Home Culture Is the price cut really going to save comics?

Is the price cut really going to save comics?


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,

John Belskis of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, NY,

Peter Birkmoe of The Beguiling in Toronto,

J.C. Glindmyer of Earthworld Comics in Albany, NY,

Christopher Butcher of The Beguiling in Toronto, Ontario,

Jevon Kasitch of Electric City Comics in Schenectady, NY

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.

  1. Heh.

    All I know is this: I’ve been buying comics since they were friggin’ fifteen cents. And all across the decades, I have never balked or complained about price increases… until now.

    As the price jumped to $4 a throw, I took a good hard look at what I was still buying.. and then slashed it in half. Between the steep cost of today’s pamphlets, combined with the availability of trade collections & easy access to digital browsing, I’ve turned into a real miser lately.

    It does not help matters that most mainstream titles, especially that of the DCU, are sadly lacking in… what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah. Imagination.

  2. Maybe now we can stop saying it’s okay to be late on books. Because now there are two pages less to deal with. So – artists – if you really are going to complain about 2 pages being taken away from you, go back and look at your output and tell me if it really matters. Especially those artists who are in the upper tier who are making FAR MORE per page than lower tier artists. Because we all know they weren’t cranking out 22 pages a month regardless of what C.B. Cebulski says.

  3. I’ve been buying comics since they were twelve cents. I have more disposable income than at any other point in my life. Comics? I’m spending less now than I was ten years ago.

    There are several reasons for that:

    1) The most obvious is the general decline in relative value. Is a comic worth 1.5 gallons of gasoline? Are two comics worth a “Number 9” combo at Carl’s Jr? In most cases, the answer is just “no”.

    2) Long ago, the number of titles exploded to the point that it was no longer possible to have the “complete adventures” of any of the major characters. Once you can’t “have it all”, you have to ask yourself “should I have any”?

    3) Thanks to the Internet, you really don’t need them “all”, or “some” or perhaps “any”. Between on-line reviews, discussion boards, plot analysis and historical overview sites, you can essentially follow an entire “Universe” of titles at no cost beyond an internet connection. And that without pirating anything at all!

    What will I do with my price drop savings? I imagine I’ll be pocketing that money like everyone else.

  4. The one other significant price-drop in US comics history —

    In the early 1970s, both publishers raised prices and added pages, going from a 15-cent 32-page package to a 25-cent 48-page package. But Marvel quickly dropped back to the usual number of pages for 20 cents, while DC tried to make the 25 cent price work, but after a while dropped back to the 32-page size for 20 cents.

    This is often cited as the reason Marvel took over the #1 spot from DC — the lower price point (and the fact that much of DC’s backup material was reprints, seen by many readers as padding) won them a lot of readers who didn’t return to DC when DC dropped the price back down.

    This isn’t the same situation, but there are enough parallels that it’ll be interesting to see how the audience reacts to a period where DC’s books are all $2.99 and Marvel’s are a mix. In the past, Marvel’s top-end books have been extraordinarily resistant to sales dropoffs due to price hikes, but the price differential’s never been a dollar before, in the middle of bad economic times.

    But 1972 saw a 20% price cut that happened at different times, and had a big effect on intercompany fortunes. Now we’ve got a 25% price cut that’ll be happening in different ways at the big two companies. It’s enough of a parallel that some number-crunchers and prognosticators might find it interesting to take another look at that era.


  5. In 1972, comics usually sold in the hundreds of thousands. In 2010, not so much.

    The whole price drop spin is essentially cover for the generally slipshod quality of today’s comic books at already overinflated prices, before one even adds or subtracts a buck.

  6. Cheaper superhero comics. Nice.

    Now if only they could find a good way to get these cheaper superhero comics to potential customers that doesn’t involve forcing them to try and find an inconvenient specialty store…

  7. I think that the $2.99 price point will save some sales that otherwise wouldn’t have been made. Obviously everyone has different reactions to the $3.99 price point. Some people simply drop a title at $3.99, but others may drop 1-2 other titles in order to try to retain the $3.99 one. In other people it may result in a reevaluation of their purchasing habits that leads to them dropping unrelated titles, or families of unrelated titles. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any accurate way to measure the number of sales saved by a $2.99 price point.

  8. I discovered something interesting today at the shop: In an effort to catch up on my unread pile, I stopped buying from DCBS and went back to the LCS. My new rule is: maximum of 3 titles a week until I catch up.

    It was hard, but when I paid this week, I got 3 books for under $10 and they were 3 books I was really excited about reading.

    One of the factors in my decision was that I wouldn’t buy a $3.99 book.

    Something about 3 books for $12 doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying as 3 books for less than $10 out the door.

    Suddenly new comics became fun again — instead of walking out with 10-15 books, spending $40, and falling behind, I walked out with 3, felt great about it, and feel pretty confident that I’ll enjoy every one.

  9. I’m with Trev and the first commenter. I’ve never complained up until recently. Also, if it’s looking like a heavy load, that 3.99 book gets the axe. I feel a lot better about buying three awesome books than three awesome books and a couple of “mehh, the art/story was nice” books. Especially when I’m paying for a creator name or filler material.

  10. I believe that artificially setting digital prices so as to protect the bookshelves is wrong. They aren’t passing the difference in price between a digital print and a glue, paper, color, transport, electricity, and shelf space print on to the customer.

    I could see a digital explosion in material…if they would set price in the $0.99 region.

  11. In addition to the example that Kurt Busiek points out, there was the DC Implosion in the 70s, when they went from 50¢ for 25 pages of story to 40¢ for 17 pages of story.

  12. The real solution in order to “save” comics, is to make them more accessible, and yes, available at a reasonable price.

    I see the price dropping for printed comics, but I still need to order a comic 2 months in advance from a catalog at my local comic shop. No spontaneity there.

    Where are the new readers coming from? Are they looking for a flower shop or car parts store, and accidentally walk into a comic store on Free Comic Book day?

    Once we answer that question, THEN we “save” comics.

  13. Like most people who have posted here, I’ve been buying comics for a long time. I did find it hard to shell out $3.99 + tax for a single floppy especially since I was buying 20 to 22 pages of story and A LOT of ads.

    My take on this is I would have had an easier time paying that amount if I felt I was getting the same in return. One example would have been some “extras” pertaining to the making of that particular issue, or some behind-the-scenes material. Maybe there isn’t a large enough audience for that kind of stuff but it would have at least given me the feeling I was getting my money’s worth.

  14. I’ve collected Marvel comics off-and-on for 35 years. I got back into it in 2004, and stopped buying new comics 5 months ago. The start of the Heroic Age, and the wrap-up of a number of storylines all at the same time, was a good time to stop as the $3.99 price tag of the comics didn’t match their entertainment value. I can get silver age Marvel comics off e-Bay for the same $4, which has been a more fun way to spend my money. Dropping prices to $2.99 isn’t going to entice me to start buying new comics again at this point.

  15. Heidi,

    Thanks for mentioning my column at iFanboy. As both a lifelong comic book reader and someone who makes their living as an investor, the financial aspects of this industry have always fascinated me. I was aware of the rollback Kurt mentioned, but the 60s drop (hat tip to John Jackson Miller) was news to me. Either way, broadly speaking the economics of the comics industry are unlike many other types of consumable entertainment, which is why the publishers felt emboldened to push up prices. The direct market has been in aggregate decline for so long it’s just become an instantiated part of the industry’s DNA.

    What I really am curious about is “what if the price rollbacks don’t work?” What if units don’t pick back up?

    I’m not sure any of us want to know the answer.

  16. Well, I remember when comics went from $0.60 to $0.65. (April 1985 cover date) I didn’t stop buying comics then, although I did stupidly drop the Gladstone titles when they went to $0.75.

    I spend about $20 a week on comics, and as mentioned above, it’s for stuff I really like, or it has an interesting premise and is worth a shot.

    Yes, it’s the “satisfying chunk”. While I primarily read trades, especially trades of stories I plan to keep forever, there are a few titles I can’t wait to read in magazine form.

    Last night at Columbia University, Chris Claremont said that comics were once 17 pages of material. With the 20-page comic, I would like to see if creators could condense their stories into shorter, more interesting stories. (Carl Barks was the master of the ten-page story.) I recall some of the three-part stories from Superman’s Silver Age, and being amazed that these stories were told in 22 pages, and done-in-one issue!

    Personally, I wonder why DC or Marvel doesn’t go the cheap route. Print the complete comic (including cover) on cheap newsprint, in black-and-white or grey-scale. Want nicer paper or color? Wait for the trade. (This also inflates the collector market, as a 9.8 copy will be more rare due to the high acidic content of the wood pulp (and the smear-ability of the cheap ink).

    Yes, wages will be affected, although page rates can be adjusted to keep talent happy. (An exclusive contract might guarantee a higher page rate, or more work to fill the deficit.) Or perhaps the artist will have time to produce other work, perhaps an independent web-comic. OR… given the recent complaints about cover art being better than the interior story pages, perhaps the interior artist will balance the loss of two pages of interior art by drawing the cover for the book! (At Marvel, covers end up in the print shop, while interior pages are rarely merchandised.)

    What I would love to see? Two-In-One comics! Give me two stories, ten pages each, in one comic! Titles like “I Am An Avenger” #2, which includes stories of 12, 8 (to be continued…grr…) 2 (! felt like four) and 1 pages. That’s 23 pages of stories, all pretty darn good (although the Firestar story requires too much background knowledge).

    What’s great about this model? Almost every story is an inventory story. Editorially, you commission the work, and when it’s done, you slot it in where it fits. No deadlines, you can use it to find out if the new talent has the chops, you can tell stories which don’t require an Event or Wikipedia to understand, and you can introduce new characters (just like Marvel Next). It’s perfect for newsstands, as it’s non-perishable and extremely visible (Marvel can put whatever is the hot commodity that month on the cover). It also acts as a gateway drug… a “civilian” (or “innocent”) reads a story, is intrigued, and perhaps searches out more stories.

    Oh, and you print it weekly, but with different titles, so the copies stay on the racks for a month. Avengers, Spider-Man, Space, Super Heroes, and a quarterly “Best of” or themed issue (Summer vacation, movie tie-in, whatever is in the archives and can be reprinted cheaply).

    Considering these new price points, will the various sales list analysts PLEASE include cover prices in each report, so that we can judge the impact?

  17. I dropped all monthlies afew years back when I went overseas. I’m back int he US now but have never picked up the habit again, the lack of a whole story, the ads, the erratic schedules just make it unpleasent to read monthlies.

    I spend as much as I ever did but on TPBs. I’ve not even opened my long boxes in 2 years.

  18. *Almost every story is an inventory story*.

    The modern ‘big two’ fan has been trained to watch out for stories that are ‘important’, this model would bomb. Moreover, I seem to remember reading that the cost of printing is neither here nor there so would not make much of a difference to the price of comics.

  19. Wow… have an artist do two pages on one page of art board, then print it as a digest. 24 pages of art, 48 pages of comics! You cut your production costs in half while doubling the output!

    In the past, number of pages and page dimensions were the ways publishers “cut” costs. Comics went from 7 to 6.875 to 6.625 inches in width. Page counts shrunk to the present 32-pages. In 2009, Marvel published a smaller kid-friendly comic as part of Free Comic Book Day. IF you make it smaller, and make it cheaper, fans might actually consider it a better value, and purchase more.

    A digest is typically 5×7.5 inches, a trade paperback 6×9; Archie digests 5×6.625. Comic proportions would be 6×9.25, but printers are more likely to use the 6×9 standard.

    But with digital becoming the way most comics will be distributed, why even try to “fix” the magazine? Let it slowly die out (or become like the 1980s, diluted with a variety of price points and genres). Books have a more flexible price point, and people rarely price books like groceries, figuring out the price per page. They’ll judge the trade on talent, story, and packaging. Myself, I consider graphic novels to be similar to fine art books, so $25-$40 is not that outrageous. Of course, there are art book publishers who also do a good business with cheaper editions.

  20. 1) I wish people would stop complaining about late comics. I’d MUCH rather wait an extra month or so for a great book with great art, then get an on-time book with hack art, three inkers, or four artists doing the work just so the issue gets out in time. It kills the entire book for me. (Hello Wonder Woman, hello Captain America, I’m talking to you both!)

    2) Decompression needs to die. It’s great when used PROPERLY. But now every comic known to man has been “Bendisized” and the companies goal is six issue storylines so they can fill a trade, no matter how much padding you have to throw in there. Decompression MUST die. It’s a waste of issues, a waste of money, a waste of paper, and it does nothing but drag out stories needlessly.

  21. The price decrease won’t stop sales from dropping because of the following reasons.

    1. Many of the superhero books from the Big 2 are terrible,depressing,or boring as hell (due to them being heavy on the talking heads and light on the superhero action). The price increase just gave people the final push to drop books that they were not enjoying any more.

    2. The over whelming majority of the Big 2 superhero books are aimed at a very narrow and rapidly shrinking audience of older teens and adults who have either (a) been reading comics for a very long time (in most cases, since they were little kids) or (b) are the very rare (and near mythical) brand new older teen/adult reader who decided to get into comics after seeing either a big budget movie,live action prime TV series,or a mainstream news media story about a “shocking” comic book story. The violence (not action),language,and sexual situations/innuendos has become way to graphic in the comics from the Big 2. The MU and DCU superhero comics (as well as other comics that TAKE PLACE IN THEIR SHARED UNIVERSE) should be written in a LAYERED all ages manner (without sugarcoating/over sanitizing/talking down to the readers) so that that they will be both suitable for and/or appealing to a very wide audience of readers of all ages. The Big 2 superhero books should be the gateway drug for new younger readers.

    3. The stories are decompressed and/or take 5 minutes to read.

    4. The Big 2 are over exposing the same 20 characters by having them appear in 20 or more titles each month (in numerous spin off titles and as guest stars).

    5. A lack of advertising on the part of the Big 2 to make the general non comic book reading public aware that comics still exist.

    6. The books need to be sold in other venues besides just comic book shops or online.

    7. The Big 2 need to stop changing their comics every 5 minutes to reflect the latest hit TV series or movie based off of their comics.

    OMT, I don’t think that customers would have such a huge problem with paying a higher price for comics if they were getting MORE content for their money (and I’m not alking about a measily extra 8 to 10 pages).

  22. I’m sympathetic to the argument that current comics are lacking in content , of course.

    If I were an editor, I’d eliminate decompression. There’s no discernible benefit to the reader, and the artist’s workload is the same.

    I’d also use an editorial system based on a bible and character profiles. A profile doesn’t limit what a writer can do with a character; it, and the profile can evolve over time as subtler aspects of a character are examined. What the profile prevents is violation of character continuity.

    I’d readily pay $2.99 apiece for the AVENGERS issues and other comics I bought in the ‘70s. What cost $2.99 today would have cost 74 cents in 1975, versus an actual cover price of 25 cents. A 310-page SF paperback novel cost $1.75 in 1979.

    I’ve avoided buying the various AVENGERS tie-ins because the stories are too short. Writing an effective story depends on the reader having detailed knowledge of the character or having a tremendously effective gimmick in store.


  23. Like many people, I’m a long time comic buyer (started when they were 60 cents) who is now cringing for the first time about comic prices, and really slashing a lot of books that hit that $3.99 price.

    The reason why boils down to it just does not seem justified at all. I cannot imagine math that could explain how Marvel or DC needs $3.99 for an ad-supported comic that sells orders of magnitude higher than the comics from Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, etc. etc. that can get by on $3 or $3.50. How can Fred Perry get by on selling 2000 copies of Gold Digger a month for $2.99 but Marvel needs to charge $4 for the 300,000 copies Bendis has a hand in every month to pay his paycheck?

    I hate paying $3.99, but will do it if the talent is there and the price seems at least somewhat justified. Mark Waid’s “Irredeemable” is awesome, and even if it is $4, I know it doesn’t sell as well as it should and it’s a unique book that I feel is deserving of my support. I just can’t say the same for Avengers Relaunch #4000, and my pull has been updated accordingly.

    Torsten: I’ve seen Erik Larsen mention on the Image messageboards multiple times that printing on newsprint would not save money at all and, given the fact that comics don’t have the high print runs they used to, would probably cost *more* than the paper they use now because it’d be a specialty item.

  24. I’m glad 2.99 back. Kinda hope they drop it to 1.99 with a lower paper quality.

    But really does every superhero book need to watchmen to be considered good. Cause right now they’re more diverse than ever. At least in the last 20 years that I’ve been reading. And in my forays to previous decades, there’s always been a few shining gems but not this mass “they all need to be great” message that’s in this and alot of other web-articles on superhero books.

    ALL COMICS NEED TO GET BETTER. and in the end there will always be more mediocre-to lame books than good one. BUT THAT’S IN EVERYTHING ENTERTAINMENT. I keep wondering why people expect every superhero book to be watchmen? but don;t expect it out of any other genres.

    And i could see if the Big 2 weren’t trying, but there’s a good bit of awesome books to be bought, if people just gave them a chance instead of just complaining.

    The Amadeus Cho/Hercules books are awesome!

    Roger Landrige and Chris Sammne’s Thor is one the best books since All- Star Superman.

    Kieron Gillen’s Generation Hope looks extremely promising. Hell the idea of Hope herself has been handled well so far.

    The Hulk reconciling with Skaar in a giant fight scene ends in a hug, let me repeat that a FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN 2 HULKS ENDED IN A HUG. And now he’s raising the kid. Last time I checked this is kinda new territory for the character.

    Marvel Adventures Spidey is another great one. But my point is the Big 2 are addressing the problems people have with them but it yet no-one knows cause no-one looks past the popular ones, like the Deapool titles or the crossovers.

    To be honest I think the small sales in comics has alot to do with the fact that there’s a whole generation of kids who don’t pay for the entertainment. They get it for free off the net. Combine that with the high prices and crappy economy equals kids that don’t spend their extra cash on comics.

  25. it won’t save comics…but it will save comics for me…sort of. i was disappointed to read that marvel’s 2.99 policy extends only to new comics. that means my recent drops of x-men, avengers, hulk, etc. will remain in place.

  26. Sadly, the price drop means little to me because there’s nothing out there I want to read by DC or Marvel not @ 2.99, 1.99 not even for free.

    In fact, I spent the last two months spring cleaning in my collection and threw in the garbage any comic I wouldn’t read again — which meant just about anything published during the DC Didio years and the Quesada Marvel years — and I threw them away ONLY because I couldn’t find anyone who wanted them, again, not even for free

    This article has it right. The big two can stand on their heads, do whatever it takes to get new readers — but if your publishing output is treading between offensive and downright amateur, no one’s going to want it, at any price.

  27. $4 was the price point for me where I’d walk away from my hobby of 30 years.

    Keeping the prices at $3 is great, but its only a short term solution for me. I’m already dropping books that even @$3 don’t seem worth the price…

    Dropping prices is great, now work on the QUALITY big two, too much of it is unreadable IMO.

  28. BTW… I’d like to add that personally, just because I no longer buy DC or Marvel doesn’t mean I don’t WANT to buy them anymore.

    It just means I’ve burned enough money on awful comics the past few years, so much so that I’ll only consider buying again when there is a complete creative change over in personnel. Since that doesn’t seem to be looming on the horizon, I’ve placed my DC and Marvel comic buying on hold for the forseeable future.

    Which means more money to be spent on independents.

  29. A quick note: Jason wrote that “The direct market has been in aggregate decline for so long it’s just become an instantiated part of the industry’s DNA” — and, of course, we also see verbiage about whether the price cut will “save comics” right in Heidi’s headline.

    Without sounding Panglossian, we should at least bear in mind that by the dollars, the direct market has been in aggregate decline for less than two years — and the experience even during that time has been mixed. I don’t have final figures for the third quarter of this year in yet, but looking back on the previous eight quarters, overall dollar sales in the direct market were up in five of them. The only three quarters that were down year-over-year to date in that period were Q1 and Q4 of 2009, and Q2 of 2010. If Q3 2010 is down, then, it would be the first time we’ve had back-to-back down quarters since early in the last decade, at least.

    You don’t want down quarters at all, obviously — but in overall dollar terms (TPBs included), the DM has not seen a sustained, unbroken move in a downward direction. Rather, it’s seen a bumpy couple of years.

    I think what people are more often responding to in invoking the language of decline is unit sales of periodicals — and there, yes, we have seen more quarterly year-to-year losses in recent years, although often of only 1% or so. (There was actually a slight increase in unit sales in the first quarter of 2010.) But we are not too long from 2004-2007, a sustained period where quarterly unit sales were increasing. I have a quarterly unit sales graphic here:


    None of this is to say that the market is where we’d like it; far from it. But we’ve had peaks in with the valleys, and seen much more challenging times in the not-too-distant past that were sustained over longer periods. We know what “apocalyptic” looks like for this business — and this period, while challenging, isn’t in the same ballpark as the mid-to-late 1990s or the mid-to-late 1970s. Hopefully, some combination of efforts will prevent us from ever revisiting times like that, but we’ll have to see.

  30. Has any editor ever explicitly told a writer why narration isn’t used in comics — in the Big Two comics that I see, anyway — anymore? Stephen King recounted how a Vertigo editor told him that thought balloons were obsolete. Now thought boxes are used. Narration, however, is such an elementary part of describing situations and characters that there’s no practical way of compensating for its absence in writing a story. The writer has to construct characters whose actions and situations are self-explanatory or explained by dialogue and to assume that readers will be familiar with characters’ backgrounds.

    Narration can hardly be considered a distraction. Used well, it can be more lyrical than dialogue and enable transitions from one sequence of panels to another better than any quasi-cinematographic technique will. Narration can also be used to provide essential details in the story.

    Suppose that a hero possessed a Cosmic Cube and suspected that his perception of reality was warped by an illusion spell. If he ordered the Cube to change reality and nothing happened, would that indicate that the Cube was defective, that reality had changed and the spell was blocking his perception of the change, or that the spell had him in a situation where he couldn’t be sure of what he was doing?

    The situation could be resolved by having him use a device that unquestionably provided him with a view of reality, even if in a limited area; he could then use the Cube to alter that portion of reality and determine whether the Cube was the answer to the overall problem, or if something else was needed to counter the spell completely.

    One of the benefits to doing stories in an existing universe is that powerful objects already exist; a writer doesn’t have to spend time explaining them and justifying their existence. There is the potential for intriguing puzzles and mysteries, but the current system discourages writers from doing stories that involve complexity and mental work. The reader gets WYSIWYG stories instead and, in the case of Marvel’s CHILDREN’S CRUSADE limited series, issues with panel counts in the eighties.

    By preventing writers from providing details and encouraging stories that are bereft of details, the publishers are discouraging entire classes of readers (e.g., mystery fans) from reading comics stories. That must affect sales.


  31. The problem is we are all talking about books being transfered to another format. The book already exists in paper format. As there are different ways to buy it, the paper version always being the most expensive, publishers can lower the price of the digital version.

    And that’s what the audience is asking for. Low prices for something that is just the same book without the paper.

    Give the readers something they can’t compare with paper books and they won’t be so worried about the price.

    Give the readers a piece of art, a true digital creation exclusive to digital platforms, and they might consider paying more for something digital.

  32. John,

    You’re right in that I was being a little fast and loose with my language, and was really referring to the sale of periodicals. The publishers have been so aggressive getting things into print as collected editions, including many choice back catalog items, that I have to wonder if we’ve been effectively front loading that component of the market.

  33. No, I figured that’s what you were talking about. Just getting the numbers out there is probably not going to influence the meme, but I do it anyway. Even our real booms and crashes are usually more complicated than the words suggest!

    And, yeah, the problem is there are several facets here. Nobody knows what the comics-to-trade dynamic is in the sense of how many is too many. And digital makes it more complicated (although the sums discussed for 2010 are still relatively small).

  34. Couple points:

    Narration is still used in comics, all the time — it’s just usually first-person narration. This is the style that’s been in vogue since DARK KNIGHT. I agree that third-person narration can be a great tool; Gerber is a terrific example — his “narrator” was like an extra character commenting ironically on the action. On the other hand, like thought balloons, third-person narration can also be a lazy way of filling in information and hopping around haphazardly from one viewpoint to another. I felt the need to use the technique once, last year; but only once.

    Boy, these threads turn into “pile on DC and Marvel,” don’t they? Of course comics should strive to be better — that’s a goal all of us should keep in mind every day. But are they really that much worse than they used to be? I think there’s much more going on in the vocal internet psyche right now, and it’s linked to uncertain economic times in general. Also, remember that the voices you read here do not correspond to comics’ sales charts. The Avengers books, for instance, are top sellers. (They’re also a lot of fun, in my book — though admittedly there are a lot of them to follow!)

  35. Of course comics should strive to be better — that’s a goal all of us should keep in mind every day. But are they really that much worse than they used to be?

    Yes, they are. The current NEW AVENGERS arc is an example. Bendis and Brevoort announced a plan to rewrite the rules of magic; it’s turned out that their plan is based on eliminating the Vishanti, the deities who form the foundation of Dr. Strange’s system of magic. NEW AVENGERS #1-#4 had entities trying to take away the Eye of Agamotto, which supposedly kept demons from entering Earth’s dimension. There was in-story speculation about who the entities were; in NA #3, one was supposedly the Ancient One.

    In NA #5, released this week, the heroes discovered that Agamotto wants the Eye back. The heroes wouldn’t give it to it (him) and resisted its attempts to take it, so they challenged it to a duel, it accepted, and the issue ended with a powered-up Wolverine (don’t ask) ready to take on the god.

    Bendis not only got the details about Agamotto, except for the fact that it exists, wrong. He got them backwards and inside out. The entire storyline is based on the supposition that Agamotto desperately needs his Eye back as a weapon against ____ (the Chaos King, probably), when it actually provides the Eye’s energy, and created the Eye for sorcerers to use. The situation Bendis designed is akin to a writer having Jesus Christ desperately looking for a cross to ward off vampires.

    If you want details, practically every page of the issue can be shredded, including bits of dialogue that, like the reference to GROUNDHOG DAY in AVENGERS #5, which indicated that Bendis had never heard of time loops, indicate that Bendis doesn’t know enough about the use of magic in fiction to use magic-specific terms. If Bendis has ever read any stories that featured Agamotto as a character, there’s not an iota of evidence in the NEW AVENGERS issues. There’s also not an iota of evidence that either Bendis or Brevcoort, the editor, did any actual work; to the contrary, given the false cliffhangers in the arc, there’s evidence that Bendis and Brevoort changed their minds about the arc’s premise and/or plots from issue to issue. Compared to this arc, “One More Day” looks like a flawless piece of logical reasoning.

    On the other hand, like thought balloons, third-person narration can also be a lazy way of filling in information and hopping around haphazardly from one viewpoint to another.

    Yes, a bad writer will use a third-person POV badly, but he’ll also use a first-person POV badly, he’ll write wooden dialogue. he’ll have a plot with obvious holes and he’ll have stereotypes as characters. Third-person POV isn’t any more likely to be used badly than another element of style is.

    Since narration is a convenient way of providing info to the reader, it’s a bit odd to be concerned about issues of comics series being hard to understand, and jumping-on points being needed, when narration is what makes the stories understandable and the characters accessible. Why are people confusing the problem with a solution?


  36. Haha! I’m NOT going to argue with you about NEW AVENGERS (which I enjoy a hell of a lot). All I’m saying is, there have been bad comics throughout history.

    And my observations on third-person narration were mostly personal ones — I was exploring why I don’t feel the need to use it, very often. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. But you ignored my main point: First-person narration IS used in modern comics, very frequently.

  37. But you ignored my main point: First-person narration IS used in modern comics, very frequently.

    That’s not a useful point. Third person omniscient POV was used by writers in past decades, resulted in good stories, and enables a writer to say far more about the characters and their situations in the same amount of page space than first person narration does. A mere reference to first person POV isn’t an argument and implies that you think that the status quo (decompression, occasional first-person POV) is fine.

    Given the problems with NEW AVENGERS, you might want to defend the content just a bit more. If someone who knew little more about STAR TREK than the names of the characters wrote a script that depicted Spock as the descendant of Dr. Benjamin Spock, would you think that was okay? That’s the level of ignorance on display in the series.


  38. You said narration “isn’t used in comics…anymore” and I pointed out you were wrong. It may not be your preferred type of narration, but it’s very common.

    As for the content of NEW AVENGERS: I get that you don’t like it. (Really, I do.) But if you’re using it as an example of why single-issue comics sales appear to be flagging*, that doesn’t work. People ARE buying NEW AVENGERS in serial format, in higher numbers than many books you probably prefer. If the problem with single-issue sales is “content,” then this is one of the last books you should cite as the problem.

    *I’m still not even convinced of this, by the way. I want to see six months’ more sales figures, in aggregate. Comics people, fans and professionals alike, seize on every momentary drop in numbers as proof that the sky is falling. It’s like a psychological tic.

  39. As for the content of NEW AVENGERS: I get that you don’t like it. (Really, I do.) But if you’re using it as an example of why single-issue comics sales appear to be flagging*, that doesn’t work. People ARE buying NEW AVENGERS in serial format, in higher numbers than many books you probably prefer. If the problem with single-issue sales is “content,” then this is one of the last books you should cite as the problem.


    Well to quote John Byrne, “that’s like bragging about being the tallest midget”.

  40. Price reduction is nice. However, one of the main problems with comics these days is the fact that they are not available everywhere like they once were. LCSs are for the already converted … we need comic racks at grocery stores and drug stores again to get those young kids who helped create the fanbase.

    Without new folks coming in, the comics industry will die off.

  41. I gotta agree with Fredd Gorham about trying to increase distribution to different retail sales venues.
    How many of us bought our first comic at an LCS? Not many, I’ll bet. I remember getting my first comics off a spinner rack at a small independent convenience store in the late 70’s. Grocery stores and retail stores (hello Wal-Mart) seem like logical places but a $2.99 price point might still be too high for them. How about $2.49 or $2.25 and sell much more product?
    LCS’s have been praised as the saviors of the industry. To a great extent they have been, but the “comics specialty shop” aura is a BIG deterrent to getting new people in the store, especially parents who might want to buy their kid a Sonic comic. The fact is that most shops currently have very few new customers browsing the shelves.
    Maybe having only one single distributor for ALL of the comics being published isn’t healthy either, not sure though. I am sure however If something drastic isn’t done at the distribution level the industry as we know it will continue to die a slow sad death.

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