Big Moves for Hack/Slash and IDW

Shortly after the recent announcement that Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash is moving from Devil’s Due Publishing (DDP) to Image Comics, Chris Ryall (Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing) announced that IDW has been made Diamond’s fifth “Premier Publisher” – joining Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image in what he refers to as “The Premier Five”. While I congratulate both Tim and Chris, I can’t help but wonder how this may affect the “non-Premier” publishers being left behind.

With IDW moving to the “Premier” section in the front of Diamond’s Previews catalog and DDP’s pending demise (besides losing Hack/Slash to Image, they’ve lost G.I. Joe & The Transformers to IDW and are rumored to have other financial issues), retailers and consumers have even less incentive to look in the section reserved for “back of the bus” publishers, such as:

  • Abstract Studios (Strangers in Paradise, Terry Moore’s Echo)
  • Ape (Athena Voltaire, The Black Coat, Shrek)
  • Archaia (Okko, The Killer, Titanium Rain, Fraggle Rock)
  • Avatar (most of Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis’ non-DC/Marvel comics, some Alan Moore comics)
  • Bongo (The Simpsons and related titles)
  • Boom! (28 Days Later, Die Hard, Samuel L. Jackson’s Cold Space, Farscape, Mark “Editor-in-Chief” Waid’s non-DC/Marvel comics), various Disney, Pixar & Muppets comics
  • Cartoon Books (Jeff Smith’s Bone & Rasl)
  • Dynamite (Kevin Smith & Matt Wagner’s Green Hornet comics, Alex Ross’ Superpowers comics, Garth Ennis’ The Boys, Frank Cho’s Jungle Girl, The Man With No Name (based on the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood character), Buck Rogers, Dracula, Lone Ranger, Red Sonja, Robocop, Sherlock Holmes, Zorro)
  • Mirage (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
  • Moonstone (Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Phantom)
  • Pantheon Books (publisher of the critically-acclaimed Asterios Polyp, Maus and Persepolis)
  • Rebellion (Judge Dredd and other 2000 A.D. titles)
  • Top Shelf (Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic, Lost Girls, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol III)
  • First Second, Oni Press, Radical, Red 5, Zenescope, manga publishers (including Tokyopop, Udon and Viz) and even decades-long industry mainstays Amaze Ink/Slave Labor, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Gemstone, NBM and Archie!

While this list suggests plenty of reasons for people to scour the “other publishers” section, either this isn’t the case or the audience for these books is nearly non-existent.

An analysis of the February 2010 Comic Book Sales Figures shows that (in terms of units) Boom! has the most sales of all of the “other publishers”, at roughly 2%. The next 13 publishers each account for as much as 0.88% and as little as 0.14% of the market, will all of the remaining publishers combined making up only 1.91%!

In comparison, the “Premier” publishers account for 45.42% (Marvel), 34.37% (DC), 3.47% (Dark Horse), 3.38% (Image) and 2.52% (IDW). Wizard (with only 0.5%) is used as the divider between the “Premier” and other publishers sections in Diamond’s catalog.

With only 1.47%, 1.38% and 0.52% separating Boom! from “Premier” publishers Dark Horse, Image and IDW (respectively), perhaps it’s time that ALL publishers be included in one section rather than segregating “The Premier Five” from publishers who could only benefit equal exposure.

Why would Diamond do such a thing?

When DC’s former President/Publisher Paul Levitz was asked why DC moved from being distributed (outside the direct market) by Hachette Book Group (purchaser of DC’s parent company Warner Books in early 2006) to Random House after only two years, he stated the following:

“Random in particular demonstrated that their field force knows and understands the graphic novel business… they’ve done a great job selling into the market” (“the market” meaning bookstores outside of the direct market, which is serviced almost exclusively by Diamond).

“For the first time under this deal, we’re going to use a book publisher as our sales representative for the book trade. Hachette had not previously done that service for us – we’d done all the selling ourselves.”

“Random, by virtue of their size, has the broadest footprint of a sales force reaching out to sell books, pretty much anyplace a human being could possibly consider buying a book, and we think that will be a very good opportunity to expand our presence.”

In other words, after 12-years as DC Comics’ Executive Vice President/Publisher and 7 Years as President/Publisher, Paul Levitz’ decision was based on his belief that part of a distributor’s job is to help publishers sell books to the marketplace.

I’m not a retailer, so I can’t speak to Diamond’s efforts (if any) to sell titles to shop owners, but as a consumer using Previews for over 15 years when ordering, it seems that separating the “Premier” publishers from publishers who (in my eyes) appear to be underperforming seems almost like sabotage.

(Before ranting in the comments section, I’m not suggesting that Diamond is intentionally sabotaging any publishers. How separating publishers may inadvertently affect sales is something else entirely.)

In an era where retailers like Borders and Amazon are eating away at sales of hardcovers and trade paperbacks on one front, and digital distribution is (some feel) threatening sales of single issues on the other, it seems it would be in both Diamond’s and direct market retailers’ best interests to promote – rather than segregate – the publishers they distribute.

(Written by Brian Matus, co-host of The Kryptographik Podcast)

One Response to “Big Moves for Hack/Slash and IDW”

  1. BobBretall says:

    Calling IDW, Dark Horse, & Image “premiere” publishers is just marketing nonsense. You make good points Brian.

    I see little/no difference between any of the mid-tier publishers (all of whom put out good books). In this group (at least):
    Boom!, Dark Horse, Dynamite, IDW, Image

    I understand why Dark Horse & Image have “premiere” front of the bus status, it is an old grandfathered thing. Adding IDW to this group is really piuzzling to me.


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