RIP, FMI

It’s been rumored all year, but now it’s official: distributor FM International has closed. No announcement, just a disconnected phone line and website. Now there is no direct market new-comic distribution competition for Diamond.

Update: Tom Spurgeon makes the point that:

Businesses that depend largely, or in this case solely, on maintaining their credibility as viable, active entities have every reason to conceal bad news — a distributor confirmed to be going out of business will be shut off immediately.

In other words, once the rumors started, FMI may have had no hope.


4 Responses to “RIP, FMI”

  1. Matthew High Says:

    FYI, the last correspondence I received from FM International was from Wayne Markley’s personal email account (non-FM) exactly one month ago, where he said they were still working on paying off old invoices as soon as they sold some more books. Their website went off-line shortly afterwards. Don’t think we’ll be seeing any of that money any time soon.

    For lots and lots of more info about the non-announced death of FM, check out the lengthy news article in The Comics Journal #274 (also online).

    By the way, I never considered FM Interational to be in competition with Diamond. At their best, they were about 5% of an indy-comic’s total direct-market sales, and in total hovered around the half-percent-range of the total direct market (including exclusive publishers). They were roughly the same size as Cold Cut, which also has a fraction of one percent of the comics market (At our best, about four years ago before everyone signed exclusive book distribution deals, we were about a full percent of the market. It was kind of frightening to consider that I personally handled 1 out of every 100 comic books in America — in my own hands — at the time.)

    I never thought of FM as serious competition with Diamond, in the same way I’ve never thought of Cold Cut as competition with Diamond. Or Last Gasp. Or any of the half-dozen other smaller distributors of years past (like Downtown, Comics Hawaii, Middleman Media, etc).

    In 1993, Diamond was 51% of the comics market, Capital City was 33%, Heroes World 8%, Comics Unlimited 5%, and the remainder divided up among about eight smaller companies (Friendly Frank’s, Andromeda, Styx, Multi-Book, CIB, etc).

    Then two years of furious deal-making changed the landscape.

    By mid-1995, Diamond controlled 88% of the market, followed by Capital City at 9%, and the remainder divided up among about three-or-so “survivors” (Hobbies Hawaii, Cold Cut, etc). As soon as Capital was bought out, there was no more true competition in the direct market. Hasn’t been for a decade now.

    Where Diamond’s true competitors lie are now in the book market. I haven’t seen any hard numbers, but I am willing to bet that within the past year, comic book sales (in the form of trades) through the book market exceeded total comic book sales (in ALL forms) in the direct market — and the book market continues to grow at double-digit rates while the direct market atrophies. Diamond is now competing against folks like Baker and Taylor for the same retailer dollar. FM International (and yes Cold Cut) has never been more than a fly speck compared to the millions and millions of dollars moved through B&T and other similar book-market distributors.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Another one bites the dust. It’s looking bleaker and bleaker for self-publishers such as moi trying to get their printed comics to the public. Thank goodness for Internet sales.

  3. Tom Spurgeon Says:

    Hi, Johanna:

    No one could reasonably tell from my bad writing, but I only meant that observation in terms of it being difficult to judge the truth.

    It’s a fair and logical step to say that once the rumors start a company runs into a really tricky situation, but I would only point this out if I could emphasize it’s up to a company that traffics in its good name to take care of its good name. Rumors are the flip side of promotion, and when it comes to a business that trades in its own future credibility, you damn well better answer every phone call or e-mail, and provide answers in addition to assurances, because you simply can’t hole up, talk to the select few you want and keep distributing until a bad period passes. It’s the flip side of starting a business without real assets — you asset is companies’ belief in you.

    P.S. — Wouldn’t it be funny if Monday Wayne pops up on some news site saying he’s still alive, he just changed web sites and phone numbers? It could happen.

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

    […] 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 operated out of California from 1994-2008 and focused on […]

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