The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the direct market into disarray in a way no event ever has before. Retailers were forced to close their doors across the globe, with shelter-in-place orders requiring these nonessential 1 businesses to rely on atypical methods to survive. Diamond Comic Distributors shut it down, preferring to protect its employees and stop the flow rather than risk it all. Publishers adjusted accordingly, with the majority of them offering returnability at first and then a vow to not publish new comics – in print or digitally – while shops are closed. Even Marvel – Marvel!! – has never pulled the trigger, even if they frustratingly did it in the most slow drip way possible before finally revealing their return plan this past week. Everyone has managed to toe the line through this, a rare feat of unification in an often-combative marketplace.
While everyone else effectively battened down the hatches, DC didn’t just decide to keep it going, it went fully rogue, announcing a partnership with DCBS and Midtown Comics – the two largest Diamond accounts – as their distribution partners while the vaunted distributor slept. This meant that while all other publishers would be off, they could be on starting this past Tuesday with an absolutely motley crew of releases sent to comic shops that signed up.
The response? Well, let’s say the response was…mixed, to be generous.
Retailers were mad. Diamond was on its heels. No publishers changed their plans, 2 especially with Diamond announcing its return to distribution on May 20th, but I’d imagine most were unenthused even if they wouldn’t publicly admit it. And readers were…largely pretty happy from what I saw! Some were getting new comics, even if they were an oddball mix! They liked that DC was going with someone that wasn’t Diamond, which some fans are surprisingly invested in! It was quite the response, and one that flipped comics upside down for a time and made everyone ask a lot of questions about what’s next.
But amongst all of those, one main topic stood out: was DC’s gambit worth it? Was it worth the publisher risking its long-term position in the direct market and relationship with retailers for what effectively amounts to three weeks of lead time on everyone else? It’s complicated, but ultimately, there’s a short answer and a long one. As per usual, we’re going to take the long way there, as we explore that question to see what we can figure out.