On January 16th, 2009, Diamond announced a policy change that would have a huge impact on the comics market: the threshold for orders on new products was bumped up from $1500 to $2500, and fewer items would be relisted after their initial offering. The effect of the change was to not only reduce the number of low selling products that Diamond carries in its massive catalog but it to limit the number of new and unusual works from small presses
Publishers were notified of the new benchmark by their Diamond reps over the phone, and the news quickly spread to the internet. The math was less dire for new graphic novels, which would need to sell only a few hundred copies more to meet the threshold, but a deathblow to low-selling pamphlets, which were often a thousand copies below the threshold.
The initial reaction from the marketplace blasted Diamond for their new practices, at a time when smaller publishers were already struggling in a down economy. Anecdotal reports of Diamond’s efforts to cut costs due to the general economic downturn and internal setbacks were discussed, such as a difficult warehouse move in the beginning of 2009, but much of the industry seemed willing, if begrudgingly, to give Diamond the benefit of the doubt that the measures were necessary to avoid the collapse of the entire direct market infrastructure.
In the year since this change, the effects on publishers and products have been wide-ranging. Some observers predicted the End of Comics As We Know It, and some saw yet another mark of the death of print. But even ignoring the hit to comics as periodicals, the threshold took a toll on small press comics. The loss of "Offered Again" items—products already solicited but offered again to retailers to get a boost in sales—became much more visible when it was discovered that Viz alone had nearly a thousand volumes of manga delisted, though most of those were different volumes of about 75 different manga series.
Some hoped for the possible rise of a new competitor to Diamond, but no one has challenged Diamond’s grasp on the direct market yet. Haven Distributors (formerly Cold Cut) quickly welcomed those cut out of Diamond to try their services, and now boasts about 200 publishers ranging from widely known entities like Top Shelf to the more obscure end of the publishing spectrum, though their reach into the direct market is unknown. Independent sales rep Tony Shenton, who works with dozens of publishers to get their products into stores, has emerged as another key alternative for small presses.
The indie small presses have been dealing with the effects of the threshold change over the past year with some mixed success. AdHouse first responded to the news by canceling Superior Showcase, a periodical devoted to short, standalone superhero comics by indie creators, and in October was forced to cancel publication of FCHS, a 128p graphic novel, due to inadequate preorders. According to AdHouse publisher Chris Pitzer, “When it happened, it was just a wake up call for me to look at each project and examine whether or not I felt it was worth pushing through their system.”
Barry Matthews of the small press publisher and distributor Secret Acres told PWCW "Diamond has always represented a small sales channel for Secret Acres books. They've featured our books as picks and treated them kindly, but with the minimums that were introduced last year, they are not really taking chances with untested material. They passed on PS Comics and solicited Monsters through their Adult Previews magazine (which was transformed to a pdf-only magazine last year as well). We've found that once retailers find that they can't get all of our titles through Diamond, they go elsewhere for our books. From day one, Tony Shenton has been the most successful sales channel for us."
Picturebox’s Dan Nadel has abandoned the initial dire reactions to Diamond’s new minimums. “We're adapting and basically OK, mostly because we never depended on Diamond as a primary source of income. We'll see how 2010 goes, but I'm optimistic.”
Dylan Williams, of SparkplugBooks, which distributes many self-published creators in addition to their own books, seems to be the only one to break ties with Diamond: “The threshold made us stop sending books in to Diamond. I don't agree with it, so I feel weird sending books in to a system I don't agree with. They turned down Jin and Jam #1, the last time I sent books in. I figured they'd at least be interested in it but they used the 'we'll wait for the collection' logic. Maybe that means they were interested and it was just the format of comic books that they don't like. I find that contradictory. It was different for each book but they never liked the really arty books. We don't sell as many individual books thanks to not going through Diamond but their price structure wasn't one where Sparkplug could make any money."
In January, Diamond announced a change to the policy that allows the first issue of items solicited in Previews to ship even if they fail to meet the mark—instead of canceling orders for a book that at least some retailers wanted to sell, products will get a chance to make it in the marketplace. This has been the first change in a year to the policy, spurred on by the wishes of the retailers who order books to then see those books arrive in their stores.
Despite the uphill battle at the distribution level, indie comics continue to find their audience, Williams says." The internet, indie stores and direct sales have done pretty well for us. I believe in supporting a personal connection between readers and producers of comix as well as supporting small independent book and comix stores so it fit. The distort side has been so great. People love finding self published art comix. The harder it becomes for stores to get things through Diamond the more they go looking for other sources. It is a pretty awesome side affect of the minimums. Sparkplug keeps on finding more and more customers thanks to their lack of interest in comix that are done with art and personal expression in mind instead of commercial properties.”