In a deal that could mark a new phase in mainstream acceptance of graphic novels, DC Comics is switching its book trade distribution to Random House Publisher Services after more than 20 years using Warner Books/Hachette for bookstore distribution. The switch will take place in spring 2008. DC will continue to use Diamond Comics Distributors to distribute to the comics shop market. The change teams one of the largest publishers of comics and graphic novels in the world with the book industry’s largest and most far-reaching distribution service.

Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics, said the decision to change its distribution after so many years with Warner Books was spurred by Hachette’s purchase of the Time Warner Book Group and the end of its longtime distribution agreement with Warner. “We’ve had a very positive experience with Time Warner/Hachette, but the sale gave us an opportunity to explore the marketplace. The graphic novel business has changed to an astounding degree over the last 20 years and we decided to look at the market and see what the distribution market is like now and what it might look like in the future.”

Jeff Abraham, president of RHPS, said “We’re thrilled with this new relationship. Most of my staff and sales force have been fans of DC Comics long before we ever thought they’d be a partner.”

Asked to characterize the terms of the deal, Levitz said it was difficult “because it’s not apples to apples. We’ve never had a sales force of any size in the book trade. We’ve always done sales ourselves using a very small sales team.” Levitz said that he was not worried that DC Comics titles might be lost in the giant Random House distribution operation. “We’re used to being in a big environment,” he said.

Levitz noted that Random House sales reps have experience selling graphic novels that other distributors lack. “Years ago when we jointly published some books with Warner Books, the sales force didn’t really get the graphic novel category,” he explained. “It was hard to get the sales reps to understand the product. That’s just not a problem anymore. These days the awareness and understanding of category makes it a different a game.”

And Levitz believes Random House will help sell the graphic novel category to independent bookstores, which have lagged significantly behind chain bookstores in embracing the category. “Graphic novels have a weaker representation in independent stores than in the chains. Random House has an opportunity to have a big impact there,” he said. Abraham agreed, noting that “we’re very selective in choosing our clients. We try to find category leaders like DC that are perfect for our own internal experience. I certainly hope we can bring in the independent stores.”