This was the week where Penguin Random House was quietly making some moves, it seems.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Marvel with expanding its relationship with Penguin Random House Publisher Services, with the latter company taking on exclusive worldwide sales and distribution rights for Marvel’s bookstore and book market customers starting in April 2023. The move ends Marvel’s longstanding deal with the Hachette Book Group, which took over bookstore distribution from Diamond Comics Distributors back in 2010
, and arguably drops the other shoe that people have been expecting since Marvel announced that it would be exclusively distributed in the direct market by PRHPS back in March last year
While the new deal has seemed an inevitability for the last year – after all, why not consolidate all distribution with one company, especially when that company has extensive bookstore experience? – I’d be shocked if Marvel’s historically poor performance in the bookstore market reaching a new low last year didn’t play some kind of part in the decision to try and shake things up in terms of distribution.
According to NPD Bookscan figures
, Marvel didn’t actually place a title in the top 800 best-selling graphic novels in the book market from 2021; in fact, they didn’t even place in the top 890 best-sellers – the first appearance of a Marvel-published title was at #892, where The Infinity Gauntlet
shows up. This isn’t the first appearance of a book featuring a Marvel character, because both Scholastic and IDW chart higher up with licensed product, but still, come on
. This is one of the most dominant pop culture brands, and arguably the
most dominant comic book brand, on the planet right now, and it gets outsold by 891 different titles? That’s just a disaster.
Also a disaster is the long term bookstore performance of Marvel in the book market. While the publisher’s overall sales rose in 2021 compared with the previous year – it bumped up an impressive 46.55%, in terms of dollar value – last year was also the first time Marvel sales had risen in year-on-year comparisons since 2018; that’s right, in 2020 and 2019, Marvel’s bookstore sales fell compared with previous years. They fell by a lot, as well; 2020’s bookstore sales were 20.77% down on the previous year, which was itself down 11.47% on the year before*. By comparison, 2020’s overall bookstore sales were up 21.18%, and 2019’s 36.46%.
You know all this, anyway; I wrote about it a couple of months back
, wondering what was going to change if Marvel wanted to salvage its bookstore presence**. Perhaps switching its distribution options is the answer, in the short term. At the very least, it almost certainly couldn’t hurt; PRHPS currently handles bookstore distribution for a number of other comic book publishers
, including DC, Archie, Dark Horse, IDW, Seven Seas, and Kodansha, all of which outperform Marvel in the book market. It would suggest they have at least some
idea of what they’re doing, and maybe some of that luck/experience [delete as applicable] can rub off on Marvel.