Last year, DC Comics made huge waves when it announced it would be severing ties with the comics distribution juggernaut Diamond. The move was met with a very mixed response. Comic book retailers were unclear how this shift in the industry would affect them. Some have even continued to boycott the publisher in protest. For the most part the comic book industry has rebounded from the pandemic, settled into the new distribution system and is running just as smooth as it ever was… from an outside perspective at least.
Now, get ready for another wave of change as Marvel Comics has announced they will be ending their exclusive distribution deal with Diamond and partnering with Penguin Random House to distribute to the direct market (comic book retailers). Marvel has entered into a multi-year exclusive contract with Penguin Random House’s distribution arm to deliver comic books, trade collections, and graphic novels beginning October 1. Which gives retailers plenty of time to make the switch if they want to continue receiving Marvel comics.
This isn’t the first time Marvel has made waves in the distribution market. In 1995, Marvel bought Heroes World Distribution and began distributing comics in house in order to challenge Diamond and it’s, then, major competitor Capital City. That only lasted for a couple years before Marvel signed an exclusive contract with Diamond. But this would be Penguin Random House’s first entry into the direct market. Penguin Random House Publishing Services is the name of the distribution arm that Marvel has made it’s exclusive deal with. Even though they’re primarily a major book publisher and distributor, they already have deals to distribute trades and hardcovers to major and independent book retailers from companies like DC, Archie, IDW and Dark Horse but this would be the first time they distribute to the direct market.
Now that they’re going to be handling single issue comics as well as distributing trades and hardcovers to comic book retailers, some of the companies they already use may consider this a viable option. If it works well for Marvel then companies like Dark Horse or Archie could consider separating from Diamond in favor of Penguin Random House. Comic book publishers seem to be more confident in the direct market coming out of the pandemic, so much so that they’re willing to try new methods of distribution and leave the comfort of Diamond.
In general this seems to be a more exciting move then when DC announced theirs. Mainly because they didn’t give retailers a deadline of two weeks to get new accounts made with Lunar and UCS. It already being a distributor instead of two retailers probably helped smooth the news over as well. Direct Market retailers can still order their Marvel comics through Diamond, although Diamond would be acting as a wholesaler to the direct market, ordering Marvel products through Penguin.
Some are even suggesting that retailers could take this opportunity to transition from specialty stores, focused on selling only comics and graphic novels, to new independent bookstores. It would take some time to find a new audience but through this new deal with Penguin, it could be a viable option now.
Diamond isn’t perfect, without any meaningful competition, they’ve gone unchecked and the pandemic hasn’t made things easy for them. Losing the two biggest publishers is going to be a difficult challenge for them going forward. Unfortunately this is still not the kind of competition that will make them fix their shortcomings. Since every company now has exclusive contracts with distributors, the retailer has to purchase from three distributors or they risk not having an entire publisher’s products. But who knows, maybe the next phase in all this post pandemic restructuring is the publisher selling to the direct market and giving up on distributors all together.