Cup O' Q&A: Joe's Final Word on $3.99

Welcome back to the all-fan Friday of CUP O' JOE, which we call CUP O' Q&A. Exclusively here at CBR, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada answers questions posed by you, the readers, in CBR's Marvel Universe forum.

Of course, we're hot on top of CUP O' JOE content across our mini-site with new installments of Joe's regular interviews with the CBR staff, new polls and of course CUP O' DOODLES, which you should be sure to check out tomorrow, when Joe Quesada brings you a very special feature to celebrate the United States' Independence Day.

Until then, dive right in below to read Joe's final word on the controversial $3.99 price point seen on many Marvel books.

CUP O' JOE is Executive Produced by Jonah Weiland and Produced by Kiel Phegley.

Jonah Weiland: Since CUP O' JOE's launch here at CBR, the subject we receive the most questions about is the $3.99 price point of some Marvel books. The issue was exacerbated recently when Marvel's General Counsel, John Turitzin, said at a conference, "We're always testing our pricing on our comic books to see to the extent to which it is inelastic, and we can increase our profit in that business." He followed that up with, "We're just looking to maximize our profits for that business while not alienating our own fan base by making them feel that they're gouged, which I hope you don't feel."

Turitzin's remarks appear to counter previous comments from Marvel, which were that the price increases were a consequence of various cost increases.

What Marvel fans want is a general breakdown of these cost increases. Where were the most significant increases in the cost of producing comics in the last year? Shipping, printing, creative talent - can you tell us anything about that?

And what are you thinking after seeing fan reactions to the apparent incongruity?

Joe Quesada: People will always want to look for conspiracies where there are none so there's little to nothing that I can ever say to appease those that feel that way. Nor do I feel like trying because it'll be a losing battle and nothing I say will ever convince them otherwise.

As for giving a breakdown of costs and increases, that's something that I'm just not going to do -- ever! One of the major reasons I'm never going to do that is because as a competitive business, we would never want our competition knowing what we're paying or what our costs are. Wouldn't DC love to know how much we're paying our artists? Wouldn't every publisher? How about video game companies, advertising agencies, etc? I'm sure other companies wouldn't be too eager to do divulge that kind of info either, because if they did, trust me, I'd be taking notes. That's all a part of being competitive. Sorry, I'm not going to tell you what I pay our creators or our printers or our distributors, I'm just not.

I understand that some fans get upset about this stuff. Every time there is a price increase in comics, fans get upset. I get it, I completely get it, who wouldn't be upset? Has anyone since the dawn of capitalism ever been happy with a price increase? Unfortunately, we're just not going to go into a price breakdown on how much it costs us to do business.

Jonah Weiland: If not a point-by-point breakdown, what about some illumination as to what general areas have seen cost increases?

Joe Quesada: If you're looking for what area might have the most, that answer changes from month to month, from year to year. It's all a matter of where things are becoming competitive or scarce. It might be talent, it might be something else. That target is constantly shifting. If you want a quick example, the simplest one I can give you that I think fans can visualize easiest is when the exclusivity wars started, the price of talent just rocketed up because everyone was just bidding on people. Supply and demand determines most these things, if there's a shortage on paper, the cost of paper will skyrocketed. Gas goes up, so will distribution costs.

Now, mind you, I'm just citing possible examples, I'm not stating absolutes here. I just want to give fans an understanding that there are a lot of moving parts and it's never as simple as it's portrayed by those on the net who claim to have a solution or want to cry conspiracy.

Jonah Weiland: We had a great follow up on this from CBR board member eveleigh, who asks, "Would a smaller comic, like the ones produced for Free Comic Book Day, keep the price down? Personally, I didn't mind the smaller size and a lower price is always nice. Has this been considered in any way?"

Joe Quesada: Nope, it wouldn't. The smaller-sized book had nothing to do with the fact that the comic was free and some sort of cost savings. The reason it was a smaller book was because during one of our custom comics jobs we had to purchase a smaller size roll of paper and print on a specific press that handled that roll size in order to service the needs of one particular client. After that project was done, we had some of this paper stock left over. Rather than apply that stock to our regular books and be limited to a single printer, we used some of it for our FCBD offering since it was free and we felt people wouldn't mind. To be honest, we still have a little of this stock left and have plans to use it on a "different" kind of project in the future.

Jonah Weiland: We've got a new round of questions on pricing, starting with Nick1980, who asked, "In a recent column you addressed the $3.99 price increase and said 'If we cut prices then everything from paper stock to coloring to the creative teams on these books [would be cut too.]' I don't see why you have to cut everything including the creative teams. As bad as the economy is I think most fans would be perfectly happy to just deal with a decrease in paper stock to keep the price at $2.99. Why isn't that an option?"

Joe Quesada: Because the truth of that matter is that that wouldn't be enough to make a significant enough difference in the price. These days the price of crappy paper is almost as expensive as the good stuff so the minor savings versus the major loss in quality doesn't even remotely add up.

Let me also add that while some fans say it wouldn't make a difference in their purchasing habit of comics, it absolutely would. Sure some would be happy to get it in no matter what quality, but many more would care, as would creators who don't want to see their work produced in the worst way possible. This is a very high gloss, fully rendered CGI entertainment world we live in. If comics went down to printing and coloring as we had back in the olden days, it would absolutely affect people's desire to buy our product versus other things they can spend their money on. Bells and whistles do matter and the shiny penny gets picked up. We have to continue to keep up with the modern world and lowering our standards or production would not help in any way. It would be like suggesting that we go to black and white. While there would be cost saving on that end, it would kill our industry.

But let me give you another real world scenario. Lets say Marvel went down to newsprint in order to keep the price of our entire line at $2.99. What's to say that every other company would do the same? So, lets now say that Bob's Comics -- lets call them BC -- keeps the good paper and the great computer coloring and overall printing and production values. Did I mention that if we dropped to newsprint we would have to forget about computer coloring and good printing as it would be a complete waste? Okay, so BC has the great paper, the great printing and the great coloring, but their books at $3.99 because of their overhead.

Now, lets say I'm a top 10 artist working at Marvel and we manage to kick BC's ass in sales almost every month of the year because Marvel does its best to have the very best creators in the world working within its doors. But now I'm seeing that my work is being produced like crap on the worst stuff possible with very poor coloring and production values, and I look over at BC and notice their books look great. Well, when it comes time to look for work, I'm going to start looking at BC as will many of my fellow artist pals. Before you know it, all the great artists that you pay good money for are at BC and their books are $3.99. Oh wait, hang on, there's more. All the great writers have now moved to BC because they want to work with the great artists and the best colorists who have all moved as well.

Before you know it, as a consumer you'd rather pay the $3.99 to get the best creators doing their best work along with the best production values imaginable for the price and those $2.99 Marvel books will be dying on the shelves and looking like yesterday's comics.

This is the world of competitive publishing, this is the world of competitive business, this is the world that I live in on a daily basis. We do our very best to keep things reasonably price, but at the same time we must always remain competitive with an eye towards what's next.

Jonah Weiland: Nick1980 continued, "Also, you talked about how you're testing the new price point, but how can you really get a good idea of how well it's working when people deal with the price increase in different ways? Some people may drop the $3.99 books in protest, but others will drop some of their $2.99 books so they can keep affording the books with the increase. I don't want to give up 'New Avengers' or 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' for example, so I cut 'Fantastic Four' and am passing on 'New Mutants' (which I otherwise would've added to my pull list in place of 'New X-Men') to help balance the costs. It sucks because I'm punishing other books so I can keep reading my favorites that cost more now."

Joe Quesada: We're not talking about people dropping books, we're talking about different price points geared towards different styles of books for different readers while also keeping our price the same across many mainstream books in order to allow readers to sample as many of those titles as possible. So, I think you may be misinterpreting what I'm saying, but ultimately, the most valuable feedback we get comes from the men and women in the trenches, our retail partners. They offer us the best possible information and we go from there.

But here's the thing, the majority of Marvel titles are at $2.99, we made this clear back in December and we've kept to that. We did what I thought was a very good job telling everyone that prices were not going up to $3.99 on every Marvel title. Yet every few months someone posts something on the Net which sparks up an entire "Marvel is raising their prices across the board" witch hunt. This is obviously not the case so I thought I would take the opportunity to say out loud one last time.

Now, with respect to experimenting with price point -- for example, we'll be looking to offer some $2.99 titles with extra content to see how that affects sales and we'll do the same with $3.99. We'll be doing a lot of different things with our titles, prices and page counts to see how consumers react. And hey, if we feel that a $2.99 price point works better than a $3.99 price point for a certain title, we'll adjust as needed, there's a real possibility that from time to time you'll see a title drop in price here and there. This is really what I'm getting at when I say that we'll be experimenting with pricing and it's no different than any other time in our existence.

Jonah Weiland: Zac Goyette asked, "Has Marvel entertained any ideas about altering the format of the books to give more content for the dollar? An example might be using the format that 'Casanova' and 'Fell' use, but maybe printing the book twice a month. 16 pages of new story with 6-8 pages of 'back matter' material in issues for $2.00 or $2.50 twice a month gives 32 pages of new story every month with 12-16 pages of behind the scenes material from guys like Bendis, Fraction, Brubaker, and all the other great creators in your bullpen. I know there are probably things that factor in that I failed to mention, but I'm just throwing out an idea."

Joe Quesada: What you're asking for is less content for less money. Could we do that? I suppose we could, but isn't that robbing Peter to pay Paul? The filler material is just that, filler, so I don't see it as giving more content for the dollar when in fact your getting less, or at best the same for the money your spending. At the end of the day, it's an illusion. I'd rather give you extra comics content with some back-up stories where we can. To me that's getting more bang for the buck.

Kiel Phegley: There was a question about the different parts of the Marvel line from Chupacabron, who asks, "In one of your CUP O' JOE installments, you said, 'Our young readers books are priced differently than our MAX books are priced. It is something that anyone in the business world does with pricing.' However, in your recent solicits, MAX titles like 'Punisher MAX,' 'Dominic Fortune' and the 'Destroyer' series are all $3.99. In your September solicits, 'Marvel Superhero Squad' (your title that seems to be aimed at the youngest audience) is also $3.99 for 32 pages. Can you explain the reasoning behind giving these titles a $3.9.9 price tag?"

Joe Quesada: The reasoning is pretty simple: we screwed up. The actual price is $2.99 and that was a mistake in the solicit. Future catalogs will have the corrected price, unless we screw up again. [laughs]

Kiel Phegley: And speaking of MAX, hondobrode wraps us up by asking, "Why not move more characters over to the MAX imprint? DC has done exceptionally well with the Vertigo imprint, and I think Marvel is really missing an opportunity to showcase and get edgy with some lesser known characters with the imprint. It's sort of ironic that The Punisher, a fairly well known B-list character, is such a solid foundation character for the imprint."

Joe Quesada: One of the things that we've found that works for us is keeping the MAX universe at a very reasonable number of books. It helps us keep the quality high and makes it more accessible for people who want to buy all the MAX titles. As time goes on I'm sure you'll see more and more of our lesser known characters within MAX, but we pick our spots carefully in order to assure that all MAX titles are at their absolute best.

Have some questions for Joe Quesada? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It is from this dedicated thread that CBR's staff will pull questions for our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer session with Joe, which will be this Friday.

Discussion about today's feature may take place at the link immediately below.

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