount of graphic novels will need to set up a B&T account. But with more and more high selling, and profitable book-format material coming out, and traditional book publishers like Houghton Mifflin (FUN HOME) and Pantheon (BLACK HOLE) putting out material of interest in the Direct market, it’s making more economic sense for comics retailers to order some material from B&T.
What does this mean? We’re not exactly sure. But we’re open to interpretations.