It's the latest Brian Hibbs column, talking about the nuts and bolts of the comics industry, and it essentially points out how comic book retailers are increasingly turning away from ordering their graphic novels from Diamond (e.g. the "direct market"), and turning more to the mainstream book distributors, such as B&T or Ingram. And, more importantly, WHY it's happening.
Essentially, I agree with everything he's saying here (which is unusual for me, we usually never see eye to eye); and it's one the things I've been talking about to anyone who's been willing to listen for the past year.
This is a trend I've really been tracking for the past two or three years, from inside the comics distribution chain (I can certainly tell, based on ordering patterns, which of Cold Cut's customers have switched their orders over primarily to the bookstore distributors). I'm sure Brian Hibbs and various other retailers have been aware of it for some time as well, it's just really never been talked about much. One recent example is a discussion on the CBIA board a month ago, where one retailer said "Hey, don't forget to order the latest Bone trade paperback, which only appeared in the Diamond weekly update, and not in the Diamond Previews catalog". Half a dozen retailers replied back immediately with, "Yeah, we've actually had that book in stock for weeks now, ordering it from Baker and Taylor, and we've restocked it repeatedly already. Anyone who's waited to order it through Diamond missed the boat."
Everyone, including myself, was lamenting the death of virtually every comic book direct market distributor, leading to a de-facto monopoly of comic book distribution in America. But very people were noticing that a new form of competition was growing outside the direct market, as mainstream book distributors gained a tiny toehold in the comics market, and have been edging into Diamond's territory little by little ever since.
Ten years ago...even as recently as five years ago...Diamond was the end-all be-all of comic book sales in North America. But that's certainly no longer the case, as graphic novel sales have shifted so strongly (and probably irrevocably) away from Diamond to the mainstream (in terms of distribution, that is). That's more where the future lies today. (Well, that and the internet...as soon as anyone is able to figure out a way to actually make money with comics on the web). And, probably, it's all for the better as well.
Frankly, if I were going to open a comic book store, I would really only be looking at Diamond to stock the periodicals (I dislike the term "pamphlet" or "floppies" used by some people, because they have negative connotations). Diamond would probably be relegated as a secondary source for graphic novels and trade paperbacks.
PS I knew the terms of sale for graphic novels through Baker and Taylor and Ingram were decent, since so many major retailers had switched over to them as a primary source. But I never realized just how quickly those extra 1-2% discounts could add up. Geez, makes Diamond's discounts on publishers like Fantagraphics or Drawn and Quarterly look ridiculously uncompetitive.