On a website where the posts come from people who are such avid fans of comic books that they're seeking out a way to read about the medium on the internet, any discussion here on Newsarama should be qualified with the observation that these people are obviously already passionate about the industry. The adoration for the characters and storylines and history of comic books is strong in this place; it follows that the feelings about the future of comic books would be just as fervent.
And among those of us who have the most ardent love for the medium, the economic concerns are many. Whether it's the price of the monthly comic that has readers worried or the gas needed to drive to the local comic shop, it's apparent readers have thought about the cost of reading a comic book and have wondered if the expenditure is worth it.
Obviously, most of us still think comic books are worth it, as we flocked this month to buy the latest crisis or invasion comic by the thousands. And when it comes right down to it, that may not change: As retailers, some smaller publishers, and creators have noted, comic books, movies and video games may prove to be a preferred escape from the woes of a sagging economy and bitter political climate. For readers, the desire to experience the joy of reading a serial story and chilling cliffhanger each month may trump the need to save money -- after all, it already does for most of us.
So today, Newsarama turns the spotlight on you, the reader. We talked to a handful of readers about what purchasing decisions they have made or are about to make, and what they see happening in an economy where consumer confidence is so low. And as always, we welcome your discussion in our forum, as well as offering up a poll where you can share what experiences you've had with the economy so far, a first step toward gauging what is coming for the comic book industry in the months ahead.
Most of the fans whom we approached said the economy of comics is always a concern for them, as they make decisions on what to add and drop every month, but the current economic pinch is making them take it a little more seriously.
"It is forcing us to make decisions that we haven't had to make in a while," said Steve Schuler of Muncie, Ind., who is a co-host of the podcast Alter Ego Comic Cast. "Let's face it, comic books are about as important as any other entertainment medium. Do we 'need' them? Absolutely not. But they do fill a need to divert away from the reality of what is going on outside. It is going to get worse before it gets better."
Schuler, who has a young son at home and buys more than 20 comics per month, said he hasn't made any drastic changes, but is just being a little pickier when he decides what comics to buy. "I don't just purchase 'any' title anymore," he said.
Kent Beyers, a comics reader in Greenwood, Ind., has the same approach, but said he was recently forced to take it one step further and make a significant cut in the number of comics he purchases. "Utilities went up, gas prices [are higher], and my employer responds by tightening their belt too," said Beyers, who shops at a Downtown Comics location in Indianapolis. "I used to read around 20 to 25 titles a month, not including mini-series and the like. When I felt the financial crunch, though, I had to drastically reduce that number to around seven or eight books. I had to really stop and consider which stories (not necessarily characters or creators) I would miss -- the adventures it would drive me nuts to be in the dark about."
Beyers said one drastic move he made was to cut every Marvel title, so the eight books he currently reads are DC and independent comics, although he recently purchased a Runaways hardcover with some extra money he got. He's also avoiding all mini-series and event comics. "I do, however, admit that I'm dying to read Final Crisis and made sure to add that one to the list," he said.
Michael Costello, a reader in Milwaukee, Wisc., said he has also cut back his monthly reading list and he travels to the store less often since it's a bit of a drive to the Neptune Comics location in Waukesha, Wisc. He also thinks about "waiting for the trade" more often -- in other words, buying stories only when they are collected in book format. "Specifically for mini-series like Secret Invasion and Final Crisis," he said, "I can read about the stories online, but then really read it when it comes out in TPB."
Almost all of the readers we talked with said they had received some type of tax refund or incentive check from the government recently, and most of them were using some of the money to buy comic books.
"I usually pull some aside to spend on comics. And I did so again this year," said Sarah, an 18-year-old student who lives with her parents in Chandler, Ariz., who didn't want her last name used. "Mostly to start collecting Marvel's Secret Invasion title, since I was lucky enough to get my money right in time for that to start."
Costello said he usually spends all of his tax money on a trip to a comic book convention, and he'll probably spend most of it on the same thing this year. Beyers said he bought a few trades with his tax check.
"I'm saving my tax money for a trip," said Ann Meyer, a comics reader from Mt. Dora, Fla., "but I did buy a couple hardcovers I had wanted to get, like Fallen Son from Marvel and the Casanova hardcover. It's hard to resist a little extra purchase."
Meyer said she made the economic decision to switch to buying comics online a couple years ago, "and they offer a discount, so that makes a big difference."
"It was hard last year to miss out on getting 52 every week, but now I feel good about [switching to an online store]," she said. "I'm starting to get away from having to read things right away. That's also making it easier to read trades or graphic novels instead of having to get the monthlies."
As for what publishers can do differently during tough economic times, most readers focused upon those things they won't tolerate now that they're in an economic bind.
"Right now, I'm at a position, fortunately, where I can make most of my comics decisions based upon how much I like or dislike a story or event," said James Post of Houston, who buys 35 to 40 comics each month. "Amongst the things that could change that: Cover price increases, unusual lateness, unnecessary tie-ins, or stories that are too slow out of the gate. I do not feel that I owe any publisher or creator to give them six issues to tell a full story if it does not impress me right off the bat."
"I think there are way too many mini-series, events, one-shots and tie-ins on the market today," Beyers said. "It's impossible for most fans to keep up with. Back in the day, these things would be a 'must read' for me. Now, not so much. So when the economy is in a bad state, as it currently is, these types of books are the first thing to go when the penny-pinching begins."
"Publishers need to be a little smarter in this economy," Schuler said. "We can't have another financial blowout like Countdown. People can't afford to pay over $160 for a story that should have cost a lot less. Hopefully, they will be a little smarter with Final Crisis. A story doesn't have to be expensive to be good."
Some of the people we surveyed said they don't believe the comic book retail market will be hit as hard as some other industries, because fans enjoy it too much as an escape. Others wondered if the doom and gloom wasn't more related to the election than reality. "I do believe that we are experiencing some election year chicken littles trying to convince us that things are worse than they are, but I'm not at the point that I'm ready to duck and cover yet," Post said.
"I think it isn't quite 'much ado about nothing,' but it's definitely not as bad as a lot of people make it out to be," Meyer said. "And I think with comics, it's mostly a change in attitude, with people being a lot more picky about how they spend their money. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It should lead to higher quality comics and publishers being smarter about what they publish."
Meyer said she also hopes the economic crunch will encourage publishers to explore other formats and outlets of distribution. "If you look at comics in Europe or manga in Japan, you see that comic books can be successful in another format," she said. "So far, American publishers have been kind of reluctant to explore other formats, outside things like digests and the Minx imprint. And we haven't really seen publishers make a big push in bookstores and other outlets. Maybe the growing economic problems with printing and shipping monthly comics and all of us being more picky will force their hand. I keep seeing people online saying it's the end of the comic book, but there's no way comics will die. But it might change. And that could be good, because maybe a newer, cheaper way of printing and packaging and selling comic books will get more new people reading them."