How do comic books arrive on the shelves of your favorite retailer? Do comic elves deliver the singles every week before the dawn rises? Does each company send an unmarked van full of their newest issues to every store in America? No, just like every mass produced piece of ephemera, there’s a distribution model in place for comic books. It turns out that the industry’s sole distributor, Diamond, is incredibly bad for the comic book world.
The dark story of Diamond Distributors begins in 1982, when Steve Geppi began buying up independent comic book distributors, creating a Diamond Distributors monopoly that would eventually end up shaping the comic book industry for decades.
So, why is Diamond Distributors bad? Don’t they help put out comics on a weekly basis? In the grand scheme of things, Diamond is helping everyone in nerd culture get what they want, but it’s never good when one company is allowed to make decisions for an entire business landscape, especially when the nature of that business is changing rapidly thanks to the ever-shifting prospects of digital publishing.
If you’re looking to learn more about how your favorite comics are released upon the world, or if you’re just trying to learn some facts about Diamond Distributors, let's take a deep dive into the surprisingly dark world of comic book distribution. Be warned, you'll probably want to scream into a pillow (or the closest muffling item at your disposal) at least once.
They Make It Impossible To Get An Accurate Read On Their SalesPhoto: Marvel
For some reason, it’s almost impossible to get an accurate count of worldwide comic book sales. You wouldn’t think this would be an issue, since there is essentially one distribution house that calculates orders, files them, and then sends out the product. However, funny book sales numbers are as mysterious as Wolverine’s backstory.
Out of motivations either as Machiavellian as a desire to control which books sell by creating the illusion of higher sales, or as simple as not wanting to let their internal numbers out into the world, Diamond only recently started giving out sales details. They still don’t put out hard numbers, but rather a top 300 list of titles based on the amount of books ordered, instead of the actual number of copies sold in stores.
It would be a little extra work to reach out to clients and find out what sold in which markets each month, but wouldn’t you think that’s exactly what a giant company like Diamond would want to do? Not only would it help them keep track of what’s actually selling, but their clients would probably love getting a little one-on-one time with their distributor.
To make things even more confusing, there’s the question of digital comic sales, which Diamond doesn’t even seem to keep track of. If they do, they aren’t sharing their numbers. Digital sales account for a fraction of tactile sales, but it's another situation where Diamond could turn itself from villain to hero by simply providing some numbers to the people who need them. They could help customers, booksellers, and publishers make more informed decisions about what they respectively purchase and create.
The numbers game Diamond plays isn’t out of the ordinary for the distributor, but it’s still disappointing to know they think they can do whatever they want. That extends to hiding numbers which should be pubic knowledge. Now more than ever, it's important to have transparency in the comic book industry.