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January 19, 2009


Initial Reaction: DCD Raising Minimums, Ending Adult Previews' Print Iteration

Reports yet to be totally confirmed seeped onto the Internet late last week that Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., the primary company used for distribution into the Direct Market of hobby and comics shops, has taken its first major policy steps in light of increasing worldwide economic stress. First, Diamond will either eliminate or all but eliminate the Adult Previews catalog in favor of the use of PDFs. Second, and more alarmingly to many in terms of its implications for small-press publishing, the minimum orders will be raised to $2500 from $1500. Unable to reach confirmation on what's coming and when, I nonetheless spoke to a few publishers and some other industry folk about what this could mean. Most spoke on the record, but one or two went OTR on certain matters.

imageMost of the people to whom I spoke suggest that Diamond eliminating the Adult Previews supplement from their catalog offerings isn't as big of a deal as it might appear, even given Diamond's long-ago hesitancy to embrace some dirty comics in its first few years in business. Two factors play a role in mitigating the potential harm. The first is that in the age of Internet and instantly accessible pornography from comics to prose to video the reliance of some publishers on erotic material -- and it's suggested the reliance of the comics industry in total -- isn't quite what it used to be. "Eros still exists although we do maybe one item a month, if that," says Eric Reynolds, the Director of Publicity and Promotions for Fantagraphics. "To be honest, I don't think this will affect us at all and I can't really fault Diamond for any of it in this economy." That doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of publishers producing and profiting from such material, but that such material doesn't run through the lifeblood of other endeavors the way it used to, and may be less of a factor overall. The second factor is that there's a precedent for Diamond in moving to PDFs catalogs with Adult Previews in that Diamond Books already make significant use of PDF catalogs, Reynolds describing that format as the primary DBD catalog. One source noted a particular but perhaps curious potential outcome: a PDF catalog may or may not be as available to whatever members of the comics-buying public made a habit of using that publication to scope out purchases. CR columnist David Welsh assembles the most cogent criticism here.

It's clear, then, that most of the commentary and general anxiety at least so far has swirled around minimum orders going up. In his disquisition on the issue published at CR on Sunday, SLG Publisher Dan Vado laid out the general implications in terms that are easy to understand:
What that means is that every book needs to generate $2500 of revenue (that would mean a little over $6000 in sales at retail based on the discount we give to Diamond) in order to be listed with Diamond. That does not mean that Diamond is going to cancel or not carry books which appear in the Previews but do not reach that benchmark, but it does mean that if you have a line of books which consistently do not meet that mark, you will not be getting your books listed in the Previews for long.
Note that the number of copies involved depends on the discount and the price point of the book. Also, as in the past with other minimums, this doesn't mean Diamond will purge its catalog of every single thing that fails to meet that threshold, but will use that price point as a tool to decide what will and what won't be carried, a pressing standard rather than an absolute measure.

imageStill, Diamond's decision could have severe consequences in a lot of ways with a number of publishers. It should conceivably raise greater barriers for sustained entry from new companies and sideline comics efforts. It should also have an impact on companies with which we're all familiar. Although prominent art comics publishers D&Q and Fantagraphics say they don't have a lot of products that would come out on the bad side of such a formula were it applied; basically that rigid enforcement would have no effect on of the books part of their publishing efforts but might potentially hit some of lower-selling, lower-price point comic books. A smaller publisher of that type, PictureBox, describes much more dire consequences for books up and down their line. Publisher Dan Nadel: "If true, I'm fucked. Most of my books fall below a $2500 purchase order, meaning I'd lose the Diamond market for books like Powr Mastrs, Travel, Goddess of War, Cold Heat, and, um, any other $20-range graphic novel. That would be, as a wise man once said, 'a bummer'."

A broader effect would likely be seen in some companies' ability to re-list items, running the same solicitation in multiple catalogs for the increased exposure it gives certain title, and the ability it affords retailers to ease their way into comfortable levels with certain individual products. Successful, long-time self-publisher Rick Veitch of King Hell Press told CR that this move and previous maneuvers by Diamond to increase the difficulty of such re-lists would "pretty much put the kibosh on my re-lists." Vado agreed that it would have consequences for his company's extensive re-listing practices, adding that the inability to use that method to generate sales for issues past #1 might curtail the publication of #1 issues that would by themselves have no problem meeting the new threshold.

In its report today, Newsarama notes that the last major change for threshold numbers took place in 2005.

The initial reports engendered among a measure of sympathy for Diamond in having to carry so many titles from so many publishers that fail to meet certain standards of business-like behavior. A few were intrigued by the fact that they hadn't been contacted yet -- whether the company hadn't gotten around to it yet or if they were being excluded -- while Vado was complimentary of Diamond representatives to step up and own the decision in their conversations with him. I heard from one or two people that hold out some measure hope that this might finally result in some form of third-party distribution, perhaps of the kind Vado discussed doing and potentially something with more investment. One commenter suggested that this could be a boon in terms of various publishers trying to figure out a more viable on-line distribution strategy, while another asked what this might mean in terms of the DM's overall ability to adapt and change and facilitate future growth from something other than already-established companies and titles. More should become clear as the vacation and inauguration days become regular work days later in the week. I'll keep an eye on things, and report back here.

*****

Eric Reynolds, Lauren Weinstein's Goddess of War

*****
*****
 
posted 4:40 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
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