PR: What Not to Do: Excessive Pricing

Kramer's Ergot 7

Have you heard about the upcoming anthology volume Kramer’s Ergot 7 from Buenaventura Press?

It’s a deluxe original hardcover — which has been done before, most often with reprint material — but due to publishing it at larger-than-newspaper page size, they’re pricing it at $125. For 96 pages.

That’s quite a chunk of change to lay out for an experimental anthology. Maybe I’m the only one having trouble with that format lately, but I’ve pretty much quit reading multi-creator anthologies because most of them are so uneven. One of the goals of such a format was traditionally to expose the reader to something they may not be familiar with, but at this price, the only people buying it will be those who already are pretty sure they’re going to want this project.

Kramer's Ergot 7

Or maybe I’m wrong, and the goal here is to express art in an unusual, larger format, and there are enough people who enjoy such things to make such a project viable. Judging from the discussion at Alan David Doane’s blog, though, I’m not sure. One retailer says he’s planning to order five copies, which includes two for shelf browsing, but he gets mad and calls names (I think humorously) when his decision is questioned.

This is the kind of project that comic store employees may be the target market for. They see a lot of what’s out there, so they’re often drawn to the different just for being unusual (much like media critics). Plus, they get significant discounts, which makes them less price-sensitive. Speaking of which, right now Amazon has it for over one-third off the list price, which puts it under $80.

Anyway, Alan used to say that the only comic that cost too much was a bad one, but he’s now reconsidering. I understand the sentiment behind that statement, but it’s a little too simplistic for me. Of course I’ll enjoy pulp entertainment more at $2 than $4 a copy. Especially these days, price matters. And as I mentioned above, so many of the tastemakers (whether critics or retailers or publishers) are insulated from price effects, since they get comics free or at a discount or through trade.

I’ve only done a quick overview, so I probably missed it, but I haven’t seen the publisher/editor give any rationale for the price tag. Are they seeing what the market will bear? Or just interested in getting this kind of free press for their project as people talk about the unusual price point?

My prediction: after it comes out, most of the copies will already be spoken for. It’ll quickly disappear from view, with few secondary market sales, except for the dusty shelf copies in out-of-the-way spaces in stores that want to support independent “art comics” but don’t have buyers willing to drop that much on one thin anthology.

Discussions on the matter also took place at Heidi’s blog. Tom Spurgeon appears to be waving the flag for letting creators do what they want and making fun of those who disagree. Some make the case that if you think of it as a limited edition art object (and what will the print run be, anyway?), $125 is entirely reasonable as a price point. Perhaps. If so, I hope they can successfully reach that art-museum-and-gallery audience.

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