The DC FAQ: Attempting to Understand DC’s Big Move by Answering Ten Key Questions

So…that happened.

On Friday, DC decided to pull the plug on its relationship with Diamond Comic Distributors entirely, leaving its multi-decade partnership with the long-standing distributor – whose much bandied about monopoly 1 began with DC signing exclusively with Diamond in the 1990s – to continue with the two distributors they helped spawn in Lunar – aka DCBS – and UCS – aka Midtown Comics. It sent reverberations throughout the comic industry, a seismic move that triggered celebration and anger in equal amounts.

Near as I can tell, the average response has been rather black or white. It’s either all the way bad or all the way good. But let’s be honest: that’s just not the way these kinds of moves work. There’s good, there’s bad, and there’s a whole lot in-between. Even beyond that, it all depends on who you ask. So there’s nuance there, even if no one seems fond of admitting it. As per usual, that’s what we’re going to explore in far too long a fashion.

However, instead of my usual longform approach, this week’s piece is going to be a little bit different. We’ll be answering a series of ten questions related to the move, with the hope being that we’ll find what this deal really means once emotions are removed from the equation. But enough of that. Let’s belabor the point no longer. To the questions!

Is this another Rebirth-like move? Let’s answer that later.

Was this a good move?

It’s too early in the article for this question. Let’s come back to this one later.

Was doing this in the midst of a pandemic, an economic crisis and during massive protests the right time to make such a move?

Probably not.

This is the one thing everyone I spoke to agreed on: the timing was at best weird as heck and at worst an absolutely nightmare. Comic shops are already struggling, their customers are having a tough go of it, no one wants to go outside to avoid getting sick, if we do want to go outside it’s to protest horrific systemic racism and police brutality, and, oh yeah, the unemployment rate is through the roof, so a lot of us just don’t have money to spend. If you could design a perfect time to bury this news, it would be the Friday they announced it on. And if you could design a perfect time to make this transition as painful as humanly possible – and please consider they’re effectively asking shops to make this decision, get signed up, and order in the period of a few days, from what I understand – this would be it.

The counterpoint here is simple: when would retailers be happy about this? The answer is never. There is no time that would have made them understanding of this change, or at least the vocal ones. 2 Truthfully, there is no “right time” for this move in the minds of retailers. However, if there was anything that might look like it if you squinted really hard, this sure wasn’t it.

So why now then?

If now was a bad time to do this, then why did DC leave Diamond when they did? There are three ways to answer this. One, you can come up with your own answer, which based off the larger response on the internet, people are doing. 3 Two, you can take DC at its word, which was the following:

The timing of the decision to move on from Diamond was ultimately dictated by the fact that DC’s contract with Diamond has expired, but incidentally, the disruption by COVID to the market has required DC to forge ahead with its larger growth strategies that will benefit both the Direct Market and DC.

I know some were confused as to why DC went back with Diamond at all after it started up with Lunar and UCS if they were just going to do this. The simple answer seems to be what DC said in the above quote: they had to wait for their contract to be up. That was the official, arguably real reason for the timing, even if it came with some level of breakdown in contract negotiations as well. The third way to answer this is option number two with an additional wrinkle related to our current environment baked in. Yes, the Diamond contract was up, but – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this after my previous answer – what better time for transition than when everything is broken?

Yes, it’s a painful time to change, but there’s a reason why you look around at businesses around cities and see some of them making significant cosmetic and structural changes to their physical businesses: if everyone is closed or operating at a lower capacity, why not use that time to find ways to make your business better? I’d wager DC viewed the pandemic as – and I do not mean this in a way that suggests they are pro-pandemic! – a blessing in disguise, giving them both a push and cover to make significant alterations to the way they do business. Pair that with Diamond’s multi-week period where they weren’t paying publishers – almost certainly instilling them with feelings of uncertainty about their primary distribution partner – and I’d wager this became a “let’s do this sooner rather than later” type of idea in a hurry.

So June 2020 was both the worst possible time to do this, but also the best possible one? I know that sounds weird, but it’s 2020, and that sounds like textbook 2020.

Is this really just about releasing comics on Tuesday?

One of the prevailing ideas about DC’s initial switch to Lunar and UCS – and with it the switch to new comic book day being Tuesday – was that DC wanted to coordinate its comic releases with releases in other channels. Only single-issue comics in the direct market release new product on Wednesday. Switching to Tuesday allowed comics to align with its book market releases, digital/physical movie releases, and a whole swath of other products.

That did not appear to be something Diamond was eager to match, as other publishers were fine and/or used to releasing on Wednesday after doing it for who knows how long. While I do think the Tuesday switch played a part, I imagine it’s one of many parts, and a smaller one at that. Other reasons likely include no longer showing up on sales charts behind Marvel each month, 4 distaste with how Diamond handles business, giving DC more control over distribution, 5 having diversified distribution options, 6 the fact that Lunar and UCS just seem better at managing the product, 7 and beyond.

There are assuredly a lot of reasons. If I had to pick one to put at the top, it would either be control or diversifying distribution. It wouldn’t be the Tuesday idea. My guess is someone at the top for DC 8 looked at how business was being done and thought, “Why are we relying on a distributor that is unreliable at best and actively loathed at worst?” And then they did something about it.

Also, it’s worth noting that I’ve heard DC has been looking at alternative distribution with some vigor since last year. 9 I just didn’t expect them to cut Diamond out altogether, nor did I expect them to fly solo down this path.

Batman #92, cover by Yasmine Putri

What do comic shops think of this?

As per usual, this depends on who you ask. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely read other articles featuring quotes from retailers who are convinced the sky is falling and that this is the beginning of the end of everything. Those takes are not uncommon.

But they do not represent everyone. That was not even close to a universal response, as many of the shops I reached out to were actually quite tranquil about this. To summarize, “it is what it is,” effectively. Before we get into it, though, I wanted to note one thing: this is the first time in my years of writing about comics where some shops just didn’t want to talk because a topic was too hot. They likely knew that sharing an opinion publicly, especially a contrary one, would result in unhappy peers. I don’t blame them for not wanting to participate, as this is about as incendiary as a subject I’ve seen involving the direct market.

I’m going to share some choice quotes – the quotes will run in full tomorrow in another article – but as noted before, don’t assume every retailer is against this because you would be incorrect. I did, and I was proven wrong in my conversations. Anyways, to the quotes!

(DC is) adding time effort and complexity to getting in their books at a time that most stores are struggling, either with reopening (shops that DC’s staff go to literally reopened for the first time yesterday, at the time they dropped this bomb) or trying to figure out if they can continue. More expensive books, more expensive shipping, additional bills. For me, the books will arrive on Monday, my only day off. So now I no longer have a day off just due to this decision. An extra shipment to process each week, separate pulls to be done. The best was Stu (ComicHub), while saying we should go with Lunar just for invoice import sake, saying that even Midtown’s POS system won’t work with their invoices, so they have to do everything by pen and paper. Thrilled to go back to the 80s.

Also, dropping this on a Friday and needing to have an account set up for ordering Monday is short sighted. They have, if nothing else, inconvenienced every store. Every one of their customers. On short notice. For zero benefit to us. I honestly do not know what their plan is.

Here is the big question: Can Midtown/DCBS suddenly ship to every store on Monday? I have serious doubts that they can go from 100 accounts to 3,500 accounts in the span of a week.

– Colin McMahon, Pittsburgh Comics

My initial reaction was, “So that’s a done deal, how we are going to get those DC comics to our customers?” I am angry as the timing isn’t great to say the least and I think something like this could have waited a few more weeks in order to find the right atmosphere to announce something grandiose like that. But at the end of the day there are still customers that want to read DC single issues and if we can provide that, we will do it!

– Jacob Sareli, Comikaza (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Although I had hoped to return my orders for DC product back to Diamond and had made my orders with that in mind, it now looks like that will not be happening. My initial reaction was surprise, like much of the rest of the industry. I don’t tend to give knee-jerk reaction to these kinds of developments. I give myself 24 hours to think clearly about how this affects my decisions going forward for my company and for my customers. I also try never to talk in absolutes. “I would never …or I will always” seems to be a path that I can’t predict, especially given the daily changes that our industry and world is going through. The fact of the matter is that I am going to think about my customers and employees first and how to provide for them. In these unprecedented times, I think we need to support each other’s decisions in choosing our own right path.

– Jen King, Space Cadets Collection Collection (Oak Ridge North, Texas)

I was pretty shocked! I figured something was up when Lunar and UCS were formed, but I figure if they were going to split with Diamond, it was going to be when they weren’t shipping comics. Not sure why Diamond went back just to leave again, I can only assume the negotiations fell apart quickly. The fact that there’s items on Diamond’s Final Order Cutoff list for DC this week that aren’t going to ship from Diamond says to me this was pretty sudden. I’m sure we’ll hear lots of stories over the coming years. I was happy to stay with Diamond, but if DC is going then I have no real choice but to adapt to the new situation. It’s far from the end of the world, at least to our store. While we use Diamond for most of our products, there’s a number of other distributors we order from. Lunar is just another one on the list. Reactions on the DC retailer forum range from f-bombs, accusations of “wartime profiteering”, breaking down crying, and all sorts of exaggerated threats to stop carrying their products. It’s pretty embarrassing, to be honest.

At the end of the day, while shocking in the moment, it’s just another change that we’ll all get used to as time passes.

– Ryan Higgins, Comics Conspiracy (Sunnyvale, California)

Yeah, the timing could have been a million times better but DC are a company with people they have to answer to as well, and they’re probably doing what they need to do to survive. How it affects us is the same way it affects everyone else. By July we have to get our DC comics elsewhere. But what that means I still don’t know. We’ll have a lot of work to do in the meantime, but my priority is reopening the store to the public safely on the 8th of June. The rest, we’ll see, but DC have always given us a fair hearing and I expect that they’ll continue to do so now.

So, in short. I have no clue.

– John Hendrick, Big Bang Comics (Dublin, Ireland)

DC leaving Diamond! Do I care? Nope. Not at all. This is a weird thing to happen, but only because it is happening at a weird time in all of our lives. Am I surprised? Not even a little. Both companies took the steps they thought were correct in (insert pandemic cliche here) but it was clear to retailers that this was troublesome for both parties…

What’s my part in this business model? It is whatever the publisher allows it to be. I don’t produce the product I sell. Pretty much I don’t produce anything that people would want. I am simply a middle man in an industry that offers me little to no protection. I chose this life and business but if Marvel decided to only sell digital tomorrow I’d be upset, but I would not be complaining about it. Business is business and I chose to make my livelihood in a business that offers no protection to its retail partners. My choice. I own it.

Does it suck to have to deal with this major change now during <insert pandemic cliche here> and all that is happening in the world? It does, but if this happened a year ago or a year from now we’d cite whatever else was in the news cycle as the reason not to do this now. There’s rarely a good time for change. I’m happy to just pull the bandage off fast to ease the sting. In the end It just means I have three weeks to figure out a way to satisfy my subscribers needs. We did it via ComiXology before Pullbox. We did it via spreadsheet 10 to 12 years ago. 30-ish years ago we managed it on a giant floppy disk on a TRS80. 35+ years ago we did it in a notebook with pen & paper. I’m confident that we will adapt to this just fine, as we always have.

My final thoughts on this are that I love dealing with Diamond Comics and I want nothing but the best for them. (Diamond) staying in business makes my staying in business easier. But if someone wants to open a comic shop in my town, Diamond is going to service them. They aren’t loyal to me. They are loyal to facilitating their business, as they should be. DC should be given that same opportunity, without the drama it has been assigned. 

Is DC doomed to repeat history? Perhaps, but isn’t that their right? There are going to be problems. There are going to be issues. They are going to make mistakes. We’re going to figure it out.

– Ralph DiBernardo, Jetpack Comics 10

My initial reaction was a mix of trepidation, fear, calm, and vindication. Something like this was going to happen, and I’m a little glad that there’s a company out there with enough foresight to look into their options and opt for change than to help prop up a broken system, just because it is the easiest path for the immediate future. That easy path leads to ruin. The harder path leads to a future.

As for how this will affect the shop? Well, immediately, we have to start figuring out a solution to how our subscriptions are pulled, as we use Diamond’s Comic Suite program, and Pullbox. We were already rethinking our dependence on those, and this really pushes things forward. It also affords us the time to do this for DC and not, you know, every publisher, in the instance of Diamond shutting down completely. We thought something like this was going to take the second wave of COVID-19 to happen and shut down Diamond again, but it looks like things are progressing a lot faster than that.

In the end, the fear and anger that’s been simmering in the industry for at least a full decade right now is being given a direction, and that direction is yelling at DC for looking into their options for survival. Yell at them all you want, the old ways have been broken for a long time, and someone is at least trying to come up with solutions to the problem.

– Brandon Schatz, Variant Edition Comics

I heard from several other retailers beyond this core group, and it’s worth noting again that while the most vocal shops were ready to tar and feather DC, even the most upset ones I chatted with effectively admitted this was a solvable problem. In terms of obvious cons of the idea from the retailer side of the world, the biggest ones noted were the following: shops that were previously closed on Monday or Tuesday can no longer be closed because it’s an inventory or new comic book day depending on the day they traditionally have off, meaning more staffing or time the owner themselves put in, how UCS and Lunar will not work properly (at least at first) with pull management systems like Diamond’s PullBox or more complicated systems like ComicHub, 11 uncertainty with international shops, and how they’ll now have to order and ship from yet another distributor, costing them additional time and money. All are legitimate complaints – and we’ll get to international here in a second – but I wanted to focus on the last idea for a second.

Will adding another distributor really break comic shops?

Daniel Warren Johnson’s cover to Wonder Woman: Dead Earth #3

The idea that adding new distributors to the mix could greatly harm comic shops was floated as soon as this was announced, and as noted previously, there are two main wrinkles to the argument. First is something that circled quickly through comics, the idea that margins are worse with Lunar and UCS than Diamond. I saw that noted by several notable retailers, and unfortunately, I did not interrogate that idea myself before repeating it. It turns out that this idea isn’t entirely true, per both King and Higgins, each of whom ordered from DC’s new primary distributors during Diamond’s off time.

“Anyone that says there’s a margin difference is either lying or isn’t actually using the distributors,” Higgins told me. “At least with Lunar, the discount is the same as Diamond. The shipping prices are higher for sure, but we’re actually talking with them about trying to get better rates. Diamond was never cheap, either.”

The margins on product aren’t worse, it’s just shipping through Lunar and UCS is slightly more expensive. So the actual discounts and rates via the new distributors level out, as it currently stands, but the cost of shipping eats up margins to a degree. As Higgins noted, though, Lunar is actively working to find ways to reduce those costs. I imagine UCS is doing the same. Given that they’re only a month and a half into this, I’d wager they get there. Beyond that, it has to be mentioned here that unlike the famously, occasionally haphazard packaging Diamond does, Lunar and UCS have earned applause for how, dare I say it, professional the packaging looks. It costs more, for now, but it also comes with better results. King has seen other pluses from this experience, as well.

“Although it would be better to have all of my comics ship together to save on costs overall, the benefit of having our DC books arrive early (sometimes as early as Friday the week before) allows us to process them and have them fully ready for Tuesday release 12 and we can have a less hurried time processing our Diamond order when it arrives Tuesday afternoon,” King shared.

The second idea I alluded to earlier is how much work a new distributor adds to retailers’ plates. Some have suggested this is a catastrophic amount of work, something that kills the viability of print single issues from a cost/benefit analysis standpoint. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t buy it. I do believe it will be an inconvenience, because any time you have to deal with one additional person or entity, that happens. But something that’s significantly harmful? That I’m not sure of.

There’s a dissonance here, as shops regularly order from a bevy of other distributors for graphic novels and other product lines – with some of the vocal opponents of this move even advocating for shops diversifying their distributor mix 13 – but adding one additional distributor for one publisher is where the line apparently has to be drawn. That just doesn’t add up. I know single issues are lower ROI products, but I cannot imagine return is so low that a second channel will break these businesses. It especially doesn’t make sense when you consider a crucial idea DiBernardo pointed out: that the single distribution system was something many shops previously wanted to move beyond.

“How long have retailers complained about a single distribution system? How long have retailers complained about Diamond?” DiBernardo told me. “I hate to say it, but this is what you get. You railed against the existing system for so long and this is the result.”

All that said, here’s where things get complicated. I both doubt this is going to be the nightmare scenario some shops say it will be and believe it could put others out of business. The increased time hours, the additional shipping costs, the additional inventory time, another comic book day, 14 etc. etc. Individually, we’re not talking about shop killing events there, but for the shops that are already in a tough spot because of the pandemic and resulting economic crisis? This is not what they need right now. They’re on edge, and this could push them over.

I’d say by and large this results in an increase of work for shops and a whole lot of inconvenience and stress – I especially feel for retailers like McMahon, who currently has his one day off on Monday, which he’ll no longer have because it’s now an inventory day – but I’m dubious that this is the extinction level event some are positioning it as. 15 There’s undoubtedly downside to it, but upside as well, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.

What about international shops?

When Lunar and UCS first started distributing DC releases, word was they had no solution for shops outside of North America. Basically, for the time being, shops elsewhere were out of luck unless they quickly sorted out freight forwarding options with the newly born distribution houses. Even worse, they weren’t the most communicative about options. That has led to quite a bit of hubbub being made about protecting international shops that are understandably desirous of DC Comics product, as forgetting what amounts to 10 to 15% of the market would be a tough look for the direct market and these new distros.

From what I’ve heard, though, that tune is shifting quickly. Both DC and UCS – who would likely be the one to service these shops, as they’re Midtown Comics and Midtown is East Coast based – are bending over backwards to make this happen in as timely and cost effective a manner as possible. The latter note is important because as it currently stands, shipping internationally via UCS – without a hub like Diamond UK – would be prohibitively expensive. Seriously. We are talking ludicrously expensive, with that cost potentially being several times higher than whole weekly shipments from Diamond, except only for DC in this case. From what I understand, efficiencies are being explored and alternative means of reducing cost are being offered. TBD on this one. This is a problem, but one that is being aggressively managed.

Is this the first step towards the end of print single issue comics? And Diamond? And smaller publishers?

Short answer: probably not, probably not, and probably not.

I’ve seen a lot of digital ink spilled on each of those ideas, but my take is that if DC was trying to kill print single issue comics, they wouldn’t have done it by effectively creating two new print single issue comic distributors. I mean really, really think about that. How weird of a move would that be if that was their plan? If they were trying to kill print single issue comics, they would have stopped publishing them altogether rather than coming up with new solutions.

Where things could get really dark is if this results in Diamond becoming insolvent. Losing 30% of your primary business line is a tough pill for anyone to swallow, and given we know they were rather recently having issues making payments to publishers, it’s certainly worrisome. That could genuinely break the direct market and in the process kill a lot of shops and likely print single issues in the process. If that domino fell, things get real nervy. Everyone knows that, so I guarantee you other publishers, particularly Marvel, are taking a long, hard look at other distribution options, perhaps most specifically Lunar and UCS.

I’ve seen hypotheses about DC’s move potentially killing smaller publishers, but I’m not sure that adds up. If Diamond goes, sure. That would come with the territory. But if Diamond continues to function as is, Lunar and UCS aren’t horrible at timely delivery of product, and we don’t see mass closures of shops, why would anything but the status quo be maintained for low-to-mid tier houses?

You could even argue that this may lead to gains for both small publishers and even Diamond. 16 Retailers are occasionally a bit vindictive, and there’s a real possibility this could lead to shops buying deeper with the publishers that stuck by them – i.e. BOOM!, Image, Dark Horse, etc. – and the distributor that helped them get through the pandemic. 17 I’m not saying shops will begin to order irrationally because of this, but if the person who orders for a shop has to choose between a few more copies of a mid-list DC book or a few more of a top tier Vault or BOOM! title, maybe they’d lean towards the latter now.

This also could result in improved performance by Diamond overall. Right now, they’re that significant other who never picks up around the house and leaves dirty dishes everywhere but right after they get a talking to for their garbage behavior. All of a sudden, they’re going to vacuum on the regular and clean the bathroom, just to show that they’re still a worthwhile companion. Diamond likely fears other departures. They’ll want to be on their best behavior, at least for a little bit. That’s a good thing, even if it would be better if it was permanent.

But, again, to those who are saying the sky is falling with this and every other aspect of the direct market, I just think it’s too soon to tell. My money would be on this not breaking anything in the near term, besides maybe a few keyboards and hearts.

Year of the Villain: not a good year for DC, cover by Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia

Why is this potentially bad for DC?

The biggest potential problem for DC with this deal is the very move itself. Diamond, for all its warts, was a known commodity that could do what it does at…let’s say a B+ level. 18 It serviced thousands of accounts across the country – roughly 2,500, to be specific – presumably all of which ordered DC titles, along with comics from a whole host of other publishers. Can Lunar and UCS operate at the same level? That’s a rather enormous question to not have an answer for, because it’s the exact task DC has challenged these companies with.

I’ve heard anywhere from 100 – per McMahon’s answer above – to 600 shops ordered from Lunar and UCS during Diamond’s shutdown. Now, in the span of a few weeks, these distributors may have to begin servicing every single shop in the United States while also figuring out how to cost effectively deliver to retailers around the globe as well. That is a rather significant test. DC is betting big that they can figure it out on the fly. If they can’t…well, that’s going to be a real problem, both for shops and potentially DC. There’s an outrageous amount of uncertainty connected to this decision.

Related to all of that: as unlikely as it may seem, I’d wager some shops just won’t carry DC titles. I cannot imagine it will be a large number, but hell hath no fury like a retailer scorned. Some will elect to just go forward with partners they trust rather than ones that they believe are actively working against them. This decision is made even easier by the fact that a whole lot of what DC has been doing recently just isn’t working.

While DC would have you believe it’s the market that’s struggling, not them – that’s based off their statement about the move to retailers, in which they said, “DC has been analyzing its Direct Market distribution for some time, long before COVID, specifically in light of sustained stagnant market growth” – as John Jackson Miller pointed out, a lot of that stagnation is on them. Consider this chart.

DC’s growth and overall performance slope has lagged behind its peers over the past decade, and the only times they saw much lift at all was when they effectively reset the whole line via the New 52 and Rebirth. This is something I’ve covered elsewhere on the site, but it’s not just the direct market: DC has tailed off in the book market too. While the direct market isn’t exactly on fire, DC’s performance has arguably been the weakest of any notable publisher from the past decade relative to its stature, save for a pair of miraculous efforts. Recently, it’s been even worse. Let’s look at this another way to show that. Here’s a chart tracking a seven-month rolling average of unit share per release in the direct market over the past few years, specifically comparing Marvel and DC. 19

Look at that last year of performance. DC’s been in the tank on a per release basis, and it’s primarily been the publisher’s main line dragging them down. My question within a question becomes, does switching distribution houses really solve any of the problems DC is currently facing? You could argue it only exacerbates the publisher’s largest direct market trouble, and that’s that shops have low faith in DC’s product. Pair that with sentiment that DC abandoned its retail partners, and the downside for the publisher in this move is clear and significant.

Why is this potentially good for DC?

DC is in the tank, arguably. So, I ask you this: why shouldn’t they change it up? Why shouldn’t they go in a different direction? One of the frequent comments about Diamond is they have limited innovation and created a stagnant, arguably self-limiting audience. Going a different route seems like a rather sensible move, all things considered, especially when it likely earns DC more control in the process.

What might they do with that control? Well, I don’t think they’re ditching single issues, as I noted before, but here’s one thing they could do: shift their focus from 2,500 shops to the top few hundred retailers. After all, does it make good business sense to deal with shops that barely benefit their bottom line if all they do is yell at them? Probably not! It’s possible they believe that focusing on a select group of shops – namely, the two mail order giants in DCBS and Midtown and the most high volume, high growth accounts – could result in larger gains than fighting to convince some random retailer to order two copies of Aquaman instead of one. That may seem short sighted, but it could have considerable upside for the publisher.

Most crucially, I wanted to note something that Mile High Comics’ Chuck Rozanski wrote in his newsletter where he shared his deep distaste for DC’s move. Within it, he positioned the following as DC’s likely focus rather than the direct market.

So, what do the new kingpins at DC think that they are doing? Well, first of all, they want to drive more business to their online channel. Second, they think that they can do just fine on their trade paperbacks and hardbacks selling them to traditional bookstores through their distribution relationship with Penguin/Random House. Third, their recent “experiment” of selling $9.95 pseudo comic books through Walmart and Target has shown them quite clearly that they can generate massive comic book sales without a single comics specialty shop remaining in existence.

– Chuck Rozanski, Mile High Comics

Now, I believe Rozanski thought of this as a “look at these idiots” kind of paragraph. But my response to that is, “Isn’t this exactly what they should be doing?” Look at these fools, trying to get more comics to more people by expanding platforms and selling more digital and book market focused comics. How dare they?

I love comic shops, but that whole spiel from Rozanski seems to operate from the premise that comics should service comic shops versus the other way around. And I’m not sure that’s how it should work. If this is the first step to DC committing to getting new readers through other channels while still serving the direct market, you know what I say to that?


DC’s Generation Zero…coming…some time…maybe? Cover by Francis Manapul

Was this a good move?

The response to this move on Twitter was a mix of “this is a nightmare!”, “wait, is this a good thing? I don’t know if this is a good thing,” and “THIS IS A GREAT THING! FINALLY THE MONOPOLY IS DEAD!” Depending on who you follow, it could have just been one of those things or it could have been all of those things. I wasn’t completely sure how I felt then, though. Since then, the simple version of my take has evolved over the weekend. Ultimately? I’m leaning towards it being a good thing overall.

The comic industry and the direct market in particular has been way too comfortable lately, way too happy to reside in a status quo even though everyone openly and actively admits it’s problematic at best and fatally flawed at worst. While I don’t believe in change for the sake of change, if DC’s move results in better answers for themselves, more options for other publishers, better behavior from Diamond, and perhaps a little more active movement towards modernization in distribution, then yeah, it’s a good move, obviously. While that comes with more work for shops and a lengthened ordering process – and I don’t believe it actually resolves the “monopoly” problem, as giving Lunar and UCS exclusivity means DC just created a new one for their product – it could be offset by gains elsewhere.

Conversely, if it results in Lunar/UCS crumbling because they don’t know what they’re doing, Diamond becoming insolvent, smaller publishers falling apart, and mass closures at comic shops, then this would naturally be a bad thing. A very, very bad thing to be more specific! But the positive side just feels more probable to me than a comic book apocalypse, even though I know saying that in 2020 is truly playing with fire. The negative scenario would require mass failings of systems to happen. That just doesn’t seem likely to me.

Here’s the one thing I cannot stand about this, though: I don’t think exclusivity with distributors is the way forward. I know that’s the best path to favorable terms and control and all kinds of nice things, but in a utopian version of the direct market, I believe the 1990s method of “any shop can order single issues comics from whichever publisher via whichever distributor they prefer” would be better. Exclusivity causes inconvenience and too much paperwork, whether you’re talking about DC’s move or Marvel’s famous Heroes World debacle. If this resulted in all publishers allowing shops to order their products via Diamond, Lunar or UCS – whichever they prefer – and that diversity was actually embraced, that could be the ideal result. Of course, if that was the case, the vast majority of shops would just order from Diamond, the distributor they know, so we’d be back at square one. I like that idea in theory, though.

I know shops are upset with this. But honestly, the most vocal shops have proven to get upset about everything that resembles change and/or progress. It’s necessary, as the old ways weren’t going to last forever. But I also caution those who are dancing in the streets about the monopoly being dead: be careful what you wish for. There is very real downside attached to this, which could negatively impact everyone from publishers and retailers to creators and readers. This could be the end of comics as we know it, either in a good way or a bad one. Which direction it heads in from here, though, is another question for another time.

  1. As many suggest they are, even if the courts disagreed with that idea.

  2. As we’ll get to, this isn’t quite as universally hated as it has been positioned elsewhere.

  3. Little did I know, DC is actually just straight up the devil!

  4. Something I’ve seen noted a fair amount in recent days.

  5. Here’s a question: does DC have a stake in Lunar and UCS? I don’t know! Here’s another: does it matter if they do? Probably not!

  6. Especially in case there’s another dramatic spike of COVID-19 and Diamond closes its doors again. And yes, I know that move saved a lot of shops.

  7. My god their packaging jobs look so much better.

  8. Or its parent company.

  9. And it wasn’t just them in the discussions, from what I understand.

  10. Ralph has a LOT more to say. His whole write-up is worth reading when it goes up tomorrow.

  11. Which both operates as a pull management system and as a point of sale, amongst other things.

  12. She noted here, “We don’t put them to the sales floor then, just offer them via our live Facebook sales and still maintain the traditional Wednesday New Comic Day release for physical copies.”

  13. Although in that case it’s for graphic novels.

  14. That is if shops don’t adopt King’s method by just releasing all new comics on Wednesday.

  15. Unless other dominos fall, which we will get to.

  16. Relative to the post-DC status quo, not pre-DC’s departure. That 30% will be tough to make up, but they can make gains elsewhere.

  17. Remember: shops wanted Diamond to close during the pandemic, as that stopped the flow of invoices coming in while they were closed, helping many of them stay alive.

  18. Some might say I’m being generous. It feels around the median answer I’d get from shops about Diamond.

  19. All of this data comes from Comichron.