The Death of Claypool

By | Tuesday, August 01, 2006 Leave a Comment
There was an announcement late yesterday that Claypool Comics will be ceasing their print operations. I haven't seen too much reporting on this yet -- mostly just reprints of their press release -- but this I think definitively shows that Diamond Distributors is indeed a monopoly.

In 1997, the Department of Justice began an antitrust investigation of the comic book industry, but the suit was dropped in 2000. The ultimate finding was that Diamond was simply a magazine distributor and they're just silly comic books anyway. (Although, to be fair, I don't think the actual DOJ wording was quite so blatantly dismissive.)

But it seems to me that any distributor that can dictate the terms of a producer's business so decisively has more power than they ought to. Yes, Diamond should have the ability to refuse to distribute Claypool's titles, but that that decision would effectively eliminate the possibility of Claypool continuing business operations at all with no viable alternative constitutes a near-monopoly. Where can Claypool go for comic distribution, if not Diamond? Sure, there's Cold Cut and and a couple of other small places, but how many comic shops use them? Even if a publisher doesn't have an exclusive contract with Diamond, and another distributor offers a better deal than Diamond, most retailers are still going to order expressly from Diamond. Why? Because Diamond carries Marvel and DC, which constitutes the bulk of their ordering. So why go through the hassle of a second distributor to save ten or fifteen cents on a comic that probably won't sell more than a few copies anyway? It's infinitely easier to simply tick a couple more boxes in Diamond's checklist as you're ordering Amazing Spider-Man and Batman than it would be to fill out a completely new set of forms for someone else. Unless, as a retailer, you've got a phenomonally huge client base (which I suspect only applies to less than a handful of retailers) or you deal almost exclusively with titles OTHER than what Marvel and DC are printing (in which case, you're probably not a comics retailer primarily), it doesn't make financial sense to use anyone but Diamond.

Yes, I realize Diamond is not running Claypool out of business entirely. I also recognize that Diamond generally works for their clients' best interests, and they are -- comparitively speaking -- an altrusitic company. We're not talking the evils of Wal-Mart here. But I do think that competition fosters benefits for everyone across the board, and everyone in the industry -- from publishers to fans to retailers to distributors -- isn't getting as good a deal as they could get if some competition were around to heat things up.
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