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DC Comics ends 25-year relationship with Diamond Comics Distributors in massive shake-up

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Jun 5, 2020, 2:29 PM EDT

In a major shift within the comics industry, DC Comics announced Friday it will no longer distribute its products through Diamond Comics Distributors, ending what was effectively a monopoly on Direct Market comics distribution in North America. The move comes just weeks after DC began testing out alternative distributors for its products while Diamond's shipping was on pause amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The publisher first announced the move in a message to comic book retailers Friday, and later confirmed the change in a statement to SYFY WIRE.

"After 25 years, DC and Diamond Comic Distributors are ending their long-standing relationship," a DC spokesperson said. "Moving forward, comic book retailers can obtain their DC books from Penguin Random House, or their books and periodicals through Lunar or UCS comic book distributors. DC continues to be committed to providing the Direct Market with best in class service and the fans with the world’s greatest comic books."

So, what does this mean for the average comics reader right now? Hopefully not much. If you buy your comics through a local store, check with them to make sure you'll still get the books you want, but DC's extension of the order cut-off dates should mean everyone has adequate time to adjust if all goes well.

DC began working through an alternative distribution model back in April, weeks after Diamond announced it was pausing its distribution operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The publisher set up agreements through two companies, Lunar and UCS, to begin shipping out new single-issue comics for retail sales on Tuesdays. Initially, DC also planned to resume its partnership with Diamond when the distributor was back up and running, but now — just a couple of weeks after Diamond started shipping new product again — the publisher has announced it's sticking with the new model. The move comes after DC announced that it would continue to offer its products on Tuesdays rather than the traditional Wednesday, and after the publisher unveiled a new previews catalog outside of Diamond's own Previews publication.

In the message to retailers, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter, DC noted that the change will begin with comics that have a Final Order Cut-Off date (meaning the final date for retailers to place their orders for shipments) of June 8, but that date will be suspended until June 15 to allow retailers more time to make the adjustment. While this will change distributors for single-issues and other products going directly to comic book stores, DC also confirmed its continued commitment to Penguin Random House, which distributes collections and other books through book retailers for the publisher. In another segment of the publisher's messaging, reported on by The Beat, DC explained that — while it may appear to an outside observer that this decision was motivated by the pandemic — the break with Diamond was part of a long-term thought process.

"DC has been analyzing its Direct Market distribution for some time, long before COVID, specifically in light of sustained stagnant market growth. The timing of the decision to move on from Diamond was ultimately dictated by the fact that DC's contract with Diamond has expired, but incidentally, the disruption by COVID to the market has required DC to forge ahead with its larger growth strategies that will benefit both the Direct Market and DC."

What's more intriguing at the moment is what this could mean for the overall comic book Direct Market (meaning the comics shipped from distributors directly to comic book retailers) in the long term. Diamond has essentially been the distributor of single-issue comics in North America since the 1990s, and now one of the two biggest comics publishers in the game is breaking with them. Other major publishers notably held off on alternative distribution when Diamond was on pause, but as DC continues to strike out with new methods, it'll be interesting to see which other companies start thinking of following suit. DC's hope is that this change will allow them to grow their reader base.

If they're right, more shake-ups in the Direct Market could follow.