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September 15, 2010


Joe Gross On Comic Book Prices, Douglas Wolk's Article About Comic Book Prices, And The Lifer's View

Joe Gross is an Austin-based writer about many things pop culture oriented including comics, so when he sent in the following letter about Douglas Wolk's recent column on comic book pricing. I wanted to call attention to it. Plus he wrote in a larger than usual font, manifesto-style, which always impresses me. Anyway, I think Gross represents a certain kind of super-knowledgeable fan for whom increased serial comic book pricing has resulted in a period of discombobulation in how he approaches all of is comics buying. I'll let Joe explain it.

*****

From Joe Gross

I just wanted to add a few things to Wolk's excellent piece.

1. I can't really find any evidence for the 20 years ago/75-cent thing. By '88 or '89, virtually all mainstream books were a buck. But this is no biggie, compared to....

image2. ... the idea that the balance of comic book buyers were spending $20/week. I turned 16 in 1990, I bought as many comics as I could possibly afford and there's no way I was averaging $20/week. And I had a part time job. At most, I was spending about $10 and those were weeks where I wasn't buying a CD (about $10-$13 where I was in 1990, with a employee discount) or going on a date or something.

3. Look, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there were scores of comics fans laying out $20/week in 1989, the ones who didn't like music or go on dates. But I didn't know any of them. What was great about comics in 1989 is that you could get out of a store with a decent haul for less than the cost of a movie. Now, a matinee is the same price as two Marvel or DC comics.

4. Let's do some quick inflation index calculation. In 1962, comics were 12 cents. Using the US Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator, that had the same buying power as 87 cents now. Oops.

5. Well, creators made slave wages then, right? OK, let's jump to, say, 1995. Comics were $1.25 to $1.50 then. Plug those numbers in and you get... $1.79 to $2.15. Oops again.

6. I'm not even factoring in page counts, which dropped like a rock as cover prices rose.

7. I'm not even talking about massive narrative decompression stretching what was once a one or two issue reading experience into six.

8. Which is of course what we're all talking about: Value for money.

9. I fell out of buying monthly mainstream books from about 1992 to 1999. When I left, they were about $1.25. When I returned they were about $1.99. This didn't seem so bad. And the writing was across the board stronger than when I left. I dug in.

10. Since I returned to comics buying in 1999, they've gone from $1.99 to $3.99 in 11 years. The price has quite literally doubled. Movies haven't even gone up that much in that amount of time. I can't think of anything else that has risen like that. Gas, perhaps. But that's it.

11. I am 36 now. I am in the "fanman/fanwoman" age, more or less.

12. Here has what's happened in that 12 years: I got married and had two kids.

13. No effin' way I can justify a $3.99 comic book with a wife and two children. Impossible. And my wife likes comics. And I'd love for my kids to like 'em. I'm a lifer who would be perfectly happy making more lifers.

14. I suspect this is happening with fanmen and fanwomen all over. It was tight at $2.99, but for creators we wanted to support, we made it work.

15. But raise the price a buck overnight? Um, no.

16. These days, I look at quarter and dollar bins and used book stores and wait until titles end up there. I refuse to buy any book that's $3.99. I just can't afford it.

17. And I'm the core audience. I'm the lifer. Something is really wrong here.

*****

Thanks, Joe. I gave my own two cents about Douglas Wolk's article here. The main point I wanted to make in my post and want to buttress by publishing Joe's letter in the body of the blog is that there's an alchemical element to a certain kind of comics buying that 1) has nothing to do with whether or not someone loves comics and 2) can't be predicted in straight-up economic give-and-take.

(I can also vouch for Joe's point #2 with my own example in 1990, when I know that as a student I was pretty rigidly spending less than $12 a week on comics. This meant a couple of alt-comics or a Comics Journal depending on what was out -- Eightball was $2 -- plus three or four other titles.)
 
posted 4:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
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