Thursday, April 30, 2020

25 years ago this week: The DC/Diamond distribution deal announced

by John Jackson Miller

Described to the world in great detail by a leaked memo published by Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics in The Comics Journal, news of Diamond Comic Distributors' exclusive deal with DC Comics was officially announced on Friday,  April 28, 1995 — which brought reaction immediately from Diamond's rival Capital City in the form of a lawsuit.

Capital City's trade show in Chicago, which I attended, was about to get under way when the announcement was released. It had already sued in Wisconsin court under the state's Fair Dealership Law to keep Marvel from taking its sales exclusive with Heroes World. (That case resulted in Marvel settling with Capital for undisclosed terms; the DC suit would result in Capital getting two extra months' worth of DC comics.) Capital's cofounder Milton Griepp made the news the focus of his "State of the Industry" speech two days after the announcement (and 25 years ago today) at the trade show.

My below piece from Comics Retailer #40 (July 1995) covers that event, and summarizes some of the events surrounding the move in the month that followed. We'd used a "The Old Order Changeth" logo the month before for the news of Marvel going exclusive with Heroes World; we quickly made a new one for the latest events. Click to enlarge:

With DC adding alternate distributors to its mix in response to the Coronavirus epidemic and its impact on distribution, the passage of the 25th anniversary does recall of those days.

It was clear to most in the industry even at the time that DC had been forced by its corporate leadership into a countermove by Marvel going exclusive with Heroes World, earlier in the spring. It was something we could tell would be immediately disruptive to the business — though as time went on, we realized that DC's Paul Levitz had lobbied for the Diamond solution in order to prevent parent company Warner from going with a solution outside the comics industry: most likely, shifting comics distribution to Warner Publishing Services, which it used to send magazines to newsstands. It's a safe bet that no outside firm would have been able to quickly adapt to the intricacies of the comics business. (WPS is now long gone.) The year that followed was extremely eventful, with stability only returning in April 1997 after all the business had consolidated behind Diamond.

On Tuesday,  the anniversary of the DC/Diamond announcement, in a very informative colloquium with Diamond founder Steve Geppi, hosted by Dan Shahin. And note one of the questioners was Brian Hibbs, whose column on the original pact ran later in that same Comics Retailer issue, along with one by Bruce Costa, who's also turned up in Facebook discussions of those events. Reynolds, who published the original 1995 memo, has also weighed in online.

Definitely brings back memories; likely more to be written here of those past events in the months to follow!

Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 years, including a decade editing the industry's retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises.

He is the author of novels including 
Star Wars: KenobiStar Wars: A New DawnStar Trek: Discovery - The Enterprise War, and his July release, Star Trek: Discovery - Die StandingRead more about them at his fiction site.

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