Two big boy news items lead the way this week in Comics Disassembled, my look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics. Let’s get straight to it.
1. Marvel Unlimited, Coming Soon(er)
In a hotly contested battle for the top spot, I’m giving the win to both my favorite news and the most potentially impactful news of the week: Marvel Unlimited shifting its six month gap before new releases hit to three months. That’s wild news because three months really isn’t that big of a gap, especially in a pandemic year where readers are already dicey about going into shops.
While at least one retailer I spoke with suggested this isn’t a substantial issue, it’s a curious thing because readers and creators I’ve heard from believe otherwise. And that’s because the simple math of it. A lot of readers are actively three months behind already. Electing to do that by choice at one very reasonable rate – Marvel Unlimited costs less than three Marvel comics a month – is a no brainer for those customers.
Where I’d be concerned if I was a retailer is those customers who are slow-rolling their return to the shop because of the pandemic getting hooked on the cadence of Marvel Unlimited. If they went that route and realized, “You know what? This isn’t so bad.” then all of a sudden one temporary Marvel Unlimited denizen becomes a permanent one. And from what I’ve heard, Marvel is often the backbone of customer presences, so when Marvel purchases leave, so do DC, Image, BOOM!, and other buys.
I don’t believe this will lead to a rash of customers changing their behaviors. But even I, someone whose job – or second job, at the very least – is built upon staying up to date with this kind of thing had moments of weakness where I thought, “You know, maybe I will move to just Marvel Unlimited after all.” I do think this underlines something I was suggesting in this week’s feature, though, and that’s that Marvel likely views Marvel Unlimited as one of its core pure reader products, meaning a product that’s solely for those who want to read but not collect.
Paired with Archie’s shift to day-and-date on ComiXology Unlimited and it feels like we’re in a bit of a moment right now. I saw some hypothesizing that Marvel’s move was a reaction to DC’s DC Universe Infinite product dropping the gap to six months, and maybe there’s some truth to that. But I also wonder if it was more closely related to Archie’s move, as compared to Archie, they’re still quite reasonable! Archie opened the door for them to reduce that gap and still not seem like the villain. It’s interesting.
One great variable we don’t know from broader industry performance is how these ostensible “streaming” comic services are doing. They’re omitted from the digital sales data we know, so they could be anything. I’d wager they’re a huge chunk of money, likely outdistancing the single-issue and trade sales on digital by themselves. That’s not built off any inside information, but if you’re asking me for my belief, that would be it. With moves like this, it will only continue to grow.
2. UCS, Peacing Out
One of the core frustrations of only writing about comics news on Fridays is it delays your ability to get to ideas as you think of them. For example, I was going to delight in suggesting Rich Johnston was incorrect with his piece over at Bleeding Cool about DC dropping UCS as a distributor, as originally assumed – I’ll be honest, I even assumed that was the case originally – because I had learned that it was the reverse of that, as Rich later reported. And you know what: he beat me to the punch, admitting to being incorrect! The gall of that guy, being transparent!
But regardless of who dumped whom, the ultimate point is UCS will no longer be distributing DC titles as of 2021 because they just were out on it. That leaves DC with Lunar as their single-issue distributor in North America, Diamond UK continuing on in 2021 as its UK, Ireland and beyond distributor (which I’d wager folks in that position are thrilled about), and Penguin Random House to continue the bang up work they’re doing with trades and graphic novels.
Some are less than thrilled with this, as it’s a big ask for Lunar – aka DCBS – to handle the bulk of DC’s single-issue distribution by itself. But I will say this: from everything I heard, Lunar was the superior of the two. So if you’re going to lose one, it’s better that it’s the one that bounced in reality. I’m sure DC will be watching this one closely, because any faltering will likely result in them finding a second partner to help offset the influx of work coming Lunar’s way or someone else new altogether.
As of right now, I don’t see this being a substantial issue, nor do I think it will dramatically alter the way things work once UCS shops get signed up. That’s a headache, but one that was out of DC’s control. It is what it is. It does underline the tenuous nature of creating new distributors whole cloth, as DC did, but as I’ve said before, I’d rather see a publisher trying to find better answers than just sitting around waiting for things to break.