A couple of weeks ago, Trustbridge Global Media bought small British publishers Walker Books, which also owns Candlewick Press, which is based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It didn't get a lot of press at the time, there were a few other things going on. Trustbridge said they were planning no changes to how Walker Books operated. I will keep an eye out the next time I cycle past their Vauxhall offices, but I won't expect to see star-spangled banners sticking out of the windows any times soon. But the companies stated that the deal had been done before the current upheaval, and under the same economic terms as formerly agreed.
This was something they were especially keen to emphasise as Trustbridge is a Chinese-funded publisher buying up American and British book publishers, including Holiday House and Peachtree Press, forming the New York-based Pixel+Ink imprint in March last year, including a line of kids-focused graphic novels. There is a suspicion by some that the current global situation is giving some companies 0- indeed, countries – an unparalleled opportunity to buy up other companies cheap as chips. Whether that's because there is a lowering of the company's value, or even that they are going out of business. Entertainment companies are seen as easy pickings – and especially comic book publishers.
I am aware that there are high-level discussions all over the place right now over which comic book publisher may buy another. Some are seen as more vulnerable right now, such as IDW, Valiant, Aspen and many more. Those with big-name financial muscle behind them such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse Oni and Boom are seen as safe – whether that is true or not. But there is also the idea that they could also be in the market to buy themselves.
But what would one get for one's money? Most comics publishers used to have value in their intellectual properties, but these days most new, successful IP is owned by the creators. Publishers have enviable licenses for some properties, but those licenses are time-limited. In some cases, what may be bought is company goodwill and brand name equity. There is also the fear that any such purchased publisher may be stripped of what IP and licenses it has, absorbed into the main publisher, with offices and personnel dropped.
There continue to be discussions regarding one comic book store doing deals with other stores to create a chain. Rather than the acquisition-frenzy that I had previously heard, this seems to be more of an attempt to create a large group of co-branded stores, franchising out the IP of the name from city to city to city, like Forbidden Planet has in the UK. In the process, creating a retail chain with considerably more negotiating power than anyone else right now – even DCBS and Midtown. But it may need the placating of many retailer egos to work out. This would be an inside job rather than someone coming from the outside, because pandemic or no, the people who really value comic book stores are the people who go to them. That kin of passion is hard to quantify, especially coming out of a forced absence.
Until we have a vaccine, if we even get one, retail behaviour is going to have to change. The entire comic book store vibe may have to change as social distancing continues. A percentage of former regular customers and collectors will drop comics entirely because of the break. The industry is already planning some massive moves to get their attention and bring them back, but some will inevitably be lost. In the process, familiar names will disappear, or be reintegrated into others. And from all of this chaos, something new.