Comic book retailers unite in shock and anger over DC split with Diamond

(Image credit: DC)

Direct Market comic book retailers polled by Newsarama are stunned by the sudden move by DC to sever ties with Diamond Comics Distributors, the company who distributes the vast majority of comic books to stores.

DC has chosen to instead sell their books through the distribution network they set up and announced in April 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis that shut down Diamond’s network — leaving stores no choice but to buy from two of their competitors for DC titles. 

"It was a nice gut punch after we just reopened our doors for the first time in two months," said J.C. Glindmyer, owner of Earthworld Comics in Albany, N.Y. of Friday's surprise news. "As most retailers, I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face, I’ll order for my regulars, the minimum for racks, but [I’m] not putting any significant resources in their future projects."

"The timing of this is terrible and shows a blatant disregard for concerns of comics sellers," said Benn Ray of Atomic Books in Baltimore. "So I say this as a lifelong DC Comics fan as well as a retailer — screw you, DC Comics. I wish them every bit as well as Marvel did when they did this back in the '90s. Whoever is calling the shots at DC, if there is anyone, should be sacked immediately."

"I just don’t have a respectful comment," said Bret Parks, owner of three Ssalefish Comics locations in Winston Salem, Greensboro, and Concord, N.C. "I can’t think of anything useful or positive about this. I just wish DC would go away or fire their sales team and start over."

"This is an insane bombshell," wrote Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience in San Francisco in a Facebook post.

"They are handling this about as well as Captain Hook being a proctologist," said Ryan Seymore of Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio. "There has been no transparency or heads up, and at times it has felt like we have been lied to."

(Image credit: DC)

Retailers we spoke to said the move means higher shipping costs to stores, lower discounting from Diamond, and even thinner profit margins. 

"Without the DC purchases through Diamond, my discount will be less, making my business no longer profitable or viable," said Charlie Harris of Charlie’s Comic Books in Tucson, Arizona. 

"I don't believe that it will be profitable or practical for most retailers to order low return-on-investment periodicals from a second distribution source," Hibbs wrote on Facebook. "The extra shipping and handling involved is going to melt profit, while the endless extra hours trying to enter and massage data into point-of-sale systems that were not designed to quickly process mass data dumps from anyone other than Diamond is going to be nothing but waste for thousands of individual store fronts — when what they need from their suppliers is nothing but disheartening."

"I am also being offered substantially worse payment terms from these new 'distributors,' (they are not, really, distributors; they are jumped-up retailers, and the direct competition for periodical comics for every independent comic store owner. They are Midtown and DCBS.), so my cash flow will be curtailed, just when I need cash flow the most," Hibbs explained. 

"Diamond shipping has always been fairly reasonable," Seymore said. "If you are an account that orders enough, there is even a shipment option where your books are delivered via pallet, which cuts shipping costs further. If shipping is too much, it cuts directly into the profitability of an item."

"The problem is cutting back to sell out amounts might not be enough to rein in the shipping costs," he added. "What also is a worry is the logistics of two companies that are truly new to distribution. They have done mail order for years, but this is an entirely new ballgame."

Not only was there barely any notice given to retailers — with some expecting to have delays on DC's comics in their store — but retailers we spoke to question if distributors can afford to continue operating long-term with the market split into different companies.

"I'm angry, "Harris said. "Last minute notification without time for me as a retailer to keep the comics coming in a timely manner."

"My initial reactions were shock and disappointment, "Seymore said. "Shock because of the next-to-no-notice about this decision to their retail and distribution partners. As of this moment that I am writing, Diamond still had DC comics listed on their Final Order Cutoff due on Monday, which leads me to believe that they are completely blindsided by this.

"It might be petty, but I am not thrilled about my two biggest online competitors now profiting off of me," Seymore continued. "Having to buy books from companies that already had been selling books to guests for nearly half off is not something that sits well with me at all. Business is business but this feels like a recipe for potential disaster. We now have two companies learning the ropes without any of the infrastructure Diamond has. What happens if one has to close? How quickly will the other be able to pick up the slack? There is a reason that we went from two distributors to just one all those years ago. That was a nightmare and I do not want to go through that again.

"My disappointment boils down to … instead of enhancing and giving distribution options, we are forced to work with companies that have been distributing books to shops for less than two months," Seymore continued. "Whatever issues I have with Diamond, I trust their infrastructure, and it has proven to be successful for decades. Factor in that during the shutdown they announced two distributors but tried to hide through omission that they were online giants Midtown and DCBS. It feels sketchy."

"I don't even want to think about what this does for Diamond's solvency, and their ability to help float stores and publishers over the short- and medium-term," Hibbs wrote. "What DC has done is disgraceful and is flatly harmful to the direct market."

Some retailers said the move also feels like DC has given up on the direct market retail system, perhaps banking instead on digital readers and books by mail — which retailers said would be a mistake. 

(Image credit: DC)

"DC is overplaying their hand," Glindmyer said. "While there is significant interest and solid potential sales in the upcoming Batman title and Three Jokers, other projects going forward will have a difficult time getting a foothold. Retailers will be hard pressed to 'sell' newer DC product. If titles like DCeased were introduced now, they might be D.O.A.

"Retailers are disappointed in DC," he added. "Readers may have a more difficult time getting the titles they want, and digital is not the answer. Digital readers and Wednesday warriors are two different animals — they rarely venture out of their collection zone. Not seeing any winners on any side here."

While retailers said they’d love to punish DC with a boycott, they admitted it wouldn’t be fair to customers who want to read DC’s stories. But they anticipate this hurting the market overall.

"I don't see that they've given us any options,” Harris said. “My store is very DC-centric."

"What shop wants to be a hash tag for not carrying Justice League or Catwoman?" Seymore said. "That being said there will be, and rightfully so, shops that will choose not to carry DC moving forward. Maybe the higher shipping and lower discounts will make products not financially viable for them. Maybe the choice will come from the poor management of this entire debacle by DC."

"As for me, I'm pretty much cutting everything but orders for subscribers and cutting back on the graphic novels I order," said Ray of Baltimore. "This will also reduce the number of graphic novel titles I'm going to regularly restock from DC now too." 

"This is business-side stuff, so hopefully, most readers won't feel the effects of DC's buffoonery," Ray continued. "But it's going to require retailers to spend time unknotting a bunch of orders to make sure the transition is smooth, so readers don't miss any titles and retailers don't accidentally end up with like 100 copies of Metal Men (or any, really)."

"This creates unnecessary stress for retailers at a time when many are struggling just to survive," Ray said. "I would imagine for many, it will engender the same level of hostility toward the company that I feel. How about, instead of creating chaos, DC Comics actually did something for the retailers who have been selling their books? I suppose that's too much to expect."

Freelance Writer

Vaneta has been a freelance writer for Newsarama for over 17 years, covering Marvel and DC, and everything in between. She also works in marketing.