If you’re picking up Batman #35 this week, do yourself a favour and check out the price point. See that $4.99 price sticker? Originally solicited at the regular $3.99 price, DC sent an e-mail to retailers last week telling them that the price of Batman #35-37 would be pumped up to the $4.99 mark in order to account for additional story pages (surprise: Kelley Jones is back!).
This series has been no stranger to the occasional price bump, with four of the twelve Zero Year issues clocking in at prices equal to or above the $4.99 price point (issue #24 ran a stunning $6.99), and so DC’s choice to pump up the price in the face of extra content shouldn’t come as a surprise. The problem, was this: retailers (and the creative team) were informed of this change on September 30th, whereas the book was sent to press in and around September 15th, the final day retailers had to send in orders. In essence, the company waited a full 15 days after retailers sent in their final numbers to let them know that they were about to charge 20% more for a book they were contractually obligated to purchase.
A few notes: when these changes happen after solicitations have gone out, the product being offered does become returnable, which is good. If I want to return every issue I have left unsold of Batman #35, I can absolutely do that… eventually. I’ve been working in the industry for 8 years, and I still can’t quite grasp the process, but that’s probably because operating in Canada plies a whole ‘nother set of hoops to jump through.
Second: after hearing about this price jump, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo approached the company and implored them to lower the price back to $3.99. The company was receptive to this, and announced yesterday that they would only be charging $3.99 for issues #36 and 37, which is cool. The problem is this: enacting price jumps after information has gone out is not a thing that should happen. I understand the realities of this business sometimes require a bit of adjustment, and that retroactively a creative team and editor will decide that things needs more space to breathe. Letting retailers know after committing to product? That’s a pretty crap thing to do. It certainly isn’t business busting, but it’s a reminder about how terrible the contracts retailers sign in order to get comics are. Technically, Marvel or DC could announce tomorrow that all of their books are going to jump a dollar, effective immediately. All of this product would be made returnable eventually, but in the meantime, somewhere, there are comic shops that are either just starting or are currently, for whatever reason, operating by the skin of their teeth. They purchase product using a strict budget, because if they don’t, there’s going to be trouble. Imagine learning that a large chunk of your books were suddenly going to be 20-25% more expensive immediately, with no time to adjust. That’s going to be quite a nightmare. But what are you going to do? Not get Batman in your store? Pff. Sure. Let’s see how that goes down for you.
Now ply that to a smaller scale and think about customers. There are a lot of people out there living by the skin of their teeth. They buy comics as a means for escape, but they only have a set amount of money. I know back when I first started picking up comics from a file, I kept a list of 20 books a month, because that’s all I could afford. Some can’t quite do that. Now imagine all of your books increasing significantly overnight. I know that this happens quite often, that Marvel’s across the board policy of $3.99 comics have caused problems for a few people, and that DC’s $3.99 Septembers are no help either. While I often advocate the fact that people will pay $3.99 or $4.99 for their superhero books without blinking (and I have the sales data to back this up), I know that there are those out there for whom the idea of spending that much on a title is insanity. The unfortunate thing for both customers and retailers is this: your budget problems don’t really amount to much when it comes to overall sales.
While a $4.99 comic might have me losing one or two customers, I still have more than enough people for whom that jump is not a deal breaker. In the case of Batman, over the course of Zero Year, I lost a single customer due to the various jumps in price, while all others gladly made purchases. My loss incurred was matched ten-fold by the extra money the price increase nabbed me. The same goes for the industry at large – which is why from a purely business standpoint, DC is crazy for leaving money on the table and dropping the price of the next two issues of Batman. That said, I do have to applaud the company for doing the human thing and keeping the title at $3.99. While it leaves a stack of money on the table, it is greatly appreciated by myself, and many others.
It seems weird to try and thank a company who caused the problem that they are fixing, but let’s be honest: if this goes without remark, they’re going to get the wrong message. They’re going to look at how money is spent, and opt for the quick buck over something more sustainable. So DC? Thanks for not being 100% a dick. Despite what last week’s comics might have suggested.
But we’ll talk about that bit of business later.
[Brandon Schatz has been working behind the comic book counter for eight years. He’s spent the past four as the manager of Wizard’s Comics and Collectibles in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics he likes over at Comics! The Blog. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat.]