At today's Marvel news conference, Marvel President Bill Jemas announced the renewal of Marvel's agreement with Diamond Comic Distributors to continue Diamond's exclusive distribution of Marvel titles in the direct market. In addition, the two companies agreed that Diamond would also represent Marvel's trade paperbacks in the traditional bookstore marketplace. Thus Diamond will replace LPC Group, which has been promoting Marvel titles in bookstores along with its other comic trade paperback lines Oni, Tokyo Pop, Top Shelf, Drawn and Quarterly, and Image (see 'Image Signs With LPC'). Dark Horse also told us today that it is moving to LPC in July (see 'Dark Horse Moves to LPC'). The industry has been rife with rumors during the past few days, something that Jemas attributed to the fact that both Marvel's bookstore distributor and its newsstand distributor had made proposals to Marvel to take over Diamond's direct market distribution of comics. While word evidently leaked out concerning those proposals, Marvel has decided to go with Diamond for both direct market and bookstore distribution.
Jemas cited Diamond's customer service and logistics capacities as being key to Marvel's decision. Diamond's ability to create full color catalogs also played a role. According to Roger Fletcher, Diamond's V.P. of Marketing, Diamond will create up to four catalogs per year highlighting Marvel's trade paperback offerings. Diamond will also keep and manage Marvel's inventory of trade paperbacks, and service both the direct market and the bookstore market out of the same inventory. Jemas stated that Diamond's inventory systems will provide Marvel with ample information on the sales/burn rate of key titles, so that Marvel can reprint in time to keep essential titles from going out of print. Jemas described the financial terms of the agreement as 'more favorable' for Marvel. Those financial implications for Marvel, along with the lowered costs of having only one set of inventory to serve two channels, probably helped swing the deal for Diamond. Jemas indicated that the improved profitability on books would enable Marvel to build its book line more quickly.
Can Diamond do it?
Though Diamond doesn't have a wealth of experience in this channel, they have sold some product lines to chain retailers in the past. But more importantly, Marvel will continue its policy of assisting on sell-ins to all the big accounts. Jemas sees Diamond's contribution for these major accounts as being 'primarily' on the 'back end'--delivery, customer service, returns processing etc.
Is This a Big Deal?
Certainly Marvel's trade paperback line and backlist are limited now, but they are ramping up to create as many as twelve trade paperback titles per month next year (see 'Marvel Ratchets Up Book Production'). Jemas credits Diamond, and in particular Steve Geppi with urging Marvel to create and sustain a solid trade paperback program. Under the leadership of Joe Quesada, Marvel has realigned their monthly comic productions by bringing in top writers and artists and teaming them for four- to seven-issue story arcs which can function as stand-alone trade paperback adventures.
Will bookstore patrons go for Marvel books?
The self-proclaimed 'Sultans of Spandex' may run into some trouble pushing superhero titles in the land of Ludlum, Clancy, and Grafton, but they do have two major opportunities to court the mainstream public next year with the release of the Spider-Man movie in May and the second X-Men film in November. In addition, Marvel is likely to expand its trade paperback offerings with creator-owned books such as Robert Weinberg's Nightside as well as some books from their as-yet-undisclosed 'mature' line. Editor-in-chief Quesada also mentioned that Marvel was in discussions with some European authors about books that were highly successful there, but had not been distributed in the U.S. Marvel is also considering some 'direct-to-trade paperback' titles that would never appear as comic periodicals. Quesada promised that the Marvel list will include 'crime/noir, science fiction, and other genres' as well as their normal superhero collections.
Will direct market retailers be able to buy Marvel trade paperbacks on a returnable basis?
No, Jemas was definite on this. Marvel is happy with the way the direct market is working. Though he wouldn't reveal the percentage of returns from bookstores, both Jemas and Chuck Parker from Diamond said it was very low, in contrast to returns from the newsstands, which in Jemas's words were 'enough to choke a goat' (see 'Newsstand Sales Slipping Across the Board'). When ICv2 asked Diamond if bookstores would be able to buy non-returnable at a higher discount, Roger Fletcher indicated that there was nothing in Marvel's terms to prevent it, but that it would be up to Marvel to decide the difference between a 'bookstore' and a 'comic store.'
Will Diamond try to place periodical comics in bookstores?
No, the bookstores that already carry periodical comics on a returnable basis are supplied by newsstand distributors, and Marvel's newsstand distribution remains in place as is. The return rates and logistics don't make for as good a fit for Diamond, so there are no plans to add monthly comics to the mix Diamond will offer bookstores.
Will Diamond try to sell other books and merchandise to bookstores?
Most likely, but many of the lines that Diamond has exclusively in the direct market already have bookstore distribution exclusives, including DC, Image, and Dark Horse. Also many of the independents like Fantagraphics have actually led the charge into the bookstore market with books from Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Joe Sacco, Los Bros. etc. They also have existing deals with bookstore distributors, and are unlikely to switch. However Diamond does have a fair amount of exclusive merchandise in Previews every month, and it is likely that they will attempt to place some of those items in the bookstore channel when appropriate.
What about the Marvel Masterworks?
Marvel is planning to get as many volumes as possible from this series back in print. Unfortunately, due to the confusion at Marvel over the past few years, it is often difficult to reassemble all the materials necessary for republication. Tom Brevoort, who edits this estimable series, will continue to create a couple of new volumes of Masterworks each year.
What does this move mean for pop culture stores?
These movements are of interest to pop culture retailers that buy through non-returnable channels as well because bookstores are increasingly where new consumers first see comics (in book formats). As Diamond's Fletcher described it, 'Getting product into more outlets will expose comics to a wider audience. When consumers sample the products, they have the opportunity to get more involved, and if they get really involved, they'll buy comics in the best place to get comics -- the comic shops.'