Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

April 14, 2010

You Bastards! You Blew It Up!

In advance of the standard Direct Market sales charts and analysis, serene numbers guru John Jackson Miller notes something slightly horrifying about the make-up of Diamond's Top 300: more comic book titles are priced at 3.99 rather than $2.99. "130 comic books were priced at $3.99, with 124 priced at $2.99. The intermediary step, $3.50, continues to be bypassed with only 16 comics at that level," he reports.

imageThis is semi-startling on a couple of levels. First, I believed, and therefore I'm guessing others might have also thought this, that the $3.99 price point was something that was sprinkled about various lines on the big crossovers and most popular titles but hadn't started to dominate -- say 20-25 percent of the books in that realm. Second, there's just so much that feels wrong about the $3.99 price point. I have yet to hear anybody put together a forward-thinking, positive rationale for this strategy -- a 33 percent price hike during a time of economic stresses when the comics have never been more profitable the way they're leveraged across the board and nearly all the major players are as stable and non-desperate for cash as any time in the last two decades. The justifications for it feel like a teenager deciding to drive an increasing number of her errands at 90 mph and admitting this is crazy but pointing out they've managed to do this so far without totaling the car. In other words, there's been no rationale expressed at all. Even the standard mainstream comics fob-offs for bad behavior -- this is what you guys support, we'll just make the comics worth the greater amount -- ring hollow to me. What choice do the fan have but to support certain price points, how long will they, how can we tell there isn't bailing out of purchases elsewhere (have profits matched the price increase?) and has anyone really seen a 33 percent upgrade in comic book quality recently?

In the end, despite it having to come from anecdotal evidence and the reading of reader behavior through a system of guaranteed sales that makes it nearly impossible to chart such things, it's difficult to believe there isn't a huge, ongoing risk in driving away or hamstringing the buying habits of long-time customers during 1) a lingering recession; 2) the explosion of cheap alternatives through digital delivery of movies, music and prose; 3) the potential transformation of the industry itself as comics companies invest in digital strategies; 4) arguable narrative exhaustion with characters that have been around with many of those readers for decades. It just feels wrong, and now the wrong has reached a potential tipping point. What will be the agent that tests it with a push?
posted 9:00 am PST | Permalink

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