United Media Outsources Comic Strip Operations to Universal Uclick
Monumental news was made this week when Universal Uclick announced that effective immediately, it has assumed all management and syndication of the comic strip properties owned and/or licensed by United Media, including Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Marmaduke, Frank & Ernest, The Born Loser and Big Nate. United Media and Universal Uclick are two of the biggest syndication houses distributing comic strips, columnists and other features for newspapers and websites around the world. As such, the move has been described by The Comics Reporter as similar in scope to Marvel hypothetically outsourcing all of its books to DC Comics.The Washington Post's Comic Riffs columnist Michael Cavna reports that under the deal, Universal Uclick will "will provide editorial and production services, sales and marketing, sales support and customer service, and distribution and fulfillment for all the news features and comics" previously administered by United Media, which will still own the copyrights and licenses for the comics in question. The transition process has already begun and is expected to be completed by June 1.
The President and CEO of United's parent company, E.W. Scripps, said via press release that the outsourcing of comics to Universal was part of a strategy to focus on its journalistic operations.
"We set out to construct the best operating model for the remaining syndicate, whose primary customers are newspapers across America. A review of our operations – and the marketplace we serve – made it clear that we should seek greater efficiency by teaming up with one of the other remaining players. In Andrews McMeel we found the scale and skills to carry forward the comic properties we have nurtured for many years."
Scripps seems to be very interested in shedding its comics-related businesses. The company sold what Tom Spurgeon describes as "the enormously profitable" United Media Licensing arm to Iconix Brand Group last year for just $175 million, despite the fact that the sale included the billion-dollar Peanuts franchise. Along with Dilbert, Peanuts had already come to be distributed through Universal Uclick, and those developments were seen by some to foreshadow this new development.
Senior Vice President and General Manager of Universal Media gave an interview to Comic Riffs in which she stressed that creators' conditions were paramount in the deal.
"First and foremost, our goal is to make sure the talent is taken care of,"Lisa Klem Wilson, senior vice president and general manager at United Media, tells Comic Riffs. "The heart and soul of our operation is the talent."
Anticipating that the industry will no longer be able to support three top syndicates, Wilson said, "Scripps did the best thing they can do for the talent and to make sure there's a successful transition to a leading entity that can be profitable and viable going forward."