The price rollbacks at Marvel and DC represent, as far as we can tell — paging John Jackson Miller! — the first time prices on comics have been significantly cut. iFanboy has a solid analysis of the page count and format issues but the log line is that
DC: All regular comics (not annuals and specials) will now be $2.99 for 20 pages of story.
Marvel: All NEW series will be $2.99 for 22 pages of story.
Although everyone has been bitching and moaning about the price increase since it happened, the reversal of the plan has not been met with universal huzzahs. In fact, it’s very clear that the problem with the price increase was
a) the timing — smack dab in the middle of a major recession
b) the product. DC and Marvel are, as we shall see, far from the kind of creative high point that would sustain the biggest price increase in the format’s history. The problem is predicted by the “satisfying chunk” theory. If readers get what they feel is a “satisfying chunk of story,” the price they pay will seem reasonable compared to a caramel latte from Starbucks. Give them fragmentary, poorly written stories, and their attention lags.
Just making comics cheaper — one of the four or five things that are regularly introduced as the salvation of the industry — isn’t any kind of solution without commensurate research into what readers will actually buy.
Manga fans felt that $10 was a very reasonable price to pay for over 100 pages of story and art back when that format was all the rage. No one says graphic novels cost too much, compared to what you’re getting. But $4 for a fragment of a story that you’ll later pay $14.99 to read in its entirety in a more durable and attractive format only works for the devotees of the Wednesday lifestyle.
Alan David Doane went right to the source and interviewed a bunch of comics shop owner on the topic: Robert Scott of Comickaze in San Diego,
While each retailer has his own take on the matter, the overall reaction is that just cutting prices on a product no one wanted in the first place isn’t enough. Marvel and DC need to up their game and make the comics desirable again. Glindmeyr writes:
Despite the content, a $3.99 book is nobody’s favorite. I suspect the price drop is a move by the publishers trying to stave off a jumping off point for readers and to continue life support for the 32-page pamphlets, floppies, singles or whatever we’re calling monthly comics now.
Over at 4th Letter, Esther Inglis-Arkell asks “Does it work for you?” and touches on most of these points:
Because it definitely does for me. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that something like five Batman: The Road Home books are coming out on Wednesday has something to do with the timing. Batman’s a draw, sure, but dropping a twenty on tie-ins that are coming out before the end of the series that they’re supposedly sequels of doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that even die hard fans would do.
At Westfield Comics, KC Carlson also delves deep into historical analysis in a highly recommended post:
In terms of standard comics, price increases were just not enough to offset the rising production costs and falling sales. Publishers felt that that they could not increase prices any further than what they already had, so they implemented cost-cutting in another way — they started reducing the story page count. It was a major turning point for comic books.
While Marvel has yet to release more than vague outlines of their own price rollback, DC sent out co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio to explain what it all meant, notably to CBR, Lee stands up valiantly for print:
The other thing here is that since there was a digital conference and so much attention is focused on digital – digital comics being the future and pricing them and all that stuff – that we really wanted to make an announcement about the future of print comics and how vital and important it is for us to keep that [segment of the business] vital and healthy. We felt it was imperative to keep the price of your average comic book down to $2.99. This is our way of saying that print comics are just as important as ever.
While DiDio assures everyone that those two extra pages weren’t really necessary anyway:
And from my point of view, the way I look at it very simply is that we deal with professionals, and everybody adjusts accordingly to work to the format the system is in. I remember working in TV, and they were adding more commercial time so shows were running shorter in those days too. Like I said, you give them the structure and format, and we have complete faith that everybody’s going to be able to tell the stories they want to do with the same strength, the same importance, the same character development, the same action, the same quality of art and dialogue that we get right now. From our standpoint, we hope this means we can attract more readers – people who might have been shying away from buying comics can come back and start enjoying them again because they were afraid that they just couldn’t afford it anymore or that they were being priced out of their hobby. That’s the last thing we want to happen.
The new price point, publicly, anyway, looks like a good thing overall, but the danger is that readers may just decide to save four bucks, and spend $12 on those comics instead of $16. Every industry professional we asked about the change at NYCC indicated that this was a huge danger.
Thus, both Marvel and DC are also trimming their lines — in Marvel’s case, they are drastically cutting the number of books they put out starting in January, and DC has hinted at the same. While the effects of a 2-page cut in monthly comics is obvious for freelancers — for writers this is $150-$300 less a month– the line cuts will also have a huge effect on what could charitably be called the “peripheral creators” in the industry — the journeymen without fanbases who depend on the attention of the one editor who will hire them for assignments and survival.
And the comics need to get better. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely can’t make them all — that particular duo can’t even do one a month. With the internet and iPads floating around everywhere, new creators and new pastimes are more of a rival for the fan dollar than ever. Admitting that their product just wasn’t worth the money they were charging for it is just the first step for Marvel and DC in crafting a strategy that will take them into the new digital age of comics.