History of New Comics Distribution

In last week's column, I outlined why I believe that the current DC prohibition against anyone who purchases their products through Diamond then reselling those goods to other retailers is a pernicious restraint of trade designed solely to benefit Diamond. I also expressed the opinion that DC's close relationship with Diamond not withstanding, that this no-resale policy is one of the primary reasons why the comics industry is in it's current sales funk. Finally, I also stated that I strongly believe that if regional sub-distributors were allowed to evolve, that they could provide some much-needed competition to Diamond in the distribution of new comics to comics specialty outlets. .

Given the above assertions, I'm sure that some folks out there have already decided that my angle in writing about all of this is that I personally want to get into the new comics distribution business. Hah! I'd sooner have a root canal done. As I outlined in earlier installments in this series, during the early 1980's I was intimately involved in the creation of the original Direct Market distribution system. Going through that experience once was more than enough for me. Just because I don't want to go through those experiences again, however, doesn't mean that there are not any number of potential sub-distributors in larger metropolitan areas of the USA and Europe. I am of the strong opinion that DC really should give those people an opportunity to provide more personalized local service to comics retailers than Diamond presently provides. Having a few sub-distributors in the marketplace might cost Diamond some revenue in the short term, but since all DC orders would ultimately still have to go through Diamond, wouldn't Diamond also eventually benefit from a stronger comics distribution environment?

Five years ago, I had a one-hour discussion in downtown Washington, D.C. about Diamond Comic Distributors with the head of the United States Department of Justice Anti-Trust Enforcement Division. My primary reason for meeting with the Anti-Trust people was to get an idea of my litigation options if Diamond chose to use Steve Geppi's then-recent purchase of AnotherUniverse.com to go into direct competition with my own company. After we discussed the AnotherUniverse.com situation, however, I was surprised to be quizzed, in turn, by the Federal Anti-Trust people as regards my opinions about potential negative implications of the Diamond exclusive contracts with DC, Image, Valiant/Acclaim, and Dark Horse.

It was on that fateful day that I could have potentially caused some serious damage to Diamond. I chose not to take that course of action, however, because I honestly felt that it was not in the best interests of anyone in the comics world. No matter how much I might have disagreed at the time with some of the things Diamond and/or Steve Geppi appeared to be doing, there was no way that I was going to do anything to weaken the only viable comics distributor left in the business. Instead, I stressed to DOJ that the comics industry was so fragile at that point in time that the Diamond exclusive agreements were really quite necessary to provide Diamond with a large enough stream of revenue to continue operating. I also stated that I saw no benefit to breaking up Diamond, nor did I see where eliminating the exclusive agreements would work for the public good.

I mention that long-ago discussion with DOJ only because I think that it helps clearly illustrate that my agenda in writing this history of new comics distribution has not had as its goal hurting Diamond, or any of the comics publishers. I want nothing more than for the health and vitality of the entire comics industry to return, and for everyone to benefit, whether they be a fan, creator, retailer, publisher, or distributor. We all live in this world together, and it behooves us to do everything we can do work cooperatively for the benefit of the greater good. The world of comics has been the central element of many of our adult lives, and I believe that we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to leave it in better shape than when we first arrived. Sadly, for most of us, that is not presently true.

That having been said, the optimist in me still believes that comics and graphic storytelling have enormous capacities to entertain and enlighten. What we are faced with is not a failure of our message, but rather the failure of the delivery mechanism. I know that there are more than enough people out there who have written off periodical comics as anachronisms. I feel that way on some days, but I still hold out the hope that comics sales could still perk up quite a bit if we could just get cover prices down, and print runs up. To get there, however, we need to see some significant structural changes. That's why I've made such a big deal about this no re-sale policy on the part of DC. It is certainly not the only problem we face, but I do believe it has significant negative impact during a time when we need all the help we can get.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that one of the most important attributes that makes America a great nation is the ability of people in this society to sometimes set aside their personal agendas for the benefit of the entire country. I see the decision to keep in place the DC re-sale prohibition all boiling down to a trade-off between what's good solely for Diamond and DC, and what's good for the comics industry as a whole. I would hope that Steve Geppi and Paul Levitz would take a moment to reconsider the ramifications of their agreement in light of the current industry conditions, and do all that they can to reestablish a network of regional comics sub-distributors. It might not solve all of our problems, but it certainly might go a long way toward getting our dynamic as an industry humming once again.

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221

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