Saturday, July 18, 2020

Diamond Comics the Whipping Boy.

"A whipping boy was a boy educated alongside a prince in early modern Europe, who received corporal punishment for the prince's transgressions in his presence."

 "...a person who is blamed or punished for the faults or incompetence of others."

First off, let me get this out of the way: Diamond has it's faults, but it's faults seem no better and no worse overall than any of my other distributors. 

So why does Diamond have such a toxic reputation from some comic retailers and, worse, many comic consumers? 

My overall impression is that Diamond has been used as the "whipping boy" for all the problems in the comic industry since we emerged from the chaos of the mid-90s collapse. Diamond did what it had to do to survive--and they were, in the end, the only survivor.  

A monopoly, if you will. 

They are the middleman between the herd of cats retailers and the small to mega-corporate comic publishers. And they are blamed for any problems from above and from below.

I'm pretty sure that in order to sign up the big comic companies, Diamond had to give the some sweetheart deals. One consequence of this is that Diamond has forced retailers pay for postage from the start. This isn't any different than what was happening before they were the lone survivor, but it's pretty unusual in the current market for a distributor not to have a minimum order for free postage.

Like I said, Diamond has it's negative aspects. But all things weighed, it does pretty well.

No one was more worried about their monopoly status in the beginning than I was, even though in my own experience, a local monopoly of a certain product by Pegasus Books has always rebounded to the benefit of my customers. (Not monopoly, but being the sole provider until other retailers take notice...)

As it turned out, the owner of Diamond Comics, Steve Geppi, has been fair to us from the beginning. Not only fair, but in some ways Diamond has saved the entire comic market more than once, and probably were able to do this because they didn't have competition. 

A little history here: there was a comic bubble in the mid-90s. When it burst, it brought down something like 3/4ths of the comic shops, a large number of publishers, and every distributor except Diamond. My own store was deep in debt despite all my efforts to be careful. Diamond arranged a payment schedule for me and we managed to pay it off. 

I'm pretty sure Diamond has often done this with other stores. Indeed, they are probably doing it right this minute.

I don't think the "hate" it evokes is justified.  I have some theories how this animus developed. 

First of all, there seems to be a real lack of perspective. Part of this is due to the fact that many, if not most, comic stores deal almost solely with comics, so they have fewer interactions with other distributors to compare. 

As I said above, in my experience Diamond is no better and no worse than most distributors. All of them have their negative quirks. It evens out, pretty much. 

So while I may get free postage from Ingrams, I pay 10% more for my product. While I can get a better discount from Scholastic, they are difficult to order from and the product comes poorly packed. Alliance has minimum free shipping, but rarely responds to problems with damages. Other distributors take much longer to ship, or don't tell you what they actually have in stock, and so on and so on,

In my opinion, Diamond has a much tougher job than just about any of these other distributors. Dealing with comic shops can't be easy--I'm pretty sure most of my other distributors wouldn't put up with late payments and constant complaints.

Diamond has a huge coordination situation with time-based product, hundreds of SKU's per week, product that is easily damaged, and most amazingly to my eyes, allows us to order small quantities of relatively low-priced items. I can imagine their warehouse workers having to go find a single issue of an obscure comic and packing and invoicing it just for me. It's really quite remarkable. 

But obviously, many comic retailers don't see it this way. 

I'm probably going to be tarred and feathered for saying this, but I think the other reason Diamond has such a bad reputation is because it is blamed for problems the retailers themselves have sometime caused, and worse, that retailers have used Diamond as an excuse and a whipping boy for decades now, so that is what the customer hears. 

A retailer doesn't order enough comics and says to the customer: "Diamond shorted me."  A retailer falls behind in their payments, so has to make an excuse. "Diamond shorted me." UPS drops a box and the retailer doesn't report damages fast enough and can't get replacements. "It's Diamond's fault."

So the retailers blame Diamond and the customers hear it, and it all bounces back and forth until it becomes the common wisdom, fair or not. 

I think retailers make a big mistake complaining to their customers, who frankly wouldn't notice most problems or would understand the real reasons for shortages and/or damages. 

This impression is reinforced every time there is a problem. 

As I said, Diamond isn't perfect, but many of the problems are just things that happen in the real world. You just go with the flow, make the best of it. 

Then, if there is a real problem, there is a chance that it can be resolved. 

That said, I'm not one of those who thinks that everyone needs to be positive all the time. I don't see the harm of complaints when expressed between retailers, or between retailers and distributors. After all, problems can't be solved until they are acknowledged.

But I think creating a Whipping Boy is a problem in itself and Diamond doesn't deserve all the hate it gets. This appears to be a minority opinion and I'm somewhat surprised that I have it myself. 


1 comment:

PeterHensel said...

Great analysis and observations. Thanks for writing up.