Saturday, January 17, 2009

Diamond gives New Year's lump of coal

According to Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon, comics direct market distributor/monopoly Diamond has announced that they will end the practice of publishing their Adult Previews catalog. On the surface this seems like no big deal and just a reaction to the current economic situation. But dig a little into and it's another sign Diamond is using its marketplace position to do what it wants, when it wants without concern for anything except its own ability to milk the comic book direct market for every penny. I guess Steve Geppi's love of those old Donald Duck comics taught a couple of things courtesy of Uncle Scrooge.

I'm sure the market for adult comics in North America have tanked over the years. Once upon a time it was the naughty funny books that saved Fantagraphics from extinction and allowed some creators a way to hone their skills and make a few bucks. Since the explosion of the internet comic books as stroke material seems silly now but once upon a time it wasn't as easy as entering some key words in Google. Except for erotic manga, I think the proper term is "ero," I think the market for these books was small though obviously it was strong enough to keep Diamond printing the extra supplement until now.

Strangely, the only extra supplements of the monthly Previews catalog that Diamond publishers were the adult stuff and the stuff from Marvel which was the end of the Distributor Wars that kicked off when Marvel went exclusive with Heroes World and set off a series of dominoes that resulted in Diamond acquiring exclusive rights to everything by DC, Dark Horse, Image and anyone else of any sufficient size who saw the writing on the wall. Diamond made them sign exclusive deals with promised they'd be featured in the front of the catalog- a practice today that continues to inhibit the creative destruction and entrepenuerial spirit which have always made comics one of the most vibrant art forms. The adult catalog was the only place where smaller publishers were able to gain an equal footing with more established companies and exclusivity wasn't a big deal since none of the exclusive publishers were pron publishers.

The problem here is that Diamond is the exclusive distributor of most comics to the direct market and forces you to pay upwards of $5 every single month to see what comics you might like to buy in 3 months. Due to the fallout of the Distributor Wars which resulted in many shops going under and others being pushed to the brink, most comics shops no longer take chances of products that might not sell and are non-returnable, forcing customers with odd tastes to order their product sight unseen. The Previews catalog has been a way to find out what's coming for those customers who like product that's not a top seller.

It's been my contention for a long time that Diamond needed not less catalog, but more! Many comic shops owners don't bother to look at anything but the Marvel catalog of the exclusive publisher front half of the monthly catalog. Those that do wade into the rest of the catalog find hundreds of pages, mostly made up of collectible kitsch and licensed garbage with a few small indie publishers buried somewhere in the mess. For years, I've begged that Diamond either put the toys & collectibles or the indie publishers or both into their own catalog. Many argued it would cost them money but given that they charge money for their own catalog or they could simply choose to post it on-line I find that argument without merit.

In fact, the biggest problem here is the fact that Diamond posts a copy of their catalog order form on-line and the text-only listing of its contents without any solicitation information! Yes, its another example of how they use their monopoly to squeeze money from the industry without care or concern of the long-term health of the market. Diamond could easily post a PDF of the monthly catalog on-line or add the solicitation info to it's website but it chooses not to so it can charge you money to find out information which might help you make a decision to buy more of its product. This is a tell-take sign of an abusive monopoly.

Steve Geppi is the robber baron of comics and ending the practice of publishing the adult catalog is simply another example of this which will be ignored by most of the comics press which has long ago turned a blind eye to Diamond's abuses. Most "serious and unbiased" comics commentators will buy the excuse this is economic-based, which it may partly be. The "mainstream" comics press doesn't care because they get the comics they want without problem (and because they're scared to lose access to the big 2 publishers) and the snobby art comix crowd buys all their comics at the big city comics festivals or at the few decent comics shops and doesn't care about the 90% of the country that doesn't live near the coasts or in Chicago or a handful of cities with premium comic shops.

In other words, ho hum... just another example of why comics suck and nobody cares because it probably doesn't affect their ability to buy Secret Invasion or Kramer's Ergot.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sorry but due to recent spamming I'm going to have to turn on word verification. Half the time I can't tell what those damn letters are supposed to be!