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

February 16, 2009

On Not Seeing The Spinner Rack For The Individual Comic Book Issues

Chris Butcher brings to the front burner that in addition to its recent more celebrated moves such as raising item minimums and moving its adult catalog into an on-line iteration, Diamond Comics Distributor Inc. is dropping their enormous Viz backlist from the catalog altogether. I think if you combine this with their recent change in policy about reorder and offered/agains, Matt High has it right in the comments: this is less a single move (raising minimums) to better deal with outside economic pressure and more a series of strategic shifts to push the company's identity now and perhaps forever towards servicing new product.

I still find this troubling for all the reason I explained here, although the emphasis of that article might have changed if I had been smarter about how I processed the company's recent moves. I think this makes the speed of the moves that much more alarming. I don't understand what's driving the company to move this quickly unless it's fear, there are some outside financial factors involved, or they know about a game-changing move in the works at one of their suppliers. While this does push Diamond more towards a clear Big Picture identity along the lines of "we provide the newest comic books," I'm unconvinced that's the best one available to them and confused they felt they had to make such a choice right now. Emphasizing newer comics is a model with obvious limitations. You're emphasizing the comics delivery system that's the least profitable, the most poorly priced, and the most limited. It seems like the solution for the shopping habits of 20 years ago as opposed to the one developing as more and more people streamline the Internet into how they consume on all levels, all the primary buyers get another decade older and less likely to jump through hoops so they can acquiesce to weekly exploitation, and buyers in general pull away from certain kinds of consumption generally. I'm baffled.

I know that one can argue that all these moves do is better lock into place the general direction of that market for the last 10 or 20 years, that this simply makes more official an unofficial retail experience that's dominated that Market for years. But you know what? You can also argue that that's been an abusive relationship, that the historical decline is more important than the ups and downs and occasionally pumping for cash that takes place, and that continuing the strategy of maximizing profit by moving the most comics to the fewer buyers runs the greatest risk of those buyers finally abandoning you, if they haven't been already. It's as if Diamond is finally admitting that offering the widest variety of comics via an array of ordering options was a marginal game all along. Yet instead of coming to their senses and working to make those books less marginal to the underlying mission, treating a sudden interest in, say, Scott Pilgrim as an opportunity to give their clients another sales anchor as opposed to treating it like some unwelcome party crasher, they're moving to cut them off entirely. It reminds me of a Marvel sales presentation 14 years ago where the guys in charge in their crazy buying Fleer/Heroes World days talked with a straight face about how carrying comics other than those by Marvel made it too difficult for people to find their Marvels. In actuality, carrying things other than Marvel and DC is the only thing that kept me going to the comics shop, where I dropped thousands of dollars and where I also bought some Marvel Comics. I have almost no reason to go to a comics shop now. I may not have been the best customer, but I was an amenable one, happy to shop in someone else's clubhouse. I can't imagine there are a lot of stores out there that would directly choose to turn down my $2000 a year right now. Why is this decision being made for them? Is my place in the comics shop really being taken up by some guy who's buying more superhero comics now that I'm gone?

PS -- Someone just sent me this essay. I don't agree with all of the logic or assumptions on display, nor would I conclude the same thing. I am sympathetic to the general thrust.
posted 7:15 am PST | Permalink

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