In My Day, Comics Cost Sixty-Five Cents
In case you've been living in a cave for the past few weeks, the news has come down that Marvel will be raising the prices on their books again. For the first time ever, every book put out by one of the big two will cost over two bucks a pop. There has, as you can imagine, been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this.
Me? It didn't faze me much. I've gotten used to the idea that my average comic costs me about $2.50, and while I'm not thrilled about it, the discount I get on buying my comics takes the sting out a little. The quality of the stuff I choose to buy helps a little more. But it is kind of a shame to see Marvel pricing themselves out of the range of younger audiences, which they still see as their only market.
See, from DC it doesn't seem like such a bad idea. DC has the Vertigo line, not to mention a line of super-heroes that tends to appeal to older audiences as well as younger ones. Marvel has killed off Epic, tanked their mature readers horror line early on through management bungling and has only managed to hold on to adult readers through the excellent efforts of the Marvel Knights crew and by appealing to the nostalgic Marvel zombie in all of us with some of their other super-hero titles.
I blame all of this on upper management, by the way. Editorial didn't kill off Warren Ellis's Satanna...some suit who thought "comics should all be for kids" did that. But then, the price increase isn't coming down from the ranks of editorial either. It's coming from the same guys who haven't tried to diversify the market. They've actually sent the message "Our comics are for young kids...oh, and by the way, if you want to buy them, they're priced out of allowance range."
Mind you, it's not the kids complaining. It's us adults who see more of our disposable income being disposed of. But for us (if not for Marvel's bottom line), this could actually help.
Pricing a new title at $2.25 instead of $1.99 increases the profit on the book, and maybe that'll make Marvel stick with a title that much longer before canceling it. Because Marvel's rate with new titles has been abysmal, again with the exception of Marvel Knights. They put out things that might appeal to a small niche, and when that niche buys it faithfully and proves to be too small, they cancel the book without any attempt at letting word of mouth spread. For that matter, Marvel doesn't even bother putting out regular trade paperback collections and building money that way.
Transmetropolitan, if it is profitable for DC, is barely that way based on monthly sales. But when you add in the folks buying in trade paperback form, and the folks who will buy those trades for years and years to come because they're kept in print? Well, suddenly, it's a profitable book. A profitable book selling at about half of Marvel's cancellation numbers, last I checked.
There's also the argument that "It's only another quarter." Which might hold water if they hadn't used "It's only four more cents" when they raised the price for gatefold advertising a few years ago, or "It's only 75 cents" when they skyrocketed up to $1.50 in the early 80s. A lot of us comic fans have been reading for a while, and saying "It's only a quarter" only works if we've gotten used to the idea that the base price is two bucks. I know I haven't. If you're like me, you've still got that voice in your head every time you buy a comic saying "I remember when these things were less than a buck!"
So Marvel is raising their baseline price to $2.25. And, the comic industry being what it is, we can expect DC to follow suit within six months. So be it. I already cut back from buying titles I kind of liked to only titles I really loved when the price went up to two bucks a pop. I guess it's just time to take a look at the old list again and see which titles are really worth the money they're charging. And I'm sure I won't be the only fan doing that, especially after the first trip to the comic-book store that ends with the following:
"Twenty bucks?! But I've got less than ten comics here!"
Randy W. Lander remembers when comics were 55 cents as well, but that was only for a month or two before they went up to 65 cents. He should have seen the trend then.