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Thoughts on the $3.99 Standard Comic Book…

After thinking about it a bit more, I actually think that Marvel MAY actually be handling this situation as well as they can handle it.

Note the stress of the word “may.”

Brian Hibbs recently wrote a great column about possible price increases and the possible market reaction, and I found myself absolutely agreeing with him.

There are a few points at play here:

1. Marvel and DC feel as though they NEED $4 comic books right now. Last month, issue sales were down from a year ago, but the actual dollar intake by the companies was UP, so they were actually making more money now than they were a year ago. Why? Because their highest selling titles were $4 (Secret Invasion and Final Crisis, plus others).

2. Standard economic theory is that you charge more for the lower selling products, because the higher selling products sell enough to pay for the lower price point. Meanwhile, the lower selling products usually have a cult following who will support the niche product at a higher price point (for a time, at least). To wit, Marvel Illustrated comics. Shanower and Young’s Wizard of Oz looks AMAZING, but come on, it’s a niche product, so Marvel is charging more money for it.

3. However, an across-the-board $4 price point would likely not work right now. Hibbs notes the same thing I’ve noticed – fans will not pay $4 for, say, a third X-Men comic book. Or a third Batman comic book, etc. Perhaps $3.50, but not $4 (by the by, I disagree about $3.10 or $3.25 being a viable price point – fans are irked by price increases PERIOD, so there’s no point in doing it if it is not going to significantly affect your return – I think $3.50 achieves that, though).

4. That said, what fans WILL pay $4 for is the “important” comic books. You see this right now with Secret Invasion. If the content is “key” to the shared universe, then readers do not seem to mind the extra buck. Hibbs notes this with his costumers, and I concur from what I’ve seen.

5. So therefore, Marvel APPEARS to be handling this the way Hibbs thinks works – they’re charging a dollar more for the books that they know the fans will buy anyways because of the content. A new Avengers book by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato? That’s going to sell. Jeph Loeb’s Hulk? It’s going to sell. $3 or $4 is likely not going to make a marked difference. $4 for, say, Green Lantern Corps or Young X-Men IS.

So while this definitely sucks, I think Marvel is probably handling it as well as they can right now with the current market.

32 Comments

I will not buy any 32 page $3.99 books. I will download them and if they are good enough, pick up the eventual trade.

The price of Marvel comics at Hastings (and I’m guessing other non DM outlets) has been $1 more for a few months now.

I’m very selective, will buy non-super-hero/self-contained/no-continuity books.

“Hibbs notes this with his costumers”.

I just thought of a bunch of comic nerds in super-hero costumes stomping into a comic store and demanding to know why the prices are so high.

The Spider-Man with the beer belly looks especially displeased.

“4. That said, what fans WILL pay $4 for is the “important” comic books. You see this right now with Secret Invasion. If the content is “key” to the shared universe, then readers do not seem to mind the extra buck. Hibbs notes this with his costumers, and I concur from what I’ve seen.”

Yeah we’ll pay for the “important” issues, but with things like Secret Invasion or Final Crisis we’re only expecting those actual series to last 7 issues and the extra one-shots are just that. When the higher price is finite, I’ll grumble to myself, but I’ll buy the comics.

The problem comes when they start charging the extra dollar for the monthlies. I’ve been collecting Justice League and Justice Society floppies since the day I discovered spinner racks in the grocery stores, but will I continue with the floppy at $3.99? I’m not sure. $0.22 per page of story seem quite steep when I can buy a trade of six for closer to $0.12 per page or a paperback novel for $.02 per page.

$3.50 would certainly give me pause and I’d probably drop some monthlies that waiver in quality between stories or shift in creative teams quite often. (Ultimatum sure feels like a good dropping off point for everything in that line except Ultimate Spidey.) That way my comic habit wouldn’t be as much a concern when I run my budget numbers each month.

I finally made the switch to trades. I realized I was one of those people who was buying books because I always had, in the hopes they would get better.

I don’t miss the monthly grind at all. Amazon sells the trades a a significant discount, and I can troll the quarter bins at shows to try out new titles.

The price increase is alarming, but in the end it really doesn’t affect me. I think it just is one more nail in the coffin of the monthly floppy :(

i collect as much as read but when i start getting 40,50 or 60 dollars a week? not anymore.with the way things are i’ll start waiting on the trades or online. it has nothing to do with the quality of the book just i cant spend 2-300 a month on comics.not in the budget.

I’ve been dropping book like mad for the last year. It was not going to take much to completely put me off of Big Two mainstream comics. Four bucks is it. I’m done. My girlfriend will be happy at least.

Except for the recent Alex Ross special from DC, all of DC’s books priced at $3.99 have extra pages of story.

Important? Secret Invasion?

Please.

That is an event book, meant to part us with our money.

I stopped collecting when comics went to $0.40 because there were too many events (one, I think :) ).

Since I do like comics, I keep my completionism under control (usually one title… happens to be Spider-Girl at the moment) and read those of marginal interest at the library.

Even as a kid, I tended to collect titles that weren’t quite as firmly tied into the shared universe (FF, Captain America), tho’ I have to admit to liking the notion of something larger out there… should I want to read something I see in a footnote.

I might still buy Captain America, but that’s about it.

I think the thing that annoys most people would possibly be the underhand tactics that Marvel have been using. From Quesada recently saying that they are doing all they can to keep prices steady and then the sneaky way they have been bringing in the higher price points (books with ‘shiny’ covers, ‘bonus’ material, obscure minis, now all minis and number-ones). Personally $3 is my limit for Marvel Universe books, though I am willing to pay more for books like Criminal that are actually value for money and have beneficial extra content.

Correct in that Dark Avengers probably will sell well but sales will most likely drop off. (Just looking at New Avengers in the latest charts, which was a Secret Invasion tie-in as well, that one just scraped 100,000). Whether the additional revenue offsets the drop in sales will be the key question, but it will definitely be harder for them to pick up new readers.

As a result, I am dropping several titles, even the current $2.99 ones and going to wait for the trades at heavy discounts. R.I.P. monthly modern comics. :(

I only have one comic book in my monthly list that is sold at $3.99. When I saw the one year subscription (International one) price, I have not hesitated: I sign immediatly! This comic book is now at a correct $3.50 (the cover paper quality is paid here).

I saw that the new GI Joe titles are at $3.99 the comic book. I don’t now today if I will follow these series or not. They are only “classic” comicb books, not special ones after all…

The most disapointed $3.99 comic book I have bought is X-Men Ghost Box #1: 16 pages of story tied-in to the Asto X-Men series and an another story on an alternate earth. I feel that I am a dumb to have bought this title (and the second chapter too…).

For a $3.99, I’ve had the issue #1 of City of Dust from Radical Comics. What a difference! Prestige format, deluxe quality paper, 44 pages of story among a 48 pages comic book and most of all: no adds!

So why an Indy can do comic books at this quality that the two “bigs” can’t?

Someone can explain this to me and to the other readers?

I can’t imagine paying $4 for these books. I’m a tightwad– I thought $2.99 was pushing it. =D I dropped everything in the Spring because of the books already costing too much.

A page count increase could help soften the blow for readers, but then that’s less profit from the $1 increase for Marvel & DC.

I mentioned this in the last thread on this topic, but I’m going to go ahead and repeat myself.

Raising the prices of the comics is a short term gain at best. The better long term, and possibly even short term, option is to try to tap into the huge market of customers that watch the movies and tv shows, or read manga, but don’t read monthly comics. The current comic book company mentality seems to be that the 100,000 or so fans that are currently buying comics are all there’s ever going to be, so let’s milk them for as much as we can. Raising prices is just going to lower the number of buyers, which then results in another price increase, which then results in less buyers, ad infinitum. Put some marketing effort into getting some of the millions of people that saw the Iron Man movie into trying out the Iron Man comic, and price increases are no longer a concern. It’s frustrating to me, as someone who geniunely loves comics and wants to keep buying them, to see how short-sighted the comic publishers have been for the past 10 years or so.

I think that another price increase, compounded with today’s recessionariy economy, could cripple the Local Comic Book Store.

In my particular case, I saw my subscription discount go from 20% to 10% to Zero in the span of a Year and a half. Then my sales tax went from 5.5% to 7%, so I left.

I think I would’ve stayed with them if they’d kept their 10% discount (on account that I enjoy visiting the store every Wednesday and talking shop). But everything now a days is too expensive; and comics just don’t seem as essential or fun as they used to.

And well, to make a long story short, I switched to an online service and even with shipping, I’m saving about 38 to 40% on comics.

The sad thing is that, even with all those savings, my pull list has shrunk from 27 books a month to around 18. The interest just isn’t there. Plus, the secondary market is so0OO HUGE! That even if you “missed” something, you can still buy a used trade for 50%-off!

I bought the Hardcover Planet Hulk, “Used-Like New” from Amazon (shipping included) for $20; Red Hulk 1-6, I got from Ebay for $9 (which also included the shipping). That’s like $1.50 an issue.

So what I’m trying to say is that… if prices go up, a lot of stores could go under, and a lot of fans may leave.

And those that stay may decide they want to sell what they “don’t like” or “need” in order finance future purchases. That means that DC & Marvel’s stake in the “secondary market” will also shrink.

In other words, there’s the possibility that the ratio of fans switching from Monthlies to Trades will not be on a 1:1 basis. A weekly fan lost will not necessarily translate into “a fan of the trades” gained, because there’s the possibility that they will be buying another fan’s trade; and not a brand new one.

That said, I’m with Jazzbo. If the big two are making the same amount of money they were making a year ago, they should concentrate on market growth, count their blessings and leave well-enough alone.

In today’s economy… if it’s working, don’t fix it (’cause chances are, you’ll FUBAR-it for For Ever!)

As I just said on the previous part of this thread, marvel and DC need to realise that they are about to cook the Golden Goose or overmilk their cashcow. They HAVE to subsidise the cost of the comics from their other revenue streams, or they will kill ALL their revenue streams…

They now need to think of comics not as a revenue stream, but actually as a advertising budget. A marketing department. A leafleting campaign.

Get the money from the films, T-shirts, dolls, etc. Keep the ideas flowing by producing cheaper comics that more people can buy.

I won’t pay it. I’ve put up with it for the special event books, but now we’re seeing those special events stretched out for YEARS. I quit reading Civil War/Initiative because it went on so long I forgot what I’d already read. Not worth the money. I’ll buy trades or something instead.

Important? Secret Invasion?

Please.

That is an event book, meant to part us with our money.

As opposed to those other comics they give away for free you mean? It’s a buisiness, no reason to get peeved at the fact they’re having another blockbuster event. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

As a number of people have said, this only works if you look at the course of the next six months or so, because
1.) you’re never going to pick up new readers. As ticknart mentioned, the value for reading dollar is ridiculously low with comics.
2.) there are too many ways to get these stories that Marvel sees no money on. Ebay, illegal downloads, back issue bins, etc, etc. Even the stalwarts who really want to support the company and follow each new event as it happens may reevaluate those attitudes when they’re blowing $40 a week in a recession.

I didn’t think the industry was necessarily dying, but the big two do seem to be doing a lot to kill it.

For me, it’s completely a matter of quality. I’ve pared my list way down, and I don’t currently buy any mainstream Marvel or DC titles, and by the time the minis that I’m reading end, I’ll only be picking up four books a month. I’d gladly pay $4 an issue for Criminal or Scalped. I’m ok paying $4 a month for Doktor Sleepless. But I’d probably switch to trades if The Boys got hiked to $4. I suppose the lesson is that if a company is going to hike the prices, they’d better make sure the book is worth it.

DC’s Johnny DC comics sell for $2.25. Scooby-Doo! #137 has ten pages of Warner Brothers-related ads, three pages of other advertising, and THREE stories.

Whereas Checkmate #28 sells for $2.99, has ten pages of WB ads and two pages of other advertising.

Curiously, Haven: The Broken City #9, from October 2002 sold for $2.50, had three WB ads, and nine ads from other advertisers.

So, either WB is buying more ad space in the comics, or fewer advertisers are buying ad space in DC titles. That may factor into the economics of issue pricing. Fashion magazines such as Vogue could be given away for free, as the advertising supports the production costs. But then readers would not think it as worthwhile as the other magazines, so Vogue makes a killing.

Given the trend towards trade paperbacks, do you think fans would care if the paper quality was less glossy? Would sales suffer if a title was failing, and DC decided to encourage sales with a lower price and cheaper paper? What if DC printed two editions of the event books… one limited variant with nice glossy paper and stiff (even embossed) covers, and one general old-school newsstand edition? Would some readers buy both?

I buy the occasional comicbook off the rack. About $20 a visit, but sometimes less. (I work for Barnes & Noble, so I buy my trades there at 30% off, or more online.) Almost everything is something outside the superhero genre. I’ve kicked that jones a long time ago. I still read superhero comics, but there’s very little new stuff that interests me.

Here’s my view on comic book prices…
I live in Belgium and was raised with comic books. So much so, I’m buying Belgian, French, Dutch and even American comics.
The main reason I hear about a price increase is inflation. Especially paper cost is mentioned. Now, let’s take a Belgian example: Kiekeboe. A comic book most (maybe even none) of you have ever heard about, but is one of the top sellers in Belgium (the Dutch speaking part, as it’s not translated in French, yes, we have two languages here, let’s not complicate things further and go on).
It sells about 100.000 copies per issue (for 6.000.000 inhabitants, do the math!). Comes out every three months, 48 pages, comparable to a prestige format in the US.
Price in 1995: 3.30 Euros
Price in 2008: 3.45 Euros

My conclusions:
– paper cost seems not to be a problem in Belgium, do American comics use different paper? I think not…
– marketing strategies of American comic book publishers seem to be non-existant…

Just my view on the matter.
But yes, at 4 dollars a comic, I will drastically limit my purchases as I have still not won the lottery :-(

Nope, that’ll be just about 5 bucks Canadian and that is too much for me I’m afraid.

so why don’t they just charge more money for advertising space instead of charging the fans? no one ever addresses that…

Remember, DC Comics is a Time Warner company, WB advertise for free in DC books.

Remember, DC Comics is a Time Warner company, WB advertise for free in DC books.

You’re sure about that? I agree it wouldn’t make a difference overall for Warner but I’d imagine DC still charging other Warner subsidiaries because they would get some crazy slanted figures in their rapports if they didn’t.

“Hey everybody, you guys did great this year with all those free ads you hustled! Except for you DC, why aren’t you charging people for you ad space? Jeez, are you guys just hating profits or sumpin’?

By the way Fledermaus, I certainly know who Kiekeboe is, I even bought some as a kid. Then again, I’m Dutch so that’ll probably lessen the surprise a lot :). Gewoon trade paperbacks kopen joh, die losse comics zijn sowieso te duur!

Sorry… should have analyzed Marvel as well…

Wolverine Origins #28 (Nov 08) $3.99 nine regular ads, three Marvel ads
Mighty Avengers #15 (Aug 08) $3.99 two regular ads (covers), eleven Marvel ads

No access to Marvel Adventures.

And that’s $3.99 US/CAN.

Dark Horse? Star Wars Empire #2 (Oct 02) $2.99 three regular ads, five Dark Horse/Star Wars

If you really want to gauge prices, take a long running mainstream title like Fantastic Four or Action, and plot the prices. Adjust for inflation. Compare to other magazines, like Time or the New York Times.

I’m pretty sure that a corporation has to charge for ads to sister corporations. That’s what I remember from accounting class, at least.

Raising prices is a really, REALLY bad idea. They need to pull new readers in, and you’re not gonna do that unles your price point is hovering around “impulse buy” level. People won’t try something new at $4, (or even over $3….) so you won’t be able to expand your lines.

One of the reason’s Shonen Jump does so well is that they’re providing 250+ pages of comic for $5. Even if you buy it for one series you’re still getting about 40 pages of story; and the odds are pretty good you’ll read a few more. The readers are exposed to all sorts of different stories, which lets the company experiment and develop new audiences. (Who’d have thunk a series about a guy playing tennis would sell almost 40 of them compiled books? No robots. No fight scenes. No superpowers. Just tennis.)

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