Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dimaond Changes Policies: Everyone Panic!

Alright, so unless you comic fans have been hiding under a rock this past week, Diamond announced some significant changes to their policies regarding which books they'll agree to distribute. This is significant, of course, because A) Diamond has effectively had a monopoly on comics' distribution for over a decade, and B) their policy changes will impact just about every publisher in some capacity, almost certainly forcing many of them out of business.

Not surprisingly, there's been a bit of an ruckus in the comic community as people are asking, "How can they do this?!?" A smaller handful of people who've been able to remain rational usually respond with, "Diamond is a business, and they have to make decisions based on their financial situation." From there, most of what we're hearing is publishers and creators trying to figure out how they can keep doing what they've been doing without a distributor and still make money.

The problem is, though, that they can't. At least, not using anything resembling the business model that they'd been using. Many, if not most, of the books they were producing were labors of love in the first place and have been barely profitable so far. Unless someone swoops in with gobs of money and, overnight, becomes another major comics distributor with a cheap, dumbfoundingly-easy-to-use ordering system that retailers won't mind ordering books from two different sources, the old way of doing business is dead. I don't think any of the publishers who are really being forced to examine this issue will be able to sustain themselves just by reducing staff or finding a cheaper printer or whatever.

But things aren't all bad, by any means.

Dwight MacPherson has been blogging most of this week about online options. He's garnered a little flack for... well, I'm not sure what exactly. His posts, to my reading, have been a pretty straight-forward assessment of the situation as it stands now, and what avenues smaller folks have before them. I suppose some people are upset because they're devoted to the printed page, and are unwilling/unable to see validity in online storytelling?

He goes into an excellent amount of detail, but I might summarize his approach this way: use as many options as you can that make sense for your material. And isn't that... well... common sense? Doesn't "don't put all your eggs in one basket" sound familiar? About ten years ago, I worked for a company who drew most (something north of 90%) of its revenue from Procter & Gamble. When P&G pulled out, the company went under almost immediately and I lost my job. I've made it a point since then to study a company's revenue stream before accepting a job offer, and I've turned down some otherwise decent jobs precisely because I was uncomfortable with the limited scope of their income.

The comic community has known about this issue for ages. Everything was going through Diamond, and no one (well, very few) bothered to look for alternate avenues of distribution. Maybe it's a little crass or cynical of me to say but, if you haven't looked at options beyond Diamond, I'm not going to cry over your loss. I mean, did anyone not think the findings of the antitrust investigation in 2000 were a load of hogwash?

"Well, of course, you and Dwight are hyping the internet as a solution! You're web guys! You don't understand print!"

Leaving aside the faulty premise of that statement, how about hearing the same thing from someone who's probably more well known for his pamphlet comics? Like, say, Atomic Robo's Brian Clevinger...
Let me put it plainly. The basic model of getting new independent comics into shops is dead.

Oh, it'll do fine for Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and maybe one or two others. But everyone else? Everyone out there working on a new project for publication right now? The old model no longer applies.

While he doesn't get into the specifics that MacPherson does, he asserts the same basic points: use the web and utilize multiple avenues. This coming from a pamphlet guy.

I was blogging just last week that external changes are what often force us to rethink how we've been doing things, and how 2009 is going to be a year of changes. I was speaking then mostly at a personal level, but it certainly applies to businesses as well. MacPherson said, "While some would have you believe that we must simply 'weather the storm,' I submit that the waves we now see are merely a foretaste of the approaching cyclone that will wipe us out unless we choose to be proactive and act now. This is not the time to batten down the hatches, this is the time to turn about and navigate out of the path of the approaching maelstrom," and I couldn't agree with him more.

2 comments:

Matt K said...

I have to admit. The Diamond monopoly has been a ticking bomb for years... (And I always feel kind of bad for Diamond, in a way; did they ask to be the sole distrubtor?)

All in all, this is pretty much a "bang," but it could have been (could be) a "kaboom."

Thus passeth the old way.

MrColinP said...

"The old model no longer applies."

You know what? I'm actually excited about this because the old model did NOTHING FOR ME.