Over the past couple of weeks here, speaking as a person who physically rings people up in a store for comic books, I’ve touched on some things that, I believe, may have had a hand in Marvel’s troubles as of late, such as first issues and the problems they can cause, and the events Marvel has now sworn are over for a while.
These are things I’m seeing as specific to Marvel, since the industry itself seems to be reaching an all time high with audience variety and numbers. (That may not be true for Local Comic Shops, but there’s definitely something to be said for the direct market and the numbers it’s been able to draw in these days.) Diversity of both characters and creators has already been covered by people I respect too much to just reiterate what they said. For example, the creator of my favorite character did a whole “rant.” (I can’t call it a rant, she’s making real and valuable points here.)
The last topic that is really important to point out is really very businessy. It’s money. No one likes to think about how much money they spend on comics. No matter how much it is, it feels like too much, because you know, deep down, that it’s an exponential number. It will almost invariably grow. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that a lot of comics are kriffing great these days. It’s causing me, personally, a lot of hardship in both time and money to keep up with how amazing everything is these days. I’m not sure how much more I can take before I burst into some kind of comic-page and glitter confetti.
Beyond just how many comics we all purchase, or want to purchase, price makes a big difference. When comics were just starting out, they were mostly for kids, and so they were very cheap. As demand and inflation took hold, their price went up. These things are a constant in the market and apply to the entire industry. With Marvel, though, they just kept going up and up.
Other companies aren’t perfect. DC Comics, for example, now publishes at a lower price and subsidizes the cost with more ads, but they also produce them at almost twice the rate they did before. This seems to be working out quite well so far, since most people are inclined to give things a try for a dollar less each trip. They also come out with trades (the industry’s term for collections and volumes) pretty quickly. Customers don’t fall behind and they’re printed softcover first and at a price that’s competitive with the indie companies.
With Marvel, however, we see the standard rate going up regularly, jumping all the way up to $9.99 for special issues. These issues are far less special when you’re shelling out as often as you likely are, and spending half that on your regular comics besides. Even if you want to wait for the trade, the hardcover is published first, with several months before the softcover hits the shelves. Even if you do wait for the softcover, it’s often four issues for $16.99 or up.
On top of those regular pricing issues, Marvel is the biggest producer of variant covers on the market. If you aren’t familiar with them, variant covers, simply put, are just the comic itself with a different cover. To get specific ones, stores will have to meet incentive numbers, which can sometimes be outrageous or not even related to the title at hand. Trying to provide these to customers can be hard on Local Comic Shops, especially if they end up with tons of merchandise that never moves.
Comparing these prices with a publisher like Image Comics, you can see that there’s a disparity here. Often, Image will release the trade within a few weeks, or will have a set publication schedule that makes it easy for a reader to catch up. They price first trades low to garner interest, and keep them reasonable after that. When a new or casual reader has the option to pick up an expensive publication with enough history and crossover that it is never just that one book, or to pick up a comic that’s much cheaper and won’t require several other purchases, it’s an easy choice. From corporate view, it seems like a reasonable theory to push prices up and gain more revenue, but the fact of the matter often comes down to the audience not being able to pay the higher prices.
I am not saying that other publishers are perfect. Some of them take months to release trades, which means you cannot catch up on issues if you missed the first few. Others have similar problems with hardcovers or incentive covers. Some have trouble sticking to a schedule for publishing issues. These aforementioned problems, however, are specific to Marvel. This is a company that is backed by Disney, which has pockets deep enough to rub elbows with the Grand Canyon. This is a company churning out box office hits time after time. This is a company that wants us to believe that these prices are because their sales are not good.
No, Marvel. The reason for your overpricing is not because your sales have dropped. Your sales have dropped, at least in part, because of your overpricing. You may be a powerhouse in the comics industry, but you aren’t perfect. There are flaws. You have to fix them if you want to continue to grow, and there is no way around it.