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Red Route Distribution, RIP
posted April 26, 2006

According to a handful of clients and former clients, the British company Red Route Distribution is no more.

CR spoke to North American comics publishers that report official business with the UK distributor came to a close as early as late 2005 with an announcement that Red Route would be closed and then be assumed, perhaps only in part, by the company Turnaround; communication on the fate of existing inventory and monies owed continued between publishers and Red Route's Tony Bennett into the first few months of this year. At this writing, at least one North American comics company is still owed money, without a clear indication of how or if this debt might be processed.

Like the American distributor Cold Cut, Red Route specialized in the long-term fulfillment of account perennials believed to sometimes be difficult to receive on immediate re-order from the larger comics distribution companies. A year 2000 interview between Red Route's Richard Davies and the writer Warren Ellis goes into detail about the company's perceived market role six years ago.

What remains unclear as of today is how the various companies involved have been combined, if Tony Bennett's Knockabout Comics is affected (one company contacted by CR says definitely not), if all companies owed money will be paid, and how any future arrangements will be processed. Today, different companies enjoy different perspectives. "From what I understand, Red Route (UK) was actually bought out by Turnaround (UK), so whatever inventory Red Route had of ours (that they had already paid us in full for) now became the property of Turnaround," Top Shelf's Chris Staros told CR, noting the outcome for his company.

Red Route's departure may bring significant changes to the shape of the UK comics market, or perhaps mark a symbolic change in terms of general market priorities. "They were the only people that sold those books," said Drawn & Quarterly's Chris Oliveros of Red Route's attention to perennials. "It's really hard to tell, but they did fill a pretty unique role for many years." Oliveros expressed the concern of his company, with its extensive backlist, that from now on, "Pretty much if someone in the UK sells out of a book, well, that will be it." Others speaking to CR seem more confident that reorders through Diamond's United Kingdom companies can take up any resulting slack -- in fact, Chris Staros points out that an exclusivity deal by his company with Diamond Book Distribution may keep Turnaround from fulfilling Red Route's old role if they plan on heading in that direction; Staros describes his company as very happy with results from Diamond thus far. Chris Oliveros says that his biggest UK account is now ordering some books directly from D&Q.

Diamond's expanding role in the UK market may have had a major ripple effect on Red Route. Dan Vado of Slave Labor Graphics, a former significant client of Red Route, says that his company saw fewer orders from Red Route when they went with UK's Diamond Books arm -- even with an exception made for Red Route and SLG to continue working together. Vado described this reduction in orders as a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the distributor. Vado said that his business with Red Route slowed down even further by Slave Labor's choice when the distributor became less able to make timely payments.

Each publisher contacted spoke well of the late distributor. "We were huge fans of Red Route, as they have always done right by us in the UK markets," Chris Staros said. "So it's sad to see them move on." Slave Labor's Vado told CR, "In all honesty, Red Route did a really good job." He observed the distributor might have found itself caught trying to grow their business in an unwise direction. "They were trying to make inroads into the book distribution area. I thought they were too small to try and approach that kind of thing, with processing and a lot of returns and a lot more of a handholding approach to that sort of business."

CR will pursue a follow-up story, cleaning up some of the swirling ambiguities and hopefully including a perspective from the British companies involved and any additional publisher fall-out. For now, though, it's enough to note another comics distributor has fallen to the wayside.