Diamond Raises Order Minimums

Diamond Comic Distributors, the near-monopoly gateway to direct market comic shops, has raised its minimum order level to $2500 value retail.

Update: My understanding was wrong. As Dan Vado points out in the comments below, it’s not retail based on cover price, but based on what Diamond pays the publisher. I’ve corrected my numbers below with strikeouts.

That means, if you’re a self-publisher, first, you have to get approved to get listed in the monthly order catalog. Then, once you’re in there, if you don’t get $2500 worth of orders, they won’t cut you a purchase order, meaning the few people who did order your book will never see it. (Unless you somehow find them to re-sell to them directly or at conventions or similar encounters.)

For a typical independent comic with a $3 cover price, that means instead of having to gather 500 orders, you now need 830 or so, an increase of 66%. Expect to see more publications with higher prices, since that means you need fewer orders to meet the minimum. If you raise your price to $4, then you only need orders for 625 issues, or an increase of 25%. A $15 trade paperback needs to sell only 167 copies at minimum.

For a typical independent comic with a $3 cover price, let’s assume that you give Diamond 50% off. (That’s probably not right. You may give them 60% off, so you only get 40% of your cover price. That’s the basis of Dan Vado’s estimates below, but I wanted easier numbers.) So with a $1500 minimum, you needed 1000 orders (3.00 * 50% * 1000 = 1500). But now, with $2500 minimum, you need 1,667 orders. That’s an increase of 66%.

Expect to see more publications with higher prices, since that means you need fewer orders to meet the minimum. If you raise your price to $4, then you only need orders for 1,250 issues, or an increase of 25% instead of 66%. A $15 trade paperback needs to sell only 334 copies at minimum.

Also, as the original poster points out, you’ll see fewer relists, since they generally do well but not as much as initial orders — publishers only get one bite at the apple, so to speak.

In this economy, I can understand why Diamond would feel a need to reduce its costs — the catalog is a sprawling mess, with some publications included that never should have made it in, and the benefits of handling these not-yet-ready-for-prime-time comics likely doesn’t justify the expense. Like the recent Marvel cover price raise from $3 to 4, though, it’s a pretty big leap.

The most likely result is the end of the independent series. Sales naturally decline over a comic’s lifespan (unless there are events or guest stars or superstar creators to goose sales, tactics that don’t make sense for small publishers). I suspect we’re never again going to see something like a Bone or a Strangers in Paradise, a long-running series by a single creator.

I was trying to find links to the outcry that occurred when Diamond first implemented the order minimum at the $1500 level, but all I came across was this artist saying his book got dropped at issue #9. How long ago was that announcement?

Update: Original poster Simon returns with more detail on what this means, with examples. Plus, he ponders the bigger picture.

[N]ot being able to resolicit doesn’t mean that a book will never be ordered by Diamond again. And Diamond itself has always been very flexible about enforcing its own rules. And there are strategies that publishers can adopt to beat the benchmark, such as bundling multiple issues together. But perhaps the most appealing and expedient option is to raise cover prices, which brings with it its own pitfalls.

… [I]s there value in niche, small press comics beyond simple monetary terms? … Throughout independent comics, there are publishers who will never, ever, ever sell a single copy for a vast majority of retailers. Some might not even be driven by traditional profit motivations. Nevertheless, many of them are important… some in obvious ways, such as publishers of cutting edge work that are so far outside of the mainstream, breaking even on printing costs is a miraculous bout of luck. For others, their significance are only revealed with the passage of time. But as a whole, all of them contribute to the identity of the comics medium.

Similar Posts: Diamond Sets Time Limit on Periodicals § Diamond Agrees to Ship What It Offers § Manufacturers Can Force Minimum Pricing § More on Diamond Minimum Increase § NBM Trondheim Discount Set Not Available Through Diamond


44 Responses to “Diamond Raises Order Minimums”

  1. Simon Jones Says:

    An important distinction… this $2500 figure is the purchase order benchmark. This is not the same as the order minimum that a continuing comic series is expected to meet, which is even higher at $3750 or so.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Oh, wow, I had no idea. That’s 1250 issues. Piddly by the standards of the Golden Ages (whichever one you pick), but tough today when there’s only about double that number of stores.

  3. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Prediction: The $8 double-sized comic. No one’s buying 32-page floppies; but a more satisfying 64-page package at a higher price point might work…

    How many regular (coming out, say, at least 3-4 times a year), self-published series are there? The scary thing is that the one that comes to mind is (gulp) Tarot from Jim Balent…

  4. Simon Jones Says:

    Johanna–> Yup, it’s tricky, that PO benchmark. And it’s going to be just like property taxes… it’ll never go back down, even if the economic situation improves.

  5. Suzene Says:

    All I can say is “ouch”. I think we’re going to see a lot more projects going web first before print even gets consideration.

  6. Diamond makes it rough « Precocious Curmudgeon Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson at Comics Worth Reading [...]

  7. Johanna Says:

    It makes more and more sense to try out a new series in a way that doesn’t involve a lot of money, like on the web. You can figure out what the audience is, build familiarity, and be more in control of your project with already created pages.

  8. Charles RB Says:

    Between that, the price rises, and bookstores slashing trade/graphic novel orders, is there anything that _doesn’t_ look bleak for the industry? I’m pretty sure the industry will survive, but in what shape?

  9. Dwight Williams Says:

    Well, this will make things more difficult. Still won’t make them impossible, though.

  10. Dan Vado Says:

    Your math on the benchmark is off in your article. The $2500 is the purchase order total, meaning that given the discount given to Diamond the PO must total $6250. So, your average $3.00 comic has to sell over 2,100 copies to meet the benchmark.

    I think people would be shocked at how few graphic novels published by smaller publishers even meet that total. The chilling effect is that the practice of reoffering a book or comic to the direct market will now simply be gone. SLG depends on those relists and reorders to sell its backstock (as do a lot of other people) so THAT really is the big chilling effect on business.

  11. Johanna Says:

    Wow! No wonder this subject is so powerful and confusing.

  12. Dane Says:

    Wow, this is pretty stifling to independent publishers. Is there a chance this could open a new demand for smaller distributors? Or perhaps publishers will have to find avenues outside the direct market.

  13. Johanna Says:

    The problem is that retailers have little incentive to move to multiple distributors. They don’t want to balance and track several orders.

  14. Dane Says:

    I could definitely see the issues with that. My family privately owns a restaurant, and we try to stick with one food distributor.

    I just remember an advice series done by Eric Adams called “Sequential Smarts” and he advised (I’m paraphrasing here, as it no longer can be found on the new Newsarama) that it could be more profitable for the retailer and the creator to simply deal with each other directly, cutting out Diamond as the middle man.

    Of course, this brings up other obvious issues of shipping costs and dealing with multiple retailers. And who’s to trust who here? Damn it, I really wish that article still existed. As much of an oligopoly novel publishing is, I’ve never seen such a one-sided distribution model as the one in comics. If you don’t side with Diamond, you’re in an incredible uphill battle.

  15. Johanna Says:

    Dan, thanks for clarifying that for me. I’ve adjusted the post above. Your numbers assume 60% off for Diamond, right?

  16. Torsten Adair Says:

    Reading this, I wonder about other distribution options. In the book trade, the predominant distributor is… Diamond Books. They offer over 10,000 items to the book trade, including Image, Top Shelf, and Marvel. What are the minimums for DBD?
    Regarding the giant-size $8 issue, I, as a reader, would be even less inclined to buy it. Retailers won’t order it unless someone pre-orders it. (Remember the reaction to John Byrne’s 2112? At the time, he was one of the hottest names, yet many complained about the price.)
    Creators are better off posting to the web and building a raport with readers. Sell collections online and at conventions, and let publishers (both comics and trade) approach you.

  17. Rich Johnston Says:

    There arfe thresholds and benchmarks and retail and wholesale and they’re all getting mixed up. Don’t worry, that’s what happened three years ago as well.

  18. Simon Jones Says:

    Mr. Vado–>

    I recall in the phone conversation with my brand manager that the terms “PO benchmark” and “retail value” were specifically used. That makes sense to me, as the original purchase order benchmark is $600 wholesale/$1500 retail.

    Of course, I may have remembered wrong, or the brand manager himself had confused the terms. If that’s the case, then I expect the slight migrane I’m experiencing right now to develop into a full-blown stroke in short order.

  19. Jane Irwin Says:

    This is more than a little scary: Neither Paul nor I sold 334 copies of either of our last graphic novels, and our books list at around $15 each.

    Hope we can get listed again. Otherwise we’re pretty much hosed.

  20. Jane Irwin Says:

    Er, rather, we’ve sold many more than 334 copies of all of our books… eventually, and not through the direct market. But our initial DM orders were each below that number.

  21. Johanna Says:

    That’s an excellent point, Jane — that emphasizing initial sales, Diamond stacks the deck towards periodicals, where only the first sales really matter in most cases. Long-term sales, if steady but low, don’t help.

  22. Jane Irwin Says:

    Yeah, not to put out numbers to brag, but Vogelein: Clockwork Faerie has sold three full printings and is partway through its fourth over the course of five years — but based on initial orders, I’d be out of luck, and Diamond would be out of tens of thousands of dollars in sales. I hope they factor in long-term sales for existing authors.

  23. From The Soapbox: Diamond Raises Order Benchmark For Publishers | Indy Comics News - Independent Comic and Graphic Novel News Says:

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  24. M High Says:

    >>Wow, this is pretty stifling to independent publishers. Is there a chance this could open a new demand for smaller distributors?<<

    Not really. Having worked through the long, slow decline of one of the last, small-press distributors (which finally closed its doors almost exactly a year ago), I gotta say that there appeared to be very little interest among most indy-friendly retailers for another comics distributor.

    If any such entity is going to come along and fill in the void, it’s going to come about because retailers out there demand it. It will have to be a demand-driven business rather than a supply-driven one. And I don’t see a clamoring at the retailer for such a distributor at this point. Hope I’m proven wrong.

  25. Infolad Says:

    I agree with M High. Having worked at a comics shop, and having friends still in it, the LAST thing you want to deal with is the increase in paperwork and shipping fun that multiple distributors would bring. Especially if that extra work wasn’t helping with the immediate needs of keeping the doors open and the lights on.

    Digital comics is THE way to go
    for the average indy creator who wants to get his product out there. The question is do you want it out there
    to the 250,000 or so hardcore fans who consume direct market comics? Or do you want to access the
    1,463,632,361 people worldwide on the internet right now (ref: Internet World Stats).

    Selling a secure PDF or browser based subscription to your product of 2.00 an issue will generate more profit to the struggling creator than dealing with Diamond ( avg. comic is 2.99 a copy = 1.20 gross profit to you after Diamond gets their cut) After a per unit printing cost of around .50 a copy for a 22 to 28 page color book, you’re left with around 70 cents on a 2.99 book (and we still haven’t factored in taxes, materials, rent, utilities, etc.)

    Just selling comics over your computer RIGHT NOW will be better for the average creator’s bottom line than what they have to put up with now. No jumping through distributor’s hoops, no ever increasing printing costs to deal with.

    if you sold 2,000 copies of your book digitally at 2.00 a download, you’re talking 4,000 dollars gross profit. Even after paying for bandwith, you still end up with more money in your pocket than doing a hard copy.

    Diamond’s a business. Corporations are about the bottom line and cutting excess fat that’s not helping that bottom line, nothing personal. The corporate entity itself is psychopathic
    in nature and behavior. Don’t expect it to care about you. Unless you’re a major shareholder. So stop considering the needs of a psychopathic entity in charting a pathway to get your creation out to the public at large

    The name of the game is cutting the middleman loose. Be proactive, not passive. As a creator, I’ve been at conventions with indy creators griping about Diamond as they sit on 3-5,000 fan mailing lists! Learn to market your product using real world techniques, they’re out there. Stop sitting back, passively hoping and praying to make it into Previews. The internet is here NOW. You’re using it right NOW. Utilize it to realize your dreams NOW. They’re thousands, tens of thousands, possibly millions of potential readers out there for you, for all of us. Go get them.

  26. Simon Jones Says:

    Having spoken to Diamond on the phone again, Mr. Vado is correct about this being an increase to the minimum wholesale benchmark.

    I am now losing feeling on my left siiiideeeerrrrgh……

  27. Johanna Says:

    Infolad, the problem with your figures is that few people want to pay for digital media. So you need to be very successful (in terms of overall eyeballs) in order to get good returns. While you might be exposed to (let’s say) 10,000 readers of Previews, of which 500 order copies of your comic, you’d need to be exposed to 50,000 readers online to get 500 sales (assuming only 1% of your readers buy something).

    Your overall message – try new things – is a good one, though. And then again, how many readers does Previews have, anyway?

  28. Hsifeng Says:

    Johanna, I found another problem with the figures:

    Infolad Says:

    “Digital comics is THE way to go
    for the average indy creator who wants to get his product out there. The question is do you want it out there
    to the 250,000 or so hardcore fans who consume direct market comics? Or do you want to access the
    1,463,632,361 people worldwide on the internet right now (ref: Internet World Stats).”

    How many translators would the average indy creator need to hire to access all of the 1,463,632,361 people worldwide on the internet right now? According to the Internet World Stats site,

    “…How many people can actually use the global language? David Graddol estimated a total of 750 million L1 (first or native language) plus L2 (second or nth language) speakers of English in his Future of English Report…”

    Stuff like WorldLingo is handy for getting the gist of something :) but not for translating writing into something still worth buying.

  29. More on Diamond Minimum Increase » Comics Worth Reading Says:

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  30. Gary Reed Says:

    Obviously the threshold is going to hurt some publishers. The smaller ones will move to digital, direct mail, or to any other distribution in existence now or forthcoming (I know Haven is one but I haven’t used them so I have no idea how effective they are.)

    One of the problems is going to be the publishers that are borderline. Are they going to push their titles to other distributors with the possibility that if retailers order from there and not Diamond, will it bump them below the threshold? I can see a lot of attempts via Diamond and then if can’t make it, then move to someone else (if there is someone else).

    Dealing directly with stores is problematic. I’ve been stiffed by some stores (and some fairly big names)so I think there is a security in using a distributor. I deal now with stores but use Paypal and ship after payment.

  31. Infolad Says:

    Hsifeng Says:

    “How many translators would the average indy creator need to hire to access all of the 1,463,632,361 people worldwide on the internet right now? According to the Internet World Stats site,

    “…How many people can actually use the global language? David Graddol estimated a total of 750 million L1 (first or native language) plus L2 (second or nth language) speakers of English in his Future of English Report…”

    Point taken. But that still leaves 750 million people, or 7,500,000 potential reader’s using Johanna’s 1% estimate. Getting the unique visitors to your site is the thing effective marketing programs are made of.

    In response to Johanna’s comment, my research shows that there is a market for digital media. According to Teleread.org:

    A recession rages, but tell that to the e-book business.

    In the U.S., wholesale revenue zoomed from $8 million in Q3 of 2007 to $14 million for the same quarter of ’08.

    Granted, that’s just a speck of the billions in p-book sales and involves only 12-15 publishers participating in a stat collection program.

    But it’s still impressive, given the miserable economy, which has harmed p-book sales. I suspect things are the same in many other countries: P hurtin’, E growin’. New platforms, ranging from the Kindle and Sony Reader to the improved iPhone, have helped. Long term, more people are accustoming themselves to reading off screens.”

    Can you imagine 12 to 15 indy publishers generating 8 to 14 million? I can.

    Which option would you prefer? To be pioneers in a growing business, or continuing to be pushed to the side in a dying format. The 22 page pamphlet is on it’s way out. Given the economic outlook in this country for the next 4 years or so,does anyone really think 3.99 comics are going to help the long term prospects of this insular medium?

    Whatever revenue model you put together
    (subscription based, ad based, ancillary product (t-shirts, models, etc.) based, or any combo of these) it’s got to be better than what you’re dealing with now.

    Digital distribution is a viable option for indy creators that don’t have the numbers to dole out middleman money.

    There are reasonably priced independent translators available for people who want to explore that option.

    http://translate.ms/info.php/eng/price

    The above link is to just give people an idea of what’s out there.

    The tools are available. You just have to decide if you want to use them.

    And Johanna raises a good question. Exactly how many people read Previews?
    I get it for free as part of my store subscription, but I don’t know if this is standard practice industry wide. Anyone have solid numbers?

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  33. Jason Leivian Says:

    I’d be happy to work with one more distributor – if they’re organized and easy enough to order from. Haven’s website is too difficult to search and navigate. Last gasp is pretty good, I place at least an order a month with them.

    But it doesn’t look like anyone is interested in starting up a little distro company that’s only gonna focus on the bottom 300. although the opportunity is right there. hopefully this means more good business for indy distributor, Tony Shenton.

  34. Comic Economics: Diamond change their order threshold. The comic industry shudders.... - Forbidden Planet Blog Says:

    […] 2) They will be increasing the minimum orders for publishers from $1500 to $2500 for all books whether they are comics or graphic novels. This may not seem like much but it will impact a considerable number of publishers, not all of them small. Indeed, some of the lower sellers from very famous and critically acclaimed companies would have a hard time hitting these figures. Effectively, and the numbers vary depending on the discount terms the publisher gets, it means that a $3 comic would have to sell somewhere in excess of 2100 copies to make the grade. (source: Dan Vado). […]

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    [...] Humans! please read this, is important and serious. As many of you know, Diamond Distributors has changed their order policy increasing the dollar amount of copies needed to be pre-ordered for them to send out a publishers books. A lot of merchandise and comic books are ordered via Previews (Diamond catalog) including Moonstone comics. Basically, if you dont order your favorite Moonstone comic via Previews maybe never appearing at your LCS (Local Comic Shop). Theres 3 articles that you can read to know more about this [1] [2] [3] [...]

  38. Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Diamond raises order threshold for publishers [Update] Says:

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  39. Spencer Goldade Says:

    I’m an emerging creator and I am apalled by this astronomical raise in the benchmark which will have such a negative effect on creators and buyers alike. I’ve created a Facebook group to raise awareness as well as help organize how we’re all feeling about this so we can coordinate some solutions. Check out: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=52702298706

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    [...] that all comic retailers have to order from, since they exclusively carry DC, Marvel, and Image, raised their order minimums. In short, if a publication that was offered for sale through the Diamond Previews catalog did not [...]

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  43. Kickstarted | Says:

    [...] my waning days as a comic store clerk two years ago, changes by the main comics distributor in order minimums lead to tougher times for small press and self published works.  Incredibly inspiring work like [...]

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    […] Diamond’s order minimum is still $2500, then at a $20 cover price (and assuming a 50% retailer discount), the book only […]

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