Thursday, January 22, 2009

Diamond Raises the Bar Opens New Opportunities

Last week, Diamond Comics Distribution, the primary major distributor still remaining in the comic-book industry, announced it was raising its benchmark in required minimum sales for publishers who the company distributes. This updates a policy first implemented in 2005, which I commented about here. Back in 2005, I was contacted by the Comics Journal for a reaction, and they quoted from my statement extensively.

This latest announcement will no doubt lead to a further attrition of publishers in the industry, and no doubt also bring into the light the true difficulties and low sales figures many publishers are experiencing.

Nevertheless, Diamond's latest announcement has drawn a similar measured response. While most seem to understand Diamond's prerogative to act as a business and put in place policies to limit their exposure to lower-selling titles that cost more money to distribute than they pull in, there are also those who feel Diamond has a responsibility, as the last-remaining major distributor, to assure access to the market place for smaller deserving titles.

It's important to note that Diamond does not operate in a vacuum. Obviously, the economy is in bad shape, and there have been many reports that even the comics industry, from distributors, to retailers, to publishers—once thought to be immune to the fluctuations of the economy—are feeling an impact. In other words, one can't hold Diamond solely responsible for a continuing shrinking market when readers and retailers also play a role in promoting and supporting comics, as do the publishers who must be first and foremost in promoting their products in a crowded marketplace.

Self-resignation is one reason the reaction has been relatively muted: it was easy to see the writing on the wall as far back as 2005 in terms of where the market has been headed.

Another reason may also be because of the way the distribution model is changing due to new technologies. In the old days, comic-book stores were pretty much the only outlet for comics, so Diamond and the other distributors very much operated as gatekeepers to the marketplace. This, of course, continues to be the traditional method for widespread, national distribution, which probably provides the most profitable scale of economy. Nevertheless, Web comics and print on demand publishing has opened new outlets for creators to supplement distribution by Diamond or to bypass them completely.

For now, comic-book distribution through Diamond still offers the best method of being able to profit as a publisher. But Diamond's new announcement will likely lead to a push to expand and develop innovative alternative methods of distribution, both for print products and, even moreso, digitally. Though I consider myself fairly "old school," I've recognized too that this is where the market is moving (especially for small publisher), and it's a move I've been exploring myself for awhile.

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