Steve Geppi, founder, President and owner of Diamond Comic Distributors, gave the keynote address at this year's Diamond Retailer Summit in Chicago. We present his address in full below.
He talks about his early life working in comics (and adult magazines) and growing in industry, as a comics collector, discovering the world of comic books and turning it into a career, opening a comic store, and a chain, how that moved to becoming a sub-distributor, and then a full distributor — and stopping being a mailman. Although we know he still has the reputation of wanting to open as much post to Diamond as he can.
From the days when you had to prepay for comics, only in bunches of 25, how it was all about getting people into the store to buy back issues — something that has really changed. He says that there's a greater resurgence into the back issue market now.
We talks about getting his first warehouses after another distributor closed, how Capital City Distributors set up, where the name Diamond came from — a sign for non-returnability apparently — and how the company grew through acquisition to become the largest comics distributor — and that was 30 years ago.
According to Geppi, 2015 to 2016 were banner years for the industry, and there has been a slump since. 2017 dropped 10%, and 2018 has also dropped. However, Geppi says not to hit the panic button — the industry is positive, and you have to take into account the likes of Enron and the Lehman Brothers dropping, but the comic stores at the show have survived. And overall the comic industry survives — it's gone through far worse times. Comics hang in there, and the death knoll has been run about it many times. He says digital comics will help print comics in the long run, exposing more people to comics, and education of children now uses more comics than ever before.
He reminded retailers Action Comics #1 came out in 1938, Geppi started selling in 1973 with 400, and now 1000 is coming out — the direct market has outlasted the news stand-only era. And other companies like Amazon and Walmart want into this market because it has grown. And as you grow, you get challenges. Geppi says that comics can't be a cottage industry or it will fail. He looks to social media as another powerful tool that stores can use.
The real thing you are competing with is not another comic store in town, but time. There are a lot more options for people to fill that time. He talks about not being negative, finding a problem for every solution, and putting off customers. And even with a down year, 2017 was still their fourth-biggest year. He wants to remind people that the industry they are in is exciting and has a future. He recommends the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne about the power of attraction, about asking, believing and expecting, based on the pseudoscientific law of attraction that claims thoughts can change the world directly, suggesting that thinking about certain things will make them appear in one's life…
He recognises that retailers have problems he didn't have as a retailer — he didn't have a 500-page Previews catalogue every month. He points out that most customers will never get to go to a comic con let along San Diego Comic-Con, but they can get that from the comic book retailer, and get the same kind of spiel…
He recalled Superman #75, the Death of Superman, when people bought boxes of the comic, and every store was on the highest discount level as a result, with 7500 outlets ordering from Diamond, when today is is close to 3000. The implosion happened fast then. Diamond, at its peak, did $222 million in business. Then Diamond took the whole market and did $16o million. But slowly after that the comics market began to get noticed, and Geppi puts that in the hands of the comic book retailers.
He talks about how retailers ordering less in what they see as off-prime months as being a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the industry isn't as affected by the holiday periods anymore. And also never to forget that the industry was founded on back issues.
The past started it, the present has been very good with a hiccup here and there — but the future is bright ahead. He is working on something that will be really big news for the comics industry, to expose comics to people beyond your wildest imaginations…
Can't wait, Steve. Now, has anyone got any of the Steve Geppi Mini-Me figures they were giving away?