DC drops UCS six months into distribution deal; some shops unlikely to hit DC’s new minimums

And then there was one… again. Reports began appearing this morning that retailers had received messages from DC Comics that it would be ending its distribution relationship with UCS Comic Distributors, a sister firm to Midtown Comics, in favor of the other new distributor DC helped launch in April, Lunar Distribution, as of product shipping January 1. The DC letter, and a response sent to retailers by UCS, can be found here; Bleeding Cool’s initial report is here. Lunar is a sister company of Discount Comic Book Service, which, like Midtown, is a mail-order business for consumers.

The move comes almost exactly six months after DC announced it was starting to use the two distributors on October 17, and a three-and-a-half months into a period in which UCS and Lunar were the exclusive distributors for DC periodicals in North America. It’s unclear what will happen to Canadian retailers ordering from Universal Distribution, which, if I recall correctly, had been allowed to function as a subdistributor for UCS. (UPDATE: Confirmation from a couple of retailers has come in — including this one — that Universal’s service will not be interrupted, according to an e-mail to them from the company.)

In addition, DC is instituting minimum orders: $500 at full retail monthly, or $125 weekly, for new comics orders. Note that while that doesn’t sound like a lot, Diamond was servicing many game stores and hobby shops that carried comics as a sideline; there are also shops that specialize more in graphic novels and less in periodicals. The leaked charts involving Marvel last fall suggest that about 12% of stores — or outlets described in the document as stores — had retail monthly orders of Marvel product of less than $500 per month in late 2019. But that includes Marvel graphic novels that retailers bought from Diamond, whereas a number of retailers buy their DC graphic novels from Random House. So accounts would have to hit that $500 threshold using periodicals alone. Again, not hard at all for a full-line comics shop — but it does impact those stores running comics as a sideline.

(UPDATE: To be clear, 12% of ordering outlets does not translate to much business in this case; it was a little less than one-half of one percent of Marvel’s business in dollars. So there are arguments that many of these accounts were probably not break-even to handle — but it was the publishers, DC among them, cracking down on sub-distribution in the late 1990s that brought many of these “grazer” accounts into the system in the first place. Any minimums could have the effect of driving some such outlets back into ordering on the sly from other stores.)

As of this morning, UCS’s consumer-facing website had several features.

 

While neither Lunar nor UCS have anything comparable to the robust sales reporting offered by Diamond before the pandemic, UCS at least had a rudimentary top-sellers page, and also a consumer-facing website with specifics on what shipped every week. As of today, six months in, Lunar has no information on its front-facing website at all beyond a sign-in box.

The Lunar website, as of today

While DC had originally asked retailers to order from the two firms based on their location — Lunar handling roughly the west in North America and UCS the east —  retailers were soon advised they could order from each, and at least one of the shops in my local Lunar-proximate market had gone with UCS instead. This means changes again, for many — and likely changes again for Comichron’s tracking, as UCS’s release data (by virtue of being available!) formed the basis for our DC charts in this period. The six-month timing does seem to suggest some sort of trial period for both; if so, Lunar appears to have won, with Diamond continuing to have DC’s European business into 2021.

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