Diamond & Alliance Shutdown: Publisher Impacts Part One

COVID-19 continues to impact our world in unprecedented ways such as the temporary closures of Alliance Game Distributors and Diamond Comic Distributors. Both owned by Geppi Family Enterprises, and both dominate in their fields, these cessations include the suspension of payments to publishers, though, as of this writing, some payments are occurring through Diamond. The closure was covered on EN World (here) with ICv2 offering additional insight into Alliance and Diamond’s situation (here and here). But how have these closures impacted tabletop RPG publishers?

I reached out to some impacted publishers to learn how retailers and fan can continue to obtain their products. In the first part, I talk to Steve Jackson Games, Kobold Press, Ulisses Spiele, Pinnacle Entertainment, and Kenzer and Company (publishers of Knights of the Dinner Table, a comic/magazine that I freelance for). Every publisher I spoke with understands the reasons behind the closure and are looking forward to the distributor’s reopening. However, as the largest game and comics distributors, shutting down their networks, while justified in the current climate, has each publisher looking for new and existing avenues to reach their audiences.

[NOTE: These interviews were conducted during the week ending April 4th. As reactions to COVID-19 are rapidly evolving, some of this information may not be current.]
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Egg Embry (EGG): How much of an impact, if any, does the Diamond and Alliance distributor shutdown and suspension of payments have on your business?

Philip Reed, CEO, Steve Jackson Games (PHIL)
: Alliance is a large and important part of our business, and we will undoubtedly feel the impact in the short-term, but it is impossible to predict the long-term effect of this event. Everything is moving too fast for us to truly state what will happen next.

Wolfgang Baur, Publisher, Kobold Press (WOLFGANG): The shutdown is certainly alarming, as it means one of our largest distributors looks much less secure. This shutdown will have an impact on Kobold Press only if it is ongoing rather than (as their statement said) temporary. We're really hoping for temporary. The bigger question is how traditional distribution can work if hobby stores and similar retailers are closed down for months. Kobold Press wants to support them with new releases, and we are committed to a full slate of titles for 2020.

Jodi Black, COO and Managing Editor, Pinnacle Entertainment Group (JODI): Our fulfillment center, Studio 2 Publishing, manages our relationship with distributors like Diamond and Alliance. We understand the distributors are doing the best for their staff in difficult times. Studio 2 Publishing works directly with retailers as well. Retailers can contact Jims@studio2publishing.com to register with Studio 2.

Jolly Blackburn, Vice President. Kenzer and Company (JOLLY): Clearly this will have a huge impact. Our distributors and retailers are important to us and always have been. Like many small publishers however, squeezed out by ever increasing product glut (that’s not a criticism, just the reality of the landscape), we have been relying more and more in recent years on direct sales to our base. So far we have seen an uptick in sales via our webstore. Our fans want our product and are finding ways to get it. So, we are fortunate in any delay in payment from the distributors won’t close our doors. We still have a revenue stream. Of course, given the outlook and timeline for this shutdown, that will most likely change in the coming weeks.
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EGG: Do you have an alternative distribution option for retailers that are still open and carry your physical products?

: Steve Jackson Games' catalog is available from several distributors, so retailers should still be able to find our games and accessories . . . assuming, that is, that the distributors can remain open. We also offer direct sales to retailers on our online store, Warehouse 23, but we're currently closed and not shipping physical goods. It's a harsh reality that a lot of the usual parts of our business have been affected by the pandemic and we're dealing as best we can.

WOLFGANG: Kobold Press works with dozens of distributors around the world. For the US, the major alternatives are ACD, Golden, Southern, and others. Any of those alternatives can be used to get Kobold Press products, for now.

JODI: We encourage retailers to sign up for our Savage Retailer program. Orders ship from Studio 2 Publishing and can be combined with products they carry from other companies.

JOLLY: Yes, retailers can order product from us direct. They simply have contact me or my associates at orders@kenzerco.com. Alternatively, they can message me at Jolly Blackburn on Facebook.

Robert Adducci, Social Media and Communications Manager, Ulisses Spiele International (ROBERT): You can find all of our available titles for Torg Eternity, The Dark Eye, and Aventuria in print at Studio2 Publishing.

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EGG: While Diamond and Alliance are shutdown, where can fans obtain your work?

: If possible, we would prefer that everyone check with their favorite local game store. Some stores are offering curbside service, so it is possible that you can still get our games from your local store. Otherwise, for those who want games, we're getting reports that several of the online sales sites are seeing a remarkable spike in sales. But please, everyone, first check with your local store. We have a store finder for exactly this purpose. AND please ask your store if they have an online sales tool. Some have an Amazon third-party store and there are stores that sell through eBay. The best thing for all of us, in the long-term, is to find a way to support your local store so that they can still be with us when this is over. For digital games, especially our GURPS and The Fantasy Trip roleplaying games, we offer PDFs on Warehouse 23 and at DriveThruRPG.

WOLFGANG: The Kobold Press Store is online, and we are shipping directly to customers every day. You can find it [here] -- it carries literally everything that's in print plus a full range of PDFs. The virtual tabletop releases are also unaffected, and they are available at Roll20 and at Fantasy Grounds.

JODI: Our website is open for PDF and physical orders, and Studio 2 Publishing plans to ship our website's physical orders to customers as long as they are not closed by government order or illness. Measures are in place to protect workers. Studio 2 should complete fulfillment on the Rifts® for Savage Worlds American Armageddon Kickstarter campaign to backers next week, and then orders to [Pinnacle Entertainment’s] website customers will ship. Retailers were able to order Savage Rifts® as part of backer fulfillment. Otherwise, retail release of the new Savage Rifts® products will be in June. We also hope our customers can continue to support their local game store as best as possible during these difficult times. If customers place an order through their local store, the store should contact Studio 2 Publishing. We will grant comp PDFs for these sales. Email site.admin@peginc.com for comp PDF requests with proof of purchase.

JOLLY: Our webstore is the best place. We are still shipping product several days a week. We also have a full catalog of products on Lulu and DriveThru. And, of course, Knights of the Dinner Table fans can subscribe, order back issues and trade paperback compilations in both print and pdf format. At all three of the above.

ROBERT: You can find all of our available titles for Torg Eternity, The Dark Eye, and Aventuria in print at Studio 2 Publishing. We're currently running a Kickstarter for Fading Suns [until Tuesday, April 14 2020] which will see distribution later this year.

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In addition to the publishers I spoke with, Lisa Stevens, CEO of Paizo, Inc., shared their plans at Paizo’s blog to continue producing and distributing products to retailers and fans as the situation allows.

I want to thank each of the publishers for sharing these details. In the next article, I talk to Chaosium, Green Ronin, R. Talsorian, Andrews McMeel Publishing, and our very own EN Publishing about their plans.

For gaming retailers looking for assistance, GAMA, the Game Manufacturers Association, put together a list of resources for game stores to navigate these difficult times. For fans looking for stores to support, GAMA created a retail brick and mortar game store locator that details if the store is open during this crisis and/or offers curbside pickup.
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