With Marvel deal, Diamond expands web Md. firm to control comics distribution

February 08, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

Spiderman came crawling back.

Marvel Comics has brought the web slinger and other top industry characters back to Stephen Geppi's Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. just two years after walking away, giving the Timonium company a virtual monopoly on supplying comic books to U.S. specialty stores.

Marvel had removed its industry-leading roster of comics from Diamond in early 1995, when the publisher formed its own distribution company.

With Marvel Entertainment Group now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it has disbanded its Heroes World wholesaler and signed an exclusive service agreement with Diamond.

Combined with its existing clients, the deal makes Diamond the domestic specialty store distributor for virtually all of the 1,640 comics titles produced by some 300 American publishers each month.

Specialty stores handle about three-fourths of all comics sales; the rest go through newsstands, discount department stores and drugstores.

Geppi, the Baltimore comics king who started putting Diamond together in 1982, said the new business will add about $50 million in annual revenue to his privately held company. He anticipates annual sales of at least $250 million.

Asked yesterday if he felt a sense of vindication, Geppi laughed. "I guess you'd have to say that on some level, though it was never my desire to see Marvel fail. But I was disappointed when they left Diamond," he said.

Geppi said the arrangement might create an undetermined number of jobs at his Baltimore warehouse to handle the increased volume of goods.

Marvel said it returned to Diamond in search of greater efficiency after a six-month review of its retail market services.

When Marvel took its Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, X-Men and other titles away from Diamond, Geppi responded to the loss of a third of his business by signing exclusive agreements with other major publishers. Last year, he also purchased the next biggest distributor, Capital City Distribution Inc. Geppi, who is a part owner of the Orioles and owns Baltimore magazine, is the world's biggest distributor of English-language comics. He said he expects no antitrust problems, partly because the comics publishers deal directly with retailers to set prices and delivery schedules.

A Marvel spokeswoman said the decision to separate from Diamond was not a mistake. "It was the appropriate business decision at that time and place," said Sandra Padnos, executive vice president for communications for the Marvel Entertainment Group.

Pub Date: 2/08/97

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