Tact is for the Weak #48 by Brian Graiser 9 Nov 2007

Welcome, fans, to another installment of Tact is for the Weak, the article that has yet to receive a well-deserved Peabody Award!

Perhaps you’ve noticed my conspicuous absence from these hallowed halls; I’m sorry to say that my schedule at the university has dramatically expanded, and unfortunately my studies must take precedence over this series of articles. However, rather than let you all simply hang here, I managed to dig up the draft of the NEXT article in store. This draft is about a month old, but the message rings true. So, please enjoy this belated article, and in the mean time I’ll get cracking on the next one (which will probably come out in January, given my luck).

Today marks a special day, fans; this article also marks a return to battle with one of Tact is for the Weak’s oldest foes: Diamond Comics Distributors. However, unlike my previous skirmishes with Diamond, this fracas came to me; about a week and a half ago, I received a somber e-mail from an irate comics businessman, affiliated with a company that has established itself as one that produces quality materials. His name has been changed, and with his permission I am reprinting his letter here for public scrutiny:

“Dear Brian,

After reading a “rebuttal” of your article on the monopoly of Diamond Comics I felt an urge to share with you our recent rejection by the aforementioned company. As a businessman I feel I am not as sensitive about our art as illustrators are prone to be and I believe I have an objective view of Diamond’s selection process. After the rejection of our first issue over concerns about coloring and shading I am starting to believe the word on the street about this company.

Our illustrator has worked on Diamond approved books that he felt were far less polished and ready for the public than our product. Yet our comic, which is selling well in our local shops and outsold our neighbors at a recent Wizard World convention (who had spent thousands on advertising for the show) is not polished enough for space in Diamond’s Previews magazine.

Again for emphasis, “Diamond won’t let me pay them to advertise in their magazine which is how 99% of comic stores order 99% of their comics, over concerns about our coloring and shading.” Diamond is not a monopoly simply because there are no competitors but especially since they are in essence making specific judgments about individual content even though they mask it as a marketability consideration. They did ask me to stay in touch and keep them abreast of our progress so I have opened a dialogue with my brand manager (and his boss) about his decision.

In my opinion some of the comics they “carry” are not only less polished than ours but are also lacking in any truly exciting or imaginative content. Someone please tell me if I am the only one who sees this. Some of these comics display an entire chapter in Previews that costs them thousands of dollars per full page ($2500 last I checked)! Wizard magazine looked at our comic and simply sent me an email of prices and encouraging language. They also called and did the same thing.

I wish I had the time, money and energy to start a rival distributorship. I am sure I could overcome objections about having two accounts if I made it easy for retailers. What adds insult to injury is that our submission was rejected by a company who often fails their primary role as distribution juggernaut.

I know the owners of one of the largest book publishers in the US and they told me it was laughable to imagine their distribution department deciding what books were appropriate for their market. I was told that they would lose their jobs if they started to interfere with the book selection decisions made by the editorial committee. We all know there are general guidelines of appropriate material such as maturity rating and market focus that are used by stand alone distributors to approve submissions. These general considerations are not what I am bemoaning Diamond but rather their unwelcome and questionable activity as a pseudo publisher. Below is a definition I found on foxmeadowbooks.com regarding book distributors:

“A BOOK DISTRIBUTOR acts as the link between publisher and retailer in cases where the publisher does not want to be involved in shipping books and collecting money from retailers. The distributor receives orders from retailers, ships books, invoices and collects revenue, and handles returns. This is normally done on a commission basis. It is quite a costly service, but almost essential for a small publisher who wants to sell books in stores all across the country, or in a different country. Some large book retailers unfortunately will not even purchase books directly from small publishers. A distributor usually handles books from several publishers. Large national publishers may do their own distribution, or own a separate distribution company. The publisher is still responsible for marketing the book, that is, creating a demand for it through advertising, promotion, author tours, etc. The distributor merely fills the resulting orders.”

For now all I can do is develop relationships with shops from scratch which is difficult at best and sell through our website which is a new entity. Diamond has restricted my access to over 4000 retailers who I believe would have liked what we had to say about our comic and the pretty pictures.

Sincerely, A Diamond in the Ruff”

Whew. Kind of leaves a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, doesn’t it? I immediately responded to “Mr. Ruff,” expressing my dismay at Diamond’s actions and praising him for having faith in his staff and the quality of his products, and also for having the fortitude to go out and do the legwork of door-to-door promotion, despite Diamond’s recent scumbaggery, in order to give these titles a fighting chance.

Now, I don’t usually come right out and say “I told you so,” but this is exactly the kind of thing I predicted in my earlier articles: since Diamond has neither oversight nor competition, it can essentially do whatever it wants without fear of publisher retaliation. “That’s never going to happen,” you may have said a year ago, “sure, Diamond’s a monopoly, but they’ve been doing a decent job so far. They would never stoop so low as to make editorial decisions over the heads of their publishing clients!” And, of course, you have since been proven wrong. I (and many others) had been warning people about the possibility of Diamond muscling its way into controlling more than its fair share of the comics industry, and now that eventuality has come to pass. The scariest part is, there’s nothing that can be done right now to prevent this from happening again! The Big 2 (or 5; however you slice it) publishers are content with their treatment, so they won’t bother coming to the aid of up-and-coming publishers based on silly little things like moral principles.

Think about it: Diamond’s SINGLE role as distributor is to ensure that the wares of its clients are spread throughout the target consumer fields. As I’ve said before, since Diamond has monopolized the comics distribution industry, the responsibility rests on their shoulders to give new publishers and titles an honest chance. Obviously, if after a legitimate trial period, poor sales of any title or product indicate an unprofitable trend, Diamond has the right to stop distributing the under performing materials. However, making editorial decisions on publishers’ titles before they get to print is completely out of line!

I hate to make this nastier than it already is, but this needs to be said: without any sort of exaggeration, this is a clear case of Diamond muscling around and picking on the little guy. We’ve all read comics from the “big” publishers that have typos, coloring mistakes, scanning problems, or that just plain suck. For Diamond (as in, “late shipping, missing staples, creased orders” Diamond) to make any sort of creative judgement call on the quality of its clients’ products is absolutely ludicrous. If DC Comics’ upcoming Green Arrow/Black Canary #1 has a coloring error or a typo, would Diamond exert this same level of control and tell DC it isn’t interested? HELL NO! But if that client happens to be a smaller publisher, Diamond seems to find no problems with back-seat editing whatever unfortunate title happens to strike their fancy.

I guess the most offensive aspect of this debacle is the sheer audacity that a distributor has the unmitigated gall to make creative judgement calls over the heads of its clients. As many of you know, I am a musician by trade, so I am especially incensed at the horrifying prospect of a distributor making these kind of creative decisions (this is why Hollywood sucks, people; the good ideas get watered down and sh** upon until the corporate sponsors are happy!). What would the Diamond of today say if it were presented with the blotchy art of The Dark Knight Returns, From Hell, or Sin City? Who the f**k is Diamond to say what is and isn’t “worthy” enough or “good” enough to publish? This is the official call, people:

Diamond Comics Distributors: you’re on notice. Until now, you’ve managed to simply be the looming Big Brother, but by exerting editorial control over the wares of your clients, you have officially stepped over the line of decency and into the realm of bad business ethics. It isn’t your job to determine the creative value of titles; it’s just your job to distribute them (that’s why we have editors, remember?). You are obviously entitled to drop titles that prove to be unprofitable, but as the sole distributor, you are required to give new titles a chance to live! Even if the folks in your departments don’t like how a book is put together, you are obligated to give that book a fair shake in the free market to find out whether or not it can turn a profit.

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