millarworld.tv Comics Creators

Is it possible to have a $1 comic-book?


#1

I just posted this in our secret retailer forum. The replies will all be top secret as it’s a private forum for store-owners, but here’s my question and I wonder what your thoughts are…


"I was watching this documentary on the computer king Clive Sinclair last night and he ruled 1980 to 1983 with his cut price computers. His big thing was getting the price point under £100 when TRS-80 and Apple 2 and all these other early machines were costing between 600 and 2K even 35 years ago.

The ZX81 was the breakthrough for him and they couldn’t make them fast enough. Everybody said they couldn’t be made so cheaply but he sold so many it didn’t matter. Is it possible to do the same with comics? A decent creative team plus covers plus editorial etc means you need to be selling around 20K to break even at $3 an issue, but what would happen if you dropped the price to $1? I estimate you’d need to be selling around 50K to make the same break even number, but do you think you would more than triple sales if a new creator-owned book launched at a dollar?

I’m just spitballing here, but I trust the accuracy of retailers over the companies as you guys see price and buying patterns. I know DC and Marvel sold through the roof for their 9 and 10 cent comics with FF and Detective a decade ago. I also remember the 99 cents Lobo #1 doing gangbusters. But I wonder about the economics of it and, in terms of shelf-space, whether retailers even LIKE the idea as it’s the same amount of space for you guys but a third of the profit.

What’s your thoughts?"


#2

In my own experience, I pass up way more $3.99 books due to price, not interest.


#3

Marvel had a budget line a while back, which included Untold Tales of Spider-Man, all at 99c (which wasn’t quite as big a saving then as it would be now). But the price point apparently worked against it, as shops didn’t like the slim profit margin and readers thought it didn’t “count” because it was markedly cheaper.


#4

Yeah, that’s what I was thinking as one of the reasons comics came off the news-stand is that magazines took up the same space and had a better profit margin.

I always remember that Lobo book going crazy at 99 cents. It seems a good first issue thing, but maybe not good for retailers.

MM


#5

I think it’s a good lure for the first issue of a new series - it always works brilliantly for partwork magazines over here, whose model you’d think subscription publications like comics would be all over - but I don’t think it’s sustainable long term.


#6

For the companies or the retailers? If it increases your print by 2.5X or more it’s good for the companies, but nobody wants to do anything that’s going to hurt retailers.

MM


#7

For the retailers mainly but if it’s harmful to them, I doubt they’d go out of their way to get it to readers - no promotion, low orders - which isn’t going to help numbers any.


#8

In my opinion, the one shot and self contained story at a slightly higher price, with a little extra volume of pages could do really well. Specially if it is at a price of 3.99 or even 2.99, retailers will use the same space (as covers are displayed, thickness of book matters not). Casual readers can be dissuaded easily: “It is self contained, a whole story”. Parents then can get them for the kids, and they wouldn’t mind paying a dollar extras, as it is a one off, or a now and then thing when they go by the comics shop.

Even higher price like the Eerie anthologies at 7.99 have potential for the teen casual reader, as a jump in point.

On my limited experience, 99 cent helps as well with parents, and kids as it is a low point. They see a bargain, they think, “I am getting a comic for my nephew for only a euro, when it costs three or for in other places”. As mentioned before, retailers really don’t get a proper ROI on this, as space is key. Bigger shops that can dedicate a corner to 99 cents books, and that can store them in thrice the numbers as the regular titles could benefit if they have an adequate margin of casual buyers.


#9

From a business stand point, I think the only value doing this would add to a comic store would be to help getting bums through the door.
Hoping that this new customer will pick up a few more issues of another book (hopefully back issues to clear some long box space! :D) and boom you have got them hooked, regular customers.
However, why charge $1, when you can just do another “free comic book day” promotion to get people through the door.

Financially the mark-up on a $1 comic would be zip, unless companies like Marvel and DC subsidise them.

I remember hearing an interview with Geoff Loeb on Fatman on Batman, where he was explaining (I’m paraphrasing) that the mark up and how retailers prefer the more expensive books, because if it looks more “fancy” and has a “hot” Creator they can charge more which means they make more profit.
Rather than making 50 cents or whatever on a single issue, have a $6 for it and make $1.50 and they’ll most like sell more because it’s a “special issue”
Triple their profit and sell more books.

I think this is why we have seen an explosion in sales for Trade paper backs too, because the profits are larger. You have already paid your artist & writer their page rate and Yep, I know most creators get royalties backend too.
But, the “creation” overhead costs are gone, but overheads on these books must be incredibly low, because of the volumes printed, but the purchase price high due to the format.
Example, I have never seen a copy of Wolverine: Old man Logan (by the Chief himself ;)) on sale online or in a bricks and mortar store for under £20.00 (I have one too, as well as single issues and digital version)
Depending on what price the Comic shops are getting it for, that’s a huge profit per book.

There are a lot of great books out there that are being cancelled because readers are not giving them a chance.
Personally, if I were Marvel or DC, I’d have a huge story arc, HUGE (a company changing event), say seven issues long, in a comic that even though is a quality book and the creative team are kicking arse, just isn’t performing to where it should be.
Make issue four of that arc free, but do not release that news until you are two issues into that arc, and then spread the word like wild fire that #4 of this is free.
People who didn’t pick up the first three parts are gonna go back and collect those missing issues. (reprint city, hello)
You got the bump in sales and not only will people go back even further to pick up more back issues and more regular readers ongoing.

Then…you replicate it, until I can come up with a new strategy.

I got another one, but if Marvel or DC want to hear it they are gonna have to hire me first.
:smiley:

Sorry I went off on a tangent there…

Oh and i also have a fantastic idea to boost Millarworld sales and increase brand awareness
(not that they need it, but every little helps :wink: )


#10

I picked up a few special $1 “first issue” comics and I’ll say this, I’m buying Sex Criminals vol. 1 today because of the $1 sample issue, so it worked as a way to get me to check out the story (the title didn’t hurt either :wink: ). I stopped buying comics around 1990 and started again a few years ago. Going from $0.75 to $3.50 was bit surprising, but the quality of the books (both physically and in content) seems to have risen with the price.


#11

I never knew there was a super secret retailers section here. I’ve been a retailer for twenty plus years. How do I join? Is there a decoder ring?


#12

its here, fella


#13

Point of Order - Is it strictly a Secret Retailer Forum if we all know it exists?


#14

i think yes, its just a poorly kept one… :wink:

Example, i live in Essex and we have a “secret” nuclear bunker…and there are signs everywhere for it. :smiley:


#15

As others have said, I think it’s a great hook for the first issue of a series - in Western markets.

Honestly it astounds me that Marvel and DC (but Marvel especially) haven’t attempted to make bigger inroads into the Asian publishing market. The price point would have to be lower, there’s no question, but 50k would be a pittance of the potential sales in China alone, and there are plenty of other countries with millions of Marvel fans, with higher rates of reading in general (for the most part) than most Western countries. Manga is still king here, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a concerted push would have the potential to make millions over here, especially if they could figure out a way to put them on the newstands in 7-11’s in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, and pretty much anywhere in China and South Korea.


#16

And actually, Mr. Chief, I’d be quite curious if you could explain any thoughts or decisions you made on publishing Kingsman in South Korea after the film’s major success. What happened? Are there a lot of constraints to deal with?


#17

Marvel did a bit of an experiment along these lines several years back. It was a book called US War Machine written and drawn by Chuck Austen. It was black and white with no adds and cost $1.50.

Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith did a book called Fell. It was an ongoing series with a lower page count and some text piece that sold for $1.99/issue. It tends to be well regarded here. You might ask him how it worked out financially.


#18

Same. I’ve passed a lot of books at $3.99 that I would have bought for $2.99.

I think it’s the mental hurdle of $10. If you’re spending $10 and getting three comics, then it feels like a fair deal. If you’re spending $10 and getting two comics, then it’s a bad deal.


#19

I honestly think comics would do well to move further into magazine territory. The three way business model would allow the price to go down by offsetting it with advertising and mean less risk for retailers with stripability while not necessarily cutting into profit margin.


#20

A few years back, Warren Ellis had a book called Fell that was $1.99. It was 24 pages with 18 pages of story and 6 ages of back matter. The first two volumes of Matt Fraction’s Casanova were also in this “slimline” format. I remember hearing Ellis say that retailers weren’t too fond of the format because of the narrow margins.

Back in the early 00’s, Marvel and DC had a few 10-cent or so issues that were pretty much promotional loss leaders. Thing is, Marvel’s 9-cent issue of Fantastic Four (the first issue of the Waid/Wieringo run) actually sold for $2.99 on the newsstands because they told Marvel they wouldn’t stock it unless it had a normal (for the time) price. To see a comic sold on the newsstands for a dollar more than the direct market is not uncommon.

When digital comics started becoming a viable outlet, people were saying that because they didn’t have to be printed, they should have a significantly lower price. This totally ignored the fact digital comics have a completely different infrastructure that still costs money.

I think a dollar comic would have to sell at such high levels on a consistent basis to be profitable that I don’t think the market is capable of sustaining that level anymore and hasn’t for a very long time.

@Mark_Millar: As a purely intellectual exercise, have you looked at what your books sales dollars would be if they were $1 each, maybe with an extra 25% or so in sales? I’m not asking for specific numbers but would the books have been financially viable for you and the creative team? Can a creative team make money doing this?

Another thing to consider is future trade sales. How do you price a TPB when all your issues are $1 each? A 6 issue trade would go for around $7 or so. Is that going to be a sustainable model? I can see it selling well enough but will it make money?

Then there is the alchemy of creative team, character and story. Just because it’s a dollar doesn’t guarantee people will buy it on a regular basis. People will probably buy the first issue. Some keep buying out of habit and/or novelty of a dollar comic. But a great team and story will make a huge difference. I think it would be a bit harder with a new creation instead of using a corporate character. I could see a $1 Batman series selling very well.

I think, while a great idea in theory, it would be difficult to execute profitably. I think an occasional $1 loss leader first issue working but really, I think that will only work for corporate comics or top tier indie creators like Mark. But when you are at those levels, you don’t need to do that.