As news of the economy dominates headlines, readers of comic books have their own economic woes as the price of their favorite hobby has gotten more expensive.
In recent years, most average-sized comic books were priced somewhere between $2.00 and $2.99 each, but comics retailers are selling more and more comics priced at $3.99 each.
Newsarama talked to a few publishers about what's driving the price increases, and they said it's a combination of higher costs and lower sales.
"Any time there's a recession, people are going to be spending less, but publishers still have to pay the talent and they still have to print the books," said Vince Hernandez, Editor-in-Chief of Aspen Comics. "Costs are going up because printing companies need to make their profit and everybody's tightening their belt and reacting to the economy."
Filip Sablik, publisher at Top Cow Comics, said that over time, several costs associated with publishing comics have gone up, and it all affects the bottom line. "Creative costs have increased as creator cost of living goes up. Printing costs go up due to paper costs, shipping, and technology changes. Overhead can go up as your landlord raises costs on office space. Every company is different," he said.
"It varies from publisher to publisher, but I do believe [the cause of the current price increases is] largely a combination of rising creative costs, coupled with fewer sales on mid-tier and lower tier books," Sablik said.
Both Aspen and Top Cow have made their own statements recently about price increases. Aspen is hoping to entice readers by putting a $2.50 price on their new Dellec series, with a $1.99 Issue #0. And Top Cow is pledging to price all their comics at $2.99 throughout 2009.
"We've pledged to maintain our price point because we believe it is an important step to take in the current economy," Sablik said. "It's a calculated risk which hinged on the idea that more potential customers will give our books a try."
Sablik said finding the right price for the right book takes a lot of analyization for smaller publishers. "We look at past expenses and analyze our sales numbers versus expenses constantly. We do our best to predict future sales based on the data and trends we have available," he said.
"We struggled after doing a fair amount of price point research in setting our prices, even polling retailers and fans," said Michael DeVito, publisher at Th3rd World Comics. "Our first series, we made some mistakes related to it that really hurt our bottom line. Our polling generally indicated that no one was going to tell us to raise the prices above $2.99, so we went with $2.99, and in retrospect, duh, of course they weren't going to ask for price increases. Despite making the top 300 in sales, we lost money on the book and ultimately the series. Raising the price would have made much better financial sense and probably would have had very limited impact on sales."
When readers see a comic book for $3.99, the costs that are taken out of that price include a large percentage for the retailer, another percentage for the distributor, and finally the percentage that the publisher receives to cover the costs of creating the comic.
"In many cases, after all of the costs are taken out of the publisher's percentage, they make little to no money on the individual comic," Sablik said. "From my experience, many publishers operate in the frame of mind that the individual comics cover the creative costs and then profit begins to be generated with eventual trade sales. It's a very long-term game, and even then, few people are getting wealthy from publishing comics."
While some readers have questioned the rising creative costs, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada recently defended the company's higher prices on some comics by pointing out the high quality of the artwork and writing in today's comics.
"As a consumer myself, and especially in these economic times, I get it. I absolutely see how fans can get upset at a price increase. I totally relate," Quesada said recently on Myspace. "It makes perfect sense. I just want everyone to know we don’t put anything out there at any price without a great deal of thinking going into it. I am not advocating for higher prices in any way, shape, or form, we held the $2.99 cover price for several years. What I’m saying is that we do work very hard to keep the prices where they are and to keep the top talent here at Marvel and in comics. We could just let these people move to other industries but then where would we all be... Some of these guys could easily be making two or three times what they make in comics by working elsewhere."
Some publishers have decided to add content to their comics to give the readers better value, such as the "co-features" that are being added to several DC Comics.
“We’ve listened to things that people are saying, and there are a lot of well-loved characters out there that, for whatever reason, can’t support a series at this time,” DiDio told Newsarama. “This approach, we feel, gives them a chance to shine and attract new readers and fans as well, and more importantly, add value to our books as well.
“We’re holding the $2.99 line as hard as we can, and we will never move a book over to $3.99 unless we feel that there is value added to justify that price change,” DiDio said.
Sablik said that in this economic climate, his company's not only trying to hold down prices, but is trying to add things that make comics seem like a better deal for the money. "Over the last 6 months, we've brought back letters pages, added back matter content in the form of articles, interviews, and preview pages, as well as encouraged our writers to pack as much excitement and content into each issue. Comics should take more than 10 minutes to read," he said.
Smaller publishers also have to give added value to the retailer, DeVito said, as the comic shops buy the comic books without returnability. So Th3rd World Comics has started to print comics that are 48 pages and two issues in length.
"To print a comic you're looking at X price, if it's 15 pages or 48 pages, most of the cost is the 'getting in the door' cost. Once you start adding pages the cost only increases marginally. As a result we can deliver double the content of a "standard" 22 page comics, while only increasing our prices by 20-30 cents per unit (not exactly but close). This in turn allows us to take our price up to 4.50-4.99 range and deliver something more substantial," he said. "We're giving them the same amount of content, if not more, as a 4 issues mini series at $4-5 less and quicker. We are also trying a new strategy starting with issue 1 of The Stuff of Legend, where we will be offering retailers an opportunity to buy 3 copies and get 1 free, which should help to provide an overall lower price per issue for retailers while increasing sales of our book."Related: POLL: Best Price Point For Downloadable Comic Books?