Monday, April 12, 2010

Diamond In The Rough

Following the news wire, I was surprised to see that a 19th century mansion went up for auction at the Baltimore County Courthouse in Maryland over the weekend... The historic home formerly belonging to Diamond Comic Distribution CEO, STEVE GEPPI. The foreclosure sold for 7.7 million, with an outstanding mortgage debt of 3.25 million.

Geppi originally purchased the 8 bedroom, 9 fireplace, and 9 acre estate back in 2004 for 4.8 million... Not bad for a man who made a great living from his love of comics and controlled the movement of the industry for the last 3 decades. As of late, the 'Rupert Murdoch of Comics' has been struggling to keep control of a market that's beginning to slip away from him as of late. After being sued over various investment properties, failing to renew the Disney comics license, and suffering from 'glitches' in a software meant to keep track of Diamond's massive inventory (orders improperly shipped; whole orders getting lost, etc.) , the late year has definitely not been a good year for Geppi.

One of the biggest concerns to Geppi and his comics distribution empire is the emergence of the iPad. Since previous e-readers like Kindle and Nook can't provide the full graphics package that the iPad can, MARVEL jumped at the chance to be among the first to develop an iPad app (Apple even features Marvel among the iPad special features on their online store.)... Comics in HD.

By buying digital versions directly from the creators, middlemen like Geppi begin to feel the pinch.

Now, with that said, PLANET GRIFFIN brings you the news: When Geppi won the distributor wars back in the early 90's, the industry was already undergoing massive change... IMAGE hit the scene like a runaway train, the speculator boom began, and Marvel was about to undergo a massive overhaul after a junk bond scandal threatened bankruptcy for the company. Diamond was out to capitalize fully on ALL of it. Slowly, but surely, Diamond began setting the standards: A review panel whose job it is to determine what books would sell and what wouldn't (if you had a 'name' artist or writer attached to your book, it passed automatically without review), a sales cap minimum on what book had to sell in order to remain viable (a 'show and prove' tactic for indies since 'The Big Two' had the cash to maintain), and the ever-increasing price hikes that forced many independents and underground magazines to close up shop or merge with what Diamond considered 'legitimate' studios... With Diamond's stranglehold claims of 'the best game in town', it seemed as though many self-starting creators were forced to pony up business-closing sums of cash in order to get their products exposed to a mass audience.

Remember when Marvel attempted their OWN distribution house, HEROES WORLD? Marvel boasted BIG about breaking away from Diamond, only to return to 'Geppi's House' after it failed in it's FIRST quarter of business! (Diamond bored no hard feelings, they merely printed an INSERT catalogue separate from their own Previews guide.) Keeping that in mind, it would make sense that the House of M would embrace the iPad format so readily... After all, kids make out far better downloading a digital version for $1.99 than buying the brochure for $4 bucks--- only AFTER dropping $500+ for the iPad itself to do it. With Disney backing M.U., the conglomerate merger can ultimately sidestep Geppi altogether in time. The retailer, already fearing from low sales and lost orders (i.e., Marvel, DC, etc.), see the new digital frontier as yellow banner tape across their doors and began looking to other distributor outlets (in the return of Diamond's former rival, COLDCUT rechristened as HAVEN).

Lastly, the indies were already creating an alternate avenue long before the iPad was even introduced in the form of webcomics, the advent of Digital Distribution Sites (like Drive-Thru), and venturing into the much more lucrative foreign markets where indies are viewed in a completely different light... The state of the industry in light of all this has created some rather dangerous real estate that we can't afford to buy, nor want to. With all this in mind, you could almost pity Geppi for having to sell his mansion home.


UPDATE: It was released earlier today that effective September 1, 2010, Marvel will move it's graphic novels and trades (notice I didn't refer to them as OGN's, Joe wouldn't like that...) business away from Diamond's Direct Market Book Distribution and begin it's new business relationship with the HACHETTE BOOK GROUP, (Hachette's news website announced the deal this morning) ending the speculation of industry observers of Marvel making their move away from the Geppi empire, despite the fact that Marvel will continue to run their monthly comics through Diamond for the foreseeable future ( just in case, y'know... Heroes World an all...) M.U. hopes to up their sales figures in one of the increasingly important markets for comic sales in North America--- the TRADE Market (hey, Joe caught on.).

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