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SCOOP: Diamond To Launch Digital Comics Distribution Service Through Comic Stores

SCOOP: Diamond To Launch Digital Comics Distribution Service Through Comic StoresBleeding Cool has learnt that there is a document from Diamond Comics Distributors being sent to comics publishers. It addresses a new digital distribution service for comic books from this long standing print comics distribution company.

The proposal is still in the early stages, and Diamond have a lot of people to talk to, from publishers to comic stores. But it looks like it is really happening. However, I knew little else, and I didn't know if Diamond were going to cut out the comics store, as so many other digital delivery systems have.

Not a chance. When contacted, Diamond representatives told me;

Diamond Comic Distributors has been working on a digital program which will be entirely focused on driving sales of Digital comic related content through brick and mortar comic book specialty retailers.

We anticipate making an announcement in the near future. Diamond doesn't sell direct to consumers – as we've always preferred to drive sales through the comic book specialty retailer, who so loyally supports our suppliers, publishers and Diamond.

I talked to a number of existing comic book retailers to get their reaction to the news. Andrew Neal of Chapel Hill Comics writes;

There are a million questions which would have to be addressed before anyone reasonable could form an opinion about this. Here are some of them:

What publishers will be participating?
What titles will be available?
What will the price points be?
Will there be a physical component to the transaction?
If so, what will it be?
Will there be any kind of cash outlay for a brick and mortar retailer who wants to participate?

And maybe most importantly:

If the titles available through Diamond's digital comic service are also available digitally elsewhere, what will be different about Diamond's service that makes it worth it for consumers to go into a brick and mortar store to buy their digital comics instead of downloading them at home?

I have nothing against carrying a product my customers want if I can do it in such a way that it benefits me. There's absolutely nothing here which addresses whether this is something my customers want or whether it'll be worth it for me to participate.

Peter Dolan of Main Street Comics;

Interesting news. I look forward to seeing what they have planned. When more information is available on the program, we'll evaluate it like we do any new product line.

Cliff Biggers of Dr No's;

I welcome and applaud any digital program that recognizes the value of the brick and mortar comic shop and the importance of the comics reading community. I do not believe the medium could currently succeed without a backbone of profitable comic shops, and I am quite pleased that Diamond remains so strongly devoted to this

Anna Warren Cebrian of Illusive Comics & Games

I don't forsee this changing how we do business, too much. This is another avenue to obtain a product that is increasingly gaining traction in the Comic Book Market as more and more publishers release their comics digitally. With Diamond on board, this will, hopefully, allow Retailers to retain some of the sales/profits that are being lost to other digital comic outlets.

The only way I see this regularly affecting our work is that it will allow us to better adjust our FOC, because if we have X number of Subscribers now getting a comic digitally, they'll tell us instead of hiding it for fear of hurting our feelings that they are getting their comic elsewhere, and we can order less, thereby losing less money on product that will go stale.

Smart retailers will edit their websites and e-Newsletters so that customers can buy these digital comics through the store websites, and/or create in-store Kiosks for customers to use for browsing.

For stores that are ahead of their competitors with such websites and e-Newsletters, they might actually be able to grow their businesses.

The question is- will the prices be alterable or will they be set? If a retailer can have a sale on these digital comics, customers across the country/world will possibly flock to he or she who sells them cheapest, since distance will not be a concern.

This is less surprising information, as much as helpful, in my opinion. At least we'll be able to sell the same product to our customers without having to give their information to a third party, like Marvel, and potentially have that third party market directly to our customers without our knowledge.

Jeremy of Titan Comics says;

Digital comics are coming, its paced either like a freight train or a glacier, depending on who you speak with. I can't imaging that Diamond would NOT like to be a part of the distribution of digital comics. However, how on earth do you put yourself in charge of this? I guess they would be the portal through which people legally purchased their downloads and charge accordingly.

As for what that means for me, the brick and mortar store, I can only imagine a trailing off of my comic book revenues as print moved to digital. Kind of like what's already been happening. However, its my opinion that there is enough residual demand for paper in the industry that comic book stores will still be a viable option for more than a few years to come. When the store is operated in an intelligent manner.

I'm very unclear how Diamond would help me as a retailer sell digital comics. Feel free to elaborate on that one!

Gary Loring of Gary's Comics & More wrote

IF this is true, then it's also very early in the situation.

Speaking as a businessman, I'll do what serves my customers. I've not had a bad opinion of digital comics, other than the obvious piracy problems. I've taken a wait-and-see attitude, and I'm not had anything sway my opinion one way or another yet.

Would I like to be involved in the brick-and-mortar style distribution of digital comics? Yes. If it works, and my customers are served, then great. If it doesn't work, then we'll need to know that also.

As far as Diamond doing the distribution… I question why any publisher would do that. Diamond is a "middle-man" between the publisher and the consumer.

Rick Shea of Famous Faces & Funnies;

I'm glad that Diamond is going to include retailers in their plans for digital distribution. I think the $3.99 pricetag for standard sized comics is a lot more likely to damage the industry than digital distribution.

It was only a matter of time until Diamond set up a system for digital distribution, and I'm glad that they're going to involve comic stores in the equation unlike all the other forms of digital distribution available so far. Diamond catches unfair static from some retailers, but they've always done right by me and my store. I don't think Diamond would do anything to damage the strong relationship they've built up with retailers over the years. Without brick and mortar stores staying in business, Diamond won't have any customers to sell comics to. So if Diamond has come up with a new system to sell digital comics through our stores, I'm certainly willing to get involved and at least try it, to see where we go from here.

I think there's a lot of fear that digital distribution will cause the death of the printed comics industry and I don't see that happening anytime soon. I think great stores will continue to create a community where people are happy to race to their store every Wednesday not just to buy their comics, but also to interact with the employees and other customers, something you're not going to get through digital distribution. I've made countless friends through the store over the years, and our customers are pretty thankful for our store. While I'm sure I've lost a few customers here and there to digital distribution, legal or otherwise,

Steve of Third Eye;

This is exciting news. While I feel that nothing can ever reproduce or replace the experience and aesthetic of an actual physical comic, or graphic novel, I do appreciate the fact that Diamond is making plans to incorporate this new format into direct market retailers' product mix. I feel that anything that can bring in more readers to stores, and broaden the audience as a whole, is a very good thing.

Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics;

Everyone else is jumping in the pool, so it makes sense that Diamond would want to jump in, too. As the central major hub for English-language comics, this is at once both a way to protect whatever sales Diamond can while also continuing the company's commitment to best serving its retailer customers.

All things digital seem to be getting the huge headlines, but I think there's another story worth telling. That is the story of the resilience of those working in the comics specialty market, especially in the distribution and retail sectors. Digital sales saw huge growth in the last year and will continue to see more growth. When we look at the numbers, though, the size of the comics market in North America is estimated to be $600 million, while digital comics, even with a growth rate of 500% or more in the last year, still represents maybe $10 million in total sales.

It's all fun with numbers, isn't it? Sure, the Digital Age is upon us, but just like the Mass Market Bookstore Age before it, comic specialty stores are still the core of all comic sales. The massive moves to bookstores didn't kill comic shops and all the headlines and romanticism attached to the digital market won't kill the comics specialty market, either. I still believe there is room for another 1000 comic book specialty stores in North America, provided they are well-capitalized and located to create their own market, rather than siphoning an existing market.

All that said, good for Diamond!

David Wheeler of Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy

I think that Diamond's desire to include retailers in this program is very forward thinking. It shows a dedication to their existing customer base that I think is very laudable and more likely to garner retailer support than some of the other programs that have been rolled out have.

The devil will be in the details, of course, but anything that drives customers into retail stores is likely to offer retailers, and by extension Diamond, the opportunity to sell ancillary items such as t-shirts, posters and other "hard" items that cannot be delivered electronically to those customers who want digital comics. Comic shops also offer their customers and publishers a greater chance to move into other new titles. It is easy for someone to pick up a give comic that they already know about digitally, but it is easier to browse a comic book store and be intrigued by something that you can flip through rather than scanning something new online.

Some publishers seem surprised and upset that bricks and mortar retailers have not jumped to embrace digital comics. They seem to think that retailers should give up contact information and relationships that they have spent decades building for vague promises of future earnings. Retailers know that digital comics offer us all the opportunity to have a larger pie to draw from by exposing more people to comic books. Retailers can be an effective part of this process if they are included in a meaningful way and see an opportunity for meaningful revenues. Diamond's initiative to involve retailers in this process, and potential to share revenues in a meaningful way with both with them and publishers, may be the route most likely to garner retailer support. Time and the details of the program will tell.

Tim Stolzfus of More Fun Comics;

We're excited to hear that Diamond is pursuing ways to keep the direct market at the forefront of popular culture! Obviously there's a bunch of details yet to be examined here, but we're definitely interested. It only makes sense to figure out a way to add digital comic offerings to the wide variety of products we already carry in our stores. I hope to see more details soon.

Ed Greenberg of Collector's Paradise;

I believe that the digital comic book market is, for the most part, a different stream of consumers from the traditional brick-and-mortar consumer base. If that is the case, an addition of a possibility of us being able to monetize some part of that stream is a welcome one. Everything depends on whether Diamond's digital program will focus on using our stores to sell to the already-digital consumers, or on trying to convert our existing customers to the new digital model. The former will get us more customers, while the latter will either cost us customers, or in the most optimistic view, be a wash.

Phil Boyle of Coliseum Of Comics:

"Diamond has always been diligent in their support of brick and mortar retailers so it doesn't come as a huge surprise that their focus on the inevitable digital distribution would include retailers. As with all steps into the digital model, everyone is trying to see what will work and how to actually profit from something that until now has been free."

Robert Scott of Comickaze;

Sounds like a potentially exciting and intelligent idea.

To date, nobody has created a digital delivery program that is additive to sales, instead being satisfied to continue with business as usual and seeing comic consumers merely buying from a different channel. Unfortunately companies who have done poor jobs winning over motivated comic consumers with their wares are finding that moving to the internet has made it even harder to compete adding millions of competitors for the entertainment dollar.

Which is a shame because although comics in general suffer from under exposure, films like Watchmen, Scott Pilgrim, Hellboy, League of Extraordinary and Sin City have shown us that when the media spotlight is focused on comic derived properties, the public at large is more than willing to buy the source material, in print and from comic book shops.

Creating a system that would provide the opportunity to purchase comic material in any format via Direct Market retailers could be a brilliant first step to additive sales and market growth. The ability to actually see hundreds of titles in person, discuss with fans and/or employees which other books they might enjoy are things not best done digitally, at least not yet.

Enabling specialty retailers, the free sales force available to all publishers, an opportunity to to sell digital versions as well as print versions and continue introducing the public to work both new and classic is what may possibly save the industry as a commercial venture.

Everyone points to iTunes as a model to emulate for comic sales but they fail to understand that there's a reason why Apple Store's (and now Microsoft Stores) exist. All Apple sales could be easily done online but there is something special about physically holding an item, trying it out and talking to the folks at the Genius Bar.

So if Apple thinks that 100's of specialty stores are going to give them the best ability to maximize their ability to meet the needs of consumers, maybe it's time for publishers and distirbutors to grasp that concept as well.

At first blush, Diamond would seem best positioned for this transition based on their vendor relationships but I do have reservations about their ability to work with the technology, having had to deal with their archaic retailer website and POS software and their need to maintain legacy systems and support users with older operating systems.

If however, they can partner with a dedicated digital media specialist, I think the sky is the limit and there will be a huge upside for all comic publishers, especially those struggling to meet the current Diamond benchmarks.

Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience;

Without a great deal more details, it's pretty impossible to fairly comment on this story. "Who is involved?" "How will it work?" and so on. All far too nebulous now, Rich.

As a matter of principle, I think its smart business to direct people who are checking out comics digitally that there are stores that are packed to the walls with more and more of those wonderful objects. And print is a remarkably profitable format for many many creators and publishers (not to mention Diamond!), so trying to preserve and grow those profits, while at the same time trying to find the size and shape of the digital market, is just good sense.

My one immediate question would be is if this is something that Diamond is doing in-house, or with outside partnership? Technologically speaking, Diamond is not the most nimble company in the world. Another question might be if this inferred digital distribution comes with guaranteed print stock-on-hand for reorders for participating publishers, as many salable books aren't, y'know, actually in-stock at Diamond when retailers want to buy them.

Overall I think Diamond is a pretty good partner for the DM, so if they can craft a program that helps creators, publishers, and retailers as well as themselves, and sells more comics for everyone, then my default position would have to be "cautiously optimistic".

Scott Proulx of Double Midnight Comics

At Double Midnight Comics, we are have seen more people try new books based on what they have read digitally than those who have said they are going away from hardcopies of comics. We appreciate that Diamond would work with their brick & mortar partners than just cut out the middle man, we would like to see just what Diamond has planned. As long as they push the Comic Shop Locator Service to direct customers to the nearest shop, we can work our magic to show them that we offer more than just comics, we offer an experience. A small percentage of our customers come in, grab their books and leave. Many stop to chat about more than comics, they'll take the time to show pictures of their kids, talk video games & TV and more.

Things are changing, but the sky isn't falling.

Thomas Levy, Effin Comics

I am flabbergasted by this story.

I don't know whether to be angry or have pity on Diamond's attempt to be relevant in the the digital age.

Like most brick and mortar comic retailers, I want to resist the drive towards digital comics.  Likely, many retailers will become extinct without weekly product to sell.  In the alternative, we could possibly drastically alter our business models and become comic book-stores instead of comic-book stores.  I foresee a future with new issues released digitally, and then printed only as trades, hence the "books" to sell in stores.  Hopefully, the big box book chains (who have their own struggles presently) will not corner than aspect of the market from us.

Problems for retailers obviously translate into problems for Diamond.  If they have no physical product to sell, then what use will the publishers have for a distributor?  So, Diamond is cooking up a scheme to sell what? Digital futures?  Gift cards or some such purchased at stores and then keyed in online?  I cannot foresee what the product would be or how publishers would even need Diamond.  If the publishers circumvent the direct market, Diamond would go down with that ship too.  I am certainly missing Diamond's point, even if I understand their motives.

Even if Diamond come up with something to sell in stores, would that not mean that comic retailers who buy into this digitally-based but brick-and-mortar-sold widget are hastening their own demise?  I have heard of children told to fetch a switch from the yard for their own beating, but I don't want to become a murder victim who not only buys the bullets, but also loads the gun for the bastard that eventually kills them.

I am used to this industry shooting itself in the foot, but why help someone shoot us in the head?

And J Glindmyer, Earthworld Comics

The second the iPad was introduced,  it was only a matter of time before it became a game changer for every print publication, especially comics.  As for the reality of retailers selling digital comics, part of me is surprised that it didn't take long and the other part is surprised that it took so long.  The immediate questions that jump into my mind are:  What is it that we'll be actually selling? A coupon?  A download code?  A free digital copy with each book sold?  How will we be selling it?   How would we be ordering it?  Since there is no physical product, would we be able to return any unsold product?  Will there even be unsold product?   I'm grateful that the publishers and Diamond chose to keep comic retailers in the distribution chain.  I do wonder though, what's to stop the publishers from selling directly to customers bypassing retailers.  Marvel did it last year with the Iron Man Annual.  DC did it with a JLA book.   Thinking positively, we have to adapt or die.  Retailers have to accept change, especially if they want to stay in business.  And this will change the way we do business. This could definitely be the most significant advancement for comics since the birth of the direct market.

This looks like it may be the first big story to watch for 2011…

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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