Whenever a major company branches out and tries to crossover into another buisness, the invaded buisness usually cries doom and gloom. This was a double whammy for the comic industry on the retailer side of the fence with the annoucement of Walmart carrying 4 exclusive DC Comics 100 Page Giant titles twice a month and the annoucement of GameStop tossing their hat into the comic book retail ring. However unlike the GameStop situation, the Walmart deal with DC can possibly be a bad sign of what’s ahead.
Unlike the GameStop deal, Walmart’s is a bit trickier. First, with GameStop they are going right throught Diamond Comics. Diamond Comic Distributors is a household name among comic collectors, as it is the main source of ordering and distribution of new comics for wholesale. Yep, this is the place where your local comic shop gets their new books at wholesale and turns around and sell them to you at cover price. So in theory, GameStop is just acting like any new brick-and-mortar comic shop. Plus, they only plan on ordering main titles for their stores and their desire to use a spinning rack to display these is a bit, well, are they for real? Walmart’s deal is a bit more complicated than that.
With Walmart, these 100 Page Giants are only available through their retail stores, much like with their earlier DC Collector Packs of comics (you know the ones I’m talking about where you can get a copy of the New 52 Batman #1 but wait, it has adverts for Batman vs Superman inside, a movie that debuted almost at the end of the New 52 line. Damn, just another reprint.) Yeah, those collector packs. Anyway, this means that Walmart has gone over Diamond’s head and is dealing right with the source. This is the part that worries me. Imagine Walmart being able to, down the road, negotiate a deal with DC Comics directly to carry their books at a discounted rate. Hey, at the soon-to-be $3.99 cover price, any discount offered by a massive worldwide chain could hurt the local comic shop industry. This is, after all, the company who changed the face of how retailers and their distributors do buisness. Along with Time Warner talking about opening DC Merchandise stores throughout the country, again it feels as if the company as a whole is trying to undermine the whole dealer market some days.
Now, one can ask how is this different than, say, retailers who go through DC and Marvel direct for their own exclusive covers. Well, it’s not that different save for a few points. One, retailers need to order at least a few 1000 copies of the book in question, then they need to order another 1000 of the actual variant cover on top of that. This is why these exclusive covers are usually so much money above cover price. This evens the playing feild a bit, same as GameStop not cutting corners and ordering right from the distribution source. Personally, I’m treating GameStop as I would a gaming shop who dabbles in comics or even a bookstore back when comics were carried on the open market outside of the direct sources. (As of this year, Marvel and DC stopped carrying their comics on the open market and are strictly available through direct outlets via Diamond, another thing which makes the Walmart deal sting as they aren’t available to other direct retailers not even in a different capacity or at a later date)
The whole comic book collector market is hanging by a delicate thread. In an age of digital media, printed comic books are still able to beat digital comics. The whole hobby is hanging in there, but we’re animals who enjoy nothing more than eating each other. What with the explosion of variant covers (which is another opinion piece altogether!) and the popularity of movies and television comic projects, our industry is in yet another bubble and waiting for it to burst.
The point is, what is to stop Walmart from dabbling further, or say another big company taking a page from their book? What if DC just decided their DC Merchandise shops worked better and cut the availability of some of their books from the direct market? You know, the market which has kept the comic book hobby alive for the last 30 years or so. It’s no wonder some viewed it as a slap in the face. I, however, am not one of those dealers. I see some upsides to this, but I am leery of what it could hold for the possiblity of future deals, as well as as I stated earlier regarding others tipping their hat into the ring and dealing directly with DC over regular distribution chanels. We really do love to eat ourselves in this industry.