Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Blah Comics: How Much Is Too Much For That New Issue of Batman?

It was announced last week that Batman would increase its cover price from $3.99 to $4.99. This is not for a single extra length special issue. No, this would be the price point for every issue.*

*Since I wrote this post, there has been an update on that. See the amendment at the end. 

To be fair, the $4.99 Batman would feature 30 pages of story and art. But also to be fair, 30 pages of story and art was what we used to get from DC for $3.99. But that page count at that price point has taken a hit from DC over the last year or so. I think on average the $3.99 books from DC are offering 22 pages an issue, 2 pages more than the 20 page standard set for the $2.99 books. 

At least DC offers a couple of pages extra for your extra $. Over at Marvel, virtually the entire Marvel Universe line is $3.99 an issue with a 20 page count for story and art. Only Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk still have a cover price of $2.99. And Marvel's still the juggernaut for comics sales vs. DC. And don't think the money counters at Warner Brothers aren't taking note of that. If Marvel can sell comics with only 20 pages of story and art for $3.99 and sell more of them than DC can sell $2.99 comics, then the pressure is on to tap whatever golden geese DC can tap for a higher price point. 

But $5 an issue? 

Let's get real here for a moment. We're talking about an industry where $3.99 is now more or less the norm. Inevitably, one day comics will be $5 as a matter of course. The question is do we need to be there now? Is the $3.99 or $4.99 price point really something the industry needs to stay profitable or stay above water? 

If a comic book company is going to aim for a higher price point, you can't do much better than DC's Batman series. Under writer Scott Snyder and penciller Greg Capullo, Batman has been a consistently high seller since the launch of the New 52. Snyder and Capullo has put together a run of stories that have been for the most part well regarded. If DC is going to charge $5 an issue for a comic, Batman would be the one. 

But over at Image, Scott Snyder is launching a creator owned series called Wytches in collaboration with the artist known as Jock. Issue #1 is packed from cover to cover with story and art. And Wytches will retail for $2.99 an issue.  And I've seen a couple of sources that think Snyder will make way more money off of a $2.99 Wytches#1 than he will from a $4.99 Batman#35.  

Meanwhile I picked up The Fade Out#1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. 28 pages of story and art, plus a 2 page text piece and a 2 page prose story, all for a cover price of $3.50.  (Make mental note to tell Acme Comics to put The Fade Out on my pull list. Wytches too.)  

Over my time of reading comic books, I've had this financial lines in the sand, demarcations of how much I thought was too much for a comic book. There was a time that $1.99 was my limit and there was no way in hell I was going to pay $2.50 for a comic book. 

OK, I can live with $2.50 but ain't no way I'm paying $2.99 for a comic book. 

Now I'm trying to hold on to the good ol' days of the $2.99 book. 

Comic book prices stayed stuck at 10 cents for over 20 years. Then the price inched upward to 12 cents and stayed there for about a decade. From 1970 to 1980, issue prices rose steadily from 15 cents to 50 cents. Over the next 20 years saw prices increase from 50 cents to $1.99. The point I'm making here is that other than first 20 years or so of comics, price increases go with the territory. Sometimes the editor or publisher would publish a note of apology. Sometimes the publisher would offer extra pages. DC for example went from a 17 page an issue format to 25 pages of story and art when prices increased to 50 cents. A few years later when the price went to 60 cents, DC increased the page count to 27 pages. (Really!) 

But now price increases just happen with no apologies, no extras. Maybe the card stock for the cover is a higher quality, maybe the coloring or page stock is improved. 

I may be just an old comic book reading fogey....hell, I AM an old comic book reading fogey but no, I'm not ready for a $5.00 a month Batman comic. 

And I'm so glad my suffering amuses you.


AMENDED: Apparently Scott Snyder is also not ready for a $5.00 a month Batman comic. Accounts are he successfully lobbied DC to reduce the price point back to $3.99 starting with issue #36. (Too late for issue # 35 which had already been printed.) So major kudos to Scott Snyder for rallying to defense of his readers and to DC for actually listening to him. (It helps being a superstar writer person.) 

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