Comics Reporter article
Submitted by Von Allan on May 12, 2008 - 20:53
Tom Spurgeon wrote a thought-provoking piece on the current pricing of comics (the periodical floppy kind). I generally tend to skim these things, mainly because of my book retail background. I started in books when it was still common to see a mass market pocket book priced at $5.99 Canadian. At this time (circa '94), the high price was around $7.99 CDN. In just a few years later, this was pushed to $9.99. Then crossed the "ten dollar barrier" to hit $10.99 CDN. Then $11.99 CDN.
That periodical comics have risen in price the same way in the same time period really doesn't surprise me. I don't like it, mind you, but it doesn't surprise me. So I started reading Spurgeon's article with that sense of "here we go again - more bitching." But that would be doing both him and the article a disservice. I don't agree with every point (see below), but there's some really thought-provoking stuff in there.
The fact that a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book can break into the Diamond top ten doesn't seem to me as important as the certainty we will never return to an historical moment when a significant number of creator-owned books could sell 6500 or 9000 or 12000 copies, you could count on their presence in most major markets, and creators had a chance -- only a chance -- to build the beginnings of a career interacting with a readership multiple times a year over a several-year period, all without having to earn back an advance. I would argue it's more important to the general health of the art form and the industry that the next Jeff Smith be able to generate 30,000 in comic book sales than it is that Marvel moves 130,000 units with Stephen King's name on them. I'm not sure the existing Jeff Smith gets to that sales point without some struggle. And I don't think it's as easy as the on-line comic replacing the serial comic as the entry point; that's a seismic shift in culture and in the nature of the reading experience for me to believe it does exactly the same thing. In fact, I would argue that as a group the current on-line comics models come closer to encouraging a medium more like comic books in the 1940s than comics in the 1960s or 1980s.
I'll take it all back if in 10 years the sons and daughters of the bookstore and the free comic on-line can boast of as many great cartoonists in their generation as the Direct Market babies are now able to point to in theirs, and if they have as many readers who know and care enough about their medium of choice to make an eloquent case on those artists' behalf.
So yeah, if you have 5 or 10 minutes I'd suggesting reading the entire thing.
*So what don't I agree with? Well, it's mainly how Spurgeon tries to tie inflation into the pricing mix. This might not be an issue if he also noted how the various costs have gone up, especially on the paper side for offset print runs. Prices have gone up in print media all across the board (comics, books, newspapers, etc...). If, for example, 50 lb. paper has also outpaced inflation, I'd like to have seen that referenced.
A good example of what I mean is Jeff Smith. While citing Smith in the article, he doesn't go into why Smith priced RASL #1 at $3.50 US. I don't mean to single Smith out, but RASL is a black and white book on crap paper. And since Smith told the ComicsPRO folks that #1 sold around 24,000 copies, some exploration on this front would seem to be worthwhile. Should Smith have priced it cheaper?
Not, I stress to add, that I have a problem with Smith pricing RASL at whatever he wants. Far from it. But it's hard to buy the inflation argument without a look at how costs have risen over the past 15 years.