Updated on August 27, 2022
The coronavirus pandemic has led to many temporary changes in society: no sporting events; all major conventions cancelled; all movie theaters closed; and no new single issue comics.
The last one comes from Diamond, the monopoly comics distributor to the direct market since the late 90s, shutting down several weeks ago. This pretty much meant no new comics to local comic shops, as well as no new comics period. Publishers (and said shops) are afraid of undermining the direct market if DC, Marvel, etc. go digital-only. And since the entire direct market model’s designed around propping up $4+ single issue paper comics, Diamond shutting down’s ground everything to a halt.
Fortunately, DC Comics seems to have found a solution. They’ve made a deal with two new distributors to handle their paper comics, starting April 28 (a Tuesday, not the traditional Wednesday). The new distributors are Lunar Distribution and UCS Comic Distributors. Both are tied to existing larger comic shops: Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Discount Comic Book Services (for Lunar) and New York City’s Midtown Comics (for UCS). Both vendors already have prominent comic shipping businesses. Lunar will handle accounts for the western part of North America, while UCS will handle the eastern part.
Pros and cons of Lunar/UCS
This marks a major shift away from the past 20+ years of Diamond as a monopoly. Since the late 90s, Diamond’s controlled direct market comic shipping. One reason for this, as I noted before, is distributing single issue comics isn’t particularly appealing to or profitable to businesses like magazine and newspaper distributors.
That said, a monopoly generally isn’t a good thing, and the same’s the case for Diamond. There’s been grumbling about its policies, etc. for years. The fact it’s also an obvious weak link in comic distribution also stands out. Thus, any competition or alternative choices are a good thing.
From my post about fixing the direct market, DC’s move and the new distributors seem to be a variant of option #3, “publishers try to distribute single comics on their own.” Thus, it keeps all the advantages of such:
- It comes close to “business as usual,” so comic shops (who by my math still make an estimated 71% of their sales from floppies) and fans of paper singles can still get new material.
- It’s a pair of existing major comic vendors setting up distribution, so better than starting completely from scratch.
- There’s the possibility other publishers (Marvel, Archie, etc.) could sign on to these new distributors.
As for the downsides, the fact it’s still close to “business as usual” means inheriting the downsides of both single issue comics as a format and the direct market model.
There’s also publishers and comic shops needing to deal with more than one distributor, and any work/logistics/etc. involved.
It’s also unclear whether Lunar/UCS are permanent developments, or only for the duration of the pandemic/post-pandemic period. Never mind the numerous “stay at home” orders stretching into May (or possibly longer) might make distribution difficult.
Finally, I’ve seen some comic shop owners online (in the comments sections of Comics Beat, Twitter, etc.) grumbling about UCS and Lunar coming from existing major comic vendors (aka competitors). However, Diamond itself was founded in 1982 by Steve Geppi, who at the time owned several Baltimore comic shops. Also, one of the direct market’s problems is its inflexibility, plus its resistance and hostility to change. The fact digital comics are still viewed by some as a threat, a la the music industry’s attitudes toward MP3s in 2000, says a lot. (We still have locally owned music stores and bookstores, despite the rise of iTunes and Amazon.) Thus, I’m not surprised the direct market’s house of cards-like business model’s having major problems.
Overall, I hope new non-Diamond distributors will see some positive changes for the direct market side of the comics industry. That said, I’m hoping comic shops also start putting more emphasis on graphic novels/trades than singles, after everything that’s happened.
“Infinite Superman” by JD Hancock is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)