The post—LPC comics and graphic novel distribution landscape is beginning to come into focus. Diamond Comics, the largest distributor of periodical comic books to specialty comics stores, is launching Diamond Book Distributors, a division to distribute comics, graphic novels, manga and anime, as well as toys and other pop culture product, to the book trade.

Kuo-Yu Liang, formerly a marketing and licensing executive with Ballantine Books, has been named v-p of sales and marketing at the new division and will direct DBD. Liang will be responsible for hiring a sales and marketing force and coming up with sales and marketing strategies. Josh Hayes, formerly a buyer at Waldenbooks, has been named sales manager and will service accounts such as, Borders and other chain outlets.

Although Diamond dominates the comics specialty market, some comics publishers told PW that they are reluctant to have Diamond handle their distribution to the book trade and prefer to be represented by a company with far more experience in such dealings. Indeed, that reluctance had much to do with LPC's success at attracting a roster of significant indie comics publishers as clients. It remains to be seen if the hiring of these two professionals will convince comics and graphic novel publishers that Diamond can effectively distribute their titles to the book trade.

Liang told PW that he is confident Diamond can make the jump from the comics specialty market to the demands of the general book trade. Some large comics retailers contacted by PW doubted that Diamond's computer systems and warehouses are equipped to begin handling backlist sales and returns, which don't really exist in the comics market.

Liang noted he is a book industry veteran, who began as a bookseller in San Fancisco and joined Ballantine in 1989. "Diamond is aware of the perception that we are inexperienced in the book market," he told PW. "That's why they hired me."

Diamond's main warehouse is in Memphis, Tenn., and it has warehouses in California, upstate New York and the Midwest. It services about 4,500 comics specialty stores. Its Alliance subsidiary is one of the largest distributors of games. "We have all our systems in place for the book trade," said Liang. "We can start taking orders today."

Nevertheless, industry reaction to the new distribution unit was mixed. One distribution observer said hiring Liang showed "they're taking their own role in the book trade seriously... they're no worse than LPC and more likely to pay you." But the observer also called Diamond a "creature of the direct [comics] market]... they're pretty expensive for the service they offer. And if you're trying to make money in another channel, they don't have an understanding of the business."

Some distributors and retailers questioned whether a company accustomed to operating essentially as a monopoly can adjust to the competitive environment of trade book distribution ("they're used to calling the shots, and they can't in the book trade"). But another comics industry observer noted that Diamond rose to dominance in comics distribution because "they were just better at distributing comics than anybody else. They can be bullies, but they pay you quickly. They don't have to deliver great service, but they do"