Diamond Comic Distributors
|Headquarters||Hunt Valley, Maryland, USA|
Stephen A. Geppi, CEO
|Products||comic book distribution|
Number of employees
Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. (often called Diamond Comics, DCD, or casually Diamond) is the last remaining comic book distributor serving retailers in North America and worldwide, since the end of the comic book distributor wars in the 1990s. They transport comic books from both big and small comic book publishers, or suppliers, to retailers. Diamond dominates the direct market in the United States, and has a distribution monopoly structured by exclusive arrangements with most major U.S. comic book publishers, including Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, Marvel Comics, and more.
Diamond is also the parent company of Alliance Game Distributors, Diamond Book Distributors, Diamond UK, Diamond Select Toys, Gemstone Publishing, E. Gerber Products, Diamond International Galleries, Hake's Americana & Collectibles, Morphy's Auctions, the Geppi's Entertainment Museum, and Baltimore magazine,
Diamond is the publisher of PREVIEWS, a monthly catalog/magazine showcasing upcoming comic books, graphic novels, toys, and other pop-culture merchandise available at comic book specialty shops. The publication is available to both comic shop retailers and consumers.
- 1 History
- 2 Criticism
- 3 Publishing
- 4 Affiliated and subsidiary companies
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
In 1982, Baltimore-based comics retailer Steve Geppi founded Diamond Comic Distributors. Diamond became the successor to direct market pioneer Phil Seuling's distribution dream when it took over New Media/Irjax's warehouses in 1982. Diamond further bought out early-distributor Bud Plant Inc. in 1988, and main rival Capital City Distribution in 1996, to assume a near-monopoly on comics distribution, including exclusivity deals with the major comic book publishers.
By 1981/82 Geppi had four comics retail locations and was already "doing a little informal distributing... for smaller retailers." Geppi found himself "one of the biggest accounts" for New Media/Irjax, and when the distributor "relocated to Florida, he asked Geppi to service more accounts for a bigger discount." One of the "last loyal customers" when New Media began having fiscal difficulties, Geppi made a deal: "[t]he owner was going into retail," so Geppi agreed to provide New Media/Irjax with "free books for a period of time in return for his account list," buying parts of the company, and founding Diamond Comic Distribution.
Geppi had been a sub-distributor for Hal Shuster's Irjax in the late 1970s. In what Mile High Comics' Chuck Rozanski describes as an "incredibly risky and gutsy move," Geppi took over New Media/Irjax's "office and warehouse space" and, recalled Rozanski, had to "sort out the good customers from the bad overnight" negotiating with creditors to continue Shuster's distribution business as Diamond Comic Distribution. Almost overnight, noted Rozanski, "[h]e went from being a retailer in Baltimore to having warehouses all over the place."
Geppi named his new company 'Diamond' "after the imprint Marvel Comics used on non-returnable comics," and although the "publisher discontinued the symbol" months later, the name remained. "Diamond grew an average of 40 percent a year," as comics retail took off.
In 1983, Diamond hired an accounting firm, and in 1985 hired "no-nonsense CPA," Chuck Parker "as Diamond's first controller." In 1994, Diamond employee Mark Herr noted that this move was Geppi's "best decision," as Parker "cares nothing about the comics. To him, it's dollars and cents." Parker describes his role as "smooth[ing] the emotion out of some decisions. Steve [Geppi] is a visionary and a risk-taker... and I tend to be more conservative."
After starting his business through buying New Media/Irjax's warehouses and offices in 1982, Geppi's distribution company has bought out many other distribution companies since. Many fans "with little experience" started rival distribution companies only to "find they were in over their heads," allowing Geppi to "[buy] out the smart ones or pick... up the pieces after the stupid ones went out of business," according to Herr. Diamond was aided in his efforts by the publishers themselves. In the early 1980s, Marvel and DC Comics provided trade terms favorable for larger distributors and those with efficient freight systems, effectively "play[ing] into the hands of the major distributors such as Capital and Diamond," and hastening the demise of smaller distributors.
Bud Plant Inc.
Most notably, in 1988, Geppi bought up early mail-order distributor Bud Plant Inc., who had himself bought out Charles Abar Distribution in 1982. Plant had, since 1970, been selling underground comics (a field which Geppi and fellow distributor Buddy Saunders had tended to steer clear of). After making $19m in sales in 1987, Diamond bought West Coast distributor Plant's business in 1988 "and went national" thereby assuming control of "40 percent of the direct-sales market." (Diamond and Capital City Distribution had control of at least 70% between them.)
In 1990, Diamond acquired the Seattle-based sub-distributor Destiny Distribution. Destiny had been started by Phil Pankow in the early 1980s, and was initially supplied by Bud Plant. Also in 1990, Diamond acquired Oregon-based Second Genesis Distribution (whose operations folded in 1991).
In 1994, Diamond acquired Staten Island-based distributor Comics Unlimited. By this point, Diamond had "27 warehouses in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., employ[ing] between 750 and 900 people;" operated its own trucking line; and controlled 45% of the market, making $222 million in sales.
Heroes World and Capital City Distribution
In 1995, Marvel Comics challenged Diamond and main rival Capital City by buying the third distributor — Heroes World Distribution — and distributing its titles in-house. Diamond reacted by outbidding Capital City for exclusive deals with Marvel's main rivals DC Comics, as well as Dark Horse, Image, and Archie Comics. Capital City's response saw it sign exclusive deals with Kitchen Sink Press and Viz Comics, but a year later faced the choice between bankruptcy and selling out. Diamond bought Capital City in the summer of 1996, assuming near-control of the comics distribution system. The purchase price was not disclosed, but the acquisition brought an estimated $50 million in sales revenue to Diamond.
In early 1997, when Marvel's Heroes World endeavor failed, Diamond also forged an exclusive deal with the House of Ideas — giving the company its own section of comics catalog Previews (not least because the DC/Dark Horse/Image deal gave contractual prominence to those companies) — making "Geppi... the sole king of comics industry distribution in the summer of 1996."
In 1997, Diamond's position in the comics industry, as "the sole source of most new comics products to comics specialty shops," ultimately saw the company become the subject of "an investigation by the U.S. Justice department for possible antitrust violations." The Justice Department launched an antitrust investigation into the comics industry and the alleged monopoly of Diamond Comics. The investigation was closed in November 2000, with no further action deemed necessary on the basis that, although Diamond enjoyed a monopoly in the North American comic book direct market distribution, they did not enjoy a monopoly on book distribution (books including non-comic books).
International and book trade
In addition to having cornered the American comics distribution market, Diamond includes a number of subsidiary and affiliated companies. UK and European comics distribution is served by Diamond UK, based in Runcorn, England. Alliance Game Distributors, Inc. distributes role-playing games, "collectible card games, miniature games, board games," and other merchandise for gamers. as well as publishing Game Trade Magazine.
In 2002, Diamond consolidated its book trade into Diamond Book Distributors, marketing graphic novels and trade paperbacks to bookstores including Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon.com and Borders.
In 1983, Diamond was criticized for taking exception to certain "adult"-themed titles and scenes, effectively causing the cancellation of a series called Void Indigo for its excessive violence.
|“||"Diamond values its retailers too much to take chances on such a dangerous situation... We are not censors. We no more want someone deciding for us than you do. We cannot, however, stand by and watch the marketplace become a dumping ground for every sort of graphic fantasy that someone wants to live out. We have an industry to protect; we have leases to abide by; we have a community image to maintain."||”|
This call for retailers to refuse to stock Miracleman led to accusations of censorship, charges the company was forced to address when it criticized or refused to carry other titles, including books by Kitchen Sink Press, and Dave Sim in 1988, Jon Lewis in 1994, and Mike Diana in 1996.
Diamond lost customers with this approach, however, "and eventually backed down." Geppi recalls compromising, and accepting "that as a distributor, I owed the retailers the product they wanted." In fact, in an attempt to prove Diamond did not practice censorship, the company joined DC Comics in 1993 to raise money for the industry the First Amendment advocacy group Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Because of its industry dominance, Diamond also faced charges it bullied publishers and discriminated against small publishers. These charges first surfaced in 1988 when Diamond rejected Matt Feazell's comic Ant Boy, and in 1989 when it similarly decided not to carry Allen Freeman's Slam Bang anthology.
After the industry consolidation of 1996, Diamond faced similar charges in 1996, 1999, and 2000 (when smaller publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly lodged complaints).
Diamond's monthly comics retail catalog, PREVIEWS has been produced by Diamond for over twenty-five years for store owners and comic shop customers to order their products. It is additionally available for sale to customers to facilitate pre-orders from "pull and hold" or subscription customers who frequent comic shops on a regular basis. Comics publishers vie for space within the publication's pages, with Dark Horse, DC Comics, Image Comics, and IDW Publishing taking precedence as "Premier" publishers. Marvel Comics has its own mini-catalog of Marvel Previews available separately, for contractual reasons.
Geppi is also owner of Gemstone Publishing Inc., through which he publishes The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Gemstone has also published Russ Cochran's EC Comics reprints, Disney comics and Blue Book[disambiguation needed] price guide in the past as well.
Geppi's publishing ventures in the comics field saw him create Gemstone Publishing Inc., which was formed in large part from other purchases. In 1992, Diamond bought Ernst Gerber Publishing (publisher-author of the Photo-Journal Guide to Comics). E. Gerber Products, LLC is a Diamond-affiliated company started by Gerber in 1977 which sells Mylar bags as well as "acid-free boxes and acid-free backing boards" for comics collectors to store their collection in. In 1993, Geppi bought Russ Cochran Publishing. Long-term EC Comics fan Cochran auctioned Bill Gaines' personal file copies of EC publications, as well as most pages of original EC artwork (which, almost uniquely, Gaines had maintained ownership and possession of), before being granted the reprint rights to the EC back catalog itself. Geppi included Cochran's publications — and Cochran himself — under his new imprint, Gemstone Publishing.
In 1994, Geppi bought Overstreet Publishing, taking up the publishing reins of official-Blue Book price guide The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, and other related publications, bringing them under the Gemstone imprint. Geppi's publishing activities with Gemstone Publishing consist primarily of reprints of classic titles and artworks, as well as publications (including professional fanzines "pro-zines") focusing heavily on the history of the comics medium. Many Gemstone publications revolve around Comic Book Marketplace-editor and EC-shepherd Russ Cochran.
EC Comics reprints
Cochran, like Geppi, was a particular fan of Carl Barks' Disney comics, and had previously-published EC reprints in association with Disney-reprinter Gladstone Publishing. In the early 1990s, Geppi's Gemstone embarked on a full series of reprints of classic EC titles, starting with new reprints of the Cochran/Gladstone-reprints of The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror and Weird Science (all 1992). Gemstone also republished (in single issue and 'annual' — four issues per 'annual' — format) EC's New Trend and New Direction titles between 1992 and 2000.
In 2005, Gemstone added to Cochran's earlier-published oversize, hardback, black & white slip-cased "The Complete EC Library" collections with the complete Picto-Fiction collection, comprising the EC comics: Confessions Illustrated, Crime Illustrated, Shock Illustrated and Terror Illustrated, along with "18 previously unseen stories, never published before".
In 2006, Gemstone began producing a more durable and luxurious series of hardback reprint collections; the EC Archives — similar to the DC Archives and Marvel Masterworks volumes — which reprint in full-color hardback ('archival') format sequential compilations of the EC titles. Designed by art director/designer Michael Kronenberg, a number of volumes have been released, with the entirety of the New Trend and New Direction planned for eventual release. These EC Archives volumes have drawn praise for their quality, and feature introductions by such notable EC fans as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and Paul Levitz, et al.
In December 2002, it was announced that "Gemstone Publishing had signed the license to publishing Disney comics in North America," with ex-Gladstone Publishing editor-in-chief John Clark joining Gemstone in the same position over its Disney line. Launched with a title for Free Comic Book Day 2003, the line started soon after with Walt Disney's Comics and Stories and Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge, both described by Clark as "monthly 64-page prestige-format books at $6.95, which is the same price they were when last produced, in 1998." Other titles followed, and Gemstone held their license until early 2009.
Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide
The (Official) Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, first published by Robert M. Overstreet in 1970 as one of the earliest authorities on American comic book industry grading and collection values. Overstreet sold his company to Gemstone in 1994, but continued to "serve as author and/or publisher of Geppi's Entertainment Publishing & Auctions' line of books." Publication of the Price Guide was taken over by Gemstone in 1998, Gemstone took over publication, and the twenty-eighth edition to the present have been (co-)published by Geppi's Gemstone publications. The Guide's 39th edition was published by Gemstone Publishing in 2009.
Overstreet also produced a variety of smaller publications updating his yearly guides on a monthly schedule. The most recent of these - Overstreet's Comic Price Review - began publication from Gemstone in July 2003, and was a monthly publication designed to update the yearly price guide more regularly, as well as provide articles, analysis and various lists of comics prices.
Gemstone published more than a hundred issues of the magazine Comic Book Marketplace, a monthly magazine for comics fans focusing heavily on the Golden and Silver ages, while more popular magazines (such as Wizard) skew more recent in focus.
In early 2009, the future of Gemstone Publishing was unclear, after reports of unpaid printing bills, particularly from the EC Archives. In April, Geppi responded to the uncertainty, noting that while there had been "a reduction in staff at Gemstone," such moves did "not signal the end of Gemstone Publishing."
In 2008, Diamond introduced ComicSuite, an add-on application for Microsoft Dynamics’ Retail Management System (RMS) software. Together, ComicSuite & RMS give specialty storeowners a point-of-sale (POS) system specifically geared towards their unique business model, offering a host of exclusive features that grant you direct communication with Diamond databases, making it easier than ever before to place orders, track inventory and maintain “pull-and-hold” subscriptions for your customers."
Affiliated and subsidiary companies
In 1995, Geppi founded Diamond International Galleries, which acquired Hake's Americana & Collectibles auction house (2004), and in 2005, Pennsylvania-based Morphy Auctions. In 1999, Geppi founded Diamond Select Toys, and in 2006 he founded Geppi's Entertainment Museum in Baltimore.
Diamond Select Toys & Collectibles
Envisioned to create collectibles for children and adults, DST was founded in 1999 and has since licensed a variety of pop culture properties, including Marvel Comics, Transformers, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Ghostbusters, Halo, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Indiana Jones, Battlestar Galactica, 24 and Back to the Future. While they also make action figures in a variety of sizes, as well as banks, busts, statues and prop replicas, many of their licensed properties are released in the form of Minimates, which has helped make Minimates one of the most prolific and diverse block figure toy lines in the world. In 2007, after years of partnership, Diamond Select Toys made a move to acquire select assets of New York-based design house Art Asylum, the creators of Minimates and DST has since developed Minimates based on its own concepts, under the brands Minimates M.A.X. and Calico Jack's Pirate Raiders.
Diamond International Galleries
In 1995, Geppi "opened Diamond International Galleries," a showplace for comics and collectibles, part of Geppi's attempts to "see... collectibles attain serious respect." Nine years later, Diamond International Galleries purchased "one of the country’s first, and most respected, collectibles auction houses: Hake's Americana & Collectibles." In 2005, Geppi added the "Denver, Pennsylvania-based Morphy Auctions" to his growing stable of parts of the collectibles market, which already included publishing the main comics price guide: The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.
Geppi describes his International Galleries as being "at the heart of many significant opportunities to preserve, promote and present historical comic character collectibles," an endeavor that led to his establishing Geppi's Entertainment Museum. Geppi's galleries showcase much of his private collection, including comics, movie posters, toys, original artwork by individuals including "Carl Barks, Gustav Tengren (sic), Alex Ross, Murphy Anderson, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon and Charles Schulz."
Geppi's Entertainment Museum
Geppi's Entertainment Museum is a museum in Baltimore, Maryland, tracing the history of pop culture in American over the last four hundred years. Its collections include comic books, magazines, movies, newspapers, television, radio and video game memorabilia, including comic books, movie posters, toys, buttons, badges, cereal boxes, trading cards, dolls and figurines. The majority of the exhibits come from Geppi's private collection, while Geppi's daughter Melissa "Missy" Geppi-Bowersox became the executive vice-president of the museum in 2007, after Wendy Kelman left the museum on August 31, 2007, to start her own tourism consulting firm. The museum's curator is Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg, former editor at Geppi's Gemstone Publishing.
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- Duin, Steve and Richardson, Mike (ed.s) "Direct Distribution" in Comics Between the Panels (Dark Horse Publishing, 1998) ISBN 1-56971-344-8, p. 126-130
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- Plant maintains a mail-order and Internet presence in art books, trade paperbacks and rare books, however. Duin, Steve and Richardson, Mike (ed.s) "Bud Plant" in Comics Between the Panels (Dark Horse Publishing, 1998) ISBN 1-56971-344-8, p. 356-357
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