On June 5th, DC Comics announced to retailers that it will no longer be distributing its comics through Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., ending an exclusive partnership of 25 years. Diamond’s history is enough to fill another entire article, but suffice it to say, they’ve been distributing comics in some form or another since the 1970s.
Due to the ongoing pandemic caused by the COVID-19 CoronaVirus, Diamond halted all distribution and ordered all the printers to shut down since the majority of comic book, and other retail locations were ordered by their respective state governments, to close. This left many stores without a source of income. DC took it upon themselves to “fix” that situation.
In April, DC Comics announced the creation and partnership with two new distribution companies: Lunar Distribution and UCS Comic Distributors. It was a mystery at first, as to where these new distributors came from, but it was quickly confirmed that they are run by DCBS and Midtown respectively, two very large comic book retailers. That means that if retailers wanted comics to sell (if they were open,) they would need to establish accounts with two of their major competitors. It was not an easy decision to make. Should they wait for Diamond to give the ‘all clear’ or set up with this new service, even if only temporarily. That was short lived, as now, DC Comics has removed the choice and has given retailers a week to set up with the new distributors, or, they risk not being able to sell DC comic books.
Diamond is not without its faults. It has coasted on, basically, a monopoly for decades, and now no one has been able to stay in business long enough to create adequate competition in the marketplace. Many have argued that what DC has done is remove Diamonds’ monopoly on the industry and that should be celebrated. The issue with that is these new services aren’t distributing other companies’ comics. They’re only distributing DC comics and they’ve shown no interest in partnering up with the likes of Marvel, Image or even BOOM! Studios. That’s not creating competition in the marketplace.
Under normal distribution circumstances, there would be two or more distributors competing for a retailer’s business. For example, a retailer has the option of going with either distributor A or distributor B. Both have the same product that the retailer wants to sell, but A may offer better discounts or service then B. The difference between that situation and what DC is doing is that DC is forcing retailers to pay for both A and B.
Many retailers have pointed out that the discounts offered by the new services are either non-existent or not great, and their Diamond discounts will be lessened because they’re forced to order less product (It should be made clear that these numbers have not been released to the public and therefore this information has been taken at face value). Let’s not forget that these distributors are also direct competitors in the market. Retailers now have to share sales information with competitors.
There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that this is another change in response to AT&T buying TimeWarner. Before the deal was finalized, Warner’s had just launched DC Universe, the DC exclusive streaming app. After the deal went through, AT&T began plans to make back all the money they lost in the deal. The first step was to discontinue FilmStruck. Then, they began plans to launch what would be called HBOMax. Back in July of 2019, Forbes released an article by Rob Salkowitz speaking on this trend.
Salkowitz ended his article with “Faced with a cash-starved corporate master with an unsentimental, ‘what have you done for me lately’ approach to legacy sub-brands, and an urgent need to monetize its new media empire through streaming and licensing, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if even Superman himself is capable of rescuing DC Comics as we’ve known it for the past 80 years.” Many skeptics dismissed this easily, wondering why AT&T would choose to give up their “idea farm,” as some called it, for their more successful film and television productions.
With moves that range from Black Label and DC Kids being geared more towards the bookstore market and moving away from Diamond, it’s not without reason to think that we are seeing the beginnings of a plan to move DC comics from single issue publications to more trade and hardcover ones. Dan Didio used to lament all the time how classic trades would sell much more than new single issues. It makes sense. After all, they reach a much wider market overall.
Image Comics Publisher and Chief Creative Officer, Eric Stephenson, penned an open letter about DC’s quick decision to pull out of their contract with Diamond, that was published by Bleeding Cool. In the letter he likens the decision back to when Marvel bought Heroes World in 1994. Marvel decided to distribute comics through that distributor and left the other distributors because of it. Unlike what DC has done, Marvel gave months notice and made sure everything was ready for a smooth transition for all parties involved. DC Comics claims that their decision has been months in the making, but if it was, why did everyone only get a week’s notice?