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Dilbert leaves United Media for Universal Uclick (UPDATED)

Dilbert is getting a new manager. Universal Uclick will begin syndicating Scott Adam’s Dilbert in June and will take over on January 1.

This announcement is a big one and one wonders how United Media, who grew the famous office strip into one of the most widely syndicated strips in the world, could let it get away. Earlier this year, Universal Uclick announced that it was taking over the syndication of Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. Dilbert and Peanuts are/were the biggest titles in the United Media portfolio.

The press release is skimpy on details other than the typical canned statements of praise. Scott mentions Universal as the industry leader and Hugh Andrews, president and CEO of Andrews McMeel Publishing, notes that the syndicate has the unique position of being a book publisher, syndicate (print/web) and mobile app provider for its features. That is a big advantage that other syndicates will struggle to compete against in the future.

More details to follow as I get them.

UPDATE: I’ve received a response from from United Media regarding the sale. They clarified one item that wasn’t clear to me before. When Iconix bought the rights to Peanuts and Dilbert last spring, they bought the properties – not just the licensing rights as I had earlier understood. Once the sale was complete, Iconix had the right to move the strips to another syndicate if they wished. Iconix signed with Universal Uclick to host My contact at United tells me that that it was “not a surprise to us that the syndication went there as well.” The transition of the property has been ongoing for several months already with Universal slated to take complete control of the syndication the end of June.

CLARIFICATION: In my post above I use the phrase that United let these properties “get away” as if the creators or their families were unhappy and left. I am reminded that the parent company of United Media, EW Scripps willingly sold the properties. It was up to Iconix (and I suspect the creators and families) that determined where the strips landed.

Community Comments

#1 Donna Lewis
@ 12:30 pm

So much for taking a break, Alan…eh?

#2 Jonathan Mahood
@ 12:34 pm

Wow….it’ll be interesting to hear the details about this one!

#3 Ted Rall
@ 12:52 pm

This is sad for my former colleagues. They work(ed) hard and deserve(d) better than to watch their company wither away. But I can hardly blame Scott for pursuing the best possible deal and working to wind up at a forward-looking, better capitalized syndicate.

Unless a lot of their management leaves, I would be surprised to see UFS make it to the end of 2011, much less 2012.

#4 Zoe Kirk-Robinson
@ 12:57 pm

“the unique position of being a book publisher, syndicate (print/web) and mobile app provider for its features”

Okay, let’s leave aside foreign syndicates that do all these and focus on what is actually being said. When Snoopy moved, that should have been a shock (isn’t it still making more than the rest of you?) but now people who are still active are following suit.

It’s clear that syndication alone is dead and nobody in their right mind is going to continue to carry those corpses around.

Time to diversify and pull your own weight.

#5 Ed Power
@ 1:02 pm

Holy $#!+bert!

#6 Charles Brubaker
@ 1:20 pm

So that’s three big strips from United that switched to Universal (Garfield was the first to do so, approx. 15 years ago).

I remember reading an interview from Howie Post years ago that describes his experience with United for his comic strip, “The Dropouts”. He mentioned that he was warned by other cartoonists not to go to United; apparently “Peanuts” was a fluke. Post’s comic strip ran 1968 to 1981, but I wonder if this is still the same today…

#7 steve skelton
@ 1:45 pm

Me thinks Universal might be the only healthy syndicate left…..

#8 Stephen Beals
@ 2:48 pm

In the ’80s we saw syndicates buying out and absorbing other syndicates, and now I think we’re going to see the talent settling in one or two places.

The obvious guess is that the other survivor will be King Features, but I honestly hope they all survive.

#9 steve skelton
@ 2:57 pm

Yes, King seems to doing pretty well too. With the features that these syndicates own, they can pretty much make money without launching anything new.

#10 Mary Anne Grimes
@ 3:32 pm

Remember folks, United Feature Syndicate built and grew the Peanuts, Garfield and Dilbert properties into unprecedented successes over multiple platforms, for United and for the talent. These properties were not “lost” by United. They were sold for many millions of dollars. Most recently, we’ve done movie deals for Over the Hedge and Marmaduke, as well as a major publishing program for Big Nate. We’ve worked hard for our talent and we continue to do so.

#11 Alan Gardner
@ 3:43 pm

Thanks Mary Anne for the clarification. United did sell Peanuts and Dilbert. The creators (or family) didn’t leave United – they were sold off.

#12 steve skelton
@ 3:50 pm

Thanks for your post, Mary Anne. Good to hear United is doing well too. And moving into some of the new markets. The movie deals are especially impressive!

#13 Al Urker
@ 3:54 pm

“It?s clear that syndication alone is dead and nobody in their right mind is going to continue to carry those corpses around.

Time to diversify and pull your own weight.”

What does this mean? This is one of those broad statements, the kind politicians make, that sounds good, but has no substance. Can you clarify your statement and be more specific on just what you mean? Thanks.

#14 Mike McKeenan
@ 3:55 pm

Can you elaborate, Mary Anne?

Why couldn’t they just stay at United for syndication?

#15 Matt Conning
@ 4:32 pm

yes, it begs the question, why would a syndicate sell off its most successful assets for the short-term buck?

#16 Mark Hill
@ 6:29 pm

United Media did grow those properties.

But to be fair with regard to Dilbert, Scott Adams himself admitted in a Time Magazine interview, the strip did not really begin to take off until Calvin & hobbes retired — and Dilbert picked up a healthy number of slots in 2,000 papers. It was a major windfall, for an admittedly deserving strip.

#17 Mike McKeenan
@ 7:22 pm

Sort of what Matt said, if you’re in the syndication business, why would you sell the rights to two of the top 5?

#18 Henry Clausner
@ 7:54 am

::::sniff sniff…smells like…working capital. to go into another direction possibly…but what do I know I’ve only been in marketing for 30 years…

#19 Jeff Stanson
@ 9:41 am

I’ve often wondered why you don’t see KFS partnering with more of the Hearst publishing business (and other parts of the Hearst empire) to develop books and other media based on its syndicated features in the same way Universal does with Andrews McMeel. Hearst Animation Studios made a few attempts at cartoons with KFS properties, but that’s been all that I recall. With all of the Hearst media power behind them, KFS could be the syndicate of choice over Universal. Is it just easier for KFS to sit back and collect licenses for its own properties, and them turn to Andrews McMeel for strips such as Baby Blues and Mutts?

#20 guy endore-kaiser
@ 1:38 pm

That’s two down, and only twenty-seven to go before Brevity is the biggest strip at United!!!!!!!!!

#21 Zoe Kirk-Robinson
@ 7:21 pm

@Al Urker

There’s nothing insubstantial about what I said. Whether it’s profitable strips being sold to a syndicate that is doing more than simply being a syndicate or profitable strips moving their on their own, it all points to one thing.

The syndicate that is doing more is making more, otherwise a) it wouldn’t have the money to buy profitable strips and b) the other company wouldn’t be in a position where selling off a profitable strip was a good idea.

Syndication on its own cannot last, you have to do more than just get comics into newspapers now. That’s what I meant. In fact, that’s also what I said.

#22 Al Urker
@ 7:41 pm

Actually, you said that “syndication is dead”. Clearly, that is not the case, as there are still many cartoonists making their living in it and new strips have come along and found success in recent years. But, yes, there’s a lot more out there than syndicated comic strips. It’s just that you’re still pretty vague on an alternative.

#23 rodd perry
@ 1:03 am

Also don’t forget that United has a space-age coffee machine in their kitchen. You can’t overlook stuff like that. Also Mary Anne Grimes is the smartest flak around. Also I heard that United is taking the proceeds from the sale and dividing it up among their remaining creators.

#24 rodd perry
@ 1:18 am

Zoe, if you’re trying to get syndicated, you have to be nicer to those people on these forums – they do read them.

#25 Mike Peterson
@ 5:09 am

“The syndicate that is doing more is making more, otherwise a) it wouldn?t have the money to buy profitable strips and b) the other company wouldn?t be in a position where selling off a profitable strip was a good idea.”

With all due respect, I don’t know how anyone could have come through the recent financial crash, and specifically the utter destruction of the newspaper industry, and not realize that buying things and expanding your business is not necessarily a sign of fiscal health or good planning.

I’m not saying it can’t be. But Lee Enterprises’s acquisition of the Pulitzer chain certainly didn’t lead that company into wealth and security, nor did the NYTimes score big when it picked up

“I can’t be out of money. I’ve still got checks” is a punchline, not a plan.

#26 Zoe Kirk-Robinson
@ 6:06 am

@Rodd – I’m not trying to get syndicated.

#27 Pab Sungenis
@ 7:32 am

@guy: “That?s two down, and only twenty-seven to go before Brevity is the biggest strip at United!!!!!!!!!”

And two more that “Queen Victoria” will need to conquer to reach the top of Universal. Sigh.

Still, It’s great to be part of a company with the four biggest comic properties of all time in its stable.

#28 Henry Clausner
@ 8:00 am

:::::to the syndicates:
The talent on this site is tremendous..I would get all these people together and make a show….Like “The Apprentice”…

#29 Ted Rall
@ 10:33 am

That *is* a great coffee machine. I should have stolen it while my swipecard still worked.

#30 Larry Levine
@ 11:35 am

If I were shameless, I would note to United that my cartoon is readily available and I’m only a stone’s throw away from their location,

#31 Donna Lewis
@ 4:48 pm

The Apprentice: Cartoonists

Likey likey!

#32 Steve Skelton
@ 5:53 pm

Clearly the best choice to play Donald Trump is John Glynn! C’mon John! It’ll be fun!

#33 Larry Levine
@ 6:35 pm

I’m game!!!

#34 henry clausner
@ 9:39 pm

Who’s up for this idea:…a group of us get together-publish our own full color funnies section and put it on the newstands like the good ol’ days…would be a homerun!..

#35 henry clausner
@ 9:48 pm

the apprentice idea:…filing it away, sounded good for a few minutes (like most of my ideas…lol)

#36 Scott Nickel
@ 12:47 am

I wish the *real* story about the United Media deal would be reported.

I was saddened but not really surprised that almost all the stories about the PEANUTS sale got the facts wrong (if the press can’t get report accurately about something as relatively simple as comics, how can we trust them on the “big” stories? Sigh.)

I wonder what will happen with the other 140-odd strips United Media syndicates?

Any affected creators want to comment?

#37 Scott Nickel
@ 11:47 am

To clarify my post above, I DON’T have any inside information — I just know that the story was originally misreported by the media. (Shocking, ain’t it?)

I think there are some important details of the sale that haven’t been disclosed (e.g., are the other UM strips affected, and if so, how?.)

UM isn’t under any obligation to release this information, of course, nor are any of its creators.

Didn’t mean to stir up any trouble. As an interested observer (who works in the industry) I’m just very curious.

#38 Steve Skelton
@ 12:39 pm

Thanks, Scott!

The story of UM selling off its most profitable features has inspired me to sell a kidney.

#39 Scott Nickel
@ 12:48 pm

Dibs on your spleen!

#40 Bob Weber Jr.
@ 4:49 pm
I couldn’t resist.

#41 Mark_Tatulli
@ 9:54 pm

I love this strip!

#42 mike witmer
@ 1:15 pm

Bob: Buh dum dum!!! THANK YOU I’ll be here all week.

#43 Bob Weber Jr.
@ 2:01 pm

Thanks, Mark!!
Ha, Mike!! Don’t miss this one —
Jay did a BEAUTIFUL job on the art!

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