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Daphne Byrne #4 – one of the comics that will be on sale from DC next week.

Friday’s stunning news that DC was going to attempt to sell some new comics via two new distributors frothed up faster than that dalgona coffee everyone is making.

Many people had been unhappy about not getting new comics after Diamond announced they were closing down shipping new product starting April 1, so you’d think this might have been…good…news?

But to say the reaction from retailers has been overwhelmingly negative is an understatement. A severe understatement.

As usual, retailer Brian Hibbs was the one to lay it out with a 19-point indictment.

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To paraphrase some salient points, the biggest problem (and it is large) is that most comics shops will just not be open to sell new comics in April. Another is that the distributors are Midtown Comics and DCBS, two already large mail order retailers who most brick and mortar stores see as direct competition. Shops are unwilling to give these two giants their ordering information.

The selection of titles was also found wonting. Hibbs called it “a tiny slate of garbage.”

Many were upset that DC’s offices are closed (as is the state of California) but they were asking store owners to risk their lives by going in and shipping comics.

The short time frame – four days – and the lower margins on these books were also a concern. There was also a point I’ll quote in its entirety:

6) DC is asking us to ABANDON Diamond. They claim they’ve “cancelled all orders” (though, honestly, can they even do that?), and that we have to buy from Midtown and DCBS. Diamond and Steve Geppi specifically have acted as the “bank” of the Direct Market, saving and protecting the great mass of retailers again and again and again.. Do I have some problems with DCD’s operation? Sure: I’d be an idiot not to — but on the balance they’ve done more to preserve DM retailers than ANYONE EVER, so “walking away” from them in this time of challenge is completely entirely a non-starter for me

ESPECIALLY FOR DCBS. Are you crazy? They are literally our enemy. Why not ask Amazon to distribute to us?

ALSO: the books can only ship to the United States. Another problem.

Hibbs’ post was shared over 200 times, and garnered nearly 300 comments. And the reviews were brutal. A selection (I’ve removed the names, but all the comments are from store owners, or respected industry figures):

“But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how dd you like the shit show?”

“It’s a dismal mess.”

This is a beyond fucked up move by DC.”

“This makes me want to drop new comics and just deal with GN and back issues.”

Well said and am in total agreement. Basically using the pandemic to force this change is deplorable.”

“DC is acting like a very wounded hungry animal. Its plan is a disaster. best wishes for a return to normalcy.”

“It could not be made more plain to me by DC this week that I only need to order my DC subs and nothing else.”

…and so on.

While I’m a veteran comics industry watcher, and have covered retail issues for nearly 20 years, I don’t quite grasp exactly why this move will make people stop ordering DC Comics entirely. But even I can see that there is a very personal reaction to this among retailers, which is the flip side of the passion for the industry needed to keep running stores on the low margins that they have. I’ll admit, I didn’t think this was that awful an idea but…I’ll yield to the majority.

There were a few timid voices who said getting new product moving as soon as possible through the pipeline was fine (and again these comics have been printed and are sitting….somewhere, unsold) but they didn’t get too far. (But see below.) The overall issue of safety is a huge one, however – 80% of the US is in lockdown, and mail order is an arduous and time consuming (and dangerous) task that not everyone wants to or can do. Unlike professional wrestling, selling comic books is not an essential business.

Many comparisons to the Heroes World debacle of the 90s were made. I don’t have time for the full history lesson, but Marvel (then owned by business raider Ron Perelman) decided that distributing their own comics would be a good idea and purchased the distributor Heroes World to do it. Unfortunately, the company was not up for the task, it was a total disaster, thousands of shops closed in the bust that ensued and Marvel went bankrupt.

Personally, I don’t think you can compare the two situations (in 1994 there was no internet, and no pandemic) but as a shorthand for “boneheaded distribution move” I guess it works.

While there will doubtless be hours and days and weeks of debate over this, rather than go over it blow by blow here, I’ll just supply some other important news bites;

ICv2 contacted Midtown and DCBS and got them to go on the record with what seemed to be coordinated statements:

Midtown Comics is connected to UCS Comic Distributors, which is offering DCs to states in the Eastern U.S. and provinces in Eastern Canada.  “Midtown Comics is affiliated with UCS Comic Distributors, one of the companies secured by DC to distribute their comics,” Midtown CMO Gerry Gladston told us.  “We have many years of experience in the areas of distribution, fulfillment, and customer service, and our goal is to put comics in the hands of the retailers and fans who want them.  We are glad to help during these difficult times, and we look forward to working with everyone.”

Discount Comic Book Service is connected to Lunar Distribution, which is offering DCs to states in the Western U.S. and provinces in Western Canada.  “I can confirm that Lunar DISTRIBUTION is DCBS’ distributing arm,” DCBS Co-Owner Christina Merkler said.  “Our goal is to get comics in the hands of retailers and fans during this difficult time.”

• One of the biggest questions of all is what about Batman #92, the eagerly awaited debut of Punchline, the new Joker character that was so hot back in the before times. Writer James Tynion IV confirmed it would come out in June:

• At least one retailer was happy for the news – but his store is located in Arkansas, which is not under lockdown. Michael Tierney of Collector’s Edition and The Comic Book Store wrote for ICv2:

I’d like to share how thrilled my customers were to hear that DC Comics would start shipping again at the end of April.  While it’s a piddling small selection over the first three weeks, for stores like mine that were never involved in a quarantine, and the many who are soon to be coming out, this was nothing but good news.

Even though these new titles won’t be available for another couple of weeks, excited customers immediately started coming back into my stores.  They weren’t buying a much of anything new, because there hasn’t been anything new for a while, but my DC back issue sales on both Friday and Saturday were outstanding.  With no Diamond invoice to pay, it made for a very good week in the middle of the April wasteland of 2020.

That there is the privilege of not being quarantined right there.

• Third Eye Comics in Annapolis, MD (which is under quarantine) will be selling new comics next week, from SCOUT COMICS, SOURCE POINT PRESS, and seemed excited about DC coming back, as this post reveals.  They will be taking orders for comics to be sold via mail order or home delivery.

And, then following hot on the heels of 4/22/20, is Wednesday 4/29/20, which will be bringing a modest yet totally killer line-up of DC Comics releases to you, and even more importantly, will be resuming weekly releases from DC Comics!

On top of that – this just sets the stage and paves the way for the return of ALL new comics from all the publishers later in May!

But in the meantime, you’ll have your pals here at Third Eye bringing you weekly releases from DC Comics, Scout Comics, Source Point Press, and many others!

Ryan Higgins of Comics Conspiracy (in California) was also an outspoken supporter of DC’s early shipping program:

• However Dark Tower Comics is standing with Diamond.

• A Newsarama story has more, longer retailers reactions.

So that’s kind of where we stand right now. What this all means…what was the cause of it, and where it will go are things we will be investigating in the coming days. But a quick thought: stores that had a mail order business up and running and stores that did not have a pretty different reaction to all of this.

Developing.

 

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35 COMMENTS

  1. So let’s sum it up: DC cancelled plan for publish new books digital only. DC is not publishing Batman #92 because very small part of shops is opened. DC is trying something new, go away from Diamond monopoly. DC wan’t to give some money to creators as when comics will not be published, creators will not have money.
    IOk, lets say that DC will go back again and will not publish by other distributors. What these publishers want then, after ioutbreak? Delay digital releases, delay TPBs, do not collect all the run in TPBs. There is no polite word for them.

  2. Ryan Higgins sure wants to disrupt the old Diamond distributors any way he can. He was involved and on the front lines of Comichub (even if he deleted his tweets to try and hide his response) and is now acting like the cool guy in relation to this too.

    Whatever man. DC is in Burbank California and is still under lockdown and they’re trying to make some scratch by forcing comic retailers to bend over and accept these terms during a nationwide pandemic, but sure Ryan, you’re the cool new comic shop guy with the hip ideas.

  3. As I posted in another thread on this site: Once Diamond re-starts, DCBS and Midtown are going to be distributing comics for DC at the same time that they will be dependent on Diamond to provide them comics from other publishers. So they will be both a customer and a competitor with Diamond. That’s weirder than trying to figure out whether Goofy and Pluto are both dogs.

    I can’t see this arrangement lasting for very long before either DCBS or Midtown make an accusation (rightly or wrongly) that Diamond has done something unfair in how their order for Marvel’s (or whomever’s) comics was handled in retaliation for taking at least a share of DC’s business.

  4. It appears to me what DC wanted was for readers to drop their LCS and sign up with DCBS or Midtown to get their comics. They put in the option for retailers to switch to use them too, because hey extra money is nice and some of them are still operating (or possibly for legal reasons), but it wasn’t the main point of it all.

  5. comicsatemybrain

    diamond retaliating against either would cost them too much money. Midtown and dcbs have to be at least 15-20% of diamonds sales.

  6. Fun fact: The Mars candy company used to purchase their milk chocolate from Hershey, while also competing with them on candy sales. Business is business.

  7. My Father lost his store in 1994 due to issues with Capital City and Diamond as well as late shipping and the speculator boom. (My Dad had owned the shop since 1982 and was not a speculator; I vividly remember being 11 years old and him explaining how Image Comics had shipped only 2 out of 14 scheduled comics one month) so my heart does go out to store owners. However, this has always happened and while I have sympathy, I don’t know how much of a surprise it is that DC and Jim Lee could be so insensitive!

  8. Hibbs and his ilk must desperately want comics to die since literally every solution has been met with overdramatic screaming hissy fits. And that “ilk” includes enablers like this site’s owners.

  9. Plumcha

    If Hibbs and his ilk went out of business, if all comics retailers went out of business, where would you get your comics? Or do you not read any?

  10. How dare DC do something different from the way things have been done for 35 years! No wonder the old hippies in retailing are up in arms.

  11. No internet in 1994? I think you (Heidi) and I were already active on the CompuServe Comics Forum by 1992. At least I was, anyhow. Yes, it was Pre-AOL, but it was the Internet, however difficult it was (think 1200 baud modems and modem strings)

  12. The biggest issue I see is that DCBS & Midtown are both online retailers that operate on a business model of undercutting brick and mortar shops. Their entire approach to business is fucking over regular comic shops, and now those are the people in charge of distribution to those shops? So what happens when the next “Batman #89” rolls around and retailers get shorted on a “hot” speculator book that DCBS & Midtown have plenty of?

    Actually, the only saving grace of this plan is that the slate of books is lot of garbage that no one will miss.

    ComicsHub actually sounded like a reasonable solution. This is a load of crap that hasten the direct market to it’s grave, and shop owners should ABSOLUTELY fight it tooth and nail.

  13. i can see the problems. 1. asking retailers to use completely unproven and pop up distributors…ie. lunar and the other one…literally formed like days ago. 2. asking LCS to use their competitors in the hopes that people won’t just use midtown or DCBS directly…

    it just seems like a slap in the face. we want comics again but we want our damn stores to open…if i wanted to order online i just would.

  14. ComicsAteMyBrain wrote: “Midtown and DCBS have to be at least 15-20% of diamonds sales.”

    We believe it’s closer to 10%. (Which is, completely coincidentally, about the percentage Heroes World had of Marvel’s business before Marvel switched to it for everything.)

  15. GreenMachine – I imagine the publishers would go to a digital-first, followed by trade model, and I would buy them either online or at a book store.

  16. Normally I’d be all for more alternative distribution models, and on its face I like this option. Has anyone found out the terms Midtown and DCBS are offering for distribution is the deal the same or better in terms of cost than what Diamond offers?

  17. “Fun fact: The Mars candy company used to purchase their milk chocolate from Hershey, while also competing with them on candy sales. Business is business.”

    Fun fact: Marvel Comics were distributed in the ’60s by Independent News — which was owned by National Periodical Publications the parent company of DC. Business is business.

  18. “GreenMachine – I imagine the publishers would go to a digital-first, followed by trade model, and I would buy them either online or at a book store.”

    Digital makes up a small percentage of current sales in the comic industry despite the format being around for years. Of the much larger group of people buying physical comics, some portion of them would NOT switch to digital. How many can be debated but going digital-first would absolutely lead to fewer sales.
    Trades are collections of previously published comics. Without those comics, the price of trades (which would then become real graphic novels) would increase considerably.
    Either way, you’re going to be paying a good bit more for your comics.
    How much of what is now published in the Direct Market NEVER makes it into a book store? 60%? 70%?

    Mike

  19. Of course Hibbs would have an issue about this. The situation isn’t perfect, but something has to be done. This is a medium fueled by habitual purchases. Taking it away for an extended period of time might potentially destroy the direct market. But let’s face it, the way things have been in terms of business is horrible and this situation has shown this, something has GOT to change. And maybe that change means that the direct market and LCSs will serve a role like record stores, catering to one aspect where the larger share comes from digital and other venues like Amazon. If Hibbs and some of the others want to stamp their feet and not be open to change, then I won’t be sorry to see them fade to obscurity

  20. “Funny, the digital->trade model works GREAT for manga“

    And that opinion is literally based on what? Is that how manga works in Japan?

    Mike

  21. “And maybe that change means that the direct market and LCSs will serve a role like record stores, catering to one aspect where the larger share comes from digital and other venues like Amazon.“

    Good grief. It is hard to unpack the ignorance threaded through that statement. There are so many incorrect premises that I’d have to write a novella to identify each one and then explain why they are wrong.

    I only have time for the most obvious. The music business is and always has been MASSIVELY larger than the comic industry. The former sells to almost everyone on the planet. The latter sells to a tiny fraction of the population. There were far more record stores once open than there have ever been comic stores. If comic stores go out of business the way record stores did, there won’t be enough left to support a Direct Market or any other kind of market.

    Mike

  22. @Mbunge

    “And that opinion is literally based on what? Is that how manga works in Japan?”

    No, in Japan they ship cheap anthologies containing 22 different stories for about $2.50 a week.

    And THEN they go to trade..

    But in the US, Viz Media does just that… releases digital chapters same day & date for FREE, and sell books in the bookstores. Must be doing well, too, Viz made $44.4 billion dollars last year.

  23. Nate M. Funny, the digital->trade model works GREAT for manga

    Except it doesn’t, manga starts with being released in a weekly or monthly anthology which sells between tens of thousands to a million copies a week depending on which anthology. Individual titles are then every 3 – 4 months released as TPB’s.

    The US market is just so much smaller because the cheap anthology’s are throw away items bought very cheaply for the amount of content (less than $10 for 20, 15+ page comics).

    It also gets game and TV anime adaptions pretty quick if it’s popular.

  24. How about this? The comic companies release weekly anthologies with an assortment of 20-page comics. Black-and-white. On cheap newsprint. Hump them into bookstores, convenience stores, Wally World, etc. $10.00 each. Release the individual series as trades later, in color, on better paper.

    Oh, wait. The comic retailers won’t like that. Because it threatens their man caves.

  25. “How much of what is now published in the Direct Market NEVER makes it into a book store? 60%? 70%?”

    That’s about the percentage that isn’t worth publishing in the first place.

    Bookstores have to appeal to real people, not nerds who want to hang out in man caves.

  26. No proposal for rescuing the comics business which includes the words “on cheap newsprint” is ever going to work.

  27. I know Hibbs doesn’t fall into this category, due to his frequent use of book distributors, but I wonder how many comic shops are little more than effectively being Diamond Distributors’ franchisees.

  28. Mike: “How much of what is now published in the Direct Market NEVER makes it into a book store? 60%? 70%?”

    Oh, virtually everything that is serialized in the DM is at least offered to the book stores. It’s one of the reasons “trade waiters” can?

    Bob: “This is a medium fueled by habitual purchases. Taking it away for an extended period of time might potentially destroy the direct market.”

    Potentially, maybe, but encouraging channel-shift (print-to-digital), market-shift (SF-to-Alabama) or the de-synching of periodical releases will ABSOLUTELY destroy the DM.

    Nate M: “But in the US, Viz Media does just that… releases digital chapters same day & date for FREE, and sell books in the bookstores.”

    Yes, but Viz doesn’t pay basically ANY creative costs like any other publisher might — they’re paying licensing and reprint fees, sure, but those are minor fractions any “western” publisher is paying for content. If manga-in-America had to pay all of the Creative, only a teeeeeeeeeny fraction would be published.

    Mark Moore: “How about this? The comic companies release weekly anthologies with an assortment of 20-page comics. Black-and-white. On cheap newsprint. Hump them into bookstores, convenience stores, Wally World, etc. $10.00 each.”

    Black & white comics have never proven broadly popular in the US (with the sole exception of “humor” publications like Mad, and even that we saw how well it worked out); anthologies even less so. Selling comics based on price has been tried again and again, and doesn’t work.

    It’s not as though the people who control how and where comics are sold are CONSTANTLY TRYING to change, expand, and grow the reach of comics. The REASON “all” we have for periodicals is the DM is because no one else can make money doing it (and we don’t really make enough money either, but we do it for love [sorry Heather!])

    “Oh, wait. The comic retailers won’t like that. Because it threatens their man caves.”

    Yeah, my “man cave” is a clean, well lit bookstore. I want AS MANY people buying comics as possible… and if ANY of those ideas stood the slightest chance of working, I’d certainly be championing it.

    Shawn L: “I know Hibbs doesn’t fall into this category, due to his frequent use of book distributors, but I wonder how many comic shops are little more than effectively being Diamond Distributors’ franchisees.”

    Some, but it’s an ever decreasing number, and has been for several years.

    BUT, periodicals have a single source.

    -B

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