So the general economic troubles have started to have a concrete impact on the comic book business. Take, for example, this article from today’s Los Angeles Times, which says more fans are reading trade paperbacks through their local libraries rather than buying them, and notes the overall downturn in the direct market:

But even after a year stuffed with blockbuster films based on comic books, growth in all sectors is stalling.

There are no statistics available for comic books sold to customers. But the number sold to merchants is dropping. For February through November of 2008, the amount of top comic books sold to shops was lower than the same period in 2007, according to online research group Comics Chronicles.

Sales figures in broader comics categories, including magazines and trade paperbacks, nonetheless increased in the January-through-November period, though just 0.5% more than a year earlier, said John Jackson Miller, a Comics Chronicles researcher.

The article also discusses the impact of piracy and mentions the recent postponement of Wizard World Los Angeles. On a good note, it seems as though the Third Planet store in Torrance has been given a bit of reprieve:

Dreary sales forced Third Planet Games & Comics in Torrance to shut its doors in early January.

But in true superhero fashion, a longtime customer saved the day by buying the business.

The store will reopen with a smaller staff and stricter standards for ordering, manager Scott Grunewald said.

“Hopefully we have a happy ending,” he said. “Because now, we’re starting from scratch.”

On top of this comes the news of policy changes at Diamond Comics Distributors that raise the performance bar for new products — and will certainly put the squeeze on, especially, small publishers. The Beat has all the particulars, including on-the-record comments from Joe Nozemack at Oni Press. Here’s the gist, from The Beat:

In a change that will have a far greater impact, according to numerous reports, Diamond is raising its benchmark for products it will carry from $1500 to $2500. Jones has the clearest explanation of this change, (although he later amends perhaps the most key point of all) but the short version is that unless orders to Diamond on a product are consistently greater than $2500 at wholesale, Diamond will no longer carry the product.

The obvious result is that a lot of publishers in the back part of the Previews catalog will likely be dropped, limiting their ability to publish at all. This may not seem like a huge loss at first, but as pointed out on a number of sites, things that have become classics like Bone or even 30 Days of Night might never have been published with the new standards in place.

Being the optimistic guy I am, I wonder if this doesn’t perhaps open up an opportunity for secondary distributors like Haven (formerly Cold Cut) to add more titles and specialize in the sort of indie titles that are being dropped. Sure, lots of stores won’t add a second distributor to their workload and expenses in tough times, but low-fi indie work has a long tradition in the direct market that may now have a bit of a fire lit under it by the Diamond actions.