Although he was under no obligation to do so, Tom Spurgeon didn’t post the full text of my response to the news that Fantagraphics has signed an exclusive deal with Diamond… It’s a little more balanced and nuanced then what ended up in the CR piece, in my always-humble opinion, so I figured I’d post it here.
We really wish that Fantagraphics had consulted us as their retail partners before they made this move, because we would have said â€œGood God No, Donâ€™t Do It.â€ Weâ€™re very sympathetic to the general indifference of the Direct Market to good comics, including those that Fantagraphics publishes, and we understand the reasons they made their decision. Speaking from our point of view though, we like the opportunity to deal directly with Fantagraphics, because if Fanta has a book in print, then they will have it in stock. That is not the case with Diamond. Even on the largest publishers that have moved their Direct Market business exclusive with Diamond, publishers like Viz and Tokyopop, our fill rates on in-print books are less than adequate. We hope that Fanta knows what theyâ€™re in for on that front.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but as The Beguiling weâ€™re fortunate enough talk to reps from a large number of publishers, great and small, and many of them really arenâ€™t happy with their exclusivity deals with Diamond. No one will go on the record about it of course, because regardless of exclusivity or not theyâ€™re still going to be working with Diamond going forward and being openly critical of Diamond is not the best way to get good service from them. So, no one talks about how things are not going the way they had hoped, and everyone re-ups for another few years hoping things will change because hey, everyone else is doing it. Worse still, weâ€™re worried about the sort of â€œchilling effectâ€ that goes on whenever a publisher signs an exclusivity deal. Fantagraphics better than anyone (thanks to reportage in The Comics Journal) knows the havoc that exclusivity agreements caused direct market retailers, particularly with regards to Image and Dark Horse deciding on Diamond after DC had made their deal. Has the consolidation of the direct market to, effectively, Diamond Comics Distributors, shown a noted increase in stores, sales, or market strength over the past 10 years? Particularly for any company that isnâ€™t Marvel or DC? Not at all, and yet the consolidation continues, leading many publishers to believe that thereâ€™s no other way to do business and succeed (or at least stay afloat) in the market.
Honestly, we order the majority of our Fantagraphics product through Diamond, all of our frontlist and the occasional backlist. But when it comes time to do actual store restocks on perennials like Ghost World and the works of Dan Clowes, Love & Rockets, the Ignatz Books, Mome, that order goes to Fantagraphics because of a solid discount, and because if the book is in print, the publisher will have it in stock. Right now Diamond doesnâ€™t seem to have Ghost World in stock, which is perhaps just an unfortunate coincidence. But the first time that we try to order something from Diamond and canâ€™t, and that backorder takes weeks or months (donâ€™t laugh, it happens all the time), and that book would have been available to us direct from Fanta? Thatâ€™s a lost sale for Fantagraphics and for us, and truly unfortunate.
Hopefully Diamond will keep all of these books in stock under this new deal. Hopefully with thousands of new book-format comics coming out every year, Fanta titles now solely available through Diamond wonâ€™t get lost in the shuffle. We know that the good folks working at Fantagraphics will be responsive to our needs as their customers just as they always have been; we just hope that history proves us all wrong and that Diamond is responsive to theirs.
We wish them the best of luck.
- Christopher Butcher, Manager, The Beguiling
That’s the entirety of what I sent Tom yesterday afternoon, and I’ve been thinking on it since then. In my head, my vision of the comics industry is one where comics are available if not everywhere, than at least everywhere you’d otherwise find printed material. The key to that, in my mind, is more access, and not less. I’m not unaware of economies of scale, of how much cheaper and easier it is to deal with two major distributors than dozens of smaller ones. I just honestly don’t see any smaller store that stocks Fanta/Eros stuff going through the hassle of opening a Diamond account and trying to meet monthly order minimums in order to get something better than a 35% discount when they do a backlist order. I hope there are other options, grandfather clauses, whatever, that keep Fanta’s reach as broad as it ever was. I really do wish them the best.