How Marvel leaving Diamond for Penguin Random House affects comic book readers

Marvel and Penguin Random House
(Image credit: Marvel / Penguin Random House)

What seemed unimaginable just over one year ago - Diamond Comic Distributors losing its 25+ year near-monopoly on the means of comic book distribution to independent comic book shops (otherwise known as the Direct Market) - has taken another big turn.

Less than a year after DC ended its relationship with Diamond, on March 25 Marvel Comics announced the same - signing a worldwide agreement with book distribution giant Penguin Random House to be its exclusive Direct Market distributor

Diamond's distribution apparatus won't be shuttering. Diamond still serves other publishers, some exclusively, And it can still act as a wholesaler to comic book retailers who choose to get their Marvel comic books through Diamond, who'd now be getting product through Penguin Random House (PRH) rather than Marvel directly. 

And Diamond does seem intent on staying in the Marvel game. But when Marvel and DC were both under the Diamond umbrella, the two publishers made up between what was usually 70 to 80% of the monthly business Diamond reported. So answers to the question about what will be the long-term effects of losing its exclusive Marvel distribution deal on top of its DC deal will likely materialize in exactly the same way - in the long term. 

What Marvel comic book readers might want to know today, however, is will this affect them in any way? 

And that answer is likely "no" for the time being (the new deal doesn't kick in until Marvel titles on sale October 1 and beyond), and even after that, it may be hard for readers to notice any difference. 

Despite being a big sea-change news story when it occurred, the DC switch to Lunar has mostly been a non-public event. If you didn't notice any changes to how you buy your comic book then, you may not notice any changes now. 

What effects readers may or may not see might be dependent upon a certain brand of economic theory - the trickle-down effect. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The experiences of comic book retailers in terms of changes to their wholesale discount rates, on shipping policy, to their customer service experience, could, in theory, be felt by their customers in terms of effects like the number of Marvel items on shelves, how long it takes a retailer to fill an order for a title they don't have in stock, and/or in any discount programs stores offer to customers on the retail level. 

And of course, the general well-being of local comic shops is always a reader issue, if the health of the store is the difference between keeping its doors open or not. 

But again, such questions are likely to be answered months from now at best. 

For the moment, we can only ask retailers what their reactions to and expectations for today's news, and the responses we got back were varied - from concern over Diamond and its founder-head Steve Geppi to concerns about Penguin Random House to optimism about its quality of service. 

"Comic book specialty retailers have proven over the last year how resilient we can be in strange new circumstances. Looks like we're going to have to do it again," says Joe Fields, of Flying Colors in Concord, CA. 

Free Comic Book Day 2021 logo

(Image credit: Diamond Comic Distributors)

As the founder of the annual comic book outreach event Free Comic Book Day, Fields of course worked closely with Diamond on the event and has been historically supportive of the distributor. 

March Nathan, of Cards Comics Collectibles in Reisterstown, MD, also thought of Diamond first and foremost. 

"I'm beside myself," Nathan says. "I just don't know. I've often said I'll probably be the last Diamond customer unless it's Joe Field. I just don't know.

"The question is what happens next? I don't know. I'm more concerned for my friend [Diamond's Steve Geppi] than anything. I'm sure he's been thinking about how he's going to have to change and react. I'm sure he'll be positive. They still have plenty of other stuff to sell."

Mike Banks of Samurai Comics, with four locations in the Phoenix, AZ area, echoes Nathan. 

"First and foremost I'm worried for Diamond," he says. "Despite any issues throughout the year, Diamond has been such a strong partner for retailers, and some great people are working there that I hope aren't impacted by this news."

Banks, however, indicated the industry has been moving beyond the Diamond exclusive era already. 

"Having multiple distribution channels is something we've been transitioning to over the last couple of years," he says. "We already get a large number of books and graphic novels through Penguin.

"Freight costs continue to be a huge concern though as our shipments get split between different fulfillment sources.

"At the end of the day, though, we are in the business of selling comics. When I first started in this biz, it was Friendly Franks and Darcy's Discoveries that we ordered through.

"I went through the Diamond and Capital City days, lived through the [1996] Marvel/Heroes World mess. I'm confident that we will adapt and make whatever changes occur work for us."

Heroes Reborn #1 Artgerm variant cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Patrick Brower of Challengers Comics in Chicago, IL didn't mince words, 

"This spring is going to be real interesting for comics! Not excited for this at all," he tells Newsarama. 

"Cons will be a probably worse discount, and Penguin Random House is bad at protecting books in shipping."

Penguin Random House has made it known that its standard discount rate to retailers is 50% discount off Marvel products, which can be less than the variable-rate discount (based on volume) they receive from Marvel through Diamond. 

But PRH is 'freight inclusive' (i.e. doesn't charge for shipping), whereas Diamond changes for shipping and Newsarama understands retailers may be able to exceed the PRH 50% discount rate, so it's not immediately clear exactly where the math will wind up in terms of favorable wholesale rates to comics shops. 

Brower cited some positives as well.

"Pros are free shipping, and we already use PRH and they did just redesign their online portal to a much friendlier system," he says.

"My questions: Will all Diamond-branded support tools for retailers stop working with Marvel?

"How early will PRH ship new product? We already have to store DC books for up to a week before on-sale, so finding space for Marvel product, which is usually considerably more than DC, will be a challenge.

"Let's face it, there are too many unanswered questions here and it's making my head hurt."

Jean David Michel of Megabrain Comics in Rhinebeck, NY had the most immediate positive reaction. 

"I've definitely got a lot of opinions about this, but my initial and basic reaction is that this is great news," he says. "I'm a big fan of Penguin Random House's operation, customer support, and infrastructure."

"Comic book stores at their core are 'book stores,' so it seems like a no-brainer to have the biggest distributors to book stores also handle distribution to comic stores as well." Michel continues. "We will still use Diamond for a lot of our merchandise and books, but for over a year now, we began to diversify the vendors that we source our comic books and graphic novels from starting with Scholastic, Ingram, and Lunar. In fact, we already have a Penguin Random House account too, so we'll see how things shape up in October and that will determine who we choose to supply us with weekly Marvel Comics.

"I look forward to the inevitable changes that this will bring to the comic book industry as a whole."

Diamond isn't done distributing Marvel comic books yet. Check out all of Marvel's upcoming new comic books going on sale in April 2021, May 2021, and June 2021

I'm not just the Newsarama founder and editor-in-chief, I'm also a reader. And that reference is just a little bit older than the beginning of my Newsarama journey. I founded what would become the comic book news site in 1996, and except for a brief sojourn at Marvel Comics as its marketing and communications manager in 2003, I've been writing about new comic book titles, creative changes, and occasionally offering my perspective on important industry events and developments for the 25 years since. Despite many changes to Newsarama, my passion for the medium of comic books and the characters makes the last quarter-century (it's crazy to see that in writing) time spent doing what I love most.