DC and UCS Distributors are ending their Direct Market partnership as of January 1, 2021, as announced in letters to comic book retailers from DC and UCS, respectively.
"In April, UCS Comic Distributors and Lunar Distribution partnered with DC to transition to a multi-distributor model for the Direct Market, at a time when comic book distribution was on pause and the supply chain disrupted as a result of the safer-at-home orders that were put in place," reads DC's letter to retailers.
"We are now in our next phase where, as of January 1, 2021, DC publications will continue to be distributed in the Direct Market by Lunar Distribution, Diamond UK, and Penguin Random House (for graphic novels and collected editions only). UCS Comic Distributors will no longer distribute DC publications, but retailers can continue to order from UCS through the end of November."
UCS was created in the spring as an outgrowth of Midtown Comics, who already had a robust mail-order retail comic book business.
UCS and Lunar replaced DC's long-time exclusive distributor Diamond Comics Distributor in a surprising and high-profile split in the spring that retailers reacted negatively to.
The Direct Market is made-up of specialty shops that purchase comic books as non-returnable items for a steeper wholesale discount. This method became the dominant means of comic book distribution in the 1980s. The alternative newsstand market which dominated distribution prior to the Direct Market allows retailers like convenience stores to return unsold items to their publishers for a refund.
"We want to take this time to sincerely thank UCS for their help during this transition, and we will continue to provide all our support to UCS as retailers shift their accounts over to Lunar or other distributors," continues DC's letter.
DC originally recommended retailers in the U.S. and Canadian retailers on the west coast choose Lunar and those on the east coast choose UCS to maximize shipping timelines although it was never a requirement.
The switch to Lunar (which is an outgrowth of the online retailer Discount Comic Book Service or DCBS) carries with it some changes that could potentially affect comic book specialty shops. As of the Final Order cut-off date of December 6, 2020, the publisher is now requiring that orders placed through Lunar total a minimum of $125 (USD) per weekly order based on retail sales value (cover price), or a total $500 monthly.
John Jackson Miller of Comichron reports that may not be an insignificant sum for retailers who only offer comic books as a secondary item or who specialize in graphic novels over monthly periodicals.
"...while that doesn’t sound like a lot, Diamond was servicing many game stores and hobby shops that carried comics as a sideline; there are also shops that specialize more in graphic novels and less in periodicals," writes Miller.
DC's letter concludes by stating it "remains committed to comics shops as the cornerstone of our industry."
"This community is the source of countless stories and relationships that inspire us and our fans every day. We thank you for your support, and we will continue to provide business updates as they happen."
In their letter, UCS wrote, "We are very proud of the role we played in transitioning DC during this unprecedented time."
All industry eyes will now be on Lunar as it transitions to handling all of DC's North American specialty market distribution and likely amp up speculation of a potential reconciliation with Diamond.
The changeover to Lunar will be just in time for DC’s Future State event that begins in January.