Today’s guest post is the first of a set by David Lille about the gatekeeper of the comics market and solutions to the problems it causes. David & Liz Lillie create the Dreamkeepers graphic novel series. You can follow them on a variety of social media platforms including Gab.
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Ladies and Gentlemen- it is time to invade.
The comics market is in crisis. A crisis that we can–and must–exploit, for the holy virtues of creativity, capitalism, and culture.
Some blame social justice convergence at Marvel–others point the finger at customers. But whatever the cause, comic stores are thrashing to stay above water.
Some of the oldest comic shops on the continent closed their doors forever, succumbing to failure- and, on their way out, blaming Marvel.
Desperate comic retailers finally lashed out against Marvel’s gimmicky shake-downs, signing on to an unprecedented boycott.
Rumors are swirling at ScreenGeek that behind the scenes, Marvel sales are so catastrophic that the Disney Overlords are sharpening their axes.
Castalia House, reporting on all this, reveals that the hit YouTube channel Diversity & Comics may transition from deconstructing Marvel, to outright competing with them.
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In the past, comic shops formed a rigid closed circuit with the monopolistic Diamond Distribution.
Diamond is, in the words of comics reporter Jude Terror, a “distribution monopoly [that] enables Marvel and DC to churn out endless gimmick-based garbage to dwindling readership with no economic repercussions because they control the entire market.”
Let those last words sink in–they control the entire market.
Diamond eliminated the competition during the brutal Exclusivity Wars in 1995. There used to be dozens of distributors serving comic shops–
And they were all mercilessly crushed.
But it gets worse. Not only does Diamond alone control the ring, they have a dog in the fight.
Diamond has engineered market-proof advantages for the Big 4, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image, acting as their exclusive sales agent and rigging an insider discount structure, easier profit thresholds, and uncontested premium placement in their PREVIEWS catalog.
This cronyism has enshrined a perverse set of incentives spanning all of comics culture.
To retain exclusive access, Diamond wants to keep Marvel and DC from looking at greener pastures–and Diamond have total control over the retail landscape. So they make sure it’s landscaped just special for Marvel and DC, without any viable competition having a chance to erode their agreed-upon market share.
No matter what Marvel and DC produce.
No matter what customers think of it.
To get anything, store owners are forced to order minimum quantities that far outstrip demand, and eat the losses.
Shopkeepers meekly accepted this yoke as the cost of doing business–innovation is hard!–and obediently hauled Marvel’s creaking wagon of politics-laced bullshit onward.
It was a living.
Until it wasn’t.
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Things have changed.
Retailers are discovering they can no longer passively sign off on Marvel’s product line and expect to keep their doors open. Pure necessity is jolting them awake.
Whether you blame the comic industry’s woes on milkshake-guzzling vacuous hipsters or decades of rigging under a dystopian distribution monopoly, one thing is clear. Like Libya after the fall of its ironclad dictatorship, chaos is coming.
Marvel was the unquestioned foundation of everything. As it cracks, the comic shop Direct Market will become totally destabilized.
In this environment, with fracturing power structures and shifting realities on the ground, a small, organized, highly motivated force can strike with outsized impact.
So gear up. We’re going to Make Comics Great Again.
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Consider the plunder for those daring to conquer.
Authors and publishers: You deserve to be in stores. Your work is every bit as good, and vastly more original, than the stuff Marvel is no longer capable of selling. You–making that hit webcomic, running that record-smashing Kickstarter–you grew up in a world where you never questioned why comic shops nationwide didn’t know about your work, didn’t stock it, didn’t serve your local customers- comic shops have been so dysfunctional for so long, they probably weren’t even on your radar.
Consider this your blip.
You forged a career with your own time and talent, without any support whatsoever from a viable retail market. Well, imagine what your career would look like if nationwide store placement and mainstream recognition were added to the mix.
Retailers: Why be satisfied to choke only on what Diamond shoves down your throat? Get more. You deserve a slice of that juicy crowdfunding market pie. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve heard that savory phrase ‘crowdfunding market.’ I’m sorry to say, you’ve been missing out.
Crowdfunding readers are the next generation of consumers. They want variety, they want novelty, they want creative authenticity, and they have found it. And it’s not on your shelves.
Readers: You deserve a world where–shocking idea!–the market actually cares about what you want. This whole thing is supposed to be for YOU, after all. If you’re tired of Marvel editors blocking you online and gleefully degrading your culture, if you’re tired of your stores disappearing and having nowhere to browse or nothing worth browsing–then it’s time to take control.
The ultimate power in the market rests with you, and you alone–if you organize, and you want something to happen, you can make it happen. Make this comic market yours again.
And, Subcultures: You want to break the corporate stranglehold that takes away your entertainment and replaces it with homogeneous, bland propaganda? You want a chance to share something thought provoking, to carve out a corner of culture where you won’t be blacklisted and shamed just for having a slightly divergent opinion? This is where it starts.
Comics are, like no other medium, accessible. You can’t sit down and crank out a Hollywood blockbuster–but any artist can sit down and draw. And once a book is on the shelf, no algorithm in Twitter’s arsenal can keep a reader from reaching out, and reading.
Comics are the crucible for pop culture, the springboard for films and television.
Ideas start in comics.
We’re gazing upon the cradle of innovation for cultural content, ripe for the plucking. So if you want to reclaim some cultural relevance? The place is here and the time is now.
Stores are in crisis. If you really have content you advocate for, and a following that is being suppressed by the status quo–then get that content, and that following, into these stores. Drive sales. Prop them up. Make your content the leg that saves the wobbling table–and they’ll have to keep it. This is your chance to crack the cultural monopoly, and claim a beachhead.
In the next installment of Comics Revolution, we’ll lay out a battle plan.
The DOJ actually did investigate later in the 90’s, but terminated the inquest on the premise of an absurd categorical error. I go into more detail on all this in an old blog: http://vividstuff.blogspot.com/2008/12/article-3-score-one-for-idiocy-aka.html At the time I thought, surely things will improve on their own. X D Nope. So now we’re taking action.
xavier, generally antitrust and related laws, in practice, are only a way for established companies to beat competitors up with, or occasionally are used to whitewash a political witch-hunt.
People often get upset when I point this out to them, but comics are a case in point. The market dominant companies wanted it and there was no political mileage, so nothing happened.
Usually when something DOES happen it’s counter productive.
This isn’t to say there should be NO laws or regulations concerning this type of behaviour, only that such laws as exist are fairly often ineffective, and fairly often misappropriated.
xavier, if you don’t get into distribution, you don’t get into retail, as a general rule.
That’s it, that’s the entire story. It doesn’t need to be deeper or more complex, which is why it worked for decades. Deep, complex conspiracies fail.
It doesn’t need to be a conscious conspiracy to be a monopoly or exclusionary. Distributors get comfortable and don’t want to do the hard work of dealing with more creators, and it’s risky to distribute something without a guaranteed following. So, even without a conspiracy, distributors want to protect their own market share–especially if it’s 100%. I discovered this in the hobby game industry back in the 1980s. In my young naivete, I thought I could set up as a distributor of some of the new, popular game publishers like Steve Jackson games–but as it turned out, none of the game stores would deal with me because their distributors all demanded exclusivity, i.e., stores can’t shop among distributors like people can shop among shops.
So, whatever you call it, it’s another layer of gatekeeping that tends to protect the established products and suppress anything new.
I don’t know where you were, but at least where I’m at, the game store now routinely us multiple distributors. WOTC limits actually have helped that part of the sictuation.
AS someone who’s in the process of starting a comic publishing company, I’m curious as to what your solution is.
As a creator and former publisher of comics, I’m interested as well.
Sounds like lots of opportunities abound — communication is key here!
I believe Castalia House is hosting the next installment of the article, where I lay out a specific plan of action.
I hope it will work, naturally- I believe it will- but regardless, if enough people are working on the general issue, then one failure won’t be fatal. More minds will learn from such attempts, and generate more solutions. I think it’s inevitable that something will break through.
Looking forward to it, David! Great work so far, and I’m following you on other platforms as well to learn more.
Thanks very much cor all your comments and exolanations. They’re extremely helpful in understaning the situation.
I’ve been reading 5hrough some of the 2017 posts at your blog. I was paricularly interested about how the crowdfunded illustrators and bookstores could help each other but Diamond is the Cluthu of the industry.
I’ll read through your blog and reflect on your experiences and prescriptions
I live in an Aisian country where the govt was bitchslapped by the Eisner awards.
This year’s winner had his govt funding pulled because by the official arts council. It was alleged that the comic underminded the govt’s integrity,etc etc.
In any case even if the Eisner isn’t as important in yne US it’s still regarded as a very big deal and the govt has lost face despite the msm spin. And non comic book observers have highlighted this to reflect local conditions about art.
Cuktural products face official censorship and it can be stuoid and obtuse
Used to work for Second Genesis (WA, OR, CA, 2 Canadian provinces). Aside from 2G, there was Heroes World & Capital City .. lots of smaller, regional distributors. Keep in mind that Diamond = Steve Geppi, who started as a retailer (Geppi’s Comics World).
If anyone needs an on-the-ground perspective from a comic store owner, don’t forget you can always hit up Michael Tierney, who was interviewed here a while back.
David and Nathan
I’m utterly taken aback this revelation. How did the DOJ not pay attention and intervene? This far worse than the agency pricing that the big 5 and Apple had to give up due to the DOJ intervention?
What’s the situation in Britain? (English Canada is just an extension of the US)
Could you provide some example just how insidious this cronyism is? How have indrpendent comic book artists/writer been totally 3xcluded and sent to the memory hold?
Like I said i’m disbeleiving it but accept it as fact