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January 20, 2006

Hibbs, Butcher: Is Diamond Broken?

imageRetailer Brian Hibbs (Comix Experience) and retail employee Chris Butcher (The Beguiling) play Gallagher and Gallagher 2 to some Diamond policy/strategy watermelons in their respective on-line platforms this week. Hibbs goes after Diamond's purchasing in a fairly finessed manner, allowing that while Diamond doesn't exist as anything other than a vehicle for Steve Geppi to make money, they're locked into old ways of thinking that keep them from growing the 30 percent of their business that isn't Marvel and DC. This includes a re-order policy that both keeps people locked into Diamond as a sole supplier but discourages book orders of a certain type through Diamond. Butcher's critique is more blunt, and echoed in Hibbs' -- you simply can't get many books, including books that have received wide media exposure, because Diamond doesn't carry them. To use Hibbs' example on roughly the same point, the thought that comic shops can't use Diamond to get Understanding Comics, with its demonstrably wide audience and proven track record, pretty much boggles the mind.

The problem with most calls for direct market reform is that many wannabe reformers have unreasonable standards as to what constitutes reform, seeing past necessary changes in policy to a kind of waved-hand fiat that creates more stores that suit their tastes in comics. This is where you tend to see goofy Internet-style angry-man rhetoric like "Some stores 'get it', and some stores simply don't." In reality, there's room for lots of different kinds of stores within the comic store framework, just as there are other arts retailers with a variety of emphases. A healthy direct market is going to yield stores in which I have no interest in shopping just as it's going to have stores where I would feel greatly at home.

What's bad about Diamond's policies and strategies as pointed out by Hibbs and Butcher is that it makes it more difficult for stores to pursue a certain kind of customer with as much gusto as it encourages them to pursue others. And while there's nothing to stop a dedicated store from finding alternative means of pursuing a customer, I'd say we're past the point where a disinterested retailer can easily help a customer slightly out of step with their store's main thrust -- which given the role of the comic shop in many communities and the size of the audience generally is a really unfortunate outcome. Diamond should not be making these decisions for the rest of the comics market as if they're protecting themselves from competitors that went out of business years ago, but using its position as the dominant actor in its industry to serve its retail clients in as many ways as they want to be served.
posted 3:58 am PST | Permalink

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