A year after DC decided to part ways with Diamond’s distribution for their products, now Marvel is going the same route, at least halfway, turning to Penguin-Random House. As told in Publisher’s Weekly:
In a move that will likely transform the distribution of comics periodicals in North America, Penguin Random House Publisher Services has reached an agreement with Marvel to distribute its periodical comics and graphic novels to the comics shop market, also known as the direct market.
The two companies have signed an exclusive, worldwide multi-year sales and distribution agreement for Marvel’s comics—including individual issues, trade collections, and graphic novels both newly published and backlist—to the direct market. PRHPS officially begins its distribution to direct market retailers for Marvel titles on October 1. The move marks a major change in the U.S. comics distribution market, which Diamond Comic Distributors has long dominated.
So a year after some sources criticized DC for pulling out of a deal with monopolists, now Marvel is following the same path. And I’m wondering if any of the same sources who took issue with DC will have the same reaction to Marvel’s move? Well if the following paragraph is any suggestion, maybe they won’t because of what this particular deal entails:
PRHPS will offer Marvel comics to retailers on nonreturnable wholesale terms. The comics shop market is a network of about 2,000 independent retailers around the country that traditionally bought their inventory from Diamond Comics Distributors, the largest distributor of periodical comics in North America. Direct market retailers generally buy most of their stock nonreturnable at wholesale prices. Comics shops sell a mix of periodical comics, graphic novels, prose books and pop culture merchandise.
Wow, so they’re going to potentially leave the retailers saddled with mountains of bad stories they may not be able to sell, right down to the company wide crossovers? In that case, can this truly be considered marketing on merit? If commercial bookstores aren’t forced to be swamped with non-returnable products, why must specialty stores? On the surface, this would sound like a positive step. But specialty stores shouldn’t be forced to keep around products they may not be able to sell, and this isn’t improving. It’s also worth pondering that:
Diamond, however, will not be cut entirely out of Marvel’s plans. Direct market retailers will be able to choose between ordering Marvel products directly from PRH or through Diamond as a wholesaler under terms previously established by Diamond in the U.S. and U.K. Hachette Book Group will continue to manage the distribution of Marvel’s graphic novels and trade collections to the book market, including independent bookstores and elsewhere.
So they’re only one foot out of Diamond deals, not entirely. If Marvel gets less critical reactions than DC, will this be why? We’ll know what the industry thinks of this in the coming months.
Also worth noting is that Marvel’s fortunes on sale charts are doing far less well than years before:
Interestingly enough in the press release, Marvel touts Penguin Random House’s commitment to physical retail and claims they “helped support healthier margins that led to a market turnaround” in regards to physical bookstores.
Marvel hopes, “these past experiences and learnings will be invaluable when adapting for today’s physical retailers in the Direct Market.”
And there might be a reason for that. Icv2 reports that Marvel Comics did not even crack the top 20 adult graphic novels in February 2021. The list was dominated by VIZ Media and manga including My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba, Attack on Titan, Tokyo Ghoul, Chainsaw Man, The Promised Neverland, Jujutsu Kaisen, and others.
Even if you remove the manga, Marvel Comics’ graphic novel sales appear to pale in comparison to DC Comics. In February 2021, the company only had six entries in the top 20.
They included Vision: The Complete Collection, X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. – No Time To Breathe, Immortal Hulk Vol. 8, Vision & The Scarlet Witch – The Saga of Wanda And Vision, Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1: Dark Heart of the Sith, and Infinity Gauntlet.
Much of these are brand new, turn of the decade stories written by the PC crowd. It’s hardly a surprise that, after all their turns to social justice pandering, they wouldn’t be selling well in this venue any more than with monthly floppies. So while the shift to a different distributor is fine in itself, so long as they don’t improve much of their story output, continuity, or move away from the crossover events, it makes little difference what their business distribution model will be like if they haven’t any merit-based, coherent and self-contained storylines to offer. It’ll remain to be seen just how long they’ll be able to manage from this point if they don’t improve their story output and find better staffers and contributors who can help with the effort.
Originally published here.