In 1992, Phil Seuling founded the comics direct market, enabling publishers to sell directly to specialty comics retailers. Ten years later, the American mega-publishers put out their first material exclusively for that market. Twelve years after that, Marvel aggressively tried to take down the entire field by buying a distributor, and a year after that, DC signed a memorandum of understanding that they could buy what would be the last remaining distributor within months if they wanted. Some observers expected the market to collapse completely within a year: instead, it’s struggled on for longer than it had existed prior to 1995.
But collapse remains imminent, probably! At this point it’s a race between the surviving comics shops, the surviving book shops, and the entire concept of a single business being able to afford retail space in an English-speaking city.
The annual retailer confab ComicsPro took place last weekend, and single-proprietor retailer Menachem Luchins donned a mask and cape to hand out an anonymous pamphlet he’d written, screeching that retailer demand is the prime cause of the current corporate colour publishers desperately trying to goose their numbers with monthly variant covers and crossover whatnots. A longer version was published at The Comics Journal online:
And you know what? The publishers are listening less and less. There is accounting, there are NUMBERS. Analytics. The fact of the matter is that comic shops, for all their years of being the gate through which comics are kept, are no longer the only place to find comics. Heck, walk in to your average comic shop and ask for Amazon’s top 10 selling Graphic Novels (updated hourly, their website tells me) and you’ll be lucky to find five of them, I bet… Let me check… Nope, I only have four of them currently in stock and my shop is one of those that go out of its way to focus heavily on graphic novels and trade paperbacks!
At the end of the day, the very purpose the Direct Market was made for is GONE. So many factors have shifted and changed in the world of print, the world of comics, heck in the world itself, that the very CONCEPT of the Direct Market is akin to some quaint idea of years past, like a local butcher or an automat. So many realities of printing that drove sales into comic shops, like the newsstand, are dead and so many others are changed irreparably by technology such as eBay, tablets, and Amazon. The Direct Market, as it was, is long dead but all of us comic shops are keeping on like it’s not, raising a fuss to beat a dead horse.
He makes the point that to survive, shops ought to find other ways of getting folks through their doors, and distributors other than Diamond to broaden their stock. All well and good, but he shouts it like some wild-eyed prophet in the desert having these ideas for the first time, not like there are shops that have survived for decades by doing this already. Chiding and scolding, rather than proposing solidarity and collaboration. Still, he managed to open his joint even after his crowdfunder to create a shop that followed these principles flopped, so at least he’s got moxie.
A couple of retailers show up in the comments there, including Brian Hibbs with some data about overall sales in the market being up. And the week before, Publishers Weekly did a round-up of various buyers’ and owners’ perspectives on 2019, including four comics shops ranging from super-hero focused to alt-heavy, and regular bookshops including NYC’s Strand and Portland’s Powell’s, two of the best places in the world for readers to lose an afternoon of tourism.
The 2018 holiday season was not good. It just started so late—a week and a half or two weeks before Christmas. It used to start the day after Thanksgiving. That’s just what it’s like now. That’s just the new paradigm.
2018 sales were worse than 2017 for sure. We ran through some of the numbers and saw that a chunk of where we were down was Marvel and DC specifically, by a not insignificant amount.
Our sales are up on comics, and regular graphic novel market and manga sales were way up this year again. But what we had to do to get there was even more difficult than ever.
Diamond’s service is a concern for some, but Powell’s are bursting with unqualified praise:
Our relationship with Diamond Comics Distributors has gone through 180 degrees of positive change in the last two years. Since it opened its new warehouse, its quality control and ease of ordering has been more than acceptable.
Shine on, you more than acceptable, insurmountable monopoly.