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Thursday, July 12, 2007

 
A Sea-Change for True Mainstream Comics? -- Tom Spurgeon posts an interesting letter from a comic book retailer about the possible end of Cold Cut's role in serving up non-superhero comics to the Direct Market:

"As someone who in the past has relied on Cold Cut in keeping perennial sellers like Blankets, Maus, or Persepolis on our shelves at all times, I now have to look elsewhere for those books."

Spurgeon recently covered the story about Cold Cut going up for sale and speculates on the non-reception to the story.

I sort of mentally red-flagged the news when it first appeared, but having had a day or two to think about it, I wonder what the ultimate impact on artcomics publishers will be. If Cold Cut disappears (or changes its business model enough so as to no longer be a major supplier of artcomics for progressive comic shops), this will have a definite effect on the bottom line of publishers like Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and the other major players in North American non-corporate, non-superhero comics and graphic novels.

While the worst-case scenario would be publishers going out of business or severely curtailing their release schedules as a result of fewer orders from within the direct market, the fact of the matter is that the percentage of comic book stores that actively deal with Cold Cut is probably only 10-25 percent of those that get their stock mostly or solely from Diamond, a quasi-monopoly that prioritizes weekly corporate superhero product over the kind of artcomics readers like to buy in regular bookstores, or those progressive comic shops (and how many of those are there across North America? 50? 75? I wish to fuck I knew).

But in the past few years, artcomics publishers have demonstrated a canny knack for dealing with real book distributors, getting their books into mainstream bookstores (both chain and independent shops) sometimes weeks to months before Diamond can be bothered to deliver them to the stores they service.

So with advance warning that Cold Cut may soon cease to be a viable distributor of their product, what will artcomics publishers do? They could encourage a new, independent distributor, one supposes, or, and I think this is the more likely scenario -- they could focus even more of their efforts on dealing with mainstream distributors, who have demonstrated a better understanding of their needs, and certainly have provided better distribution than Diamond has, judging by what I see in mainstream bookstores.

Frankly, the progressive comic shops I have shopped in in the past five or six years, from Modern Myths in Northampton to The Beguiling in Toronto and others, have long since begun dealing with distributors other than Diamond to make sure they have the product their diverse customer base wants. No doubt they have relied on Cold Cut to a lesser or greater extent, but they are already ahead of the curve, in that they have been used to a multi-distributor business model for their stores and are probably far more prepared to deal with the possible end of Cold Cut as a player in the overall comics marketplace than the average superhero convenience shop owner, who wants to deal solely with Diamond anyway, out of either laziness, ignorance or outright hostility to any comics product that doesn't reflect their own narrow, backward-looking interests.

One thing is certain: If Cold Cut does end its distribution of artcomics to the direct market, things will change for certain. I hope they change to the benefit of artcomics publishers and the progressive stores that support them.

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