The Future of Publishing: Selling More Expensive Books to Fewer People?

IDW, the comic publisher that was the first to establish the $3.99 price point as standard for periodical comics, has come up with a new marketing method: extremely limited print run books sold directly to customers. They’re even launching a new division, IDW Limited, to handle these “ultra-high-end, collectible editions” with “original sketches, creator signatures, and special packaging”.

IDW Limited

This is not a new idea — book printers have done similar releases, even before Kickstarter made such tiered rewards trendy — but in the past, comic publishers might have been more circumspect about such things for fear of annoying the retailers who can’t get in on the deal. IDW, in contrast, is sending out press releases. Which is necessary, since there’s no point in offering these products if your customers aren’t made aware of them.

Per a followup interview with IDW CEO Ted Adams, there will be 3-4 of these titles offered a month (that seems like a lot), as well as portfolios and collectible comic editions. Price points for the books are cited as $125, $250, and $350, and print runs may be as low as ten copies.

Hm, I wonder… what’s to stop a retailer from buying all ten of one of these editions and cornering the market for resale? I suppose IDW is going to limit purchases per customer; it’d be the smart thing to do. (Although playing with their shopping cart, it appears not.) And certainly, they’re going to benefit by getting all of that $125 (minus production and shipping costs), instead of the 50% of it they’d get by using a distributor, although they’re saying that these books will also be expensive to create.

In the bigger picture, this is just an extreme example of the direction the comic industry’s been going. First, they sold millions to a wide audience on the newsstand; then, in search of more guaranteed returns, they sold thousands to a more restricted but more dedicated type, the comic shop customer. Now, they’re selling hundreds at conventions; soon, it’s going to be tens online. Instead of variant covers driving the market, as is already happening, now it’s variant editions. It’s just another way to try and pull more money out of the same shrinking customer base, if you can convince them to pay $250 instead of $25 for a comic collection or $50 instead of $4 for a comic.

By the way, the first book, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collection, has already sold out of its $250 and $350 levels.

Also, controlling the access to the customer is going to be ever more important. They’re only your customer if you can sell to them directly, without a retailer (Amazon) or a distributor (Diamond) being your only point of contact.

4 Responses to “The Future of Publishing: Selling More Expensive Books to Fewer People?”

  1. Dennis Says:

    So do you believe that these titles will just be purchased by collectors who never crack them open, and have no appreciation for comics and the stories they can tell. It kinda reminds me of a Star Trek DS9 episode, season 1. Quark is trying to sell some artifacts from the Delta Quad. Vash is explaining their significance and all of the buyers are bored. Quark jumps in and says, “look its rare and from far away, come on bid,” and the bidding starts.

  2. Johanna Says:

    If I was to spend that much money on a signed book, I’d already be familiar with the content and have read the story. I’d want to keep the expensive version nice.

  3. Bill Williams Says:

    One of this things discovered during the current digital boom is that different people want to experience comics in different formats and those additional transactions do not cannibalize existing sales. These different channels serves different kinds of fans. As a guy with 60 longboxes, I can see the charms of reading comics on a digital reader.

    You could look at the collector’s editions as one more way to cash in on a 20+ year old property or as fan service depending on your end of the tranaction. At three or four projects a month, I think the risk has to lie with the publishers who could choke on books if they over-estimate demand. Today, there are comic books from 1969 on the best selling list over at comiXology. With those digital versions, there is little more than the pay to the production staff involved. But those high end print versions have to generate big printing bills.

    The sales numbers on the artist editions have to be telling IDW something for them to move forward with this.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Great point, Bill. You’re right, that this is more properly seen as a bonus… until the company begins depending on that revenue, as we’re beginning to see with variant cover comic editions.




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