IDW announced a new, multi-year, North American sales and distribution deal with Penguin Random House, to take effect April of next year. PRH will distribute the publisher’s graphic novels and books in the North American bookstore market. In a press release, IDW CEO and Publishers, Ted Adams, said that motivation for the switch was “increas[ing] sales and tak[ing] our market share to the next level.” Diamond will continue to distribute IDW’s graphic novels and books to the UK mass market.
IDW is just one of several comics publishers who’ve left behind Diamond Books in the last few years; they join DC, Kodansha, Titan Books, Legendary, and Vertical, who are also distributed by PRH. But PRH is by no means the only traditional book distributor in the graphic novel game. VIZ and BOOM! are distributed by Simon & Schuster Distribution Services, Marvel by Hachette, and Fantagraphics by Norton. Macmillan has First Second, Papercutz, and Drawn & Quarterly. And Consortium has Uncivilized, Koyama, Secret Acres, and Alternative. Unlike Diamond, these distributors focus solely on the traditional book market. Diamond Books, a Division of Diamond Comics Distributors, continues to distribute Image, Dynamite, Valiant, and Oni.
The PRH deal has no impact on distribution of IDW’s single issues, which will continue to be distributed by Diamond Comics, but their breaking with the Diamond’s graphic novel and book division isn’t good news for the distributor. Diamond isn’t exactly embattled–its hold on single issue comics distribution to specialty shops is still pretty tight–but it’s not making much headway in graphic novel and book distribution, which is an increasingly important segment of the comics market.
IDW’s growing graphic novel sales have been powered by the bestselling March trilogy, by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell, and by collections of its licensed comics, including Transformers, My Little Pony, Orphan Black, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, X-Files, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more. It represents a not insignificant portion of the comics market, one with plenty of growth potential. But Diamond and IDW downplayed the impact of the deal on Diamond Books. All no-hard-feelings, IDW President and COO, Greg Goldstein, said that “between our solid connection with Diamond and now with the addition of PRHPS onboard, we’re excited by the prospect of attracting brand new readers and engaging the next generation of comic fans, wherever they’re seeking entertainment.” The implication being that Diamond Books, unlike PRH, can’t help IDW reach that next generation of readers.
Raina Telegemeir was comics’ big story in 2016 (and 2015 and 2014) with her books Smile, Sisters, and Drama roundly dominating the New York Times bestsellers list, and she found that success outside of the direct market. It’s in graphic novels and digital that comics are finding new readers, be they young, diverse, or “literary” readers; just look at the disparity between single issue and graphic novel sales for series like Midnighter and Omega Men or the popularity of the aforementioned Smile and March.
Only two weeks ago comics journalists were embroiled in a fierce debate over the state of the direct market, the specialty comics shops that sell non-returnable single issues of comics in bulk, as well as graphic novels, toys, and whatever else can be relied on to bring customers in the door–that is, your local comic shop. This is the direct market, which trades returnability of stock–standard in the bookstore market–for discounts on product. Because comic book stores can’t return unsold product, they are naturally more conservative in their orders; largely relying on pre-sales, pull lists and the most vocal parts of the customer base to decide what books to stock. If it doesn’t sell, they’re stuck with it, and there’s only so much room in even the biggest back issue bin.
Bookstores, though, don’t have to deal with that kind of risk. That’s part of the reason they have an advantage in reaching that “next generation of readers.” They also benefit from a better reputation; comics shops still being known for insularity and intolerance of outsiders, fake fans, and, well, difference.