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The U.S.'s Largest Comics Distributor Is No Longer Shipping, Due to Covid-19

New comics will have to wait.
New comics will have to wait.
Image: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The novel coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching ramifications on us all. But one way some people have been coping with new measures to physically distance and isolate indoors—picking up a pile of new comics to read—just got hit with a major blow.

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Last night Diamond Comics—the largest distributor of comics in both the United States and the United Kingdom—announced that, as of April 1st, new stocks of comics and other items released through the distributor like merchandise, graphic novels, and trade collections, will no longer be shipped to comic stores worldwide until further notice. The news comes after the distributor recently announced plans to postpone this year’s Free Comics Day, an initiative designed to encourage readers to support local stores by picking up specially-made samplers and new comics.

In a statement, Diamond Comics CEO Steve Geppi—a controversial figure for many creatives in the industry for his political leanings—told retailers that Diamond’s publisher partners “are also faced with numerous issues in their supply chain, working with creators, printers, and increasing uncertainty when it comes to the production and delivery of products for us to distribute.”

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“Our freight networks are feeling the strain and are already experiencing delays, while our distribution centers in New York, California, and Pennsylvania were all closed late last week,” the statement continues. “Our own home office in Maryland instituted a work from home policy, and experts say that we can expect further closures. Therefore, my only logical conclusion is to cease the distribution of new weekly product until there is greater clarity on the progress made toward stemming the spread of this disease.”

While there’s potential that comics set to release in April and beyond could still release digitally during this indefinite hold, this is a fundamental and potentially crippling blow to the local comic store as we know it. Diamond Comics essentially holds a monopoly on the physical distribution of comics, and while there are independents, Diamond is the only company that ships comics from most major publishers, with exclusivity deals including DC and Marvel Comics, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, and more.

Orders from governments across the world in places such as Italy, the UK, and France—and several states in the U.S., including California, New York, and Washington—for the public to stay indoors and nonessential businesses to close down had already had a great impact on many comic shops, which were turning to home delivery alternatives to help people who did not want to come in-store to pick up pull lists. Now even in locations without strict restrictions on businesses being open, comic shops could be forced to closed, potentially for good, due to what is now a complete lack of new product from some of the largest publishers in the comics industry.

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In the wake of Diamond’s announcement, some publishers have responded with their own distribution programs in an attempt to support stores still open across the world. On Twitter, Archie Comics announced that it would be making all of its comics, digests, and graphic novels scheduled for March and April fully returnable to the publisher, as well as “re-examining any new product launches during this period and into the summer to minimize the financial burden retailers are facing.”

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Boom Studios, which likewise has an exclusivity deal for distribution with Diamond, announced plans to launch a worldwide Retailer Support Services Program, including initiatives such as fully returnable supplies throughout June and variant cover incentive opportunities to help encourage readers to still support the local stores that remain open.

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But Diamond’s announcement is also having impacts on the creative side of the comics industry as well. Aside from Archie Comics’ own allusion to re-examining its current release schedule, in a statement, IDW Comics President Chris Ryall confirmed that it would be reducing its planned release schedule throughout the summer months, a move that would, in his own words, “undoubtedly impact creative workflow for the short term.”

“We fully appreciate the difficulty that this presents to freelancers,” Ryall’s statement continued. “It’s our expectation that—in the long term—the Direct Market will bounce back as a result of these steps, and we can all continue the good work of making quality comics on the other side.”

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As for Diamond Comics’ own plans to support retailers, Geppi’s statement had this to say: Work with what you’ve got. “I encourage you to let loose your own creativity,” Geppi concluded. “For the time being, you will be able to replenish your perennials from Diamond and/or Alliance, but you should also remember the stock you already have in your stores. If your doors remain open, it’s likely you will have customers who will continue to seek diversion from events of the world. Special sales, promotions, and even eBay can help you bring in cash during this trying time. Product for which you’ve already paid may well hold some of your answers.”

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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alliterator

The U.S.’s Largest Only Comics Distributor Is No Longer Shipping, Due to Covid-19

Fixed that for you, since Diamond Distribution is the only distributor of single issue comic books for all of the comic companies. Why? Because there are no other comic book distributors. Diamond is it. (Why? It’s a long story that involves Marvel in the ‘90s trying to move to a different distributor called Heroes World and ends with Diamond being the only distributor left and having a total monopoly.)

What does this mean for single issue comics? Trade paperbacks can still be shipped via regular book shipping means, but single issue comic books (or “floppies”) can’t. Which means there are going to be zero new comics for the however long this lasts. Which means comic book creators — especially indie creators who rely on sales of their books for income — are going to be hit hard, as well as comic book shops (who already are transitioning to shipping to their consumers or doing curbside pickup).

So now the entire comic book market is up in the air and nobody really knows what to do. Can the entire industry shift to selling trades only? Will that even work? Can a different distribution company be found or will all distribution cease? Books are still being printed and distributed, so why not comics?

Nobody really knows. We’re all in the dark now.