The Direct Market: Goodbye, Baby, And Amen.
The Direct Market: Goodbye, Baby, And Amen.
Chris Butcher has a terrific piece up on the failings of the current Diamond distribution system; Tom Spurgeon agrees. I think Frank Santoro got there first.
What struck me most though was a passing comment in Heidi Macdonald’s link to the piece:
We’d quibble with that a little– doing business with multiple distributors is something most retail outlets have to deal with, so for those retailers willing to put on their big boy pants, it’s perfectly fine.
“…something most retail outlets have to deal with…”
“…big boy pants…”
To me, that’s the key here.
If we’re really saying farewell forever to the comics retail direct market as it was known for, what, 20-odd years? then we’re really saying “howdy” to an environment built from the outset to support multiple points of view, to place the power of selling and fostering the artform at the hands of (mostly) intelligent retailers instead of at the whims of a single monolithic terrifying and often incompetent distributor; the comic book store as we knew it will no longer exist, and something better will hopefully take its place.
I feel like it’s time to skip ahead to the end and call this corpse while it’s still fresh. The experiences outlined by Butcher in his piece are undoubtedly the same experiences many savvy comics retailers are already having. These are the folks interested in supporting a variety of artistic viewpoints and serving readers with the type of customer service that nurtures their habits and embraces their enthusiasm, not the “superhero convenience stores” Alan David Doane has written about.
For a retailer like Butcher–or, I expect, Brian Hibbs or James Sime or others across the continent–the direct market isn’t dying; the direct market IS ALREADY DEAD.
Where does this leave us?
Larger and (again, hopefully) better comics retailers will serve customers with a wider variety of material that they acquire through not just Diamond but whatever outlet is available to best facilitate their sales and business strategies.
Many existing comics retailers will quietly close their doors. The extent to which we customers should mourn their demise is a debatable topic; for my part, I’ll only say that these closings will come not at the cold, murdering hands of Diamond’s short-sighted, take-the-money-and-run policies, but through the failure of these retailers to sense the changes in the marketplace and the distribution channels and CHANGE their way of doing business. I think it could be argued that these retailers aren’t just failing as comics sellers; they’re failing as business owners in a capitalist environment. That’s probably a larger topic so I want to leave it there cause I got more shit to spout.
The presence of comics in big-box retailers and through supersellers like Amazon will ultimately be a good thing. They won’t be taking money out of the mouths of struggling direct market retailers anymore; they’ll simply exist as an option alongside the surviving and thriving new breed of retailer, places where you can get everything that isn’t easily available through Amazon, and pick up whatever else floats your boat beside. Big national book retailers will still be there to support sales of mainstream comics to both die-hard and casual fans alike; I think we can already say that from a big bookseller perspective, that “mainstream” already embraces a greater diversity of artistic voices and styles than most direct market stores ever have.
Those creators “frozen out” by Diamond’s collapsing of their own market to basically, I dunno, sell more Deadpool comics or whatever the fuck? Those creators are going to be fine. A rarely-expressed viewpoint when Diamond raised their minimums a few months back was the extent to which any indie comics creator should actually CARE about said raising. I personally fail to see the difference between scratching and biting to get a single floppy of a small black-and-white indie title carried by a distribution system that is largely ignorant to your work’s value; and scratching and biting to provide that same material online where it has a much better shot of finding the readers who will support it and sustain it, whether it be enough to raise your family and make you a workin’ big-shot full-time ARTEEST, or whether it barely covers your hosting costs. Would providing a (very tiny) fraction of (possibly interested) DM retailers with the chance to (maybe) buy 2 copies of your book that will collect dust on a shelf cause maybe they can’t hand sell worth a damn REALLY be the preferable path here? If so, what are you smoking, and may I have some, please?
Slowly, or quickly, Diamond will die. They have pursued the path of least resistance and inevitable decline. Along with Marvel and DC, they seem to have embraced the notion that the network of comics specialty shops exists solely as a delivery mechanism for corporate superhero comics, and that the easy money lies not in nurturing new voices and encouraging independent success, but in bending the shelves with enough goddamned superhero comics to choke a whale. (And I say that as someone who absolutely loves goddamned superhero comics.)
So Butcher’s right–Previews hasn’t changed, except there’s MORE shit from the Big Two, and less diversity in the marketplace. It’s the same old song, with a new melody–keep bleeding dry the nostalgia obsessive crowd with “events” and “tie-in miniseries” and “a series of one-shots that will CHANGE THE UNIVERSE FOREVER.” But how far can this go? Is this sustainable?
It isn’t. It can’t be. The smart retailers already know this and will change; it may not be easy for them, but I think from a business perspective, it’s probably better in the long run. It breaks the Diamond stranglehold thanks to Diamond’s own horseshit policies.
The smart retailers will be fine. Good comics will still be available from a wide variety of sources. Young creators have more tools than EVER at their disposal to put out quality work and have it discovered by a sizable audience.
Everything’s gonna be fine. It might even be better. We just need to get through the wake and the funeral of Diamond Comics Distribution and encourage the good retailers we love to put on their “big boy pants” (if they haven’t already) and come into their own.
Comics, as always, as ever, will survive.
(DISCLAIMERS: I am not a comics retailer. I have only anecdotal experience in comics retail. I majored in English, not business; I don’t have an MBA. I’m rushing a little cause I need to walk the dog or he’s gonna shit on my floor. It’s 6:30 in the morning. I’m a little groggy.)