The price of comics

I guess Tom Spurgeon's essay about comics costing too much has struck a bit of a nerve around this far-flung community we call the Internet. It's a fascinating essay; I encourage you to go read it.

Okay, if you're back, I'll offer up my two cents. I don't have anything much to add, except that comics do cost too much, especially when you consider the time/cost factor. Some comics that cost 3 or 4 dollars take three minutes to read. That's ridiculous. One of the reasons I love something like Rex Libris is not only because it's freakin' awesome, but it takes a while to get through. Casanova, which is shorter than your regular comic (and costs less), usually takes longer to read than your random issue of a DC or Marvel title (and no, I haven't gotten Casanova #14 yet, but I fear I know what happens - but that doesn't mean you need to spoil it, and if you do, I will HUNT YOU DOWN AND END YOUR CHANCES OF EVER HAVING CHILDREN!!!!). Many, many comics have become much more flash than substance, and although this is true about comics throughout history, it's far easier to take when they cost you 60 cents or 75 cents or even $1.99. 3 dollars for a three-minute read is a bit hard to take.

But that's not what struck me recently about the price of comics. Thanks to the insistence of several commenters (including the author himself), I went out and bought the first two trade paperbacks of DMZ, "On the Ground" and "Body of a Journalist." I read the first four issues when they came out in single format, and it just didn't do it for me. The idea was interesting, but as a protagonist, Matty wasn't very compelling, and Zee was far too stereotypical. However, I kept hearing good things about it, and I read the issue where Kelly shows up again (which wasn't bad), and Wood told me to buy a later trade, and I always do what creators tell me, so I decided to get the trades. I figure if I really hate them I can always give them away. I'm into the second one right now, and it's kind of growing on me. But that's a story for another day!

I had a point, I swear. The first trade is 10 dollars. That's 5 issues for 10 dollars, mind you. If you bought these 5 issues in their original format, you would have spent 15 dollars (more or less). Why on earth would anyone buy these in single issue format, I ask? The second trade contains seven issues and will cost you 13 bucks. That's 12 issues, each originally $2.99 (thereby costing you 36 dollars, more or less) that you can get in handy trade format for 23 dollars. What a savings for you!

So what's the deal? The trades, like most Vertigo trades, are printed on that slightly rougher paper, but the singles are too, so that shouldn't make much difference. Is DC thinking that with Vertigo, most of the sales come in trade format, so they figure they'll make up the difference in the long run? I don't know the business side of the business well enough to say that with certainty. What I don't get is why the Big Two don't do something like this: print their single issues on rougher stock, charge less, and then bring out the trades on that slick stuff they use these days. They could charge less for the singles and make the people who are addicted to those happy, but if you want to wait for the trade, you'd get slightly better production values. I'm sure there will be people lining up to tell me why this is a stupid idea, but I wonder why manga can offer 200 pages of a title for 10-12 dollars. The paper is rougher and there's no color, obviously, but it doesn't seem to bother the people who read manga (of which I am but a neophyte). DC is deliberately making people wait for the trades with this pricing policy, and that means that fewer people will be buying the singles, which means the book will get cancelled and no more trades will be forthcoming. It's a vicious cycle! But they started it!

Basically, it comes down to DC and Marvel counting on addicts, which is never a good thing. I mean, I saw some grumbling about Secret Invasion #2 costing $3.99 when it was 22 pages, down significantly from the 40-page premiere issue, which cost the same. Marvel kind of snuck that in there, hoping people wouldn't notice. Even though people noticed, how many of them are going to stop buying Secret Invasion because they're disgusted by Marvel's obvious ploy? Not many, I'll bet. Marvel and DC know they have a fan base that will buy anything, no matter what the price. But how high is too high? We see that gas prices are finally starting to have an effect on how we use our cars. Gas is still cheaper than in Europe, but people are finally realizing they simply can't drive to the store a mile away seven times a day - that's just stupid. The nature of addiction is such that the price can go up and up and the addict won't complain. But some price has to be too high, right? So what is it? Will you spend $3.99 for a regular 22-page comic? Sure you will - you already do, and so do I. Will you spend $3.99 for every one of your regular 22-page comics? Ah, maybe not. Will you spend $4.99 for them? And what's the solution? I don't know. I just know that DC and Marvel are running a scam, and we're Robert Shaw.* And that's not a good position to be in.

(* Yes, that's a 35-year-old movie reference. I turned 37 today, and I'm allowed to make old movie references, damn it!)

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