BG Roundtable: $3.99 Comics?

by the General

Both Rich from Comic By Comic and other Rich from Lying in the Gutters have recently noted that Marvel is trending toward a $3.99 price tag for their comics. And, both acknowledged that, if it seems to work for Marvel, DC can't be far behind.

While all this is still speculation at this point, comic fans have always been fond of speculation; so I decided to sit our regular irregulars down for a little Roundtable and ask the question: How would a $3.99 price tag affect your comic buying habits?

Now, ignoring arguments about inflation, do you all think that this would affect your collecting habits? I generally roll with these sorts of punches, but honestly, I think it will affect mine. With the discount I get through Mail Order Comics, I still limit myself to $50 a month. And, if all comics increase by that much, that cuts the total number of titles I can buy by roughly a third.

Now, I know I will most likely always pick up a couple of monthly. But, at what point to I realize that I can get "more bang for my buck" by buying trades exclusively?

Chris: As it is, I think even $2.99 is probably too expensive for most books, but I've been buying them anyway because of the discount I get. That said, I made a promise to myself to start dropping monthly books as they begin to go over the $3 mark. Now we hear rumors of $3.99 monthlies? $4 for ten minutes of entertainment (and in some cases even less) is not worth it.

This seems to be a drastic increase in price. Before, we'd get 25 and 50 cent increases. Do publishers really think readers will accept a $1 jump in cover price? It will be interesting to see if such a jump will cause drastic changes in the purchasing habits of their readers. When that happens, I'll be switching to trades.

Yassir: Too expensive. Like Chris says, even 2.99 is too expensive. Trades are the only way to go. I'll probably still buy the odd monthlies but it's ridiculous the price of comics nowadays.

Dan: This jump is just as big percentage-wise, 33%, as the jump from 75c to $1, $1.50 to $1.99 and $2.25 to $2.99.

Personally, the jump to $3.99 has already impacted my buying. Marvel's recent rash of one-shots and now all their new mini-series and some new ongoings have made me consider each title. I'm no where near the carefree buyer I was just a few months ago. Asking $4 cover price for a 22 pages of comic that is supplemented with a dozen pages of ads definitely makes me consider the "entertainment value for my dollar" equation. And, honestly, there's not a lot of value in something that costs me $4 and I get 10-15 minutes use out of.

Looking at my most recent order, yeah, I bit on the $3.99 What If specials, but I LURVE What If. I wanted to get the Ennis/Dillon Punisher mini in single issues, but Marvel decided to make it a weekly six-issue mini. That means $16 upfront and $24 overall. Nope. Not going to happen. If I decide it's something I really need in trade, I'll wait for that. If it's something I just want to read, I'll hope it shows up at my local library.

So, yeah, $3.99 for Marvel and DC appears to be my breaking point. While it won't keep me from reading my mainstays (as long as my monthly order keeps around $150), it's already got me rethinking anything new.

The same standard doesn't apply to Image books and other small publishers though. That said, you get more bang for your buck from them. Savage Dragon recently went up to $3.50 an issue. But Larsen has always included back-up stories and letters pages and pin-ups. There's always more than just 22 pages of story and 10pages of ads. That's worth the little bit extra to me.

Rory: I rarely buy any new comics - I'm entrenched in my old books that I've been buying forever (i.e. Fables, 100 Bullets, Usagi Yojimbo). There is a lot of factors that have driven me away from comics, and this price increase may just be the Nail in the Coffin™.

Vince: I'm planning on cutting back my monthly comic buying if the price goes up to $3.99.

$3 was too much to spend for a comic and with the industry allowing more and more delays with big events that seem to go nowhere, I think it's getting to be time for me to bow out of monthly comics.

I'll probably still collect the occasional trade, but $4 is a lot of money for a decompressed story that takes forever to get to the point.

Dan: A follow up thought: One of the other factors in me spending $4 on a comic, more so than ever, is whether or not it's any good or maybe even great. Fables, Jack of Fables and DMZ are all stand-out reads every month. They aren't just great comics, but great stories, regardless of the medium. Those are books I'll continue to check out because I think the value is still there at $4.

On the other hand, anything that's been iffy is going to get a lot shorter stay of execution in a $4 a pop world. If something like Hulk, Young X-Men and the new War Machine better be knocking my socks off if they decide to go to $4.

Tim: Is the direct, monthly, market even viable anymore?

Most of the growth we see in comics comes from trades. Runaways, Sentinel, Fables, Preacher, Transmet - all series that found a market and profitability in the TPB format rather than monthlies. Rising costs are surely just another sign that people are actually buying less and less on a month-in, month-out basis (along with generally tougher times).

Is it really a coincidence that Marvel are outperforming DC so much these days? Look at DC's output - geared towards the collector who knows his history, with a spotty trading approach. Marvel, on the other hand, has been pushing arcs and TPB friendly stories as well as generally doing a good job of getting everything into that format anyhow.

My point is that, right now, if you're reading the monthlies in preference to trades you're part of a side that's heading towards extinction. Comics are healthy, monthlies aren't - and it's not just the price. The price is a reflection that the market these days doesn't really want a monthly throwaway, and certainly not new readers. If you do want the format, you're going to pay a premium, as with any minority interest.

Now, how the market looks as it shifts towards long-form and where the content comes from instead of repackaging the short form... that's another question altogether. But comics are slowly evolving away form them and we should let it happen.

Doug: I don't think I'll approach each issue on a price-point basis and say "4 bucks is too much", but I'll still end up having to drop a lot of titles since my total budget won't support them. I allot a certain amount each month for single issues, and a certain amount for trades and graphic novels. So, the number of series I buy in monthly format will decrease.

The bad thing is, I fear that the series that will be most affected by this will be those series that already reside in the lower half of the top 100. Marvel's had decent success with B-listers like Iron Fist, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel, but I suspect that if fans have to start dropping titles, those books will be hurt more than the long-running books like X-Men or Spider-Man.

One more thought: it's interesting that Marvel's experimenting with more original on-line content at the same time that their price points are heading upwards. How long before a low seller like NOVA becomes the first series to go from print to digital so that it can avoid cancellation? And will fans accept that new format?

The General: Thanks everyone for your time and thoughts! So, I think its safe to say that none of us are excited about the idea of $3.99 comics, if they ever become the norm. And, that in all likelihood, it would affect our collecting.

Also, I think this question helped raise some other questions that regularly plague the comic industry: Are monthlies still even viable? Are trades and original graphic novels the route of the future? Or online comics? And, if so, how does the industry get there? Interesting stuff.

So, intrepid reader, what do you think?


Vocal Minority said...

There are a lot of online comics that are releasing printed collected editions of material they've given away for free. Mostly they're comedic at the moment, as that's the dominant genre, but there's no reason the model couldn't work for others too.

Order of the Stick, Narbonic, Penny Arcade, PvP - all examples of having done just this.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Marvel/DC go a similar direction. Ad-supported online delivery, trades as the physical editions.

Chris Ware said...

Ah, but Tim, you're forgetting one of the bigger online comics right now and it's written by one of the biggest names in comics: Freakangels by Warren Ellis. They just solicited the trade on that and, from what I read on the associated message board, it's already sold out from the publisher. So it does seem possible to give away content online for free and still be able to sell collected editions of it.

Vocal Minority said...

...so you agree with me then?

And I didn't forget Freakangels, it's just not as good an example that the model can work as the others are. Warren Ellis has a rabid, built-in fanbase to make that project a success. Others have to grassroots it with a lot less exposure - but they have.

(And besides - Penny Arcade is several times bigger than Freakangels!)

Chris Ware said...

I totally agree with you that this model could work.

One thing I'm not interested in, though, is paying to read content online. If I'm going to pay for reading material, I want to have something I can hold in my hands, I think.

Chris Ware said...

Oh, and you're right...Ellis' fanbase gives him a huge leg up on the other guys you mentioned. However, were Marvel and DC were to go this route and use big name talent, then I think they could be just as successful.

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Brandon said...

I'm surprised my comment didn't make it on the roundtable...

But here it is, uncensored.

What do I think about $3.99 comic books?

Fuck that.

Space Station Orbiter: Cloud 99 said...

I've been a avid reader [I'm hardly a collector with many comics thrown on the floor] and sometimes creator of comics for most of my life. Like everyone, I've seen the prices go up. But $3.99 for a monthly book? Insane. Warren Ellis had it right it with FELL. Cap your books at $2.00 and keep it moving. My buying habits have already changed, partially due to price but mostly due to reading habits. I just prefer to read a complete story in a trade [and it looks better on my book shelf]. Of course some books I just can't wait for the trade, like Invincible which I pick up everytime it comes out...but even when I do I always think back to "you know I really should wait for the trade for this...". I'm sure alot of folks feel that way, with this price increase looming most folks won't have a choice. I can deal with a $2.99 book. Although my gut tells me, even now most books should only be $2.00 or $2.50. But in this horrible economic downturn is raising the prices up a whole dollar good fiscal sense? Now small independents really don't have a choice with prices. They snag a very minor piece of the pie so they need to maximize profit on a small print run as best they can. But Marvel, and DC? And to a lesser extint Dark Horse and Image? C'mon guys! Think outside the box here. $4.50 gets me a 500 page Vogue monster. Now granted you can't charge the kind of page rates for ad space that they can, but perhaps you are underselling ads you do have if $3.99 is the best you can do. Go down in paper quality. Decrease the page count to 20, 17, or 15. Have the books come out in black and white for the monthlies and only color them for the trades. I dunno...something! Just my two cents [with the price of these damn comics going up, that's all I can afford!]Christopher Taylorhttp://orbitercloud99.blogspot.com/