Here’s to a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to one and all:
Welcome to the Panel where the movers and shakers from across the industry come together to answer your questions!
Don’t miss out on your chance ask the big guns a question or two, send them in now to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don?t forget you still have time (just!) to get those questions in for the 25th anniversary column.
Most of the Panelists should be known to you but if not, don’t panic I’ve got a few details on them at the end of the column.
This week’s question comes from Benny (who wants to know why his comics bill keeps going up!). The question is:
“Do comics cost too much?”
Craig Lemon: “Yes.”
Shawna Ervin-Gore: “It probably seems to most people that comics cost too much. Considering the brief time it takes to read most single-issue comics, I think it can be hard to convince the uninitiated that the cover price of a quick-read comic is a good entertainment value. However, knowing how the books are produced from an insider’s perspective, the reality is that comics are an excellent value considering the vast amount of work it takes to create one. With the exception of very high-selling comics titles, or creators who have enough name power to draw a big paycheck, most comics writers and artists make just about a decent living wage, and not much more. Similarly, most behind-the-scenes professionals (editors, designers, production people, and so on) are paid modestly. It tends to be the paper itself that adds the most expensive element to the comics-making process, and as paper is a natural resource, there’s only so much to be done about that factor.”
Lee Dawson: “Yes! BUT… working inside the biz I can tell you those costs aren’t made up and no one is really getting rich in this industry. Unfortunately comics just cost a lot to produce now days. Even though I work in the industry, I still am a comics fan and buy 90% of my comics off the stands and feel the money pinch every time I walk up to the counter. Regardless of the reasons or quality of work, $2.50-$3.00 or so is a lot to pay for one comic in terms of overall entertainment value. I can’t offer solutions, other than to say as long as there are still great titles coming out I will still buy single issues…But boy do trades get more and more appealing every day!”
Devin Grayson: “No. In addition to covering the writer, penciler, inker, colorist, publisher and distributor, the cost of comics must also support editors who can catch typos like “to” in time to change them to “too.” ;-)”
Mark Chapman: “Hmmm, tricky question. I think there is a perception among non- or casual comic buyers that comicbooks, graphic novels and so on are quite expensive, based on the fact that compared to prose books, you tend to get less pages for your money. However this doesn’t really take into account the fact that strip work is generally more expensive to produce and publish than regular novels, and that print runs tend to be smaller, hence offering less chance to offset the basic costs.
As with more or less any product, the cheaper you make it, the more likely people will buy it, especially impulse buyers. Take the monstrous success of cheap black and white Manga in the US book and comic trade, for example. But comics publishers need to make a certain amount of money to survive, and paring the profit margins right down to offer a cheaper comic can result in publishers getting into difficulties.
With both the 2000 AD magazines and graphic novels, there has been a policy of keeping the cover price as low as possible for as long as is viable, to interest the widest possible spectrum of readers, which does seem to be having the effect of bringing in new fans willing to take a punt on something they’ve never read before.”
Fiona Avery: “I think everything costs too much today. But in general, if I can get five comics for around $10 I’m a happy girl. On a related note, I keep track of Diamond Distributors sales list and I do notice that there is a large drop in volume whenever my books (on any series for any house) are sold for $2.99, and not the nice $2.50. Just thought that statistics might be helpful here.”
Alonzo Washington: “Everything about comic books cost too much. The printing, production, computer equipment, shipping and paper are all too expensive. Therefore, the actual product (the comic book) is going to be expensive. The majors should be able sale comics for less because they print so many of them. The more you do the less it cost. However, the mainstream industry companies are all about the money. Independent companies have to sell their comics for more if they want to compete or make any money.
The comic book fan is the loser because if they want the comic book, they have to foot the bill. However, if you want comics to stay around you have to buy them. This is especially true for independent companies. So buy more comics!!!”
Alan Grant: “I’m inclined to say yes. Since the 1950s the price of comics has rocketed far more than other entertainment costs, like Mars Bars, pints of beer, and cinema tickets. If I recall, Comics International published a piece about this a few years ago, showing relative price increases for a range of items. The rise in comic prices left everything else standing.
But… the Jackie Chan comic sells for around £2, and is supposed to have shifted 700,000 copies of issue #1. Which would seem to negate what I said above, especially as the JC comic is much more likely to be bought by kids than older comics fans.
So I guess the proper answer to the question is: some comics cost too much, some comics don’t cost too much, and (presumably) some comics don’t cost enough.”
Gary Spencer Millidge: “Well, yes they do cost too much. But then again, most things do. While the cost of production (especially in colour books) has decreased enormously (in “real terms”), the cost of paper, inks, offset lithography, binding, packaging and distribution remains more constant. A huge amount of electronic data can be reproduced very cheaply via CDs or DVDs these days, but print media will always remain relatively expensive, and will probably become more so. And it’s obvious that a mainly textual product, like a paperback novel or magazine will provide more reading hours per dollar than a comic ever could – and in most cases they can be printed more cheaply.
But comics and graphic novels have more to offer than simply a set number of reading minutes. The art should be good enough to warrant savouring in itself, and revisiting on several occasions. The whole comic package should justify its price by additional text features like letters pages, quality presentation, an artefact in its own right – like a special feature laden DVD of the latest blockbuster. You can’t equate “reading time” with value for money. There are many highly priced art books with very little in the way of reading material, but endless hours of visual enjoyment. No one ever claimed Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” was overpriced because it didn’t take long to look at.
A comic or graphic novel should be priced according to its quality of story art, production values, development time and suchlike in the same way a DVD is priced to reflect the money and time spend on the movie and the additional material; or to reflect a computer game’s development costs rather than the cost of production of the disc or cartridge. Was Gaiman’s “Endless Nights” hardcover overpriced? No. Expensive? Yes. But good value? Yes. But I wouldn’t want to buy manga in that format. Manga should be printed in a small, thick, chunky format on cheap paper, as its origins suggest. Not in bite-sized, over formatted, poor value pamphlets as many publishers insist on doing. In general, I think most of Marvel and DC’s output is overpriced by some way. Shiner paper doesn’t really compensate for the lack of real quality in production, the lack of added value letters pages and a repetitiveness of storylines and genre.
Too many are a quick read, and the insertion of garish ads for computer games, rock CDs and sweets (which are increasingly difficult to distinguish from the actual comics themselves) are distracting and intrusive in the extreme. In fact they carry so many ads, I wonder why they shouldn’t be given away for free. Comics’ big disadvantage is that the volume of sales – and therefore the print runs – on the majority of titles published aren’t large enough to offset the high set-up costs of printing and give the creators decent remuneration for their efforts. Many smaller, more independent and self-published titles offer better value for money, despite being in monochrome, because of their lack of ads, and their attention to detail because the comic is a labour of love, not a corporate money-maker. Spend $2.25 on an issue of Cerebus and you can consider yourself a patron of the arts, become a member of an exclusive community and have hours of reading. Or, spend more than twice that on yet another retelling of the origin of a superhero that was hokey pulp fiction fifty years ago which takes eight minutes to read (if you skip all the ads), but this time it’s on even shinier paper.
So yes, some comics are expensive. Some are not so. Support the little guy who’s trying and tell the big guys to shape up.”
Alan Donald: “Do comics cost too much? Bloody hell yeah!
I’m sorry folks but the excuses over paper cost are absolute bollocks. You compare the cost of comics with that of glossy magazines and lb per $/? comicbooks are revealed as a total rip off.
Then of course we have to consider the sharp price rise that comics have gone through… this isn’t inflation it is rampant extortion. And it isn?t any easier for the retailers as there isn?t a lot of money to be made by them either.
I’m sorry but I don’t want to talk about this any further as frankly this is the one thing that has destroyed the comic book industry more than anything else comic books need to be cheap and plentiful, that is it.”
Dawn: “Um – yeah, well, I agree with everyone but when I look at what is left in my bank account after Alan’s been up to Automatics (great shop, highly recommended, that’s in Corsham, Wiltshire by the way) I’m more than happy to say that comic books cost far too much.”
Summary: A large number of the panel do believe that comic books cost too much but those on the inside of the industry are keen to point out that there are a wide range of reasons for this. For many it comes down to value for money; we pay a price because comic books are so damned good but in comparison to the other forms of entertainment that pull at our purse strings?
This Week’s Panel: Craig Lemon (SBC’s second-in-command), Shawna Ervin-Gore (one of those fine editorial folks at Dark Horse), Lee Dawson (another one of those fine Dark Horse folk, he’s their publicity guy), Devin Grayson (writes stuff, she is really rather good to be frank, check out Nightwing if you don’t believe me), Mark Chapman (once upon a time Mark was the publicity guru at 2000AD and now this jolly nice chap has gone freelance as a writer thingy, he needs a job if you’ve got one), Fiona Avery (says that she plays in the Marvel Universe, and with Wildstorm at DC and is also the creator of No Honor), Alonzo Washington (is not only the creator of Omega Man but he is also a noted black rights campaigner, God is this the 21st century? How can he still need to do that? What a bloody awful world we live in where someone like Alonzo needs to campaign? Bloody sinful), Alan Grant (look, do I really have to introduce Alan frickin’ Grant? The guy is beyond legendary he wrote Batman and Lobo for years, heck some of the best Judge Dredd stories that weren?t written by John Wagner were done either by Alan on his own or with him! It?s Alan Grant for goodness sake!), Gary Spencer Millidge (created and self-published the excellent Strangehaven for donkey’s years now. This guy has fans buying tickets to UK conventions just to pick up the latest issue of his books (or to bug the hell out of him about their progress)) and Alan and Dawn Donald (we’re not interesting so push off and leave us alone).
Next Week’s Question: “Who do you believe to have been the biggest positive influence on the comic book industry and why?”