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Suggestions for a new publishing strategy to offset comic prices


#1

I love brick and mortar retailers and want to support them. I don’t love the price of a 22-page comic being $5.

Granted, these suggestions are aimed more at the larger publishing houses, but I thought I’d throw them out there:

  1. To lower publishing costs, return to newsprint, or the thin, glossy paper used in tabloid magazines, and save the high-end paper for the trade paperbacks.
  2. Consider publishing anthology editions of multiple 22-page comics (that are ongoing titles) instead of single issue comics. For instance, if I were DC, an evergreen like Superman would be the anchor. Action Comics would be the first 22-page comic, followed by similar books, maybe the 22-page Martian Manhunter, a 22-page New Gods, a 22-page Shazam, and book-ended with a 22-page Supergirl. Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman would be similar anchors. At Image, the Walking Dead would be an anchor.
  3. Change the paper size of single issue comics. In self-publishing, the American standard of 8.5x11 is cheaper than the smaller comic book size. Or go smaller, to ashcan size, taking an 8.5x11 sheet (2 pages) and folding it in half, creating 4 pages. Again, if sales warrant a trade paperback edition, then you do full size on the good paper.

#2

I like the second option a lot. In the UK we have the Marvel collector’s editions, printed by Panini, which collect three issues (that are about two years old) in each edition. They have an X-Men one, an Avengers one, Spider-Man etc.
It’s always been an easier way for me to follow the Marvel Universe, so I think your similar idea would be pretty good.


#3

I just don’t see that happening. Waaay back in the day, comics were disposable entertainment. You read them, shared them with your friends, rolled them up and threw them in a box or drawer. They probably even got thrown away. When they became collectible, that all changed. I am not sure how modern coloring techniques would look on newsprint.

I truly don’t see prices going back down. I’m still surprised DC is still publishing books at the $2.99 price point. That may change with their “Rebirth” relaunch though I though it would have happened after Convergence last year. I am not sure how much longer WB Management is going to let DC leave money on the table like that. All of Marvel’s books are now at least $3.99.


#4
  1. The paper stock isn’t really a big factor in print costs. Paper quality has just improved and become more affordable. You’d be talking 5c-10c max. The bulk of the cost is setting up the actual printing and all the logistics involved.

  2. Anthology books don’t work in the US market. They worked in the UK in the past when newsstands were the main distribution channel, but today they’re struggling even in Britain. There’s no guarantee you’d sell any more units either so you can’t sell comics for much less than you’d ask for single issues.

  3. See 1.

Honestly, except for a handful of readers price doesn’t matter for comics. Books sell whether they’re $3, $4 or $5 - people buy the books they want to read. The price is so small on every cover precisely because the bulk of readers don’t care - they just pick the book they want and pay.

If comics were selling a million copies at a time then prices could be lower, but they don’t sell that anymore. If an average comic sells 30k copies that leaves $30kish for all creative people involved for payroll. Writer, artist, inker, colorist, letterer, editor. That’s not an awful lot really for folks who are among the best on the planet and have dedicated years to their craft.

Trades represent great value, where the average 6 issue trade from Image for example comes in at $10 or less than $2 an issue. Most trades are a big discount from single issues, and with commerce options these days youc an get many trades cheaply.

Honestly though digital solves the price problem. For less than $10 a month you can get every single Marvel comic, for most other comics the price cuts in half within a couple of months of it’s release. Digital makes comics affordable, it’s an option that’s pretty incredible compared to what we had in the past. Comics have never been as affordable as they are today.


#5

Is that based on 12 issues per year at $4?


#6

It’s based on a single issue sale.


#7

The publishers have themselves to blame to extent for using paper cost as an excuse a lot on the past for price rises but it’s not really a factor. Having worked with printers a fair degree I agree with Jim you’d probably be saving 10 cents at most dropping down to cheaper paper, which is hardly worth it.

I don’t think we’ll see reductions in single issue comics, Millar himself has said he always tries to keep them as affordable as possible but had to shift his books up to $3.50 recently (as have several other Image books like Lazarus).

I think for those that have problems with affordability will have to move on the more affordable platforms like digital and trade. Some of those are inflation busting, if you wait the 1-2 months for price drops books can be $1.99 which is pretty much what they cost like 16-17 years ago. You can get similar or lower costs per issue with trades, especially with online discounts.


#8

I’ve always thought the second option of a monthly anthology for certain titles would make sense. To keep costs low, printing the pencilled and inked illustration would be a way to do so, then bringing them to full colour come TPB.

I’m just in the boat that spending up to $5 for a 22 page comic is becoming less of an attractive option in terms of how I get my entertainment. The prices have caused me to become more prone to trade waiting, as $5 a pop is just becoming too much when I’m subbed to 6 series or so. It’s even worse with how bad the CDN dollar is. $5+ for a comic I’ll be finished in 15 minutes or less is just not worth it when I can spend $15 on a trade and get about 1 hour of story and entertainment.

A black and white anthology that would give me 5-6 black and white issues for under $10 would be something I could get on board with.


#9

Unfortunately a 5-6 B&W anthology for $10 would put most writers and artists out of work. If you do the math there’s just not enough to justify the effort. Even if you sold 100k copies every month they’d all be on close to minimum wage.

Comics are a niche hobby at this point. Gone is the day when a book could reliably shift 200k copies and there’d be loads of money in the pot to share. Like most niche hobbies you end up paying more to support the industry and it’ll stay that way until either the hobby grows rapidly again or it implodes.

Like has been said though, $5 for those 22 pages is hardly your only option in most cases.


#10

Guess I never thought of it past the circulation stage. Even with solid numbers, that anthology would struggle to pay it’s creators.

You’re right in that its not my only option. But I like the people who run my comic shop, so I would feel awful having to cancel my subs. :frowning:

I’m most likely going to stick to digital for single issues. Also humble bundle gets a couple of gems for comics. Picked up a whole bunch of Image comics for a little under $30 CDN. ($20 USD) Think it’s still running as well for the next couple of days.


#11

It does depend if they are reprints and the creative costs have already been covered. That’s how Panini can give that value on their bigger reprint books in Europe, they just pay a license fee to Marvel.

Saying that if you currently have 5-6 issue colour collections going for between $10-20 once you take in discounts then that seems like cannibalising the trade market so wouldn’t give much benefit.


#12

I’ve written a column about this before for Bleeding Cool and it’s a subject where people don’t seem to want to accept that digital is the one real way forward unless we are able to make comics alot more available to readers outside of specialist shops and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at this point. The entire paper market is being squeezed across the board.

I think the biggest hurdle in gaining readership isn’t price, but a comic book’s ongoing monthly nature. It leaves new readers behind too easily. Marvel and DC have to create jumping on points across the board almost every year now (or close to it). Independents are realizing that you can market collected editions much easier and get them into alot more stores and onto a broad range of internet shopping platforms so they want story arcs that can be easily collected together.

As a creator, when I put my business hat on I know that when I bring a comic out, I can shift the first issue relatively easily, it’s the issues after that that are the hard sell. From a business perspective, how good or bad the story is doesn’t matter, it’s all about how you can promote the book. Promoting a 1st issue is easy compared to, say, issue 11 or 14.

So, yeah, nothing I release will ever reach issue 100 as I can’t afford to wait 25 issues every time I want a big promotional, ‘jumping on point’. I intend to use the same format as TV (which I’m already doing with my wee book series) and do ‘seasons’. That way I can sell a jumping on point as both the beginning of a new season and the release of a collection of the previous ‘season’ in the same promotional sweep.

Personally, I’d prefer to read all comics this way, too. I’m getting old and don’t have the same amount of fks to give as I once had. I don’t want to go and have to search out Vol. 5 issues 28-36 or whatever, I want everything handed to me on a plate.


#13

Here’s what I had to say about that in the column.

Marvel, Image, DC, Boom, Dark Horse… Each company could do a monthly book easily, mainly B&W reprints of issues from maybe six months ago, coupled with some exclusive new content. Due to it’s throwaway nature, and the amount of content, it can be packed with advertising. This advertising could pay the creators, especially in the independent sector, as well as be something pretty simple to ship to news vendors, not just in the US and Canada, but they could be printed and distributed in other countries too.

What a massive inlet that could be for new readers. I would buy them for my niece and nephews, and my future clones. One of the reasons I don’t buy them comics now is that my three or four dollar, skinny, little present would end up destroyed in twenty minutes. Even with those half-assed licensed kids magazines I sit wincing in horror as the cover gets sat on and folded in half after the things been flicked through twice. I’d buy a big Shonen Jump type book for them and not care if it got destroyed, knowing the shear size of it alone would hold their interest over a few weeks as opposed to twenty minutes on a Wednesday afternoon.

Add to that all the pocket money of kids who don’t live near a comic book store, and the people like me who would find it hard not to pass a bargain like that without buying it, even if I, and everyone I wanted to get interested in comics, already had a copy.

It’s a reasonable idea if you factor in the advertising perspective and the fact that it’s 80/90% reprinted material. Very low cost in production terms with a potentially high turnover in advertising revenue. But that’s only if you can get it into alot of regular stores and as close to the checkouts as possible.


#14

Ah, I get what you’re saying now, sorry.

So twelve issues a year gives you $360k to pay everyone involved on the creative side?


#15

There’s the problem - distribution. The US is much different from the UK. It doesn’t have SPAR in every village kind of a thing. Target and Walmart don’t want to deal with a cheap comic book. They barely tolerate newspapers and magazines. 7/11 or gas stations don’t support magazines at all in lots of locations. News stores that do healthily support the magazine industry might carry one or two of these books but I’m not sure how much of a dent in sales that would make. And the price to get into those locations and get their floorspace would be really high. They’d need at least 50% markup, probably 60%+ if the books have a short shelf life. Whereas the local LCS has 30% and they’re happy with it.

Here’s the bigger problem. Distribution isn’t really a barrier. If I’m 10 and want a comic I can ask for any comic ever created pretty much and my parents can order it online in 60 seconds. Getting books has never been easier or more convenient. I don’t think the limitation of the market size is down to distribution, not in English speaking countries.

The reason why so many books only sell 20k copies is only 20k people are really interested in reading said book.


#16

That’s where I’d guess things end up.


#17

Back before the market crashed in the mid-90s, the typical cancellation point for a Marvel comic was when it went below 70K/month.


#18

Ok, thanks.

It doesn’t seem too bad a figure at first, especially given that certain creators in the group can do more than one book a month (writers, editors, even some letterers, designers and colourists).

But then considering the second part of your original statement…

… then maybe it isn’t very much for people who are at the top of their profession. And you can see how people on the lower rungs with lower-selling books than that would struggle to earn a decent living.

And, by extension, why publishers are being so ruthless about scrapping low-selling books: if it doesn’t make enough money to pay the team their page rates, then why would they keep publishing it?


#19

Lower rung folks don’t sell 30k books though. The Marvel and DC rates are ok so I can see why most people flock there an just dabble in the dice roll that is creator owned.

Regardless of all of this, comics can’t really cut their prices until they sell in much higher volumes.


#20

And that is it in a nutshell. A volume of ~100K/month seems to be the current limit and that is for top tier books. There will be outliers on occasion that sell significantly more but even then, they are being artificially boosted by variant covers (which is basically a scam).

Even if the Big Two’s line-wide sales levels increased very significantly and remained at those levels, I truly doubt they would lower prices. That would be giving up easy money.

Prices on comics, outside of some special promotion for a very specific issue, are not going to go down.

I doubt we ever will but it would be interesting to see a breakdown of how much Marvel makes from:

  • Single-issue hard copies
  • Single-issue digital copies
  • TPB - hard copy
  • TPB - digital copy (If that is a thing)
  • Marvel Unlimited digital service

I am curious to see how much different platforms are subsidizing the other ones. I wonder how far off (or how close) to the tipping point where digital is earns more than print.