eComics Pricing: Some Speculation

A column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage

The issue (forgive the pun) of eComics intrigues me. I'm watching a media I love move to electronic format - and in the case of webcomics, I've been following it for years. I'm seeing new technologies be developed to communicate comics. I'm suddenly able to get comics on every device but my toaster, and I'm sure that'll change when someone puts Android on kitchen appliances. It's fascinating to watch.

However the professional geek side of me also notes that there's an issue of eComics that comes up a lot, that is talked of on message boards, and is something I and friends complain about. What is this issue?

The issue of how the hell we price electronic comics.

Pricing is obviously important. Prices too low to maintain the viability of eComics may mean they end - taking with it a rather useful way to read comics (and in an age of eMedia may end titles or even companies). Prices too high and the eComics efforts can also fail as less and less people are interested in paying. There also are acceptable pricing difference among comics based on age, size, etc. - and pricing those wrong can also be off-putting and affect reputation and sales. Pricing anything is complicated, but with comics it gets utterly insane.

We're also not helped by the fact that comics are a unique media culturally and physically. Culturally comic readers are used to having the physical objects, and keeping and collecting them. Media-wise comics are not simple text like many books, but complex graphic stories. One could even debate how much 'story' one gets per page of comic versus other methods - indicating other levels of complexity.

Let's speculate (OK and by that I mean I'll write and you read for now) on just what a reasonable price would be.

So first of all, I think the price has to be lower than the physical comic. Very simply you get something that you can't trade, can loose access to via technical accident, and that wasn't printed out and shipped (and thus you should pay for that). No physical object, pay less.

Beyond that, however, we come to a major issue - psychology. That's going to drive the prices people will pay, all else be damned.

I think there's also an ideal price point of what people will pay - a psychological point as it were that you can't deviate much from. That's the critical issue in pricing - the psychology point. Even if you can't make your eComics business work on a certain point, people may just not pay. That psychology point is going to be hard to deviate from.

So the actual question is what is the price point for your usual 20-30-or-so-page comic psychologically?

Looking at eBooks and soforth, and what is charged, it seems people get open to making electronic versions of printed media when the price is about half. So I'd say the "midpoint" for comics is about $1.49. People would probably pay that for 20 something to 30 something pages of story straight up. Going much over that is going to probably dissuade people - I can see $1.99 being a bit much unless there's some good extras, etc.

Now going less than that would probably increase sales. I'd speculate that at 99 cents, sales are reach into the "oh what the heck" region. I think there's no benefit to doing less than that unless you want to get to "free." 99 cents, if nothing else, has a powerful psychological effect - it is truly "under a dollar."

So for your standard comic, I think the ideal price is $0.99-$1.49, with some upper-level charges being possible.

But, the question comes up, what if this isn't enough? What if eComics just cant make enough money to support the industry with a pricing model that people are willing to handle psychologically? Assuming that psychology barrier can't be overcome, a few options I see:

  • Find a break-even point of a different page count and price that works. That might be difficult, but instructive. Perhaps a few more pages let you raise the price appropriately.
  • Include more extras with the comic of some kind. What that would be I have no idea - author commentary, something else? Could it add enough value for higher prices?
  • Make some comics completely electronic and toss out many of the other costs. Not sure if that'd work, but it's a thought.
  • Experiment with subscription deals. The right discount might get enough money coming in for subscription purchases. Some of that is already going on, so I say "experiment more."
  • Find a way to make more with peripheral media and others and accept lower profits on comics (requiring more business planning and may not be acceptable).
  • Consider some truly radical processes, such as the free-online, TPB-for-pay that some webcomics try. That however is pretty much the idea of making-money-otherwise taken to extremes.

Here's the thing - e-Comics aren't going away. Electronic media version of physical books is a seemingly unstoppable wave. comics will have to adjust.

I'm just hoping they find the ideal price point, because I'd hate to see a medium I love become further troubled.

So there you have my speculations. What are your thoughts?

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