Darkness #75A quick survey through Previews or across the shelves at your local comic shop will confirm that sinking feeling that you’ve had about comics lately – the prices are starting to creep up. Gone are the days of publishers like DC and Marvel lifting their entire line by a quarter. Now, in a sea of $2.99 cover prices, titles, popular titles are starting to cross into the $3.00 range, most often landing at $3.99.
As 2009 gets underway, there’s one publisher that won’t be adjusting its cover prices: Top Cow. As Publisher Filip Sablik tells Newsarama, Top Cow has made a pledge that it’s titles will remain at $2.99 through 2009.
Here’s what Sablik had to say:
Newsarama: Filip, was this something that you set out to do, that is, “We need to hold the prices, no matter what,” or was there just no reason to raise prices when you looked at things?
Filip Sablik: I don’t know if there’s no reason to raise prices – I think there’s always a reason to raise prices – to make more money [laughs]. But I think this was a case of us looking around at the market and kind of listening to retailer and fan feedback and realizing that it’s a concern – a concern for us and for the fans. When you look around and 50% of Marvel and DC’s releases are over the $3.00 mark, that is a concern, and we want to offer fans another alternative. We’re doing okay at $2.99, and decided that if we could hold it there, we should.
NRAMA: Will holding the price be accompanied by any change in the books? We’re not talking about cutting back on pages or production values to keep things at $2.99 are we?
FS: No. Actually, we’re swinging in the other direction. We’re maintaining our page count – it’s been about the same now for three years, and we’re going to hold that. What we’ started doing this past fall in Witchblade and Darkness, and has crept out into our other series, is that we’re trying to add content. We’re trying to add value by bringing back the letters column, and things like text pieces. The inspiration form that came from people like Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker – as fans we were reading that extra stuff and some months, even though I’d enjoy the book, I ended up liking that other stuff more.
So sometimes it will be a piece in Witchblade, say, with Ron Marz, talking about where a story came from, and sometimes it will be someday in house at Top Cow providing a little extra information – providing a history of the characters that appeared there, or, as in a recent Witchblade arc that took place in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, we talked about that setting a little.
In a way, it’s kind of counterprogramming to what Marvel and DC are doing – we can’t compete head-on in the same arena, and a lot of publishers are in that same boat. You can’t come at the fan with the same tactics, and expect them to pick you over Spider-Man that they’ve been reading for 30 years. So we’re going to try and be a value leader – we’re maintaining our price point, and giving readers added value. Hopefully that will be something that fans respond to, and something that will bring some new readers in to try out our books.
NRAMA: You mentioned earlier when you joked that there are always reasons to raise prices, but generally speaking, what are the pressures on you now to raise prices as a publisher? Have there been across the board paper price increases, increases in shipping costs, or…what?
FS: There’s a variety of factors that play into it. Certainly, paper costs do go up, just like everything else goes up in the world. We don’t pay the same for gas that we were paying five years ago – we don’t pay the same for milk. So paper costs go up, transportation and freight costs go up. So when you’re printing a book and shipping it across the country or even bringing it in from overseas, that gets more expensive. Also I think just the “costs” of creators has gone up over the years. To a certain extent that’s really great – you want these guys to get paid what they should be getting paid. But some of that I think also comes out of an increased sense of competition for the creators. Gone are the days when, as a publisher, you would say, “Anybody that can draw this story competently can do it – I’ll get them, because it doesn’t really matter who’s drawing Superman.” The talent matters, and that leverage translates into higher page rates, royalties and things like that. I think that’s probably where a lot of the pressure is coming down on Marvel and DC to raise prices.
On that front, one of the things we do – while we do try to bring in established guys like Ron Marz of Phil Hester, we also try to home grow our artistic talent, and work with guys like Michael Broussard or Stjepan Sejic before they really explode on the scene. That helps us as a smaller publisher.
NRAMA: Keeping the prices at $2.99 for the coming year – that’s as much of a guarantee as anyone can make in this economy?
FS: Absolutely. If we get into the summer, and the economy is tanking out from underneath us, and there are larger factors at play, and to keep the lights on, we have to raise cover prices, we’ll certainly look at that at that time, but yeah – as much as we can guarantee anything, we’re pledging to hold the price at $2.99 on all of our normal-sized books.
For an issue like Darkness #75 or Witchblade #125 which will both be oversized, that may carry a higher price point, but you’ll be getting added value.
NRAMA: You’ll make up for the $2.99 by pricing those at $50.00 each?
FS: [laughs] Exactly – one issue a year will be fifty bucks. No – seriously, those will be a little more, but not much. We’re really trying to make it easier for our readers to continue to collect our books in the coming year, as well as hopefully lure over some new readers who are seeing some of their regular titles creep up past $3.00. We think we’ve got something they’ll enjoy.