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Dawn of the Diamond Exclusive Era

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The direct market for comic book sales began the most tumultuous period in its history the last week of 1994 when Marvel Entertainment announced its purchase of Heroes World Distribution, then the third largest distributor for comic books in North America. It did not announce then that Heroes World would be taking over Marvel's distribution — though it was assumed by most, and indeed in July 1995, direct-market retailers couldn't get Marvels from Diamond Comic Distributors any more. The same was true for the other remaining distributors; Capital City sued under a Wisconsin law and received a cash settlement, but not the right to continue carrying the comics. With their largest supplier unavailable — and other publishers signing their own exclusive deals — those distributors went away one by one, leaving only Diamond.

In the meantime, Marvel had found Heroes World's logistical and customer service systems severely tested by the sudden demands on them — going from serving a small percentage of stores to essentially all of them. With Diamond available as an alternative serving all the customers Marvel wanted to reach, new management at Marvel announced that in April 1997, Diamond would become the exclusive supplier for Marvels to the direct market. The Exclusivity Wars had ended; the Diamond Exclusive Era, which had begun in 1995 for DC, Image, Dark Horse, Acclaim and others, had begun for Marvel, as well.

That's a very short history of the mid-1990s in comics — and it sets the stage for the charts just posted here for the first full quarter of Marvel's return to Diamond, beginning with April 1997. My previous records fused Heroes World and Diamond reports; from here on out, the reports were just Diamond. The reader will notice that these are preorders only — and that the market shares of the time were of preorders, not actual orders. That would come later.

The trade paperbacks reported by Diamond, just a Top 10 list, were not indexed. (There are no trades or market shares listed for June 1997 yet — they'll be added when I locate the material. It's around the office somewhere...) At the time, it wasn't entirely clear what Diamond regarded as a trade paperback from month to month; often, anything at a $4.99 price point or above seemed to make the list. Gladstone had gone to giant issues of the Disney titles at this time, and we sometimes saw them bounce from the Top 300 list to the trades list; so, too, did some of the Image "collected editions" (which were really more like double-or-triple sized comics rather than permanent-stock items).

Some interesting things in this period, such as Marvel's Flashback Month with all the "-1" issues; the curses flew then at the price guide I was with. The databases of 1997 were not happy. Round II of Amalgam is in April. And the "Heroes Reborn" universe entered its lame-duck phase somewhere in here, with "Heroes Return" (and yet another round of series renumbering, speaking of archivist headaches) around the corner.

More to come, as we whittle away at posting the remaining material...

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