W. Eric Martin
In December 2015, Asmodee North America announced a plan to reduce the number of distributors that it deals with for the hobby game market to five: ACD Distribution, Alliance Game Distributors, GTS Distribution, PHD Games, and Southern Hobby Supply. As of August 1, 2017, that number will be reduced to one, with Alliance Game Distributors signing a multi-year agreement with ANA that's "aimed at broadly increasing support for U.S. hobby games retailers", to quote from the press release. Here's the rest of it:
This includes the creation of a large, dedicated Asmodee Specialist Team at Alliance, significant updates to Asmodee's sales policies, and a number of upcoming retailer initiatives designed to support and grow the market.
More information on updated Asmodee sales policies and details about upcoming retailer initiatives will be made available in late June.
"This is an amazing and transformational deal," said Christian T. Petersen, CEO of Asmodee North America. "We at Asmodee have long enjoyed a terrific and productive relationship with the great people at Alliance. This deal joins the combined experience of both organizations to craft a communications and distribution infrastructure that we believe will positively affect both retailers and consumers in the hobby games market."
"We are truly honored to be part of this historic agreement," said Daniel Hirsch, president of Alliance Game Distributors. "Alliance has enjoyed a very close relationship with the companies that make up Asmodee North America for over 20 years. We are both proud and grateful that Asmodee has placed its trust in us for the stewardship of its brands."
Asmodee has declined to participate in interviews about this deal until late June 2017 when it announces the new sales policies. It has noted that new releases and restocks will be available from the five currently authorized distributors until August 1, 2017, after which Alliance will be the only source for such items in the hobby game market.
In some ways this is a return to old habits for parts of ANA as design studio Days of Wonder was exclusive with Alliance for many years and remained exclusive for a period after being purchased by Asmodee in mid-2014. Z-Man Games was exclusive with Alliance until January 2016 when it opened distribution to four other companies, namely the four non-Alliance companies listed above. (Asmodee subsequently announced negotiations to purchase Z-Man owner F2Z Entertainment in July 2016, completing the deal in October 2016.)
So what now? The four non-Alliance distributors will lose some percentage of their business, and whether they survive or not will depend on what that percentage is and what they do in response to this loss of revenue. Hobby retailers who previously dealt with a non-Alliance distributor for titles that originate or are distributed by Asmodee North America must now deal with Alliance — unless they purchase directly from ANA, of course, which might be where this path leads to in the end. After all, ANA has gone from a dozen distributors to five to one in a couple of years. Why stop there?
At the same time as the December 2015 announcement about its distribution, ANA made changes to how it interacted with online retailers, both prohibiting general retailers from selling ANA titles online and lowering the discount at which online retailers could purchase games, thereby effectively raising prices of games sold through those outlets. This change to a single distributor will give ANA still tighter control over its inventory, better allowing them to know who sells what and for what price.
As for what happens with other publishers in response to this, specifically CMON Limited, which is positioning itself as the Avis of the hobby game industry, we'll have to wait and see...