Alternate Distribution Options Intermission

Diamond Sounds Off

Diamond’s Bill Schanes finally offered an explanation for increasing their purchase order benchmark. Of course, they don’t intimate the reason for raising the benchmark by 66.666%. “Times are tough” just doesn’t cut it. Do not expect me to believe that Diamond is losing money. And, if they are, this smacks of a desperate move to avoid bankruptcy.

I Am The Law

Did you read this bit? “So when someone brings a new product to us, we look at previous sales on that same series, or with a like artist, or on a like product, and evaluate if we think the new product will hit that benchmark. If we think we can, then we’ll list them.” Diamond dictates which books get published and which don’t? And before you say “No. Only which books they distribute,” think logically about this. Do you honestly think that–say, Image–will publish a book if Diamond says it won’t distribute it? Diamond has essentially seized power from publishers, dictating what books they can or can’t publish. Name one other industry where a distributor dictates to companies what they can or can’t manufacture? Call me crazy, but isn’t a distributor’s role to–you know–distribute a product? And if the distribution cost isn’t covered, they simply send a bill to the manufacturer. This leaves the manufacturer with two choices: pony up or find another mode of distribution.

Traditional thought says there isn’t another option in the comic book industry because Diamond is a monopoly.

It’s time to retire this antiquated traditional thought and move into the 21st century.

It’s Go Time

Now is the time for small press creators and publishers to step into the digital age and seek alternate distribution options. Will creators wait until Diamond raises the benchmark another 67% or more? It would appear that the direct market is in the final stages of its protracted terminal disease and small press publishers will be the first to die. I know that sounds grim, but it’s better than the “I’m okay, you’re okay” obfuscation tactics we’re seeing now.

What is Success?

Before we delve into alternate distribution options any further, I believe it is vitally important for each creator to define success for him or herself. So what constitutes success in this industry to you?

  • 1. Having your work published by Marvel or DC.
    2. Having your work published by Image.
    3. Having your work appear in Previews magazine and distributed by Diamond.
    4. Having your work read by as many readers as possible.
    5. Turning a profit on your work.
  • If you answered 1: Let’s be realistic here. The probability of having your creator-owned book published by Marvel or DC is just above your chances of metamorphosing into a Palos Verde Blue and winging your way to Never Neverland. If this is what you consider success, forget about creator-owned books (for now) and start writing pitches featuring Marvel’s or DC’s characters and accumulating editors’ e-mail addresses. Or you could become a novelist or screenwriter. Marvel and DC love novelists and screenwriters.

    While this is an excellent goal for a comic book writer or artist, I have to wonder if a true creator could be content to write or draw someone else’s creations exclusively. Yes, I would love to write these iconic characters, but I would never be content as a creator to write them exclusively. Besides creating a plot… how much are most Marvel and DC writers actually allowed to create? And, if you are allowed to create a new character–as Todd McFarnale co-created Venom–do you really want to give your creation away? Ask Alan Moore if he thinks this is a wise idea.

    But I digress.

    If you answered 2: This is a realistic goal. Having done it myself, it is only necessary that you create an entertaining, dynamic property that features a professional, well-told story and fantastic art. Of course… with this new benchmark in place, it may not be so easy. As you may or may not have noticed, most new Image books these days are either written by “Big Name” writers or feature “Big Name” artists. Books created by unknown creators have become the exception rather than the rule in the recent past. But do not give up. If this is your definition of success, be tenacious and professional and diligent. It can be done.

    Of course, you face the very realistic possibility that your book will break even, lose money or be cancelled. It is very important that you grasp this reality before you submit your property to Image–or any other publisher. Sadly, the possibility of turning a profit on your work is not very good. If you need proof, please check out this article on Publishers Weekly if you have not already done so.

    If you answered 3: I have found myself chuckling several times when would-be creators tell me “If I can only get my book in Previews–then I’ll consider myself a pro comic writer/artist.” Seriously? Having your work listed amongst thousands of books makes you a professional? If this is your definition of success, your chances are very high–and I mean like astronomically high. But bear in mind: having your project appear in Previews–even a “front of Previews” publisher–does not ensure that your book will sell well enough to avoid cancellation and may just leave you indebted to the publisher… if Diamond approves the book to begin with.

    Sorry, had to get another jab in there.

    If you answered 4: I must admit that this is one of my definitions of success. As a storyteller first and foremost, I want my work to be seen and read by as many people as possible. That is why I have made my work available in many different formats. If this is your definition of success, I believe it is a very reasonable definition that every creator in a liberal arts medium would agree with.

    If your goal is to support yourself with your work, however, having your work read is simply not enough.

    If you answered 5: Congratulations… you’re a capitalist! In all seriousness, this is the most realistic definition of success. I have heard so many creators say “If I could only make enough money writing/drawing comics to quit my day job, I’d consider myself a successful creator” or something similar. After all… who wouldn’t like to create comics full-time while supporting oneself or one’s family? This–in addition to #4–constitutes my definition of success. If I can have my work seen by many, many people and make a living doing it, I will consider myself a success. I’m almost there, but not quite yet.

    Aim High

    Listen… every human being must have goals. Without goals, you’re basically spinning your wheels in this world. If your definition of success is options 1,2 or 3, I would submit that they should not be the destination, but rather stops along the journey; short-term goals that lead to the accomplishment of your ultimate goal. I encourage you to set short-term goals for yourself. But I would also encourage you to look at the bigger picture and realize that you can accomplish more than you ever dreamed if you refuse to give up. No goal is too lofty if you have the determination, tenacity and skill to accomplish it. I believe President Obama is a wonderful source of inspiration and proof that we can seize the stars if we refuse to stop reaching for them.

    Hasta

    Speaking of short-term goals, I need to leave for class. Thank you for reading, and I hope to “see” you tomorrow. Now… get out there and succeed!

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    9 thoughts on “Alternate Distribution Options Intermission

    1. Very interesting article Dwight,

      Sadly I fear a lot of your predictions are correct.

      I’m working on a mid range book (Tank Girl) and we (Alan and I) are doing all the leg work ourselves.

      It’s frightening the lack of support for creator owned projects.

      We’re going to have to make some brave decisions…

    2. Hey, Rufus! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Well, let’s hope I’m not correct. I love this industry and would HATE to walk into a comic shop and only find two publishers’ books on the shelves. Variety is the spice of life. I only wish mainstream fans would give indie books a chance. If they did, perhaps things would be different.

      But you are correct. Now is the time to make decisions… and it’s gonna take guts, resolve and a pro-active approach to do it.

      Good luck with your book, my friend. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes. 🙂

      -D

    3. sounds Grimm… sorry, couldn’t resist. But the writing is on the wall, by the look of it. Got an immature chuckle out of the fact they abbreviate Bill Schanes name for all but the first answer, so that each response is prefaced by “BS”. There are certain phrases which actually signal BS in progress, like here:

      “NRAMA: In other words, on these lower end books, you were losing money – it was costing you more money to process and distribute them than they were bringing in…

      BS: At the end of the day, once we looked at all our operation costs in handling the books, we believed that – not down to the single penny, but in overview – that they’re an unprofitable line to carry. We felt that was a level of service that we could no longer provide based on the current economics out there that we’re facing now, and look to be facing for the next 12 months or so.”

      “At the End of The Day” is an overused cliche these days & usually signals there’s speculation to follow. It’s a favorite phrase of TV political pundits when they go to sum up their opinions without factual backup. Here, Diamond’s BS confesses that they really haven’t looked at the actual dollars. Isn’t that interesting. ‘Rama asks directly about books costing Diamond money, and all BS can offer is that they “believe” that may be the case going forward… maybe.

      All that’s looking backwards, however. As an up-and-comer myself, I’m hoping for readers (#4) and one day hoping to make a profit (#5). It’s pretty daunting, though, when there are folks I’d considered having “broken” into the industry now facing the specter of being once again outside looking in, so to speak.

      The more I read about Image, and having just seen them have to cancel the “Who Wants To Be A Superheroine” contest-winning book from Tom Arguello (“Incredible Journey”), the more I think I’m glad that Erik Larsen told me “Panthea Obscura” didn’t have commercial potential and sent me on my way… I mean, he may be right, “at the end of the day…” but I’m hoping that’s, well, BS…

    4. BS should be the official spokesman for Diamond–if he’s not already. Because they’re either doing this as a power play or because they are in dire financial crisis. Either way, it does not bode well for creator-owned books.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, my friend!

      -D

    5. Great blog post. I had the privilege of making my comic book debut at Shadowline with New World Order and have to say it was a great experience and I learned about the ‘business” behind comics. I knew pretty much going in that I would probably never make my back money on the project but for me it was about getting my foot in the door. Now I’m just trying to figure out how to keep writing and putting out comics without going bankrupt. It’s not an easy task and I take my hat off to people like Dwight who are taking a chance to self-publish and share their experience with everyone. This whole Diamond thing now makes it even harder for guys like me to go pitch a book to Image or any other publisher now. Digital distribution and self publishing is looking mighty attractive now that there’s print-on-demand services widely available.

    6. Hey, man! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      You’re exactly right. There HAS to be some kind of pay off for all the hard work. It’s not fair to tell a creative team “Well, we broke even. Thanks a lot.” It’s impossible to pay bills with a thank you card.

      So yeah… check out my ideas, do some investigating, formulate a plan and start experimenting. It’s the only way to determine what will work for you.

      -D

    7. Rather nice entry, definitely useful information. Never thought I would find the information I want in this article. I have been hunting everywhere in the web for a while now and had been starting to get disappointed. Thankfully, I happened onto your site and got precisely what I was browsing for.

    8. Thanks for reading, Shanae! I’m glad my blog has been useful to you. Now go forth and publish. 🙂

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