The House of D (or, The Secret History of Diamond)

Welcome, all you rubberneckers, to the great slow-motion train wreck that is Tact is for the Weak, the column that would TOTALLY make out with your sister!Last week, I discussed my general discontent with Diamond Distributors, the monopoly that essentially runs the comics industry with an iron fist (which, by the way, has a nice firm grip on the publishers’ short hairs). I also declared my belief that it is in the best interests of the biggest publishers to invest in self-distribution in order to cut down on risk and cost. Imagine my surprise, then, when a fellow by the name of Randy Reynaldo (the publisher and writer/artist of WCG Comics and Rob Hanes Adventures) sent me an e-mail describing the history of Diamond in such great detail that even I learned something new (please take a moment to compose yourself; I know it’s hard not to think of me as omniscient). The following historical information is all thanks to the input of Mr. Reynaldo, and in thanks, I demand that you all go check out (plug, plug).

According to the Randmeister, Marvel Comics actually did try to self-publish in the 90′s. Obviously, they read my column first and time-traveled (the fools! When will we learn that time and space are like gossamer drifting amid a tempest of destruction?!). At the time, there were three major distributors: Diamond, Capital City, and Heroes World. Marvel actually bought up Heroes World Distribution, intending to make an honest woman out of the polygamist she was known to be. Fearing for the worst, the rest of the comic publishers collectively crapped their pants, then ran towards the nearest distributor begging for exclusive contracts. Unfortunately for free enterprise, virtually everyone turned to Diamond, and Capital City folded like a retarded poker player with a full house (think about it).

Then, things went from bad to worse (and ultimately to a f***ing sh**storm ). Marvel, in their infinite wisdom, soon realized after a number of royal screw-ups that Heroes World was never more than a regional distributor, and faced with a national market, Heroes World curled up into a ball and stuck its thumb up its ass. Recognizing this quagmire for what it was (wait for it…), Marvel cut its losses and ordered a full recall of its troops (wait for it…) before things got any worse. *sigh* If only President String ‘em Up had come to the same realization as well… (ahhhh…). After essentially dismantling the entire distribution industry, Marvel had no choice but to scamper back to the only distributor left: Diamond.

So, it seems that my idea for self-distribution was a bad one, right? WRONG (and fie on those of you that doubted me! Slap your wrists in your shame)! Marvel f***ed up because they didn’t do their homework on Heroes World’s distribution capabilities, not becuase self-distribution is a bad concept. In fact, now, more than ever, self-distribution is a very viable solution. In today’s “Information Age,” there are countless magazines, newspapers, and other print media that are marketed nationally without going through Diamond Comics Distributors. Looking at current shipping and printing capabilities across the general print industry, and given that only the best-selling comic books break 200,000 sales, it would only take a couple of printing presses and FedEx for a publisher to self-distribute. As for other needs (such as merchandise production and distribution), Diamond may still be the way to go, but publishers hardly need to go through Diamond to ship the books themselves.

Perhaps some of you still doubt the need for change. Mr. Reynaldo, for one, has taken a stance that embraces the changing tide of the industry as a whole, especially progressive distribution alternatives such as online comics. However, with respect to Mr. Reynaldo, I have a hard time believing that any major publishers (especially the Big 2) are in a hurry to abandon the tried-and-true print media that we all know and love. Furthermore, here’s a recent example of Diamond’s abuse of power for all you naysayers out there:

In years past, Diamond’s policy was to solicit any titles that it deemed had a good chance of success. Even if a title didn’t reach its designated sales quota for that first month (normally $1,500), Diamond would still go ahead and fill the orders already made, giving the titles a few months to bring up sales. However, as of last September, Diamond tightened its ass and set new restrictions. While it lowered the first month’s quota to $600, it also took away the grace period of a few months. Furthermore, if that quota is not reached in the first month, Diamond will cancel all orders previously made by retailers.

Lemme break this down to show how this affects you, the reader: let’s say that you happen to belong to a select fan base for Bovine Feces Quarterly, and your local retailer makes a point to order 20 copies (about $60) of each issue. Now, unfortunately, Bovine Feces isn’t selling so well nationally, and this coming issue only saw $400 in orders. Suddenly, the books your retailer already ordered have been cancelled, and you are left without your cow poo digest (too bad, becuase the centerfold was killer).

There are a number of problems I have with this f***ed-up situation. It’s hard enough for any small indy publisher to compete in the same market as DC or Marvel. If you’re a small indy publisher with a new title, all you have is a small blurb of a solicit in the back of Previews (behind the behemoth DC section) with which to woo retailers willing to risk ordering a new indy title. And if there isn’t $600 worth of interest generated by this tiny solicit, Diamond will drop that title faster than a drunken co-worker drops to her knees at an office party. Plus, in order to reach the quota, smaller publishers might be forced to raise their prices. Higher prices will cost readers, fewer readers will require higher prices…well, you see where this is going (unless you’re, y’know, some kind of dumbass). Plus, if you think $600 is an easy figure to reach, think again; according to a November 2005 article of The Comics Journal (featuring none other than my buddy Randy Reynaldo), a number of indy titles (including some from Mr. Reynaldo’s WCG Comics) are currently only barely hitting this quota. And, according to the same article, no less than seven titles were dropped within the first month or so! I shudder to think how many more titles since then have fallen into the wicker basket beneath Diamond’s guillotine.

“Well,” you might be saying, “that’s just good business sense, right? This should be expected from a company as big as Diamond.” Well, again, you would be WRONG (Jesus, you guys ask the dumbest questions. Trust in the Tactmaster)! While there’s a lot to be said for the bottom line, Diamond has a responsibility to support all of its publisher clients, especially the newest and smallest indy publishers. I know this might seem like an unfair thing to ask of Diamond, but guess what: it’s their own damn fault. By establishing themselves as the only realistic source for comics distribution and making it virtually impossible for new distributors to enter the market and share the load, Diamond has no choice but to help all the little guys, rather than cook up half-assed ideas such as this that actively discourage small indies. That’s the problem with monopolies; you may own all the property, but you can’t keep your eye on all those little green squares!

Basically, the ideal distributor for these small indy publishers would be a smaller distribution company that doesn’t carry all the big names, and could slowly grow along with the publishers so that $600 for one title wouldn’t be considered a huge failure. However, since Diamond has left no room for competition, it has forced itself into the role of universal distributor, and should have no choice but to support all of its clients for at least more than a f***ing month! Am I the only one here that finds this whole thing ridiculous (if I am, I will hate you all till the end of my days!)?

So. Basic gist time: Diamond has shown through past actions that so long as it controls all of comics distribution, publishers are at risk, and that as far as the larger, hard-copy-oriented publishers are concerned, self-publication is still a viable option.

Well. I seem to have rambled on a tetch, so I’ll make this next bit short (oh, and be warned that yes, there are SPOILERS ahead):

This week’s Tactless Book of the Week is: DC’s Green Arrow #59. Yes, it’s yet another DC title! Doesn’t anyone over at Marvel or Dark Horse ever f*** up like DC? Pfft.

In any case, the award goes to this week’s Green Arrow because after three issues of build-up, Merlyn (the bad archer) and Dr. Light actually blow up Star City (presumably with the rest of the supporting cast still within) and, on the final pages, Merlyn drives two arrows straight through Ollie’s heart. The catch? The very last page of the book (which even I won’t spoil just quite yet) all but guarantees that this death is just a throw-away gimmick that will be forgotten by next issue. Remember my last column, where I told you all that DC treats death like just another cheap (and reversable) tool in its arsenal? Well, people need to speak up, because DC obviously didn’t read my last column! Dammit to hell…

…And with that, so endeth the column. Before I leave, I want to ask (nay, demand) that you all find a buddy and tell them to read this column. Lord knows I don’t get paid for this; the least you all can do in return is inflate my ego a bit! Or are you all just that selfish?!? Fine, screw it; just be sure to join me next week. I promise I won’t bitch about Diamond any more (well, at least for a month…). Live long and fornicate!

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