Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and ninety-second installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
As always, there will be three different posts for each legend this week!
Marvel and DC briefly had another comic book company distribute their comics into department stores
Nowadays, there literally is no such thing as a comic book appearing on a “newsstand,” as both Marvel and DC have completely abandoned their newsstand business. However, for decades, that was almost the only way that comic books would be distributed. It is still how magazines and newspapers are distributed.
The way that it works is that the company sends out, say, 300,000 copies of, say, Batman #310, to newsstands around the country. Let’s say, I dunno, 200,000 of them sell in any given month (you had a couple of months to sell them). So then those extra 100,000 copies would be sent back and they would be destroyed.
As you can see, that is not the most effective way for a comic book company to make money, as they have to print X amount of copies based on how much they THINK they will sell and then they have to take back whatever doesn’t sell and then pulp them. So the profit margins on these things were TIGHT.
Then the direct market began. Specialty stores that relied on the same distribution as newsstands told the comic book companies, “We’d just as soon lose returnability in return for a higher discount.”
For the companies, this was a huge improvement for them. If you had to print 300,000 to sell 200,000, you could now print, you know, 200,000. It was cost certainty and it revolutionized the industry. Now, you could make a profit if you only sold, say, 50,000 copies, since you’d only be PRINTING 50,000 copies instead of 200,000 with you pulping 150,000 copies.
However, in the late 1970s, the direct market was only just starting out and in fact, a whole other direct market distribution system had been put into place by a rival of DC and Marvel. Whitman Comics, who produced Gold Key Comics, worked out a deal with some department stores where they would sell 3-packs of comics at these stores for a buck. These would be non-returnable at a heavier discount. Still, it was like printing money at the time, since it was non-returnable. The only problem for Whitman was getting the department stores more product. They had an exclusive deal, but they needed more product to sell.
So they approached DC and Marvel and offered to distribute DC and Marvel Comics to the department stores under the same arrangement (with Whitman getting a cut, of course).
DC and Marvel agreed and in the late 1970s/early 1980s, these three-packs were huge.
DC, oddly enough, allowed Whitman to put THEIR name on the DC covers, like so…
Marvel, however, instead just put diamond corner boxes on their Whitman comics to differentiate them…
The diamonds therefore let you know that it was not a Marvel newsstand edition.
Eventually, the whole deal fell apart on Whitman’s end. Thus, some of the books in the middle of 1980 are SUPER rare. These are not reprints, as they were printed at the same time as new Marvel and DC titles, they just had different covers to note their distribution.
Marvel would adopt the same techniques that they used to denote their Whitman books to note their direct market versions when the direct market became a big deal soon after (it was important to note the difference between a direct market and a newsstand edition because otherwise, industrious stores could buy direct market editions from Marvel at their high discount and then return them to Marvel as newsstand copies and make a profit without selling a single copy).
I just love how confusing those Whitman covers must have been for young DC Comics readers of the time.
Check out some legends from Legends Revealed:
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this week’s legends!
And remember, if you have a legend that you’re curious about, drop me a line at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!
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