Comics industry publishers and retailers gathered in person for the 2022 Diamond Retailer Summit, held October 26-28 in conjunction with the Baltimore Comic Con. The event was attended by about 250 retailers representing 200 stores, and two dozen publishers and vendors. It marked the largest comics industry business event since the pandemic. Diamond Comic Distributors is the largest distributor of graphic novels and comics periodicals to the comics shop direct market.
The meeting was also notable for being the first since the industry upheaval that followed in the aftermath of Diamond’s 2020 temporary closure during the pandemic. Since then, Marvel and DC, the two biggest direct market publishers, have both left Diamond – DC for Lunar, a new distribution company, and Marvel for Penguin Random House Publisher Services. Dark Horse and IDW, among the top five comic publishers, have also left for PRH.
The meeting also follows a period of historic sales growth in the industry in the wake of the rise in the demand for manga, kids’ comics and reading material in general that took place over the pandemic. The retailer summit provided a valuable chance to take stock and compare notes on dealing with new products and new challenges.
The mood was upbeat in general, with retailers basking in the strong sales over the course of the pandemic, although most felt that momentum had slowed a bit in recent months, as inflation, supply chain issues and a return to in-person activities have impacted comics sales. However, as with book sales in general, sales levels remain above pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
The retail summit was as notable for those who did not attend as for those who did. While Marvel and DC were absent, Dark Horse did send a brief video presentation. Image, by far Diamond’s largest remaining client, did not send a rep, but provided a networking event by sponsoring Wednesday night’s opening reception.
The changes in Diamond’s standing in the industry weren’t directly addressed during their presentations, although Diamond founder Steve Geppi alluded to it in remarks at the dinner session, while restating Diamond’s commitment to fans, stores and collectors. Diamond also stressed its other businesses, which are collected under Geppi Family Enterprises, a parent company founded to oversee its various business units.
During its presentations, Diamond emphasized its moves to diversify into other business segments, including several aimed at the collector marketplace, another pop culture category that exploded in size during the pandemic. (The overall collectibles market is estimated to be more than $400 billion in 2021.) It’s also a busy segment with various companies such as CGC, WhatNot, ShortBoxed, which grade and sell comics and other collectilbes, and many more.
Last year, Diamond acquired CGA (Comics Grading Authority), a consumer facing company that evaluates the condition of various collectibles including comics. More recently they’ve showcased Overstreet Access, a spinoff of the venerable Overstreet Price Guide (which is owned by Diamond), a 50 year-old publication that set the standard for pricing back issues of comics in pre-internet days. Overstreet Access allows collectors to catalog their collections, get information about back issues, and connect with retailers who may have their desired back issues for sale. The service launched over the summer and is getting a push to compete in a busy space for collector services.
Ironguard is a new branch of Diamond offering collectors supplies to safeguard comics, trading cards and other valuables. The company just launched and is still looking to build brand awareness.
Diamond’s expansion into other collector services came as their core distribution business makes adjustments. Boom Studio publisher Filip Sablik announced that they were collaborating with Diamond to offer a weekly 2% freight rebate and waiving a 3% reorder fee on Boom products. Unlike its distribution competitors Lunar and PRH Publisher Services, Diamond charges for shipping and on reorders, practices that publishers and retailers have complained about. Sablik noted that this was an experiment and its success depends on retailers ordering more Boom products.
With the five largest direct market publishers absent (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW), other players stepped up to get their message in front of retailers. Titan Books announced they had acquired the Conan the Barbarian license. Visi8, a studio of Indonesian creators, presented a slate of upcoming projects, and Mad Cave Studios talked about their recent acquisition of independent chilren’s/YA comics publisher Papercutz in August. Dynamite presented plans for a big Red Sonja celebration next year.
Sparks flew during a keynote address by former DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio, who is now publisher of Frank Miller Presents, a new imprint launched by the legendary superhero creator. DiDio gave a lively speech covering variant covers, comics nostalgia, lack of connection between young readers and current superhero comics, and the unexpected success of comics sales. “We’ve gone from saying we don't know if we can sell any more comics, to we don't have enough paper to make the comics we sell,” he said.
The massive sales growth in the manga market was represented by U.S.-based manga house Viz Media, stressing sales of direct market favorites like Japanese horror manga master Junji Ito and the Signature line, which releases classic and cutting-edge manga titles. Viz publishing sales manager Julia Walchuk noted that over the years that Viz has attended Diamond retailer events, comics retailers have evolved along with the category. “When I first started doing these, I heard a lot of ‘how do I sell manga?’ But with anime’s rise in pop culture, the questions now are ‘how do I get more?”