Why the direct market monopoly has damaged comics

Back in the 1980s the comic book direct market was seen as a saviour of the industry. Comics were struggling to compete with this new thing called video games and shipping comics directly to comic shops seemed liked the best way forward. I explain here more about the history of the direct market to give you an idea of what it is but basically it is the one thing most responsible for how the comics industry looks like here in 2019.

And it is probably one of the major reasons why the industry today is so damaged.

To explain; the direct market today is run by a monopoly. I‘ve explained this and the history of it before, including my own wee part in shaping the industry back in the 80s so if you want the full story regards the below image, click on the link.

neptune-conflict-of-interest

I write this as we’re at a time when comics are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Spider-Man was the subject of a recent big story but few media outlets spoke about the comics because why should they? The characters and ideas have been absorbed into the mainstream but they didn’t bring comics with them. Comic conventions are held over the world every single week with very, very tenuous connections to comics and shops are opened up by people who see comics as a sideline to Funko Pops or games. Yet none of this bubble would have existed without comics.

And again, we can look at the direct market for part of the reason. Monopolies are not good so Diamond have a clear shot at goal but they miss because the industry is unable to move to cope with change because a monopoly is a juggernaut. Shops have product pushed upon them, and Diamond’s rules over minium orders affects publishers and retailers so¬† if you ever wonder why variant covers are still a thing, it’s because publishers use them to hit thresholds that mean Diamond can list them which in turn means dealers take punts on unseen titles that means dealers run a gamble on every order.

Seeing as dealers have to order months in advance and there’s no sale or return because this is the direct market, not the newsagent industry, means this locks dealers into a Kafkaesque hellscape every month with the Diamond order form turns up trying to work out what covers will sell, and what won’t.

The obvious solution is to open up the market and create competition, but this isn’t the 80s and the Big Two, Marvel and DC, aren’t going to use anyone else so the fact is we’re in a massive comics bubble where what was designed to see the industry free from the shackles of distribution has instead locked us into an ongoing battle for survival. My solution would be for regulators to break the monopoly but that’s been tried both sides of the Atlantic and shot down, so I know no other industry where a single company controls all the market and is even tolerated by some.

Which means we’re not screwed but if you wonder why the industry is loaded with comics that are all sort of the same, or why shops are often parades of products that range from the quality to the tacky or why comics aren’t punching their weight, then look at the industry at the top and you’ll find the answer.

Though this doesn’t let shops off the hook. More of that another time.