There’s been a lot going on since Diamond’s new benchmark bombshell, with several alternative distribution sources cropping up, notably Ka-Blam and their Print-on-Demand ComicsMonkey. However, a much lower discount than retailers are used to might make this a less popular option.
A few more industry figures have commented, as well. Harris Comics’ Bon Alimagno writes about it on his LJ and Blog@ — it’s an interesting viewpoint from an established publisher which makes most of its money outside the direct market, but still has enough of a stake in that channel to be affected:
I’m not sure if it has sunk into the mind of the average comic shop goer what setting these rules mean. The new rules place a huge emphasis on initial sales, in a direct market largely resistant to anything different and new. A year from now it’s very likely what few non-superhero comic books you are used to seeing at your local comic book shop may disappear unless you frequent one that already features a wide ranging selection. The direct market is a vicious cycle: comic book shops are widely considered the best place to buy superhero comics, so most of the people who frequent these shops are people who read superhero comic books. Retailers who order comic books do so on a non-returnable basis. They have to place their bet on what comic will and won’t sell. If they bet wrong they are stuck with extra inventory that may never move. More often than not they’ll place their bet with a sure thing, something with a consistent track record or built-in fan base. Retailers then order mostly superhero books. Anyone looking for anything else will more often than not find a very limited selection appealing to their tastes, so they stop coming, leaving the store increasingly in the hands of superhero comic book readers.
Non-Big Four publishers will often find their books under ordered. In cases like that, they’ll hope that word of mouth and positive reviews stir interest in their titles and lead to reorders. Except now reorders are limited to sixty days, not that much time to grow an audience.
Creator James Owen also has some thoughts, which reflect his long time in the industry and shifting role:
I’ve had more than my fair share of disputes with Diamond over the years. Some were private, some were public, some were epic-level public – as I was one of the few publishers, along with Viz and Kitchen Sink, to sign exclusives with ‘the other side’, Capital City, during the Distribution Wars. But I want to point out – and I cannot stress this too strongly – the only times I had a conflict with Diamond was when they had dropped the ball on something they were actually obligated to do, and then tried to sweep it under the rug, or when the reps we were dealing with treated I or my colleagues in an unprofessional manner. Never because they weren’t doing something I simply wanted them to do, that they had no obligation to do. What this usually meant – and why I have a LOT of sympathy for all of the smaller publishers right now – was that one Diamond rep or another was sloppy and/or arrogantly dismissive of whatever issue I or my other small press friends were having. Books would be listed incorrectly – and options to remedy this were limited to a low-priority correction (read as: retailer packing papers), or a re-listing for the next month – which would devastate our projections and cash flow. Shipments would go astray, which might hold up payment – which could break a small press if it happened at the wrong time. Situations like those were anger-inducing because they were errors in the actual business Diamond was engaged in: solicitation and distribution of product.
Nothing about this is cut and dried — the other day, we mourned the loss of Kevin Huizenga’s OR ELSE, but Huizenga himself seems to be going towards the notion that little comics aren’t a viable option for cartoonists any more — and by modern alt-cartoonist standards, Huizenga is incredibly prolific. Sammy Harkham managed a slim 32 pages of material since 2006 in CRICKETS, and while excellence in any dose is always welcome, that definitely stretches the idea of “periodical.”
As readers, we’re more fond of the MOME model — a regular anthology of dependable quality that allows folks to stockpile material for eventual spine-out presentation. Is MOME a sales blockbuster? Probably not, although it doubtless sustains. The regular comics anthology has become an economic dead zone in the current superhero/Vertigo/WildStorm/Marvel marketplace and unless the Japanese model somehow catches on here, it seems likely to stay that way.
As Owen alludes, this isn’t a Diamond BAD/creator GOOD thing, or the reverse. The comics distribution system is much healthier than it has been, due to a steady supply of good product. We’re currently undergoing the worst worldwide economic crisis since the Great Depression — Diamond is just another leaf in the storm and we’re all going to have to find new ways of doing business.
Bonus: Owen draws a parrot!