Are Comics Too Expensive?

Tom Spurgeon started it, kicking off with the feeling that $19 for 5 comics was too much. (Many of us sympathize, but we’re hooked on the habit.) He went on to consider pricing as it relates to various factions of the comic buying audience.

Surely the average, desirable, expected comics customer since the early ’80s — the person that pops to mind when someone says “comics reader” — is a person that buys a number of comics instead of just one or two. Here’s the thing: the price of serial comics right now makes sense for the reader that only buys one or two comics.

He also compares price points to a popular competitor for the customer dollar, manga.

A lot of folks seem to feel that buying x-amount of dollars in manga has a better chance to give you a more rewarding experience than buying x-amount of dollars in American comic books.

I certainly feel that way. Even when a manga volume is fully serialized — bringing you into the story in medias res and leaving you with a cliffhanger — there’s enough other stuff happening in the almost 200 pages to satisfy. When the same is true of a $3 (or more frequently these days, $4 due to a harder paper cover) American comic with 20+ pages of story, well, that just feels useless.

Spurgeon goes on to draw bigger conclusions as they result to the lack of ability for creators to develop their own visions and reputations outside of the superhero corporate structure. I don’t want to misrepresent him, so I encourage you to read it for yourself.

Alan David Doane connects pricing up with online file-sharing, pointing out that he won’t even bother reading some of this stuff for free. I generally share this opinion, but I will put in a quibble: torrenting isn’t free. It takes your time instead of your money, as you try to find the files and then wait for the downloads. Or, if you’re one of those people who have to read what you have available to you, you’re wasting your time keeping up on superhero universes for their own sakes.

Sean Kleefeld ties the pieces together by pointing out that we’re no longer paying for the entertainment or the experience but for having it in a tangible format. You pay only if you want a specific type of delivery — and more and more, you’re paying for having the old-fashioned paper format.

And that’s where Tom’s argument falls apart, I think. He recognizes the problem in the current, antiquated system, but doesn’t bring in the new/current business models that are replacing the status quo to see that we’re actually getting more creativity, more diversity, and at a lower sampling cost.

Is content doomed to be free?

13 Responses to “Are Comics Too Expensive?”

  1. Joshua Macy Says:

    I think Kleefeld is wrong.

    People still buy books. They buy lots of books. They even buy lots of manga. It may be that Amazon’s Kindle and such will eventually change that, but Alice in Wonderland notwithstanding most people aren’t reading content they could get online for free (let alone legally). The dominant paradigm is still that people are buying books including comics in order to read them.

    If Burger King was failing while McDonald’s, Subway, and Pizza Hut were still chugging along should you immediately conclude that the problem is their outdated business model? Why, look at how Wolfgang Puck sells frozen pizzas at the supermarket so people don’t have to pay all the extra overhead for a physical restaurant and staff!

  2. Nat Gertler Says:

    Tom’s analysis is imperfect; he points to rising prices as discouraging sampling of indy comics, when indy comic pamphlets really haven’t gone up in price in the past couple decades (15-20 years ago, they were priced at $2-$2.95, these days they’re $2.99-$3.99… that’s not even keeping up with inflation.) But the rising prices of mainstream comics (which were $1 20 years ago) does bite into the budget, and the pamphlets do have to compete with the squarebound formats.

  3. John Says:

    The price of comics is what got me unhooked. When I was younger, I bought lots, but one day, I woke up and found that I had a particularly low paying job and could barely afford to eat let alone read comics, which even in 1988 were waaaay too expensive for what you got. I went for a year where I only bought Cerebus. By the end of the year, Cerebus was the only comic I cared about. Now I won’t buy regular comics because they cost twice what they did in 1988 and you still don’t get a lot for what you pay. I only deal with books now, because the volume and packaging match the price being asked for them.

  4. Matt Clark Says:

    Last week, amongst other things, I picked up Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas and Logan. They were both pretty good in their own ways but the cardstock cover didn’t justify the price hike.

    Both of them together took about 10-15 minutes to read tops. I’m not sure that really justifies whatever the UK equivilant of $7.98 it cost me.

  5. Chris G. Says:

    The price of comics (and the inane, endless events from the Big Two) hasn’t so much unhooked me as led me to discover the miracle of Inter-Library Loans. Most of what purchases I make these days are trades or a few series that I’m waiting to wrap up (All-Star Superman, Ex Machina, etc.).

  6. Tomo Says:

    The price of comics unhooked me too and I’ve always wondered if the cost keeps people away. Here in London, where I live, a $2.99 book is £2.00. Given the almost 2:1 exchange rate with the dollar, it should be £1.50 but it never is. So 5 comics for £10 (or $20) is expensive and you just have to be realistic about your spends.

    The good thing that’s come out of it is, that waiting for certain books to be collected has changed my comicbook tastes. It’s been nice to wait for a book you really want, like DMZ or Jonathan Lethem’s Omega The Unknown; and also to be selective on writing quality, creative merit & the like. Libraries have also been a great way of catching up.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Totally agree. Price pressure forcing buyers to be more selective may be a very good thing. They’ll hopefully enjoy what they get more instead of buying out of habit, and only buying the good stuff would cause the publishers to be more selective as well. Ideally.

  8. Gary H Says:

    How about this idea: Go to small comic shows and pick up most books for 1.00?

    I do and I will not pay 3.99 for a new book! It’s absurd! I do not need cardboard stock covers I need newsprint and a good story…Books should be 1.00, no more!

  9. Ryan Says:

    I have been a life-long comic fan/reader/collector since I was small. They have been a great pass time over the years (since I was like 9 or 10). I am from Australia and sadly comics (publishers & retailers) are killing themselves slowly. There is I think a limited market out there for them and it would be rare to find people taking it up for the first time.

    If you do the math well the lowest standard priced comic US$2.99 is $6.00 Australian here. With annuals or ‘special’ editions or 1-shots reaching $10 or $12 for a comic. Even with the exchange rate (a whopping 10-15% extra) and freight which I am sure retailers use as an excuse why such a disparity?

    Greed? Profiteering? Who knows really but it is apparent comics at least in their conventional form are on the way out sadly.


  10. Dave Says:

    I took my daughter and let her buy a comic Monday and thought I’d pick up a Superman too,..mind you it has been nearly 25 or more years…The books were weird to look at where is the basic Superman/Action stuff?? the owner turned me on to a re telling of Superman and my daughter pick’d a Simpsons…even with the 10% discount it was 7 bux I could not believe it!!I remember bitch’n when they went to 50 cents in my ROM Spaceknight days lol…anyway…put yourselves out od business guys…

  11. Fred Says:

    Well, I really like comics as a format. They tell a pretty good story and have pretty good art (at least the one’s of today, such a Blackest Night or the most current Batman comics) I think they are so good as a synthesis of art and literature and it is a record of the modern mythos in it’s purest form (and original form).

    But, I really don’t want to pay all that money for them. I mean 25 cents? That’s a good price and I don’t think that should have been exceeded. But $5 bucks for a comic today? 5000% it’s original price? Come on.

    I really want to collect all of the comics that come out and read them (also the old ones) But to do it in a good moral conscious, I have to waste like 50 bucks a week or something like that. That’s not right.

    I suggest that we return to the pulp format. Cheap paper for a cheap story. We all get to read and get a story. This will save some ink and expensive paper overall and give people cheap entertainment.

    Seriously, who reads a comic book more that once or twice? It should be like a newspaper, 50 cents for something you chuck in a few weeks. And if not, it’ll still last. I have my dad’s comics that are from the 60’s and I can read them fine after being in the basement.

    Use newspaper quality paper and do some light inking. Print more issues. The cheap stuff is in greater supply, and if it’s cheap, it’ll be in greater demand. I’m not sure how the curve alters, but make them less then a month’s salary per issue.

  12. Johanna Says:

    Sometimes, we can’t get what we want. If the price is too high, we all have to make decisions as to whether the value of what we’re buying is worth the cost. Saying “that’s not right” adds a moral component to the decision that may not be relevant. If you feel that buying everything is a “waste”, then don’t do it.

    Unfortunately, as I understand it, pulp paper isn’t readily available any more in printers, so it’s not possible to return to that, and it wouldn’t be a savings if it was. The modern equivalent of pulp is digital. That’s where you pay a cheap price for something disposable.

  13. Clay McKinney Says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comic book publishers charging whatever fans will pay. Markets determine prices and free people spend their money however they like. My argument is that comic book publishers could do much better by pursuing advertising dollars instead of fan dollars, and expanding the fan base by providing much greater entertainment value per dollar. I’ve been talking about it at for a couple of years, and I’ve gotten some great feedback on the Message Board. Please read my plan and tell me what you think.




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