A week or two ago, I was minding my own business when the lady of the house approached me wearing a look on her face that was hard to pinpoint. I guess I’d say it was equal parts “where the hell did you leave my keys?” irritation and “I found two empty gin bottles hidden in the toilet tank” concern.
“Hey,” she said, uptalking, “I was just paying the Visa bill online…? And I noticed this ‘Fantasy Shop’ charge on Wednesday…? For, like, sixty-eight dollars?”
“Oh yeah!” I said. “I had some catching up to do.”
“With work and all, I hadn’t been able to, you know, swing on over and pick up the ol’ comic books.”
“I hadn’t been to the shop in weeks.”
“How many weeks?”
“So many.” [Two.]
She gave me the most sideways glance I have gotten since the last time I had a principal. “Ohhhhkaaaay….” she said, before backing out of the room with a furrowed brow, never breaking eye contact.
That conversation was probably the first time in a year I’ve given any serious thought to the cover price of a comic book.
I am well aware that I’m the exception, not the rule. Many people are keenly, vigilantly aware of which books are in which tier. It was not so long ago that fans were pumping their fists at DC Comics’ pledge to “draw the line at $2.99,” as if DC were Fighting the Man. Sort of an odd thing to use as an advertising centerpiece in this business, if you think about it: “We are stalwart in our belief that not one of these stories on its best day is worth more than a Rallyburger. We will stand by that.” I love a deal as much as the next man, but you’re not selling soda, fellas.
Not that it matters now.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a reader of comics through a handful of price increases. I hopped this train right as they were going from $.60 to $.75, but at that point I barely knew the difference. By the time they went up to $1.00, I was making a decent allowance (what with my expansion into the lucrative lawn maintenance market and all) and the publishers back then were still taking pains to convince us big spenders that we would be getting more for our quarters. Back then, in the Bullpen Bulletin days, they’d actually use some of the paper to talk about how much better the paper was getting. That seems like a communique from the planet Bleep Blorp when I think about it now. It was an entirely different pastime, and we hadn’t even gotten to the holofoil covers yet.
I came back to comics years later, and by then we had the internet. As prices rose from $.60 to $1.00, I don’t remember much hubbub. When prices rose to $2.99, I remember it as something like the climax of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If you can get your hands on some archived Newsarama message boards from about ten years ago, you owe it to yourself to do so. I’ll get you started: search for “I will never read another Marvel comic as long as I live.”
Did anyone who typed those words live up to them for so much as six months? We’ll never know, because they will never read this.
Back then, though, people lost their marbles and their Marvels. In comparison, the slow creep to $3.99 was met with, if anything, bitter resignation. (I acknowledge that this may be projection on my part.)
I think the reason why is similar to the reason I rarely think about cover prices anymore, and it’s something I’d love you Dear Readers to weigh in on. Nobody who’s reading comic books in 2012 is doing it because they have an entertainment dollar, and they’d like the most bang they can get for it. The comic book reader is buying comics because she likes comics, and value doesn’t enter into it. If you like the Avengers, you don’t go in looking to buy an Avengers book and come out with Batman because it’s cheaper. In my personal case, comics are the only real indulgence I allow myself. I’m not interested in gaming; I rarely go to concerts; I probably won’t see the inside of a movie theater again until my kids are in their dorms. Comics are one of the chief things I do for fun, and I will be damned if I’m going to walk into the Fantasy Shop counting pennies in my palm.
Of course, now Marvel’s got this plan where, instead of trying to sell fifty different books, they just find out which ten you like and publish those four times a week. Talk to me a year from now, and maybe I’ll be singing a different tune.
What about you? How price-conscious are you? Do you wait a month to download your DC books to save that dollar? Does a $3.99 cover price make you less likely to try a new book or more likely to drop an old one? If asked, could you even tell me how much your favorite book goes for these days? How much do you think about prices in These Tough Economic Times? Right now, the only thing I know for sure is that you think about it more than I do.
Jim Mroczkowski is not a journalist. I mean… come now.