Yesterday, I touted the seemingly positive direction that Haven Distributors are taking and how they have a shot at success. The folks at ComixTalk felt I was a bit overly optimistic. They're absolutely right that I haven't seen Haven's business plan or any of the financials and, as I noted originally, there's some factors well beyond their control that aren't helping. And all of those things suggest that Haven isn't going to do any better than Cold Cut. But the reason why I figure Haven has a chance is because Diamond doesn't.
Diamond is a huge corporation. I mean, they'd have to be to be able to ship north of 6 million comic books every month. That's $30+ million in revenue. Every month. To facilitate that kind of operation, you needs lots and lots of infrastructure. Lots of warehouse space, lots of truck drivers, lots of packing material, lots of middle managers... I offer no commentary on that, I just want to make sure everyone knows that they need a lot of resources to move that volume of material around on an ongoing basis.
It should come as no surprise that DC and Marvel combined constitute over 90% of the material Diamond ships. Look at the numbers if you don't think it's that high...(Chart unceremoniously swiped from The Comics Chronicles.)
So, what happens to Diamond if Marvel and DC go away? If Diamond lost that much business within, say, a twelve month timeframe, they'd either have to close shop entirely or dramatically alter their operations with tons of layoffs and warehouse closures and whatnot. You can't lose over 90% of your business and continue operating as normal. There'd be lots of chaos and confusion within and around Diamond, in which case Haven would be ideally situated to step up to the plate and help all the worried comic retailers who don't know whether or not Diamond even got the order they placed, much less will be able to fulfill it.
"But," you say, "DC and Marvel aren't just going to 'go away'."
Well, not as companies, no. But consider what's been going on. Almost every year since Marvel emerged from bankruptcy, they've gotten a larger and larger share of their income from venues outside comic books. Within digging around for specific numbers, I want to say comic book publishing only accounts for around 20% of their revenue these days. That trend is likely going to continue and the higher-ups at Marvel are eventually going to start thinking that they shouldn't bother publishing comics since they get so much more income from movies and licensing deals. Now, I'm not about to suggest that Marvel is going to discontinue comics entirely, but I suspect that the pamphlet books they produce will get trimmed back over the next 5-10 years. Do they go more towards graphic novels to cater to the wait-for-the-trade crowd, or do they go full-on digital subscriptions, or what, I don't know. But I can't forsee them continuing to produce comics in the way they have been over the past decade.
Maybe Marvel doesn't 'go away' entirely, but I suspect their revenue stream from the direct market (i.e. Diamond) is going to diminish perceptibly.
What about DC? I can't see things remaining the way they are, but I have more trouble seeing how they're going to change. Their foray into digital publisher, Zuda Comics, has been successful in its own right, but there's so far been a very clear distinction drawn between Zuda and the DC properties that are more widely known -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. Their trade paperback program seems very successful and prevalent in the more traditional bookstore market, so it's possible that might be ramped up even more. Their Vertigo line, in particular, has even been a leader (of sorts) in the direct-to-trade graphic novels, so it's possible that might be expanded to include DC's more "mainstream" characters.
Here again, I don't see DC just disappearing off the face of the earth, but all the realistic options I forsee for them involve decreased involvement with the direct market.
If/when Marvel and DC cut back -- and I suspect they'll do so more-or-less simultaneously, since they've historically made significant changes roughly in tandem -- that will absolutely kill a good number of retailers. And it will absolutely cause all sorts of headaches and ulcers for all those working in the comic industry. But it won't kill all the retailers, and there will continue to be SOME market for pamphlet comics. Just like there is, despite the anecdote, a market for buggy whips. (It's an obscenely small market compared to once-upon-a-time, but it's still there.) But Diamond is set up and established to run a large scale operation, and is far too massive to survive such a change. At least not in a recognizable form. Haven, with all of six employees, has a better ability to make whatever changes are necessary to flow with changing market conditions.
I don't wish the folks at Diamond ill will, by any means! I'm sure the vast majority of them are good people who love comics and are just trying to make a living. But I see BIG changes on the horizon, and I think Diamond is just too big and too reliant on too few publishers to really be able to survive the seismic shift that's coming.
Let me throw out one more thing. I stumbled across this post earlier today. A former comic fan who dropped out of comics back in the mid-1990s and hasn't bought comics since. And says he'll only come back if/when comics are offered in digital form for a buck or two apiece. (I presume he's talking about "mainstream" comics, since he notes that he loved those characters and, even when this was posted, there were any number of digital comics available for free online.)
I point that out because people still want comics. Even the ones who haven't bought them for years. But they're looking for comics in a different way than has been established for the past couple decades. Personally, I think digital is the way to go, but I'm realistic enough to realize that it won't be fully embraced for at least a generation. But a shift -- even if it's to something OTHER than digital -- is coming. The audience is there; they're just waiting for the right venue. I don't think Diamond is, as a company, nible enough to catch that wave when it really starts to take shape, and that's why I'm optimistic about Haven.