Research, Research, Research: the Direct Market

A column article by: Ace Masters

For the time being the direct market is the main market for the comic book industry: distributors, publishers and retailers. This market is where all the moving and shaking and money making (or losing) is done.

This brief overview will cover what the direct market is, and what it isn't.

Let's first cover what the direct market isn't. It isn't a traditional book selling/publishing market. The defining characteristic that separates it from any traditional book and magazine market is the idea of "non-returnability."

In the traditional market all unsold items (books, magazines) are returnable to the publisher for credit. In the direct market, they are not, leaving the retailer with the risk of items not selling. However this also creates the secondary or back issue, market.

What is the "Direct Market?"

The direct market initially was very different from what is it today. There was no Diamond Comics Distributors.

When the seeds of the direct market were formed in the early 1970s, the term direct market meant that retailers bypassed then-existing distributors (mostly newsstand and magazine) of the time and made purchases directly from the publishers.

The early formation of the direct market was not intended to be what it is today. It was meant to be a supplement to traditional distribution methods. Over the course of the last forty years it has evolved into what it is today: retailers buying directly from one dominant, major distributor and selling directly to the comic book readership.

What does the Direct Market do?

The direct market is set up to do one thing and it do that one thing well: get comics into the hands of a dedicated readership; a.k.a., the "target audience."

The direct market's entire purpose is to create a smooth operating system between the publishers, distributors, retailers and readership, making it easier for retailers to get products and the readership to purchase the products.

Of course the direct market is also used by distributors, publishers and retailers to advertise, market and promote products to its already-established target audience.

As mentioned above, the direct market is made up of the distributors, publishers and retailers and the "end game" of the industry: the readership.

For the next few articles on the direct market I am going to focus on the publishers, along with some discussion of retailers and readership. Distribution will be removed from the direct market equation for the moment. The reason for this is that I will cover distribution separately in future columns to give it the time it deserves and to go into better detail.

The next few columns covering the direct market will be broken down as follows:

  1. Marvel and DC
  2. The Indie Comic Book Industry
  3. The True Indie Comic Book Industry
  4. Small Press Comics

I opened this column with this sentence: "For the time being the direct market is the main market for the comic book industry." Note the phrasing, please. "For the time being" is very telling. The market is changing, especially with the advent of the iPad and digital comics.

Is the direct market going away? Probably not anytime soon, but it will have to change to survive. In some ways, it already has.

That said, "for the time being," the direct market is still here and it is still the main avenue for the comic books industry and is something you need to research as much as possible to understand it before diving in.

I leave you with these Burning Questions: Marvel and DC are the biggest fish in the Direct Market. Why is that? And why should you care?

Until next time,

Ace Masters.

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