Because somebody finally decided to have mercy on me, Dreamworks has cast Will Ferrell and Tina Fey in an animated superhero movie. No, wait, that’s the movie I’m going to watch to get myself out of a couple of years of purgatory… No, the merciful part came last week, at the dawn of the New York Comic Convention, when DC Comics announced that they’re dropping the prices of their monthly titles – all of them – back to $2.99 an issue, escaping the $3.99 price point that’s been creeping up on us for some time. Not to be outdone, Marvel quickly released a statement that they, too, will abandon the $3.99 price point on new titles. I’m not saying that Marvel did it because DC did it – you can’t make a decision that big that quickly – but I don’t think the timing of the announcement is a coincidence at all. Regardless of why they’re doing it or why they announced it when they did, my wallet is extremely happy to hear that the prices are going down.
This is not to say, of course, that there won’t be compromises. With the loss of the extra dollar, DC is also doing away with the second features and extra story pages that have accompanied most of their $3.99 books, and in fact, the number of story pages across the board is dropping from the standard 22 pages to 20. Basically, the readers are being asked to sacrifice two pages to save a dollar. To me, that’s an acceptable compromise. Writers will have to adjust a bit to fit their stories in two fewer pages, but I think that it won’t be too drastic a change for any of them. The only group of people I think stand to really be hurt by this change are the artists, who are typically paid by the page. This change, in essence, will lower their per-book rate by 1/11th. Hopefully it won’t be too big a hit for most of them, and (I’m going to be optimistic here) maybe this will even help a few of them to make their deadlines and result in fewer late books? Maybe? Perhaps? And those without that problem – here’s hoping they can pick up a little extra work somewhere to make up for the deficit.
Marvel’s announcement has me slightly less optimistic – while DC has promised an across-the-board cut on their standard monthly titles, all Marvel has promised is that their new titles, beginning in January, will launch at $2.99. The two words here that make me particularly disturbed are “new” and “debut.” Does that mean books like New Avengers will stay at $3.99? Does that mean a new title that launches in January 2011 will begin costing $3.99 in February? And has there been any sort of announcement since the first one that clarifies this issue that perhaps somebody could send me a link to that I may discuss it on the 2 in 1 Showcase podcast? These are the questions that are burning in America’s mind, Marvel.
At any rate, these price drops – at least from my perspective – can only be a good thing. Although admittedly I’ve backed down a bit from my stance of not buying any standard-sized comics for $3.99, I haven’t abandoned it entirely. If it were a lesser writer than Peter Tomasi on Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors, I wouldn’t have given it a try. And had I known the aforementioned New Avengers was going to stay at $3.99 after the first issue, I doubt I would have even tried the first issue. (This would have been a shame, as it’s turned out to be the only time I’ve ever really liked an Avengers title written by Brian Michael Bendis, but it’s how it would have been.)
Interestingly, both publishers have credited the sales of their digital comics for their ability to lower the prices on the print versions. If that is, in fact, the case (I’m not calling anyone a liar, just playing devil’s advocate here), then that’s great. I’m not reading any digital comics, I don’t particularly want to read digital comics, but if somebody else reading digital comics means I can get my weekly stack a little cheaper, that makes me happy. I’m not an economist or a publisher, I’m not sure exactly how this can work, but I’m not one to argue with results. I haven’t seen any sales numbers for the digital comics, nor have I seen any comparisons or analysis concerning how they’re impacting the print sales. I can only assume, then, that digital sales (with a much lower per-unit cost for the publisher, as they don’t have to concern themselves with paper, ink, printing, or physical distribution) can subsidize the per-unit cost of the physical copy. Is this indicative of the way comics may go in the future?
It kind of reminds me of what’s happened to the music industry. Once downloading music became easy (and legal), sales of physical CDs have absolutely plummeted. Most big box stores have watched their selection of CDs dwindle to nothing, and the same thing is beginning to happen to DVDs and Blu-Rays. The only people I know who still buy CDs on a regular basis are those who consider themselves collectors, those who simply have to have a physical CD case to put in a rack, read the liner notes, and admire the artwork.
My biggest problem with digital comics is concern for the local comic shop owner. That remains my biggest problem. I don’t want to see comic shops go out of business. They’ve been the lifeblood of the industry – and by extension the entire art form – for going on three decades now, and leaving them to wither on the vine while we all go digital seems horribly ungrateful to me. But if shop owners can find a way to make this new paradigm work… if they can make their money by selling to the hard-cores who need the physical copy (and supplement that income with merchandise like toys and t-shirts, things that you can’t download), and the casual reader paying for the downloads helps support the industry on their end… that’s a balance I think I could live with.
I hope what we saw happen last week is a step in a new direction. And I sincerely hope it’s a step in the right one.
Favorite of the Week: October 6, 2010
Stepping up to proudly claim last week’s favorite trophy is the latest issue of Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s Vertigo title, I, Zombie. Issue six of this series is a standalone issue featuring the origins of Scott, the were-terrier. I like the format this seems to establish, with a quieter, character-based issue giving us a breather between the larger story arcs, and I love the new cast member that seems to have been added to the title with this issue. Roberson and Allred have taken some of the classic monster tropes, thrown them into a blender, added their own seasoning and come up with one of the freshest comics in years. I love this book.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.