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.
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 makes me want to drop new comics and just deal with GN and back issues.”
“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:
Just got the go ahead to let all of you know that we're holding BATMAN #92 back for a June release, so we can make sure to get it to as many of you as possible on its release day. I am very, very excited for you all to read it! #PunchlineIsComing https://t.co/NDuL1cRRYa
— James Tynion IV (@JamesTheFourth) April 17, 2020
• 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:
Cool, just ordered some DC Comics titles that we'll have and be able to sell in less than 2 weeks. Easy.
— Ryan Higgins (@RyanHigginsRyan) April 17, 2020
And it's even better the way DC is rolling it out, just a few books a week. Gives us something to do, gives customers some hope comics are still here. There's no money loss to mail order, we charge for shipping. Customer are willing to pay.
— Ryan Higgins (@RyanHigginsRyan) April 19, 2020
• 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.