Friday, May 28, 2010

Four Dollars for a Comic?

I don't know how much comics cost when I started buying them, but I remember that when I first started collecting, comics were $0.75. A few months back, Marvel comics moved the price point of several of their titles from $2.99 to $3.99 for a 32 page comic. And now DC Comics is following suit. Not on all titles, but the shift to $3.99 has started (I have to partially blame the fact that titles like "Blackest Night", which were priced higher, sold just fine).

In recent years, as DC and Marvel have pushed their mega-narratives to company-wide cross-over events (see DC's "Blackest Night" and Marvel's "Siege"), I had to make a conscious choice to quit following Marvel comics.

This wasn't based upon any Marvel vs. DC complaint, as I had followed Captain America, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Black Panther and many other titles since the mid-80's (I have a continuous run of Uncanny X-men from issue 168-320, for chrissake). Even prior to Marvel raising its prices, the sheer volume of comics a buyer had to pick up to follow a storyline went through the roof, and not for a short summer event. These events lasted the better part of a year.

So around issue #3 of Marvel's "Secret Invasion", I realized I was both (a) not terribly interested in the story and (b) did not want to spend the money to follow the storyline.

So Monday night I began sorting through several months of comics and discovered that of a stack of comics that was quite literally 2 - 2.5 feet high, I had purchased 2 "floppies" from Marvel during that time. Yes, I had purchased Captain America collections, but the bottom line appears to be that rising costs and the "event" driven nature of the Big 2 of the past few years meant I gave up on one of the companies.

I'm wondering if I'm not the only one.

But now, looking at an increase of 33% in the cost of a single, 32 page comic (most of which have 22 pages of content and 10 of ads, etc...)? It's hard enough to justify the number of comics I read at this point, and I do buy comics from other publishers (it's always been easier to swallow higher prices from smaller publishers as its clear how quickly they can go under). At any rate, as of this month, I'll be dropping another handful of DC titles that have only partially captured my interest. And its that much less likely I'll pick up any new titles from either DC or Marvel.

I have to wonder, exactly, what DC and Marvel think they're doing. I can buy a novel for under $15. Buy a DVD for $8. Download an album for $10 or cheaper. Play a video game for hours and hours for $20 - $50. And I can certainly go look online for illegal scans of comics for no direct cost (although I have serious issues with the practice and don't do it myself). But buying 3 comics shouldn't cost me $12. Or, more accurately, buying material supported by advertising for, really, roughly 22 pages of comics per... its $12 for about 60 pages of material, depending on how many splash pages they toss in.

The price point says nothing healthy about the industry, and demonstrates that DC is unable to think of better cost-cutting measures before passing their costs along to consumers. But with something you read so quickly, and often only once, how to rationalize the cost? And, it seems, the cost of comics is rising faster than almost any known product out there.

The announcement that DC would move to a $4 price point is, for me, problematic...

I'll be reviewing my titles this month. This, alone, could mean I go to trades with Batman books, drop Booster Gold, Doom Patrol and others. And not because I wasn't enjoying them, but they were on my "B" list. I'll not pick up the new "Emerald Warriors" series from DC at all, at least I'll never own it in a floppy format.

I'm absolutely not married to the higher quality paper and technical techniques that both companies switched to in the 90's, and what I suspect are probably overvalued by most in the business. I'd gladly begin looking at digital comics from DC at a lowered price point, and if the entry into an iPad weren't so damn steep.

Yes, I'll continue to pick up Superman comics. That's my thing. But I'd prefer that it not be my only thing. I have a pretty darn considerable collection of Batman and Detective comics, too, and the thought of ending that due to price point is more than a little depressing.

At the end of the day, $3 was high, and $3.50 had been pushing it. At $4... I found my threshold and I'll need to re-evaluate.


Paul Toohey said...

The pricepoint for a comic on the iPad seems to be $1.99. I don't know what your comic intake is, but if you're saving 2$/book, that means you break even at 250 issues.

The conundrum then becomes, you're not supporting a local business like Austin Books, which kind of sucks.

J.S. said...

That's pretty ridiculous. The comic companies just keep pushing the whole industry farther and farther into being a truly exclusive, niche, elite enterprise. But I guess that's their business model at this point. When you realize that there's an entire subculture out there who have an almost clinical obsession with consuming your products, it makes a sort of sense to figure out exactly how much you can squeeze them for (I'm pretty sure that drug dealers work under a similar model ;-)). Of course, if that's really their thinking, it means that they've pretty much decided that they're not going to worry very much about expanding their audience, and instead, they're going to primarily focus on getting everything they can out of the audience that's already out there. I'm sure the blogosphere will be abuzz with people complaining about this, but unless the price change actually produces a significant change in sales, I wouldn't expect these companies to change their ways.

The League said...

Paul, the problem with the iPad model is that it assumes I already have an iPad. I don't. So, now I'd have to pay, minimum, around $400 just to get to my first comic.

I'm also not sold that $1.99 is the cheapest we'll see, especially if the companies can figure out monthly all access passes, a bit like Marvel's Digital Comics Unlimited.

Paul Toohey said...

That's what I'm saying though, is that if you are able to transition 250 comics from hardcopy to softcopy...then they iPad is (sort of) free. That only works if it's comics you were going to buy for $4 though.

The League said...

I was told there would be no math.

That's VERY interesting, Paul. We will need to have you spin this to Jamie for me.

Paul Toohey said...

Didn't your Middle School math teacher tell you "MATH IS EVERYWHERE!" and you thought it was kinda creepy?

I can get some materials together, and attempt a pitch. I think we have plans for another "taste test" sometime in the future.

Nathan said...

Interestingly enough, when I recently complained about the rising price of comics to Renata, she (who is not a reader) didn't blink. She felt given the amount of work--artistry, ink, paint, writing---that was involved, the price may be appropriate.

The League said...

I've often wondered about that. I have no insight into budgeting for a comic. I do know, anecdotally, that most comic artists are paid fairly poorly, by design. There's always someone willing to do the work for less, at least until they realize they can't do it anymore, or they can negotiate a better page rate as their name sells comics.

The bottom line is that, no, those guys don't get paid very well. Just as anyone in the arts in the US starts on slave wages. But its also an industry that has always operated on dreams and eager kids. And sold their wares at prices you didn't need to think about.

In many ways, the industry is incredibly puzzling as it seems that even at higher prices, they could have explored markets outside of comic shops in the past few years, and that sort of thinking has simply eluded everyone (especially as the market moved away from pretending to be "all-ages").

Simon MacDonald said...

Well you know I switched to trade buying awhile back. Nowadays I try to make sure I'm only buying quality books as the price is prohibitive otherwise. I borrow books from the library to read, I listen to comic podcasts and read comic blogs in order to sift the wheat from the chaff. This is led me to being a lot more selective in which books I do purchase. So far it's working out quite well for me.

The $1.99 price for digital comics seems to be a bit high for me but I understand the $2 is the retailers cut of the book. So it doesn't really matter to Marvel if you buy a $2 digital download or a $4 book from a store. They still make the same amount of money.

I'd love to see digital downloads at $1 but that doesn't seem to be a price point that Marvel/DC can live with. However Red5 Comics Atomic Robo sells for $1 and issue and $4 for a trade (6 issues) which is a great deal on a really fun comic.

I'm not exactly sure how much comics cost when I originally started buying them but certainly they were under $1. I remember when they jumped from $1 to $1.25. That meant I could only get 4 comics a week when I used to get 5. Heartbreaking as a kid I tell you.