Are Comics Fans More Budget-Conscious in a Recession?

As the Recession continues with no clear end in site and no definite upturn, I found it significant that Robot 6’s weekly “here’s what’s coming out in comic shops” column has taken on a new dimension: a limited spending amount.

The first Food or Comics? column sets out the rules:

Every week we’ll tell you what comics we’d buy if we had $15 to spend, if we had $30, and if we had some “mad money” (like a gift card) to blow on what we’re calling a “Splurge” item. Admittedly, this was a tough exercise, much tougher than I thought it would be, and a reminder as to why I buy my books from a place that offers a discount.

Retailers back in the day used to say that shoppers didn’t follow budgets, that they’d buy what they wanted. I never found that all that believable. I know that I have a lot of discretionary income, but I’ve seen too many others at the store putting back things they were interested in — usually newer titles — because they only had a certain amount of money and it was all taken up by old favorites.

Chis Sweet Home cover
Chi’s Sweet Home
Buy this book

Bear in mind that, these day, $15 will only buy you four superhero comics (at a $3.99 price point, plus tax). (Update Gah! Where was my head?!? $15 won’t even buy you four superhero comics, but three with a couple of dollars left over.) That’s not very much, when DC and Marvel are both pushing cross-title stories and big event continuities. I tried this exercise myself, holding myself to the price limits they set, and concluded:

My one comic purchase would be Chi’s Sweet Home (cute cat manga! and in full color!), at $13.95. Except I’d use the Amazon price of $11.16, so I could still get The Muppet Show #7 at $2.99. Golly, no wonder people are going online for discounts and digital copies! Great as I expect those books to be, that’s not very much comic reading for a week. And no superheroes!

At the $30 mark, I’d add Archie & Friends Volume 4 Betty & Veronica’s Beach Party, for $9.95. It’s been so hot lately that I’m in the mood for some summer escapism. That leaves me (going back to cover price, $13.95 + $2.99 + $9.95 = $26.89) $3.11 for … well, not enough for Wonder Woman #600, which is $4.99. Usagi Yojimbo #129 is $3.50. The return of Suppli, the josei manga from Tokyopop I want to try again, is $19.99 for the double-sized Volume 4. Maybe I’ll save up for another graphic novel, or go with the nostalgic Casper & The Spectrals #2, from Ardden Entertainment, at $2.99.

All I can say is, I’m suddenly very very grateful for companies that are generous with their review copies.

What about you? Are you buying less? Saving up more? Keeping to a budget, or spending on what’s still relatively cheap entertainment and escapism?

22 Responses to “Are Comics Fans More Budget-Conscious in a Recession?”

  1. David Oakes Says:

    I think the idea that comic buyers “spend what they want” has more to do with the addiction model: They will buy the titles they buy, regardless of how much the price goes up or how many appear in the same week.

    More often I hear that “comic budgets aren’t fungible”. If you usually spend $20 a week, but one week you only spend $15, you don’t come back the next week and spend $25.

    If comics don;t get your enetertainment dollar *right now*, they won’t get it back. I wonder if the switch to TPBs and book markets have changed this, or if people still decide to buy a new Manga only because they haven’t gone to the movies or downloaded music yet this week.

  2. David Oakes Says:

    As for the specific question, I am spending about $20 a week on comics, and I have been spending about $20 a week even since all the Crisis crossovers – no, the first one, in 1986 – made me start tracking just how much I was spending on comics in a month. (Of course, back then $80 could buy you an entire companywide crossover. Now I have to try and be happy with less than 20 books…)

    Looking at this week, it’s not a good example. I am only committed to two titles, Brave and Bold #18 and Madame Xanadu #24.

    I might look at the Hero Initiative book or the 1940 Cap Newspaper strips, which are easier sells these days because they are one shots. There is also Last Unicorn and Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, but they will have to be pretty impressive, less because of cost and more because I have been burnt by feeble efforts to cash in on my childhood nostaligia.

    I have been getting BPRD, but may not bother with the new Abe Sapien book this week. While some of my discontent may be fiduciary, the fact is that the “War on Frogs” uber-plot has been shambling forward more ponderously than an Old One, even as it has consumed all the nice character moments that drew me to the book in the first place. I will probably stick with the Hellboy books when they come out, because Mignola still seems to have his heart in them. But the rest of his works seems perfunctory at best these days.

  3. Thad Says:

    I SHOULD keep to a budget, but in practice? I walked into a store yesterday, found out they were having a 20% off sale, and spent way too much money. And that’s BEFORE this week’s comics, which I’ll pick up at my usual shop today.

    (I guess, strictly speaking, I DID still stick to a budget — I could have bought twice as much as I did and still not caught up on all the trades I want. It’s not like I’m not going to be able to pay my bills because I bought comics; it’s more a case of eating at home instead of going out for a few days.)

    It DOES pretty much limit me to sticking with series and creators I already like. A good sale is the best way to get me to try new stuff — yesterday’s didn’t (I just bought trades in series I’d already been reading), but I bought a bunch of stuff outside my ordinary titles from Barnes and Noble last week. (They’re still running that big clearance, though a lot of the A-list stuff’s gone now.)

  4. Tim Rifenburg Says:

    I have 8 to 10 titles (a couple are scattered in schedule) I get regularly. Then I check out my store’s bargain room and scan the quarter boxes. All my trades are bought on line and only when there is a major sale (50% off or better). I have seriously thought about a mail order subscription service but would miss going to the shop. (The discounts are a lot better) I usually go every three weeks so nothing builds up too much. I think you have to think in terms of budget or bargain shopping. More and more I take a wait and see approach to new titles and storylines.

  5. John Jakala Says:

    It’s not really because of budget reasons but I’m currently getting everything through the library. It helps that I weaned myself from the every-Wednesday and pre-ordering habits years ago, and about six months ago I realized I didn’t even need to buy TPBs online anymore because so often they would sit unread once I got them, and even the ones I did read I was running out of room to store.

    So now I read everything via the library and this is probably the happiest I’ve been as a comics reader in a long time. I’m saving money, I’m not adding to the clutter in my office, and there’s no risk when I decide I want to check out something new (and no guilt when I get a couple pages into something and decide I’m not interested enough to continue).

    Of course, this strategy probably wouldn’t work for you, Johanna, since you likely want to review things when they’re more timely. That is the one downside to my approach: It can take forever to get something, even when I’m the first to request something as soon as the library orders it. For example, I’m still waiting for volume 8 of 20th Century Boys even though I was the first to request it back in March. And who knows how long it will take for vol. 9 to move from “On Order” to “Available” status in my queue…

  6. Faith Says:

    I took on extra work when I started buying comics. Buying comics regularly is new for me; I really didn’t start doing it until around 2008 when I got hooked on Urasawa. Granted, my comic budget wasn’t huge (I probably spend $10-20/month), but I don’t make a lot of money so knew I’d have to do something in order to afford the books I wanted. So I took a job drawing a comic strip for my local free weekly newspaper. For the amount of time I put into the comic strip, I get paid crap (like $7/hr), but it’s enough money that I can buy comics and not have to worry about dipping into my regular rent/food/etc budget. I also completely stopped buying DVDs, which freed up more money.

    I also read a TON of graphic novels from the library.

  7. Lesley K Says:

    As a librarian who orders most of our graphic novels, I find the above comments very interesting.

    Mainly because bad economic times pinch library budgets as much as everybody else; my purchasing funds have been slashed this year, and I work in a relatively well-off area. We are constantly admonished to focus more on our “core mission” — and I’m afraid selling TBTB that “funny books” belong there is an uphill battle.

    (it doesn’t help any that most of the distributors from whom I order GNs are backlisting and even cancelling more and more titles that are supposed to be available — I was gnashing my teeth at some of the titles available through the B&N sale, which my jobber has been dicking me around with for almost a year)

    tl;dr — if you want your library to keep supporting your comics habit, TELL THEM SO. Preferably in a nice, well written letter, addressed to the Director or Board of Trustees, that tells how GNs in the library make a difference in your life.

  8. James Schee Says:

    I found myself nodding my head with John’s post. I use my library a lot, only having to spend $3 per book for the postage back and forth with the interlibrary loan program.

    I usually only get TPBs about twice a year for my birthday (this Friday so I’ll have to check out what’s out) and around Christmas time.

    A cousin of mine had won a gift certificate bundle at a mall in Houston, that included a comic shop that was in the mall which he gave me. I enjoyed the books I got for the $30 gift certificate, but no way could I see myself buying them very week.

    For $4 plus tax, I can get 4 movies from the Redbox and thus hours of enjoyment. You actually kind of messed up your math a little I think Johanna. 4 superhero comics at $3.99 would be $15.97, before tax not $15.:) (though I guess you could be considering a discount)

    I did download the DC ap and got a few issues of that Generation Lost series that DC’s releasing. i enjoyed the experience, and wouldn’t mind doing that for series I want to read right then.

  9. Suzene Says:

    I still maintain a sub list at my shop, but it’s down to five on-goings, partially due to budgetary reasons but also because I find myself getting fed up with the monthly format and the storage issues that come with. Unless it’s a story I’m invested enough in that I’ll get antsy waiting for the collection, I can tradewait until I can get a discount off of Amazon, or until the collection shows up used on eBay.

  10. takingitoutside Says:

    I only read manga, and I used to limit myself to roughly four manga per week which worked out to around $40. Then I would binge at a giant convention every year in both English- and Japanese-language manga.

    I have a great job now, but I just got out of graduate school, am looking toward a Ph.D. and will move out of my parents’ house soon, so I’ve cut back massively. I almost exclusively buy with e-mailed coupons from Borders, and I only buy one or two volumes per week – sometimes none. No convention this year either.

    In a weird way, the economy has brought me back to anime, which were my first love anyway. Tons are available online for free via Crunchyroll, ANN, et cetera, and I get Japanese practice from them in addition to the basic enjoyment factor. Frankly, I’m not all that attracted to a lot of the arty manga that have been coming out recently, or the more appallingly sexist manga, so there’s no gigantic loss. The manga that I do still follow either fall into areas that I study (Peacemaker Kurogane), have interested me for a long, long time (Azumanga Daioh) or are simply properties that I’m just vested in for some reason (anything Kaori Yuki, the last double-volume of Samurai Deeper Kyo).

  11. Johanna Says:

    David, great math points from you, as I would expect, and bringing up nostalgia makes me think that that’s another attempt to succeed in a crowded market. If a purchaser is already familiar with the brand and has good memories of it, they are more likely to pick it over the unknown (which is more of a risk for hard-earned money). But they rarely have the same enjoyment as our memories do, as you say.

    Thad, good point about how a good deal (or even the perception of one — I’m convinced some manga publishers these days are pricing based on what the after-discount price will be, not the list price) will loosen up a wallet.

    Tim, I miss quarter boxes. I don’t think I’ve seen anything under a 50-cent box in a long time, and more often it’s a dollar a book.

    John, I too love the library. Nice of you to call me “timely”, since I always feel a couple months behind the 8ball in that respect.

    Faith, that’s very sensible of you. I’ve seen a number of people go into debt because they just can’t break that weekly comic habit, so I’m glad to see someone making extra money for it instead of borrowing against themselves.

    James, I can’t believe I got the math backwards! Thanks for pointing that out.

    Suzene, you remind me that I used to see retailers decry “trade-waiting”, because they’d say that customers never come back for the collections. I suspect your strategy is more common — they do buy the book, but somewhere with better pricing.

  12. Thom Says:

    I dropped comics from my entertainment budget…they pretty much joined my theatrical movie viewing.

  13. Stuart Moore Says:

    I think this is a very tough area to get accurate information on, because readers often say they’re going to cut back on buying comics in order to try to influence publishers not to raise prices. Sometimes they mean it and follow through; sometimes they mean it and don’t follow through; and sometimes they don’t mean it.

    (I realize you’re conducting a straw poll, not a scientific study.)

    This isn’t unique to comics, either. Book publishing is normally a much quieter, more reserved field; but the commentary on the Macmillan-vs.-Amazon feud got unusually heated. And that was all about e-book pricing.

  14. Johanna Says:

    Stuart, as always, you’re right. Although general trends — such as second-tier manga publishers going out of business — do seem to indicate some kind of cutback happening.

    Thom, even though I only know you online, that makes me sad.

  15. Chad Says:

    As I freak out about the economy, one spot where I’m cutting back is in my purchases of standard comic books. In an era when no one seems to want the darn things — take a look at the pennies they fetch on eBay — the old justification that you could make a little bit of the purchase cost of comics back by unloading them no longer holds water at $4 an issue. As a reading experience, I still prefer the traditional comic-book format to TPBs, but TPBs seem to hold their value better these days. If I buy a stinker that I’ll never want to read again, I have a better chance of getting someone to take a TPB off my hands for a few bucks.

    Also, like Thad, I’m a lot less likely to try out new creators these days unless I see a lot of folks whose opinions I trust praising the work. Four dollars is a lot to spend on a bad comic when you’re pinching pennies.

    I wish I could follow John Jakala’s path a bit more, where comics are just one element of the entertainment cloud I enjoy — no preordering, just buy the next comic or TPB when I’m done with the one I just read — but I’m not there yet (but I’m trying).

  16. Johanna Says:

    Yes, there are many more outlets to unload, as you put it, collections or book-format comics. And if I’m going to lease or borrow comics — which is what buying them, reading them, and then selling them amounts to — I’d rather do it through my library.

  17. Herb Finn Says:

    If you’re lucky to have decent local regular comic conventions you can save alot of money by buying recent comics for a $1.00 on average. (sometimes in bulk for 50c!)

    Between local shops selling extra stock or the dealers who buy up quanity of overstock, you can find almost every major title.

    Sometimers it’s hit or miss on issues and have to go thought boxes and boxes – but that’s all part of the fun.

  18. alex Says:

    used to spent between 100 and 150 a month on comics/trades/etc.

    now, under 30. Last month was first time in decades I oredered no DCU books. a bunch of vertigo, a couple marvel, some Dark Horse and a magazine.

    Anything not “worth” buying can easily be skimmed in the store or gotten online.

  19. Sebastian Says:

    I’ve set myself several fixed monthly budgets (one for Diamond preorders; one for French comics and mangas; one for English comics and mangas with ISBN) and kept them for a couple of years, and it definitely helps to keep my spending in check by forcing me to weed out series or keep down formats/types I don’t (or shouldn’t) really need.

    On the other hand, my example probably doesn’t really add to this discussion, since keeping my budgets doesn’t really mean I have to often constrain myself to buy less than before. So far I’ve luckily had the freedom to rather tailor my budgets to my reading habits, instead of the other way around. The buy-or-not questions aren’t that hard, most of the time, when your combined monthly comics budgets add up to approximately $550… ^^;

  20. Hsifeng Says:

    “As a librarian who orders most of our graphic novels, I find the above comments very interesting.

    “Mainly because bad economic times pinch library budgets as much as everybody else; my purchasing funds have been slashed this year, and I work in a relatively well-off area. We are constantly admonished to focus more on our ‘core mission’ — and I’m afraid selling TBTB that ‘funny books’ belong there is an uphill battle.”

    All good points. I wouldn’t be surprised if your purchasing funds for all fiction (whether comics or not) got slashed more than your purchasing funds for nonfiction, and if the portion of nonfiction purchasing funds specifically for recession-survival books (on topics such as rewriting one’s résumé, salvaging one’s retirement funds, etc.) was not slashed or was even increased.

    James Schee Says:

    “I use my library a lot, only having to spend $3 per book for the postage back and forth with the interlibrary loan program…”

    They need to charge for ILL? You and your library have my condolences.

    James Schee Says:

    “I usually only get TPBs about twice a year for my birthday (this Friday so I’ll have to check out what’s out)”

    Happy belated birthday!

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