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Alternative Means of Distribution

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As more small publishers are left behind by Diamond’s new benchmark, other forms of distribution are looking to pick up the slack.

As I noted in my last column, I’ve found myself in the same unfortunate position as many small publishers now that the trade paperback for my comic series Adrenaline has been excluded from the industry’s predominant means of distribution.

By this, I mean that it didn’t meet Diamond’s new benchmark, had its orders canceled and will no longer be solicited. And since this is a problem I don’t anticipate getting any better either for myself or many future indie creators, I decided it was time to look into any alternative means of distribution that might be taking shape in today’s marketplace.

The biggest contender seems to be the newly formed Haven Distribution. They’ve labeled themselves as “Your Home for Quality Independents” and seem to be looking to gain momentum by picking up the indie titles that Diamond has left behind. I’ve looked into getting Adrenaline distributed by them and they said they’d be interested in taking a small order on consignment. And before you start thinking that consignment isn’t a good deal, keep in mind that Diamond only buys comics from publishers after they get the orders and payments from the retailers, so the fact that Haven will actually stock the book in advance puts a little more onus on them to push the product.

My biggest concern with Haven is that Diamond has already taken steps to keep them from gaining too much ground by signing Fantagraphics Books to an exclusive contract. I found this news fairly disappointing as Fantagraphics used to distribute themselves, which really took a bold stand for independent comics and retailers. And of course it leaves “the home for quality independents” without one of the most respected and longest running independent comic publishers.

Then next option out there is The Big Kahuna, the new distribution operation by the comic publisher Slave Labor Graphics. Their tagline is “The Dude Abides,” a line from the Cohen Brothers’ movie, The Big Lebowski. I’m not sure what this has to do with distributing comics; maybe that they’ll “abide” by selling smaller indies that Diamond won’t.

What I like about Slave Labor’s approach is that they’re attempting to fill in the void left by Fantagraphics by distributing themselves, and they’re willing to take a few other small press comics with them. This should improve their chances of getting retailers to order through them if they don’t feel as if they’ll have to deal with a new distributor for every small publisher, but I still don’t see The Big Kahuna being much more than a small wake in the distribution pool.

If a publisher wanted to go the self-distribution route, they’d probably be better off taking a more grass roots approach by going around to stores themselves and trying to establish a personal connection with stores willing to support them. And this isn’t limited to just physical stores. I struck up a deal with the online retailer Discount Comic Book Services where they will continue to list my book and buy directly from me.

Something else to consider once a publisher reaches the conclusion that a large print run isn’t such a good idea is print-on-demand. Both Comixpress and Ka-blam have started their own distribution systems where retailers will be able to order comics directly from them. In this scenario, publishers would only need to print up enough comics to fill these orders. The cost per issue is significantly higher this way, but it saves them the cost of paying for a large print run in advance. And if the book is black and white, it’s still possible to make a decent profit off the wholesale price, but I wouldn’t recommend this with color comics.

Now all of these options still leave us with one problem: if retailers didn’t order enough copies to meet Diamond’s benchmark to begin with, how is going with any of these other options going to change anything?

From the lessons I learned and wrote about in last week’s column, it’s now clear to me that in order to get retailers to order a comic or graphic novel, the publisher and/or creator has to build their audience themselves. The best way to do this is online. However, the conundrum of the situation, as I presented, is that if the publisher or creator is going to go to all the effort to build an online fanbase, wouldn’t it be easier to sell directly to them online as well rather than sending them out to retailer with specific instruction on how to pre-order and pay for the comic?

For this reason, I’ve also been looking into having my comics distributed by online retailers of digital comics. There are a number of these popping up; I’m going to try a bunch and see which systems work the best. The winner, I suspect, will be the company that comes up with the program that allows consumers to read their comics on any internet capable device (desktop, phone, tablet, whatever their preference) rather than having to buy device-specific digital files.

My only recommendation here would be to make sure the contracts aren’t exclusive or involve an upfront payment. None of the ones I’ve been signing up with require this, and that includes iVerse, Comixology, Comic Works, and Comics XP.

It could end up that many of these new distribution alternatives turn out to be successful, or it could just be a select few. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how things work out for me right here at Delusions of Grandeur.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 14, 2009 at 9:12am

    Depressing yet informative. 'Diamond Comics is watching you, better behave or we won't distribute your comic!' I was also let down by Fantagraphics' exclusion decision. Keep us posted, man. Very good column.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 15, 2009 at 8:10am

    Yes excellent column again. Diamond's minimums... hmph don't get me started! :(

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