DC Comics moves on from Cockeysville-based Diamond Comic Distributors

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Diamond Comic Distribtors’ offices in Cockeysville. Image via Google Street View.

DC Comics, home to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and other classic titles, has cut ties with Cockeysville-based company Diamond Comic Distributors, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

DC told retailers in a Friday morning email that it would be distributing all periodical releases through through Lunar Distribution and UCS Comic Distributors, and graphic novels and collected editions through Penguin Random House.

According to the report, the email said, “The change of direction is in line with DC’s overall strategic vision intended to improve the health of, and strengthen, the Direct Market as well as grow the number of fans who read comics worldwide.”

In a statement released late Friday, Diamond owner Steve Geppi said the company was “disappointed” by DC’s decision but said his larger organization of businesses, Geppi Family Enterprises, is poised to grow in other areas of the comic, toy and game industries.

“Rest assured, Diamond is a strong company and our success does not depend on the actions of one business partner,” he said. “While we recognize this change impacts the industry, we are well-positioned to seize growth opportunities and are committed to the success of our publishing partners, the Direct Market and our industry as a whole.”

Geppi Family Enterprises includes other Geppi properties such as Alliance Game Distributors, Diamond Select Toys, Baltimore magazine, Hake’s Auctions, Diamond International Galleries and Gemstone Publishing.

Geppi is also a minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

Statistics that Diamond regularly tabulates show DC titles account for just below 30 percent of the market share through March 2020. By comparison, Marvel Comics has close to 40 percent of the market in that same time. The next closest competitor is Image Comics, with approximately a 6 percent share of the market.

In March, Diamond announced it was no longer going to accept new comics in response to the coronavirus pandemic and would only ship out product already in its warehouses through April 1.

DC announced it would try to find other distributors to get new comics into the hands of stores.

Geppi said in his statement that Diamond asked to submit a revised agreement to DC and remain one of the publisher’s distributors. DC then asked for an extension until June 30. When they tried to extend through July, Diamond sent questions to the publisher, Geppi said, and was promised answers on June 5.

“Instead of receiving a response, today we received a termination notice,” Geppi said. “While we had anticipated this as a possible outcome, we, like so many others in the industry, are disappointed by their decision to end our partnership so abruptly at this time.”

Since the mid-1990s, Diamond, founded in 1982 by Geppi, has had a virtual monopoly on comic distribution.

As a separate Hollywood Reporter article lays out, Diamond’s dominance was set in motion in 1994 when Marvel purchased the distribution company Heroes World. That deal resulted in many other publishers, including DC, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics and Archie Comics, consolidating behind Diamond.

Diamond later acquired one of the largest remaining competitors, Capital City Distribution, after that company declared bankruptcy.

But Marvel encountered a number of problems running its own distribution, including unfulfilled orders and errors, and by 1997, the company decided to nix Heroes World and signed an exclusive deal with Diamond.

Some retailers and fans have complained about this arrangement. The pop culture website Bleeding Cool argued the company’s “destructive practices” have taken a toll on stores.

“Sloppy fulfillment of orders and regular overages and shortages of product have become characteristic of Diamond’s service,” Bleeding Cool‘s Rich Johnson wrote. “Replacements that are confirmed are often later revised as unable to be filled and just the weekly over-ships of random products which we never ordered is currently resulting in a minimum of 6 to 8 hours each week in labor; the time to report it all, repackage, and travel time to send back.”

Meanwhile, Jacob Shelton at Ranker contends the monopoly makes it harder for new artists to break in and gives Diamond too much creative control to pull comics it doesn’t like.

Bleeding Cool has also highlighted Geppi’s social media presence, sharing anti-Hillary Clinton posts he made before the 2016 election and his, well, thirsty replies to models and influencers online. (Full disclosure: When I worked at City Paper we gave Geppi a Best of Baltimore award for Best Hef thanks to “regular posts of Geppi posing poolside with bikini-clad women a third his age, or with front-row seats at Orioles games accompanied by a line of young women in tight O’s shirts.”)

Fast forward to 2020 and the onset of COVID-19. Diamond’s decision to stop sending out new product created a ripple effect throughout the industry, according to an article in The Guardian. Stores couldn’t pay Diamond, who in turn couldn’t pay publishers, who then couldn’t compensate artists, writers and other staff.

Ron Hill, owner of Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York, told The Guardian that the business environment for comic books shops was far worse than the Great Recession that started in 2008.

“This is beyond 2008, this is beyond the Great Depression,” he said. “I’m just a guy who sells comic books but I feel like this is true up and down. How are we gonna do this?”

He said that paper stores like his need debt relief.

In recent weeks, Geppi launched a campaign called Back the Comeback urging fans to support comics and game stores as restrictions around the country are loosened and those businesses are able to reopen.

“Now is the time to show the retailers how much you love them and how much you’ve missed them,” he said in a video message.

This story has been updated.

Brandon Weigel

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