Announced earlier this week, three more small press publishers have signed with Lunar Distribution: Silver Sprocket, Uncivilized Books and Floating World. They join other smaller companies — Scout, Ahoy and Z2 — and one big one, DC, on Lunar’s client list.
Lunar is owned by DCBS, the online comics retailer, and they got started last year when DC approached them and Midtown Comics to take over their distribution from Diamond. Although Midtown has since dropped out, Lunar is becoming more of a player.
More and more small publishers are joining Lunar, it seems, but to get the dirt on this, you’ll need to read this roundtable at The Comics Journal: it includes Lunar’s co-owner Christina Merkler, Jason Leivian of Floating World Comics, Tom Kaczynski of Uncivilized Books, and Avi Ehrlich of Silver Sprocket in conversation with R.J. Casey, and it’s probably one of the most interesting things I’ve read about the distribution evolution since it started. Merkler has done a few interviews since DC stunned the comics world last year by going with two new distributors, but this is the longest interview I’ve seen since things kind of settled down. Leivian and Ehrlich are also retailers, and their insights into how the system is evolving are very informative, including how Lunar differs from Diamond. (And no one in the piece is burying Diamond: All of the deals are non-exclusive.)
In many ways, this is a return to a healthier industry when there were several smaller distributors that served indie publishers, such as Last Gasp and Cold Cut. And as Silver Sprocket’s Twitter put it: “Don’t worry, we’re “professionally poly” and still with @BirdcageBottom, SCB, Ingram, Diamond, and direct.”
In other words, options.
Nonetheless, there are some advantages to going with Lunar, and Merkler confirms what we’ve been saying for a while: Just having a shorter order form means more retailers will see the non-DC publishers that Lunar carries.
CHRISTINA MERKLER: …as a retailer, I don’t look through the entire Previews catalog anymore. I actually haven’t in years. But I used to be that person who went through every single publisher A-Z because I really was never a big superhero comic reader. I never have been. I can tell you on probably two hands how many DC or Marvel books I’ve read in my lifetime. So, of course, this is more important to me. I’d much rather see independent books thrive and make sure retailers have that exposure to them. I really believe that retailers want it, but it’s really difficult when you’re looking through a Previews book with 150 different publishers and none of them have any specific type of quality base to them. It got to a point where I felt, personally, that Diamond was legitimately taking on anyone who was willing to publish a book. I’m not saying that in a negative way, but once you have that much, then the exposure is so much smaller for each of those publishers. We don’t want to be that kind of distributor.
Merkler says many times that Lunar doesn’t want to carry 100 publishers — and they’re not out to kill other retailers, and competition also means options:
We feel competition is good. … It’s also great because, if I, as a distributor, have product and I all of a sudden run out for some reason, if another distributor has it, it’s great for publishers. It’s great for publishers and retailers to have other options. Ideally, you would do that, right? There were so many times, especially with independent publishers, that I was only purchasing them through Diamond. I really didn’t know how to get them any other way. It was all buy/sell, so they would get it in and sell out of it really fast then never offer it again. I would have customers who would want something, but I was so busy working and getting everything sold and getting taken care of all the time that, if I had another distributor that I knew I could get that from, it would have been amazing.
Like Penguin Random House which has just started rolling out Marvel Comics, Lunar also had to get a bigger warehouse:
We actually started purchasing a piece of land and were in the process of getting that land zoned and had plans drawn up for a new building, then we realized we couldn’t wait another year for that to happen. We ended up leasing a brand new space that had just been built for Lunar and that is where we are housed right now. It is five times the space we had previously and that warehouse has been functioning since the end of June. We just recently moved the office staff over a few weeks ago and put a little micro-market in the breakroom and are putting sofas and we have a little library in there. We are really trying to make it a great place to work and that’s what is important to us.
As for the publishers, well, we’re in a whole new ballgame now, Leivian explains:
LEIVIAN: I feel like there’s this newer generation of comic shops that maybe started around the same time as Silver Sprocket and Floating World. We’re not really considered Diamond stores because we take that extra step to source books directly from the creators or from other places like that. Lunar feels more like a peer to us, or a cohort. They kind of came up in that same world where it’s not just Diamond to get the product for your stores. If there’s a new generation of comic shops out there similar to us, then this will be a welcome change. There will be more choices. Like Christina was saying, Lunar is not going to just be a copy of Diamond. It’s going to be a new thing. Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but after my first conversation with Christina and she was interested in bringing on Floating World and these other publishers, I just started to imagine what it would be like if Lunar started becoming home to more publishers that I order from all the time. There’s not much to compare it to from the past except for what, Cold Cut and Last Gasp, those types of distributors? I think it will be different from that. It will be like a new generation of that kind of alternative distributor.
Based on the buzz about all this, I’m sure more small publishers are going to try to get deals with Lunar — and we’ll be looking to see how this changes sales patterns.