FM International Not Dead; Coming Distribution Crisis

There’s a rumor going around that FM International has closed. (FMI was the second new comic distributor, the one that didn’t have exclusive deals with DC and Image and Marvel and Viz and Dark Horse and any number of smaller publishers.) Newsarama (link no longer available) has the real story — “FM no longer handles new releases of comic book product and is focusing instead on backlist.” That puts them in competition with Cold Cut instead of Diamond.

I know that some retailers are a lot happier with Cold Cut’s service over Diamond’s (a smaller company has more incentive to provide good customer service instead of figuratively shrugging at them), and I know that some would use Cold Cut more if it were more conveniently located. (Shipping costs from California to the East Coast can cut into the better discount savings.) FMI, in Wisconsin, may have a slight advantage there. I’m just glad to hear they’re still around, and I wish them the best of luck. More from the Newsarama article:

When asked about FM shipping books back to publishers in recent weeks, Markley told Newsarama that the distributor did so to repay debts to the publishers, as well as to clear shelves of older stock that was not selling. “Older stuff from publishers doesn’t sell that well for us” Markley said. “So, we’re working to move that out and return it to publishers so we can make room for more current backstock.”

In regards to FM no longer handling new releases, Markley noted until the change, they still handled every publisher that wasn’t exclusive to Diamond, with Fantagraphics and Bongo being the biggest. “Drawn + Quarterly did well for us, so did Slave Labor and NBM. But in overall numbers, retailers are doing more superhero business, and in regards to non-superhero stuff, the sales have just slacked off. For us, it got to the point where it wasn’t profitable for us to carry them — to do the whole process of a monthly catalog and solicitations. So, we were looking for a way to cut costs, and the catalog was a major cost for us. Overall, we’re looking for ways to reorganize the company, and just keep going. But at this point, we’re still here and still chugging along.”

That comment about “more superhero business” ties into what noted retailer Brian Hibbs thought was the biggest story of 2005 and would be the biggest story of 2006. Taken from Heidi MacDonald’s year-end survey of pros (link no longer available),

Marvel & DC are gobbling 70-80% of the DM every month with an “event-driven” focus, and the high end of the charts keep climbing. … Marvel & DC’s over-production not only strangles its own midlist, but it makes it that much more difficult for new publishers to find traction in the marketplace. … the absolute stranglehold Diamond has upon the market, coupled with the anti-growth discount policies, is just going to continue to push a larger percentage of overall sales to Marvel & DC.

He states that distribution will be the biggest story of 2006, although he also thinks it won’t be reported on (which I sadly agree with), pointing out that some of the best-selling, best-reviewed graphic novels of this and previous years (titles like Understanding Comics, Persepolis, and Black Hole) are usually out of stock from Diamond and can be ordered at better terms from bookstore distributors. Wayne Markley of FMI has a similar take on things:

From our point of view, there’s no longer Bone, there’s no longer Cerebus, Finder is gone from the shelves — those were all strong independent titles, and there hasn’t been anything to pick up the slack for them. Retailers now are putting all of that money back into superheroes. The marketplace is condensing, and getting smaller when you only cater to superhero fans. But at the same time, we’re seeing comic creators moving to Pantheon and Scholastic, where they’re reaching a broader audience that the comic marketplace can’t or isn’t reaching.

7 Responses to “FM International Not Dead; Coming Distribution Crisis”

  1. Dave Carter Says:

    I think that distribution has been the secret story all along. The funny book business is still dealing with the fallout of Marvel’s decision to buy Heroes World lo those many years ago…

  2. Alex Cox Says:

    What people are failing to mention, is that it is pretty easy to get books through distributors that aren’t comic-centric…. many of our orders come from “real book” distributors, who can keep us eyeballs deep in titles from Pantheon, Scholastic, etc…

    It’s not like the loss of FM entirely signals the dominance of superheroes or the narrowing of market content… it could be that stores are using their resources towards other distribution sources….

    We get books from over seven suppliers, not counting FMI, and we still haven’t set up a Last gasp account.

    That’s a lot of choices out there for a store our size- more than I expected at least….


  3. Johanna Says:

    Brian does go into that in his comments, but it requires a progressive, in-touch comic retailer who’s willing to work with more than one distributor. I think that percentage of all comic shops is as low as the percentage that actively stock and support independent titles. (Somewhere from 10-20%?)

  4. Matthew High Says:

    Probably a lower percentage than that. A run-of-the-mill, decent independent small-press comic book will usually only be available in between 300-500 comic book stores worldwide — but most of those stores are only ordering one or two copies for pull-and-hold customers. Maybe 100, possibly 200 of those stores actually order enough to rack in the “new releases” section of their store — and I’m willing to bet that if we took a day or two we could probably put together a comprehensive list that covers 90% of those “indy-friendly” retailers.

    Most comics retailers only use or two suppliers on a regular basis, simply because more suppliers == more work. But, then again, I think I could safely say that retailers that use few suppliers are not the type of retailer that is prone to order heavy on indy comics titles, anyway.

  5. shawn Says:

    the industry will always be messed long as diamond is in the driver seat. comic shops dont get to choose what there customers is a monopoly the industry will not be around the next 10 years.

  6. David Lillie Says:

    I think the industry will be around in 10 years, but not in it’s current form. As Diamond continues to contract comic readership by stagnating market diversity, comic retailers will be the first to pay the price. Retailers need to realize that their superhero fanbase isn’t going to be growing and coming to the rescue – and that unless they stock their shelves with a variety of titles, nobody else is going to be interested in contributing business either.

    I think if the Direct Market continues on it’s current trajectory, it’ll either collapse or shrink to an even more negligible size. However, taking a breif tour around the internet, and marketing my own stuff, there is a massive potential readership for comics out there – and a growing army of new, progressive creators. Comics are headed for a renaissance – and the market will inevitably follow. The only question is, are retailers going to be able to get on the inside of this movement in readership, or will they stay trapped on the outside with Diamond?

  7. Is the Last Independent Comic Distributor Calling It Quits? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Capital City staff tried to make a go of it with FMI, but after going backlist-only in 2006, they shut down a couple of months later. That left only Cold Cut Distribution, who […]




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