Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by Uhh…Marvel Doing Things

Nothing to see here! Yesterday was a totally normal day in comics! Nothing seismic or Earth-shattering impacting the comic world!

Let’s get to this totally normal, absolutely not crazy week in this week’s edition of Comics Disassembled.

1. Marvel, Fleeing the Coop

This is simultaneously one of the biggest possible news stories I could cover here and something I don’t want to get into in too much depth because, shockingly, it immediately became my feature article for next Tuesday. But it’s impossible to ignore because it, again, is massive. Marvel made a massive change, moving from Diamond Comic Distributors to Penguin Random House Publishing Services as their comics distributor (but sticking around with Hachette on the book market distro side…for now, although graphic novels and trades can still be ordered by comic shops via PRH).

This obviously has a lot of stakeholders involved, so we’ll look at them systematically. First, Marvel. It’s a no-brainer move for Marvel. They get to go from the much maligned externally Diamond – whose reputation with most retailers isn’t as bad as public sentiment would suggest – to one of the biggest publishing service companies in the world. This is like going from a greasy spoon with spotty service that is amazing at hash browns to a restaurant whose biggest question each year is, “how many Michelin stars will we get this year?” Marvel’s probably thrilled, and it’s worth noting that we should probably all be thrilled, because Penguin Random House wouldn’t be getting into the single issue comic game if they viewed it as an unsustainable, short-term play.

What this means for the product is yet to be determined. It should be business as usual, especially given that Marvel + PRH will still be working with Diamond as a wholesaler should shops prefer to buy from them (at a raised rate, of course). The downside is that it appears shops will now get a 50% discount on product, a decrease for almost everyone, but that comes with free shipping. For some, that’s a wash. For others, it means higher costs, but manageably less.

I saw some saying things like, “Oh, aren’t shops going to be as mad as they were at DC for jumping ship?” No, probably not. These are wildly different moves. First, Marvel’s not making the move until October, so there’s enough time to plan. Second, they’re moving a massive publishing conglomerate, not a pair of souped up retailers cosplaying as distributors. Third, Penguin Random House is not a competitor to them. And finally, the bulk of shops aren’t sheltering-in-place right now, so this isn’t hitting them when the deck was already stacked against them.

The funny thing about all of this is if the question to me was, “How big of a deal is this for our ability to read Marvel comics?” my answer would be “not a big deal at all.” Odds are, the difference here will be fundamentally zip for customers, beyond the fact that I heard, perhaps surprisingly, PRH has high return rates because of damages on graphic novels, even surpassing Diamond. That’s a concern, but one they are aware of, which is why PRH already revealed they’re going to be distributing from a different place than where they do the book side. Different plans for different products.

Someone whom this might be a big deal for is Diamond Comic Distributors, who probably are sweating right now. While it might not be the instant kill some expect it to be – those I’ve talked to have suggested they’re a bit more insulated from this kind of loss than we might expect – it has to hurt.

Anyways, much more about this on Tuesday. Crazy stuff.

2. Penguin Random House, Powerhouse?

I did want to make a quick note here: this is a massive move Penguin Random House too. Signing Marvel up on both the comic and graphic novel side is a huge get. It’s about as big of a get as you can find in comics, to be honest. And it does make me wonder if they have plans for more. Maybe they are happy to just have the alpha from the pack on their side, but having the alpha on your side is often valuable because it is prelude to getting the whole pack. With Diamond’s tenuous nature and many publishers already shifting business to Simon & Schuster and other houses on the book market side of things – including DC, who is already at Penguin Random House in this regard – could we see a wholesale shift from Diamond to PRH in the future?

I don’t know! Maybe PRH just wants that big brand and see a path to even bigger money from them in the future. But if I were other publishers, particularly someone like Image who is somehow still entirely in the Diamond game, and in the future I had to decide between someone like Lunar and Penguin Random House as my distribution partner, it wouldn’t take long to make my mind up. It’s PRH all day, every day.

Again, I don’t think Penguin Random House has gotten into the direct market comic distribution game if they didn’t see short and long term value here. You make this move because you see value here, and while Marvel is the crown jewel, there are plenty of other attractive, money-making gems that PRH could attract. This is pure speculation, but I wonder if that is something they’re considering. Because it’s there for the taking if they want it. That’s a big if, though, and one that’s haunting Steve Geppi’s dreams.

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