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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.



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