Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by Musical Chairs

Notable things are happening, even if their impact is yet to be determined. Let’s examine those and more in Comics Disassembled, my breakdown of ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics.

1. DC, Changing Hands (Again)

In a massive bit of news, AT&T is showing buyer’s remorse – to a degree – as they’re merging the gigantic media outlet WarnerMedia, which includes HBO, CNN, and, most crucially for us, DC Comics, with Discovery, the people who make all kinds of nature shows and HGTV and a whole bunch of other things. It’s a $43 billion deal, and while AT&T will still be part of the whole enterprise, it to a degree is a tacit admittance by the mobile giant that they have no idea what they are doing with all that “entertainment” stuff. It also is a big deal because it gives HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s streaming platform, even more ammunition in the Great Streaming Wars. It’s going to have a lot of permutations and impacts and fancy words about change both inside and outside of that entity.

Will it also mark the ending of DC Comics as some have theorized for the, by my count, 800th time in my 12 years of writing about comics? Probably not! As much as people want to act like they know what this means or pretend like they know this will finally be the deathblow of one of the oldest companies in the comic industry, we really don’t know anything. Typically mergers aren’t done to simply close parts of the acquisition, especially when they’re the home of extremely valuable intellectual property. If anything, getting away from AT&T in any capacity seems likely to be a good thing for DC, because at least now they might be dealing with people who know entertainment beyond spreadsheets.

But again, we know nothing. This could be the biggest deal in DC’s history. This could have zero impact. The spectrum is broad, and because of that, theorizing is blazing up a storm on the good ol’ internets. The totality of existence leaves a lot of room for conjecture. Let’s take a breath and remember we don’t know anything, and that when we’re hypothesizing about the end as we know it, that means peoples’ jobs. We’ll learn more later. Right now we don’t know anything. It started happening four days ago or something. I don’t even think it’s done yet. Decisions come later.

2. Diamond, Revealing Terms

In the wake of Penguin Random House’s deal with Marvel to distribute the House of Ideas’ releases in the direct market, we learned that this new distributor was a generous one, giving Diamond Comic Distributors the ability to still distribute Marvel releases through a deal with PRH. At the time, I remember wondering why in the world someone would do that. After all, there’s no way someone sub-distributing could match the rates of the main distributor, right? Then I heard from some shops that told me they were considering doing just that, pending the arrival of terms.

Well, the terms are out, and it seems unlikely that anyone would stick around now. Diamond released those numbers and the ceiling for the biggest accounts is 50%, matching PRH on discount. Unfortunately for them, that comes with shipping costs, which is not a thing PRH charges. The spectrum is 50% for the biggest accounts to 40% for the smallest, with a 2.5% of retail charge for print products (and 5% for assorted other things), versus 50% across the board with no shipping for PRH.

I said it seemed unlikely that anyone would stick around considering that…but I already heard from a shop who told me they might! The reason? It’s easier to order from one distributor (well, two with Lunar included for DC), with the time savings offsetting losses on the shipping front. At least…that is what they are saying now. I think it’s easy to talk a big game up front, but when you get into the math of the actual order, that might change. When $30,000 monthly is the minimum for the 50% discount, you’re talking a minimum of $750 in shipping costs each month just for that one publisher. I’d say that’s not ideal, but that’s also pretty obvious.

I’ve talked to some people who suggest this could be the Diamond killer. They needed to come out strong to compete, and this is not that. This will likely lose them a lot of retailers for Marvel’s business. Will that be enough to break Diamond? It’s possible. That said, Diamond and horror movie villains have a lot in common. Just when you think they’re dead, they keep on coming. Losing Marvel and DC consecutively is tough stuff, and if it was a normal company, I’d say they were done. Diamond is eternal, for better or worse. We’ll see what happens, but I imagine any impact won’t be seen until October when Marvel makes the switch to PRH. That’s when we’ll get a better feel for how much of a backbreaker this proves to be.

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