Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 1, 2006

Claypool Cancels Three Titles After Diamond Edict; One To Go On-Line

If I'm understanding the press release correctly, Claypool Comics is cancelling its long-running titles Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (with February 2007's #166), Soulsearchers and Company (with that same month's #82), and Deadbeats (with the next month's #82). They plan to then place new adventures in the Deadbeats series on-line. Call me cynical, but this seems more like a cancellation/salvage action as opposed to what we think of when we think of a company moving on-line. This move is the result of the company's many months of negotiation with Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. after that company informed Claypool last Fall they were no longer meeting minimum sales standards of the kind that allow for a profitable relationship between the dominant distributor of North American comic books and one of its clients.

On the one hand, it's hard to argue that a company with Claypool's history and pedigree wasn't given a chance to prove itself in the marketplace, that it wasn't a known quantity to retailers and readers, who in a broad sense simply weren't interested in those comics at a level that the distributor could make work. On the other hand, it's easy to become dismayed as Claypool contributor Peter David has that cancellations aren't usually the province of the middle partner in the publisher/distributor/seller relationship. Of course, this is the playing field that resulted when back in the '90s Marvel yee-hawed its way off the direct market cliff by trying to distribute itself, DC saw this as a moment to press for an advantage instead of dig in and bleed some resource money waiting for a correction, and Image was unwilling to spend its capital (har har) propping up a system even if it would have benefited them greatly in the long run. No one should be surprised. It's amazing it hasn't happened before now.

One thing I find slightly ridiculous is that despite its position as the market, Diamond seems to still be working some angles as if it were one agent among many in a freewheeling, complex distribution and sales landscape. Again, if I'm reading the PR correctly, what was available to Claypool to make needed changes during this time of crisis was a series of purchased promotional services like flyers, posters and free comics. I could be totally wrong about this, but it seems slightly ludicrous that at this late date detailed information isn't in the hands of every publisher, not just the ones with something to trade for it in 1995, so that each can improve their market position and be targeting their market shortcomings all along. Diamond has the retailers' hearts and their ability to write timely checks is not lost on publishers; they're not in any real danger of losing money to direct sales from publisher to shop, at least not any more than bad service costs them already and, ironically, neglect in building stronger secondary-client distribution channels costs them in the future as these companies shrink and scramble to survive. What should concern us isn't whether or not Claypool deserved to be shown the door but if everyone without a major crossover superhero mini-series is being given the best chance to succeed.
posted 2:07 am PST | Permalink

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