Monday, December 22, 2008

Prices are going up!

Big name comics from Marvel are going up to 3.99. That's a 33 percent increase. Which is a lot, if you ask me. In the blogosphere, and in the LCSes, there's a grande debate running. Is this good? Is this bad? On top of all of this, Top Shelf has stated they won't raise prices for 2009, hoping that will entice new readers, people jumping ship from the Abercrombie and Fitch of comics to the Old Navy of comics. It's a good business strategy. If, that is, there are people jumping ship.

I, for one, won't be. My reasons are that I'm a follower of creators, rather than characters or stories. I will pick up anything by Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Garth Ennis. I will select more diligently when it comes to Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Brian K Vaughn, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, and so on and so forth. For me, it's not that expensive to follow these creators, as they're not that prolific.

For other comic readers, it represents a challenge. Comic book consumers will not see a 33 percent increase in their yearly income, I foresee, which means that 33 percent of their weekly haul is going to have to decrease. How will they choose to cull?

Going back to the grande debate part, one thing that many people are taking into account is page count. Is 3.99 justified for 22 pages of story? Considering some titles has 16 page stories and the rest back-up? Is 3.99 justified for 32 pages of story?

Breaking this problem into smaller pieces brings us to the endless question of whether or not to decompress the story? Consider this hypothetical comic starring Wolverine: the sixteenth issue of the fourth volume is priced at 3.99 and it's written by Geoff Johns and Alex Ross and drawn by Jim Lee with a variant cover by Tony Daniel. It's the fourth part of a six part story arc and it contains 22 pages, 16 of which are main story and the rest are sketches and bonus items such as an essay in which Dan Didio blathers on for ten paragraphs about "story". In those 16 pages, there are four full page panels, or splash pages, and of the other 12 pages, there's an average of six panels per page. This is a very specific example for a reason. One would consider this comic to be written in the "decompression" style. Is it worth 3.99?

That's the question people are asking themselves. They're making qualitative judgements on the format in order to choose whether or not they want to cull the book from their pull list. Not everybody is doing that. Some people are simply making qualitative judgements on the content, which is probably a better way to do it, in my opinion.

When you do your best-of list at the end of the year, which title or character isn't making it? That's what you do without.

Of course, it doesn't help matter that a good amount of mainstream titles from Marvel are simply not good. The Mighty Avengers, Invincible Iron Man, Hulk (written by Jeph Loeb), Ultimate X-Men, Wolverine: Origins, these are all examples of titles that are just not very good. Also, who needs five titles starring Wolverine anyway? Or five titles starring the same core cast of X-Men?

Ultimately, this increase in price for comics is going to happen. No, it's not in line with inflation, as some bloggers have demonstrated with the use of graphs and charts and research. What this comes down to - I hate to oversimplify - supply and demand, the free market.

The consumer is choosing to purchase this expensive comics. Secret Invasion was entirely priced at 3.99 and it sold like hamburgers in the 50's. The consumer (me) made the decision to support the comic, the price, the creators, the company and the story. In order to support all of that, the price I was asked to pay was 3.99? Did I complain? Yes. Does it matter? No, not at all. The only thing that matters is dollars and cents.

The option is binary. Yes, I buy it. No, I do not. When Marvel totals their sales, they only see the "yes, I buy it" conclusion. Therefore, Marvel doesn't hear me complain about the rise in price. What they hear is, "this consumer wanted this comic enough to buy it at a 33 percent increase". Now, Marvel is going to test the water by releasing some big name comic like Dark Avengers at a 33 percent increase. If we buy it, which we will, then Marvel will hear that we will tolerate, nay, even support this increase.

No amount of online bitching will avoid the price increase. This is a free market. We can make the choice to avoid the 3.99 comics and choose to support comics such as and Incredible HerculesMs Marvel and Avengers: Initiative. If we do, it might cause a paradigm shift. Maybe big event comics will no longer sell as well... maybe the publishers will focus on telling stories rather than events. Maybe. It's wishful thinking, but in a free market, I can choose to go with Top Shelf, who have promised not to increase prices. I can choose to go with them and level the playing field.

Either way, the price increase is going to happen. Let's hope we choose wisely what we purchase and forever let the buyer beware.

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