“It is going to be rough for us Top 20 publishers. It will be epic for anyone smaller. Lots of folks will vanish due to this, even some bigger guys.”
“I expect the new threshold to annihilate many of the smallest publishers and keep a lot of new ones out of Previews.”
“I suspect that this will put a severe crimp on what little remains of the B&W pamphlet field.”
“This is the single biggest event since Diamond became the monopoly that ruled comics.”
Hysteria or prescience? Read on.
The changes have been revealed as Diamond calls publishers to tell them of the new policies, rather than any formal announcement, so the details are still a bit sketchy. However, several publishers have noted that given the import of the new policies, it’s appropriate that Diamond reps — and even VPs — are calling each publisher as opposed to a general e-mail.
One change was to eliminate the “adults only” supplemental catalog that previously was shipped to retailers with their copy of Previews. The products from the catalog will remain as a pdf file available for retailers, as reported by Simon Jones at Icarus Comics, whose products were carried in the catalog. Although the end of the “adults only” catalog is a loss for those who publish such material, it’s also a sign of the times as the Internet and home porn long ago made dirty comics more of a quaint novelty as opposed to a major component of the adult entertainment industry.
In a change that will have a far greater impact, according to numerous reports, Diamond is raising its benchmark for products it will carry from $1500 to $2500. Jones has the clearest explanation of this change, (although he later amends perhaps the most key point of all) but the short version is that unless orders to Diamond on a product are consistently greater than $2500 at wholesale, Diamond will no longer carry the product.
According to a letter from SLG’s Dan Vado published at The Comics Reporter, at SLG’s discount level, a comic would have to sell $6000 at retail to meet the benchmark. Comics selling this amount are well within the top 300 comics published every month, including well-known or critical faves. Quoth Vado:
The average person reading this may not realize that most small press comics (and by that I mean floppies) do not meet that benchmark. I think if the average reader knew how lousy some of our sales were they would be stunned. I can’t tell you how many times people have wandered into our booth at one convention or another and engaged me in conversation and walk out scratching their heads and reeling to find out that the comic or graphic novel they just love more than anything sold maybe 300 copies total.
Jones puts this in even greater detail:
To put this into perspective for you… perusing ICv2’s top 300 graphic novel estimates for November 2008, Salt Water Taffy volume 2 from Oni Press placed at 294. This is an all-ages book that has received great buzz (it’s recommended by YALSA), and is likely to have strong “legs”… long-term, consistent demand.
…and it sold 413 copies at $5.95, which means it is at the very cusp of the benchmark.
Because later listings almost never do as well as the first, this book may not realize its full sales potential if Diamond were to enforce its $2500 benchmark and not list the book again. This is a book that’s in Diamond’s top 300! It’s from the publisher of Scott Pilgrim!
Following the news, we contacted a number of publishers not in the front of the catalog to ask how this might affect them. Few were wiling to go on the record, but all echoed Vado’s concerns that this will be a huge change for the industry. At the very least, it should seriously winnow down the monthly Diamond behemoth of a catalog. Going through Previews every month is a numbing task for a journalist; for retailers, it’s little better, and printing it up every month is a significant expense for Diamond, which has already taken steps to remove such categories as apparel from the catalog.
While the holiday and piecemeal rollout of the new policies leave a lot of questions hanging in the air, one that every person who responded to our enquiries mentioned that this will be a coffin nail for the small, independent comics periodicals, i.e. floppies. The last time Diamond raised its benchmark, to $1500, it was pointed out that under this policy books from BONE to CEREBUS wouldn’t get into the catalog under this policy. The new benchmark would leave out the first issues of things like 30 DAY OF NIGHT, so we’re not talking obscure indie material, but mainstream genre fiction.
One publisher we contacted went on the record, PictureBox’s Dan Nadel, who shared his thoughts on what the new policies might mean:
I’d say it’s huge and seismic. For example, neither Travel nor Goddess of War met those numbers back in the fall. So, comic stores wouldn’t have had two of the best reviewed alt-books of ’08. Looking at it from their perspective, I understand the need to be cost-efficient — business is business. Long term, it strangles a small publisher’s ability to get into comic book stores in a concise, economical fashion, as opposed to more time consuming and difficult process of soliciting or invoicing dozens of individual stores. What is signals to me is that in defiance of the trends of the culture towards smaller, more creator-owned work, Diamond is just interested in propping up already popular works. They’ve given up fostering the next Dash Shaw or Yokoyama — they’re essentially cutting off the potential for growth or surprise. This also must hurt retailers, constricting their choices and making it more difficult to get smaller works that their customers expect or request. So, hmmm, Diamond is neither serving the publisher nor the retailer. They’re just acting like a regular ol’ big corporation, albeit, I know, one with plenty of people who probably disagree with this policy. But overall, it’s a real shame.
I should add that Diamond is a smaller part of my business than for those publishers or for comparable arts publishers since I do the bulk of my business through my bookstore distributor, DAP and online. I should also note that Tony Shenton, who does a great job for me rep’ing my books to comic book stores, will now become even more important. Tony’s great and perhaps (though I haven’t asked him) benefit from this shift in terms of being even more of a go-to guy for publishers like PictureBox to get its products into comic stores. So, it’s not disastrous for me. Just a little less income in an already very difficult environment.
Shenton is an indie sales rep who works with several publishers, and while he’s likely to get a lot busier, the idea of a new distributor rising out of all this is something several people have come up with. In his letter, Vado wrote:
On another side note, next month SLG was going to be rolling out a website for retailers only where they could reorder our books and get our vital info without sorting through all of the consumer crap on our regular site. I am going to be offering some publishers an opportunity to participate by listing their stuff on that site, in essence trying to become a distributor myself. There might be some opportunity to make money on that bottom half of the scale that Diamond cannot handle right now.
At the very least, this is going to a) make whatever online rollouts were going to happen happen that much faster and b) just about cement the graphic novel format as the format for comics. We’re still in the early stages of reactions and revelations about the new policy, but it’s quite possible that while everyone in the comics industry has been patting themselves on the back for avoiding the worst effects of the recession, that just ended with a bang.
In an even bigger picture, Diamond has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on comics periodical distribution for nearly a decade. While a lot of people view it as a benevolent monopoly, there are some who don’t, and those voices are likely to get much louder in the coming weeks as the effects of the new benchmarks begin to be felt. It’s also likely to throw even more of a spotlight onto just how much of a hegemony Marvel and DC really have on the direct sales market.
We have a lot of phone calls and interviews scheduled…certainly Diamond’s side of the story needs to be heard and evaluated. Developing…and how.
MORE: John Jackson Miller looks at the chart numbers to see what would be affected.