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 ,
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.