Steve Geppi at Comics, Cards & Collectibles in Reisterstown, Maryland
Credit: Diamond Comic Distributors
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly the entire comic book industry, most notably the distribution infrastructure that gets comic books from publishers such as Marvel and DC to Direct Market retailers and ultimately to fans, with the effects of coronavirus even limiting digital comic book releases.
Last week marked the resumption of widespread Direct Market distribution to comic book stores after almost two months on hiatus, with Diamond Comic Distributors resuming their position as the industry’s leading distributor. But with several smaller distributors arising during the company’s temporary suspension of operations, Diamond’s place as the industry’s de facto distributor of comics has been called into question.
So, we asked Diamond’s founder/owner Steve Geppi that question. Specifically, why is having one distributor – a privately-owned family company – a good thing for comic book retailers, publishers, and readers, as opposed to a multi-distributor system?
“Thank you for that question,” Geppi told Newsarama. “What I will say, as pragmatically as I can, is that the past 25 years as the industry’s primary distributor, Diamond – and it could’ve been someone else – has provided consistency. Prior to that, there were over 20 distributors and that, combined with air freight issues, made so much chaos. Some books came earlier, some came later, but the industry wouldn’t have survived long term. Money was wasted on things with no real value.”
Geppi enteed the industry in 1973, establishing a then-growing chain of comic stores in the Northeast United States called Geppi’s World. In 1982 he entered the comic book distribution business, and in the mid-90s after contractions in the market he and his company, Diamond, ended up the primary, near-exclusive distributor of comic books to Direct Market retailers – and for some publishers, even bookstores.
“I was fortunate, and competitively savvy, that I understand that’s what the industry needed to survive,” Geppi said. “We survived, and we’re big. But after our comeback this month, I think we can grow this to 10 times the size of what you see in Japan.
“When Diamond came in, no one got books a day earlier – but no one got them a day later than anyone else either. Consistency,” he continued. “For consumers, they could go to their local comic store and get their books the same time as the rest of the world, if you wanted to put the effort in. Readers didn’t have to worry about someone else beating you to those books.”
During Diamond’s COVID-19-influenced stoppage, DC launched supplemental distribution with two new companies – UCS and Lunar – and switched their on-sale dates to Tuesday in the process. With Diamond resuming distribution last week, there are now three comic book distributors to comic stores – although for the time being, UCS and Lunar solely carry DC titles.
“We also have the benefit of the economy of scale; by distributing so many comic books, there are cost savings that are passed along to everyone on the chain,” Geppi continued. “Instead of multiple trucks from printers to multiple distributors, then multiple packages to your local retailer, it became a streamlined process.
“The more consistent and uniform you are, the more you can go forward as a unified front. It’s like being on a ship – if there’s no commonality, you end up not getting the ship to move in one direction. With what we have, we get us there – and faster.”
The 70-year-old Baltimore native told Newsarama that this year’s events have led him to be more active in the industry again, and be more public – such as with the “Back the Comeback” campaign.
“With this comeback, I’m taking a high profile in the business,” Geppi said. “I should have realized newer retailers and newer publishers might not know much as much as those in the industry years ago. Back then, I was more pro-active, and it was a different industry. Back in the 1990s, there was a lot of negativity.
“Here now, Diamond represents stability. Some people complain about all the eggs being in one basket, but if its a solid basket it’s fine,” Geppi said. “We’re not abusing the system. We were investigated by the government to not be a monopoly. We are benign, and good for the industry.”
With all the print and digital distribution channels for comic books and graphic novels re-opened as of last week, Geppi sees this recovery phase as a chance to “reset” for the modern age.
“We’re looking at this month’s comeback as a chance to reset everything – to start new, but with the advantage of having history to go by. This isn’t like 1972, but we’re re-starting here now in 2020 with a lot of history, many tools of the trade already established, and a bigger audience.”
When asked what that meant in terms of changes to how Diamond distributes comic books, Geppi said more news would be coming at a later date.