In a move that will likely transform the distribution of comics periodicals in North America, Penguin Random House Publisher Services has reached an agreement with Marvel to distribute its periodical comics and graphic novels to the comics shop market, also known as the direct market.
The two companies have signed an exclusive, worldwide multi-year sales and distribution agreement for Marvel’s comics—including individual issues, trade collections, and graphic novels both newly published and backlist—to the direct market. PRHPS officially begins its distribution to direct market retailers for Marvel titles on October 1. The move marks a major change in the U.S. comics distribution market, which Diamond Comic Distributors has long dominated.
PRHPS will offer Marvel comics to direct market retailers on nonreturnable wholesale terms. The comics shop market, aka the direct market, is a network of about 2,000 independent retailers around the country that traditionally bought their inventory from Diamond Comics Distributors, the largest distributor of periodical comics in North America. Direct market retailers generally buy most of their stock nonreturnable at wholesale prices. Comics shops sell a mix of periodical comics, graphic novels, prose books and pop culture merchandise.
Marvel’s new agreement with PRHPS follows the unexpected departure of DC from Diamond in 2020. The new distribution agreement means that the Big Two of American superhero comics—Marvel and DC—which are also Diamond’s two biggest accounts as well as pillars of the direct market, have left Diamond Comics Distributors. It is unclear how this will impact Diamond and the comics shop market going forward but it does mark the end of Diamond's dominance of periodical comics distribution.
Comics shop retailers, however, will still be able order Marvel comics from Diamond. The deal effectively turns Diamond into a wholesaler account (they will get their stock from PRHPS) although this is likely to effect the discounts available to retailers that order via Diamond. Direct market retailers will be able to choose between ordering Marvel products directly from PRHPS or through Diamond. Hachette Book Group will continue to manage the distribution of Marvel’s graphic novels and trade collections to the book market, including independent bookstores and elsewhere.
In a statement to PW, Steve Geppi, chairman, CEO, and president of Geppi Family Enterprises which owns Diamond, clarified Diamond's continued participation in distributing Marvel comics to the direct market. "We value our almost 40-year relationship with Marvel and are pleased that we will continue selling Marvel products to the Direct Market and other channels," Geppi said. "The change Marvel announced today represents a behind-the-scenes shift in how Diamond interacts with Marvel for certain products, but does not impact our ability to supply our customers with Marvel comics, trades, and graphic novels. I expect the discount terms under which our retail partners order these Marvel products to change, and Diamond will communicate that information to our customers well in advance of any adjustments. While there are still details of this new arrangement to work through, my leadership team and I are committed to making this supply change as operationally seamless as possible for our retail partners and we look forward to our continued distribution of Marvel products."
“This is an exciting time for comics, and we’re thrilled to partner with Marvel in taking the next steps to support the growth of the marketplace, together with our direct market retail partners,” Jeff Abraham, president of Penguin Random House Publisher Services, said in a statement. “Based on the foundation of our relationships with physical retailers, we’re confident in the significant growth of the comic book industry and welcome the opportunity to further collaborate with and invest PRHPS’ resources in the direct market. Combining the standard-setting supply chain and sales capabilities of PRH with Marvel’s renowned universe of stories and characters, we expect to reach even more fans of its artists and writers throughout the world.”
Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Entertainment, added: "Marvel’s entire history is built on telling great stories. And as we’ve seen for decades, those stories go hand in hand with equipping the comic shops who share them. Marvel and Penguin Random House stand by that vision, and we are excited to build and expand those opportunities for our talent, retailers, and fans."
Penguin Random House's sales department has formed a dedicated direct comics market team to be headed by Tyne Hunter, who has been promoted to associate director of comic market sales. Hunter has been working to prepare platforms, terms, and communication plans focused on the direct market. Part of the newest PRH distribution facility, located in Hampstead, Md., will be devoted to fulfillment for direct market accounts
Marvel’s full print and online October Marvel Previews catalog and comic book solicits will be available in July and distributed by PRHPS to active accounts, and the companies ask that all comic book and trade orders for titles going on sale this October be made through PRHPS.
Early solicit titles will be available for orders starting on May 26, and comics retailers can now open PRHPS accounts to register for Marvel’s monthly title catalogs and solicits, which will still be available roughly three months ahead of Marvel's comics' on-sale date. Direct market retailers can reach out to email@example.com for more information.
This story has been updated to include remarks from Diamond.