In Praise Of… The $3.99 Comic

5660574338453Month by month, Marvel and DC are putting out more and more $3.99 comics instead of the recent common price point, $2.99, despite low inflation and a slight reduction in demand in light of the current economy.

Sales of individual titles are sliding. But to be honest, sales have been sliding, in general for quite some time. The pattern has been cancel a title , start a new title, wait till those sales fall, cancel that, rinse and repeat. For the higher profile titles, they kick off an event which bumps up sales for those and associated books before again sliding down. As a result the sales figures for many books look like a jagged knife, slightly pointing downwards.

There is of course only so long a company can survive with these patterns. Which is where $3.99 price point comes in. Yes, certain costs have risen. Yes printing has definitely risen above inflation. es, advertising revenue has crashlined. And it’s a business fact that comics are an inelastic commodity – an increase in price of a comic does not lead to the equivalent decrease in sales. And if sales are declining anyway, the new price point will sure up a comics company in the face of the current depression.

It’s a responsible business decision to take. Indeed comic book retailers, a number of whom are feeling the pinch, will see a sudden increase in the take on their most popular titles. This move may be unpopular among customers sure. But people trying to sell their back issue collections in the face of needing some sudden cash, may find people now willing to pay more for recent back issues, in comparison with the cost of a new comic.

Because if the $3.99 price point does not succeed, and there is indeed a massive move against it from customers, forcing the price back down again, then Marvel and DC and the like may have to find savings elsewhere. Cancelling their more experimental, lower selling titles. Reducing payments to creators. Reducing convention attendance. Holing themselves up until the nasty recession goes away.

And it’s not as if this situation is only affecting the big monolithic publishers. Reports come to me of comic pricing at the recent MoCCA con here in New York, featuring small press and indie comics.

Where 16 page black and white comics used to be available for $1 or $2, this year, the average price was between $3 and $5. Deemed necessary by increased printing costs, sales weren’t being hurt. What price creators’ sketchbooks at the summer conventions? We used to see $10 as a standard, will $15 or $20 really keep the collectors away?

And you should see what creators are charging sketches  these days – they don’t even have printing costs. Come this summer, the $3.99 price point may be seen in a very different light indeed. It may be just what we need to save this industry of ours.

In Praise Of… is an occasional column lauding that which is often derided by the comics press and forums. Consider it the case for the opposition. The devil’s advocate. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s right and you’re wrong. It could happen.

Art is copyright Marvel Comics.