Ralph Dibny Effect: Why We’ve Stuck Around for $3.99 Comics

The Dreaded $3.99 Cover Price. 

 
Admit it, the first time you saw a standard 22-page comic book with a $3.99 price tag, you cringed a bit. You may have even put it back on the shelf. And judging by the commentary I see all over the internet each month, you weren’t alone. But what about the second time you saw that price? It was harder to say no, wasn’t it? And once the lion’s share of your favorite books started going to that price, you had to make the exception. Right? I mean it was either that or stop reading comic books in single issue form. 
 
Ralph Dibny Elongated Man DC Comics Creative CommonsAnd that’s where the publishers got us. They called our bluff. In spite of a vocal outcry against $3.99 as a standard price, the industry bet our demand for our comic book fix was so strong that we would acquiesce.
 
And they were right.
 
This past month, the number of $3.99 comics in the Diamond Top 300 overtook the number of $2.99 comics. And the average cover price of the Top 300 was $3.55. And yet, in spite of the price hike, and in the midst of an economic recession and the availability of trade paperbacks and collected editions, our demand for single issues hasn’t abated. 
 
According to Comics Chronicles, the industry sold 17.06 million comic book issues in the first three months of 2010. That was an increase of 3% versus the comparable period in 2009. And it was just a 3% decrease from the same period five years ago. And actually marks a 1% increase over comparable sales in 2000. The bottom line is, the number of single issues we sell has remained remarkably steady over the last decade, in spite of a material increase in price.
 
So why have we tolerated $3.99 comics without any discernible impact on demand? That brings me to the concept of the Price Elasticity of Demand
 
Price elasticity of demand (PED or Ed) is a measure used in economics to show the responsiveness, or elasticity, of the quantity demanded of a good or service to a change in its price. More precisely, it gives the percentage change in quantity demanded in response to a one percent change in price (holding constant all the other determinants of demand, such as income). (Source: Wikipedia)
 
Price Elasticity of Demand Chart Creative Commons WikipediaA good or service is said to be INELASTIC when demand for the good changes slower than the price. Comics are a decidedly inelastic good, as evidenced by the fact that demand has remained steady in the face of sharp increases in price. 
 
 
  • Availability of substitute goods
  • Percentage of income
  • Necessity
  • Duration
  • Breadth of definition of a good
  • Brand loyalty
  • Who pays for the good
 
Let's take them one at a time.
 
Availability of Substitute Goods
This is all about perspective. If you're a casual comic reader, you might look at the higher price and say, "why pay $3.99 for 20 minutes of reading when I can rent a movie for the same cost?" In that case, a movie or video game or novel might be acceptable substitutes. But for most of us, particularly if you're reading a column on iFanboy, I'm betting you don't view other forms of entertainment as substitutes for comics. And as a result, you're more likely to stick with higher prices.
 
Percentage of Income
To understand this concept, let's use two other goods: Coffee and Cars. If you make $40,000 a year, the choice between a Porsche and a Ford is going to be an easy one. The percentage of your income that an auto consumes all but assures you'll be VERY sensitive to the incremental costs of a given model. On the other hand, that same person who makes $40,000 per year is more than happy to pay fifty cents more for a cup of Starbucks coffee. The trade up to Starbucks (a luxury item) is easier to justify because it's such a small percentage of your income. How do comics fit into that? For most consumers, it matters. So if you spend $30 a week at your comic book store, are you now going to spend $40 a week or rather the same $30 which means leaving a few issues on the shelves? 
 
Necessity
ManMelter Image Paul Montgomery WETA Gasoline and healthcare are two examples of inelastic goods. You need to put gas in your car whether it's $2 a gallon or $4. And you need to pay for health insurance regardless of how much premiums go up annually. They're too important. But that ManMelter Disintegrator Pistol? Even as you're considering ordering it you know that you really don't NEED it in any way. Most people would say comic books are a luxury and unnecessary. But Marvel, DC and others count on we diehards feeling otherwise. For us, our comic book fix is as necessary as cigarettes for a smoker.
 
Duration
This factor really doesn't play into a periodical consumable like comic books. Duration refers to the concept that the longer a good/service stays at a certain price, the more fluid the demand will be. Since we have no history of comic book pricing ever going back down, I don't think this pertains.
 
Breadth
This gets back to the substitute goods concept. How broadly do you define comic books as a part of your life? If you think of them in the same bucket as anything discretionary (e.g., clothes, restaurants, dates, vacations), then the price increase is likely to impact your demand for them. But if you view comics as their own thing, your special allowance against an otherwise disciplined financial plan, then you're going to be more accepting of the increase.
 
Creative Commons Logo Coca-ColaBrand Loyalty
Unfortunately this is one aspect of the price increases that I believe is having the most derogatory impact. The argument here is that the more loyal you are to a particular brand, the more inelastic the demand. For example, you may be perfectly willing to buy the cheaper roll of paper towels because they're on sale. Whereas you probably won't substitute Coke for Royal Crown Cola in order to save a few pennies. In comics, loyalty exists to a fault. And when Marvel and DC control 80% of the market, the rising prices have the net effect of crowding out the smaller press publishers. If you have that $30 to spend, and have to cut…history tells us that people are going to cut non-core titles first and long-standing franchises like Spider-man, Batman, or X-men dead last. 
 
Who Pays
Unless you're one of the lucky souls who has a job that subsidizes your comic book purchases (cough cough Ron, Josh and Conor!) [Note: This is just a joke folks, the guys have to put on their pants one leg at a time and then buy their books at the LCS just like the rest of us], this factor really doesn't come into play.
 
Hopefully this helps you conceptualize why you and I and everyone else in this awesome hobby are more than willing to buy $3.99 comics in the same numbers we bought $2.99 comics. We may bark a little more about it. Our choices of which comics we buy when may change. But in aggregate, comic books have been — and seem to remain — highly inelastic. Who needs to pay the mortgage or save for retirement? Live in the now people! And keep buying comics. 🙂
 

Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him onTwitter.

Comments

  1. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    But I DO need that ManMelter! I do! 

    I wish there was a way to chart the level of quality vs unit price. I’m almost certain that the $2.99 books always end up better than the 3.99 ones. Not always the case, but there’s some kind of pattern. It’s not about spite either. Just a strange correlation.  

  2. @Paul … I understand the feeling of $2.99 vs. $3.99 as it relates to quality, but then again many indie books have been $3.50 or higher for quite awhile and have been awesome. I genuinely think price doesn’t equal quality in the land of comics. Interestingly (and maybe an idea for another column down the line), there’s also very little evidence to suggest that lower priced comics, even really good ones, help sales. I know that Casanova and Fell are two recent examples, as were Criminal and Powers. None of them benefited (this is coming from the writers not me) from the lower price point. Still was a function of reach and shelf space.

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    And I just realized Locke & Key is $3.99. So there goes my logic. Which was really more of a joke anyway. I do appreciate when creators can compose a really satisfying single issue. As in Jonah Hex, say. 

    I don’t really mind the extra dollar, but as you mentioned I do think it can often be the tipping point for those books where I’m on the fence.  

  4. The "new" $3.99 price point has pretty much started me on the road to dropping single issues from the Big 2 altogether.

  5. @Paradiddle … and anecdotally you’re not alone. But someone appears to be picking up that slack because unit sales aren’t suffering. You could argue it’s a lagged effect and that two years from now we’ll see that the higher aggregate prices really did impede demand. But so far, it seems like we’re all complaining a lot more than we’re following through.

  6. Mr. Wood, thank you for these awesome articles the last couple of weeks. I’m so glad to have you here. Economics is something I’ve always been interested in, but math is my weakest subject so it’s remained something of a mystery to me. I’ll just take these mini lessons to heart and glean whatever information I can from them.

    Awesome article! 

  7. I wonder what the numbers are on people ordering online now versus still buying at full price at the brick and mortar stores. I switched to DCBS a while back and since the prices are all significantly cheaper I don’t notice the price increases much.

  8. @Wood – Point taken, I’m just saying that the price increase is one of admittedly several factors that have "forced" me to buy less and less single issues. I never had that much disposable income to spend on comics to begin with, and with twins on the way and other hobbies I like to spend $$$ on (music, mostly) my interest in visiting my LCS every week and keeping up with the Big 2 has pretty much disappeared. I’ll probably still buy 1-2 issues each from Marvel and DC, plus a few indies each month but my ability to stay current with "what’s going on" in comics and thus participate in this and other online comic book communities to full effect is pretty much nil, and that’s kinda sad. But…like you said there are apparently many other people out there who are willing and able to spend the $$$ to continue their single issue habit, so good for them since it’s good for the industry.

  9. @flakbait As you probably know, I am a loyal DCBS customer too (shout out to Cameron, Christina and Zack K!) and know that they’ve become a very large and important Diamond account. And obviously they’re not the only online store out there. That said, while I don’t have hard numbers I can give you, it’s my understanding that mail order comics are still a small subset of the overall direct market. Growing faster than the market for sure, but still not moving the dial yet.

  10. Comics AND Starbucks in the same article!  Thanks, buddy!

  11. @DAP for you, anything BOO! 😉

  12. I’m used to the price increase by now, and I still spend the same amount every month, but I read less titles.

  13. You know what this article needed? A bar graph!

     Next time buddy.

  14. @wjibaja — OK, I will do better next time. Maybe a pie chart? 🙂

  15. Good reading before my managerial accounting final

  16. I blame no one but consumers on this one. 

    I made my stand by not buying ANY 22 page $4 books. And I’ve been very happy with that choice. As a result, I’ve dropped pretty much every Marvel book save three but I don’t feel like I’m really missing anything. And if I really want it, I’ll get the deeply discounted trade on DCBS (Boom trades are reasonably priced there!).

  17. I agree completely.  I think (my memory is pitiful and I don’t have time to search) I actually posted a lengthy comment summarizing this in Mr. Woods’s first article on the sight (the one concerning $1.99 digital comics).  I think I even compared comic book collecting with heroin (also highly inelastic demand).

    Did I do that here or on Twitter (or both)?  Regardless, I certainly didn’t go into this kind of detail.  Mr. Woods has nailed it again.  Keep these coming. 

  18. I know it’s been a while, but I don’t buy $3.99 regular-sized comics from Marvel/DC. DC has done the cool thing by putting aditional content for $3.99, Marvel not so much.

    Indie titles always get leeway from me because I feel the presentation is better in those issues than the major comics: sturdier covers and paper, ads held to the back. It’s seems small, but that extra dollar (or fifty cents, Dark Horse) buys me that reading experience and I see it as justified.

  19. @stuclach I believe you did mention elasticity…a fellow economist, I see! 

    @ghettojourno…you’re not alone in that viewpoint. Personally I don’t feel like the backups add to the experience unless the backup is something I want to read, too, and it’s usually not. So I view $3.99 DC comics and $3.99 Marvel comics in the same way. But I think your view is certainly indicative of what DC was going for when they opted to have the co-features.

    What’s also interesting is how smaller press firms are acquiescing. Marvel and DC set the price, everyone else just follows. I know Top Cow tried to keep their prices low last year under the hope the differential would matter. It didn’t. And now they’re coming up to the industry standard (as they should). 

  20. @ghettojourno – They are willing to lose some customers (like you, for example), because the price increase more than offsets the quantity decrease.  Essentially, if demand for your good is inelastic (like it is for comics or insulin) then you can raise revenues (simply Price * Quantity) by raising prices.  If price rises by 33% (from $3 to $4) and quantity only falls by 15%, then total revenue increased by roughly 13%.
  21. I love these articles.  It makes me think that I should have become an economist because human behavior in relation to what they consume is fascinating.  Thanks for doing these articles Jason.

    On the topic of $3.99 issues, it’s definitely something I pay attention to, but it doesn’t necessarily deter me from purchasing an issue.  For me, I think that $3.99 is about the top of what I would pay for a single issue in the store.  Anything after that and I would be forced to switch to DCBS or go trade only.  I only have a set amount that I can spend each month, and my wife would kill me if I went over it…and I like to live.

  22. @wood @stuclach

    My question is what happens when those that did stick it out to $3.99 start dropping those titles? Who is going to make up for their lost sales?

  23. Very interesting stuff. What about discount services and subscriptions? Is there an economic explanation for these phenomena? Is it a small sub-market, kind of like coupons and rebates, that provides a dip in price for the extra cheap consumer (like me) making it fall within my preferred price point? Just like you have to put in some work to get discounts from coupons and rebates, there are trade-offs to getting comics through subscriptions or mail-order services (longer delivery time, not being able to make a point-of-sale decision, missing out on the comic-shop discussions).

  24. @Josh, Conor, and/or Ron – Are we allowed to proselytize on the site? I only ask because Mr. Wood’s articles get me excited enough to attempt to convert the entire ifanbase to the one true faith known as economics. 

    @Neb – It’s never too late to become an economist.  Go grab a copy of Economics is Everywhere (or Freakonomics or something similar) and start the conversion. 

    @Wood – Yep.  I teach economics at a small, public, liberal arts university in Georgia.  I rapidly enter professor mode when I see questions in response to articles like yours.  I’ll try not to step on your toes.  Keep up the good work.

  25. From my just stack this week, all the $3.99 books I bought had a good chuck of extra pages, so I don’t feel like I’m getting ripped off or anything when I pay that extra buck. It’s the 22 pagers with super glossy paper and  extra hard cover that I stay away from and wait for the trade.

  26. Have I mentioned being a student of Business, that I LOVE your posts.  When the change happened I knew that I was screwed, because there was no way to stop it unless everyone refused to by 3.99 books.  Which as you pointed out did not happen.

  27. The increase of 3%….was that money or units sold?  I’m having a dumb moment and it’s not reading right for me.

  28. @stuclach Excellent! I love that you’re teaching economics. After getting very focused on technology investing for years, I wasn’t using my economic theory too much, but over the last five years as my focus has turned more broadly into global macro equities, I’ve really gotten back on my economic feet so to speak. It’s a daily regimen for me. 

    @NawidA — Time will tell. That’s where the duration comes into play. It’s possible that a year from now, or two or three, the cumulative effect of people dropping books at $3.99 could creep up. For example, someone could argue that people are still buying roughly the same number, but as they drop books (due to lack of interest or whathaveyou), the $3.99 price point will make them less likely to add a new book. I’m not sure that’s happening, but we wouldn’t see that impact until a year or two from now.

    @patio — Discounts are a hard thing because the discounted prices have also gone up. If you get a 20% discount for having a pull list, you were paying $2.40 for a standard comic and are now paying $3.20. Or if you use DCBS you were paying $1.95 and are now paying $2.60. So percentage wise, your increase is the same. But this speaks to the "Percentage of Income" factor. It may be mentally easier to accept paying $2.60 vs. $1.95 especially when you rationalize that you’re still "saving" off the cover price, versus someone who walks in off the Street and has to foot the full $3.99. Not sure how to quantify that given how vastly different everyone’s buying points seem to be. 

  29. @roadcrew…that was UNITS, not dollars. Total dollars for comics (not trades/collecteds) are up 6% year over year, and roughly 35%-40% (I didn’t crunch those numbers to be exact) from a decade ago.

  30. What constitutes acceptable additional content? A lot of times i just see a preview stuffed in the back…is that supposed to be worth an extra dollar?

    what about the $1 issues that publishers have been doing? Are they purposeful loss leaders or is there any logic to the idea that you could make up for lack of single issue profits by selling cheaper but in higher volume? 

  31. I am not buying comics at all anymore. That’s not to say I am not still reading comics…

  32. What you may not be taking into account of is the effect of $3.99 on "non-top" books.

    While I may still get "New Avengers" or "Thor" for $3.99, I have time & again declined to buy "crappy Marvel mini-series X" for $3.99…….  (like all the "Dark Reign" minis, Lethal Legion, Zodiac, Mr. Negative, etc.)

    I would have absolutely bought those had they been $2.99

  33. @wallythegreenmonster: Wally, "normal" comics have 22 pages of story.  In many cases, primarily with DC, they raised the story page content to 30 pages with the increase to $3.99, so you get an extra 8 pages for the extra $1.   For many other books (New Avengers, Thor, Hulk, to name a few), the price went to $3.99 for the same old 22 pages of content.   $1 extra price for no extra content.

     Preview pages & in-house ads do not count as "content"

  34. @wallythegreenmonster — The $1 issues (most notably Dynamite and DC/Vertigo) are loss leaders are you suggest. The belief is that pricing the first issue that low will allow a broader group of people to try it out (no downside) and then enough will like the series that they’ll stick with it at a normal price going forward. I’m not sure there’s any mathematical proof that’s working, but anecdotally I know it’s helped a few books get into the hands of people that otherwise wouldn’t have tried it.

    @BobBretall — Hey Bob, I’m just speaking to the entirety of the Diamond 300, which does indeed account for many of the books you and I buy but seemingly no one else does. 🙂 I agree that over time, there may be a cumulative effect in that regard, but so far, it’s not showing up in any aggregated way. 

  35. Point of fact: we all pay for our own comics.  We might get some previews, but we pay for the vast majority of our books.  They might be tax deductable in our case, but usually that total isn’t enough to cover the minimum deduction. So, we’re just like everyone else, except when a big book ships, we kind of have to buy it.  This week, I spent $47 of my own money on issues.

    Were I a "civilian" that would be a much lower total, because it wasn’t worth it.

  36. @josh … Ha! I was just poking some fun at the guys above the title. 🙂 I know you plunk down $$$ at the store every week, just like the rest of us. 

  37. And this is why the the industry has us by the short and curlys. We complain but aren’t willing to back it up. Great article.

  38. @BBretail I am with you 100%. If a book is good or I have a large emotional investment, I tend to fork over the $4 (actually I usually buy it through DCBS…) But a mini-series? That are rarely good or "important"? I just don’t tkae the risk any more, not for $4. If it was really awesome I figure I’ll read about it and get it in trade later. I take leaps of faith for $3 books at the book store, but not the $4 minis. There are a few rare exceptions, but Marvel’s $4 mini policy has more or less driven me away from their mini-series.

  39. You don’t even want to know how much I spent yesterday – whewf

  40. Also, I do not know of a price point that would make me stop buying issues.  I’ve never complained about price hikes dating back to the $1.25 from $1.00 increase because I know this is a choice I make.  When I was in college, I chose to not buy other things so I could get comics…

    it also helps that my LCS owner doesn’t tell me how much my stack costs, I just hand my debit card over and he runs it and I sign while looking the other way. 

  41. I’m curious if the last 2.99 holdouts could get a longer life from being a value book.  If I get an issue of Nova that wasn’t my favorite I’m not going to drop it because it’s not exactly breaking the bank. I’m not sure when the jump to everything at 3.99 will be but as long as the stragglers are left alone they might be able to hold onto a budget niche.

  42. This is really interesting, thanks!  What’s most intriguing to me is that the number of issues being sold has gone up.  I had sort of assumed that the strategy behind the price change was based on the assumption that people would buy fewer issues — that individuals would actually spend the same amount of money to buy fewer books — but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Intriguing!  

  43. Ron’s last response highlights just how incredibly inelastic his demand actually is.  I may have to use that one in class.

  44. Great article. Nice to see someone talk about this aspect of having a hobby.

    One of my first instincts when getting back into comics was to go after the single issues and titles that i loved as a kid. But at $3-5 a pop, i’m hardly satisfied with what i get for my money. I’m often shocked when I see people talk about adding to pull lists like the issues are given away for free.

    You get a lot more from a magazine for $4 than you do a comic. I think the higher price point increases expectations for me to the point where i want perfection every time or else i feel ripped off. And yes i’ve picked up and put down many a single issue because of price.

    99% of comics that i currently buy are in trade form. Its an all around better value for my money(plus no ads and filler pages) and if I don’t get to discuss them because they are old stories, oh well I can deal with it.

    I’d love to support creators, runs and titles through single issues, but they’ve priced me out.

  45. It means my brand loyality switches with less from Pepsi (Marvel) & more to Classic Coke (DC) since I get more for my money (30 story pages for $3.99 w/ DC) with slightly fewer number of titles.

    Matthew

  46. @Wood: Re the entirety of the Diamond 300, I agree that Marvel has a LOT of $3.99 books on there, but since I can easily look at the Diamond sales data thanks to the magic of John Mayo, I will point out that  (& I’m looking at March sales here) sales get kind of low for a lot of the $3.99 minis

    Rank 116/120/121 for the Realm of Kings minis (Inhumans, Imp Guard, Son of Hulk) all about 18,000

    Rank 124 for Avengers vs. Atlas #3 @ 16,482

    Rank 152 for Torch #6 @11,896.  Wow!  That’s low for this book!

    Rank 173 for X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain #4 @ 10,070

    Rank 190 for Marvel Boy, THe Uranian #3 @ 8,817

     No telling how much (or if) these would be selling @ $2.99, but I’m guessing more folks would give them a try if they cost less.  My point is that these are selling pretty low, and would be getting cancelled if not minis. Anyway, my point is that I agree that fans are (in general) swallowing the $3.99 price tag, but not for EVERYTHING Marvel slaps it on.

  47. This makes me proud of the fact that I have been able to maintain my jihad against $3.99 comics, and I even get a slight sense of glee every time I pick one of them up at a show/convention for $1. Suck it, overpriced comics!

  48. It’s called DCBS and I don’t shop often at my own lcs. Sure I’ll stop by on FCBD and grab a box of old comics in storage but that’s an investment to keep me away from making stupid impulse purchases in the future. I’m well aware of the trends in capitalism so I try my best to work my way around them or resist the purchasing for the future.

  49. i buy trades!!!! they have no ads, you get the "whole story", they cost less,their durable .

    ill go to the comic shoppe buy an issue of whatever ,"chocker"? and if i like it will wait for the trade! ez-pez!

  50. @BobBretall — Totally! I just thought, and I’m sure you did too, that the Big 2 were willing to forgo a 5%-10%-15% drop in UNITS b/c it would be more than offset in dollars. But so far, they’re getting the best of both worlds. With the recession over the last two years, I have to think they’re both sitting there GIDDY beyond words that units have held up in aggregate while prices have gone up a country ton.

     

  51. @Wood @BobBretail   You know, I’ve heard Bendis and other people at Marvel say that they price a lot of minis & ’boutique’ books at $3.99 because that helps them pay for themselves.  i.e., they can afford to put out a niche book if they charge more for it.  And that initially seemed crazy to me — it seemed to fly in the face of what I know about supply and demand — but maybe it makes some sense.  If demand for comics is really as inelastic as your numbers suggest — ie, a change in price doesn’t make a major difference in how many units they move — then it isn’t so crazy.  Of course, it’s hard to tell how much of that is self-fulfilling — maybe something branded as a ‘niche’ book *would have* taken off if it had been available for $2.99, and we’ll never know — but maybe this is working the way they want it to?

  52. I’m not so sure how accurate your conclusions about percentage of income factor into luxury items.

    I work in a low income community in Los Angeles. The average total income in the area is 28K.

    A significant portion of the parents in the community drive luxury vehicles.

    A significant portion of the parents and children in the community have expensive electronics: iPhones, iPods.

    We know from home visits and other forms of data gathering that the parents in our community have a tendency to cut cost in other areas. Food, medical/psychological services and other vital contributers to the well being of invididuals.

    Starbucks does not bestow the perception of wealth; therefore, it doesn’t interest those kind of parents in our community. In fact, there isn’t a Starbucks anywhere near my work.

    And the comic book shop went out of business a year ago.

    This is a common trend in low income areas that your percentage of income doesn’t seem to account for.

  53. @ScorpionMasada As with all discussion about economics, it assumes rational behavior. That’s one of the main criticisms of the field, that it all works great in practice, but falls apart in reality. The behavior you’re speaking about is irrational, but unfortunately all too real. I interned at the Department of Welfare one summer during college and was shocked at how women would show up for their monthly check, effectively homeless, but wearing designer sweatsuits and with the top of the line handbag.

     

  54. I will fork out $3.99 for a mini-series because I appreciate that there are probably extra costs in assembling a full production team for just 3-6 issues.  And even if that’s not true – if its an opportunity to enjoy characters that will never have an ongoing (and probably wouldn’t do well with one anyway) I can get behind that.  For a regular book?  No way.  And considering that when I think of regular series for $3.99 I think of over-hyped gems like Warren Ellis’s Astonishingly Bad X-Men I don’t think I’m missing much.  (Apologies to JMS – his Thor was the only regular series I did pay $3.99 an issue for but when it was over I swore never again for an ongoing.  I’ll either trade wait – or more likely buy the whole run on ebay for a lot less than $3.99 an issue.  Thank you free online markets.)

  55. My LCS owner mentioned to this past Wednesday how much my pull list has shrunk. Frankly I can afford $50-$60 per week on comics but why should I if I can spend less through online sellers. It will be interesting to see how continuous price hikes will impact the local comic shops in coming years.

  56. I hear you, Mr. Wood. Some days I still can’t get over it.

    I wouldn’t have pointed it out if we haven’t been in a period of a lot of irresponsible spending in this country.

    When I first came to this site, I was blown away by the size of the users weekly pulls. Some of these users are pulling 20-30 books A WEEK.

    I was thinking, "damn, these users must be making money."

    But I don’t think that is the case. I think comics are addictive. I think the industry caters to obsessive personalities.

    I think we have a lot of irresponsible spenders in the comic community.

  57. That’s one hell of an assumption.

  58. there are two assumptions: obsessive personalities/irresponsible spenders. Taken as a whole, I think there is a lot of logic leading to that latter assumption.

    1) Banners, tie-ins, cross-overs, plastic rings often increase sales because of an obsessive impulse to get the "whole" story or the complete collection. It even drives stores to over-order.

    But this is the most convincing evidence:

    2) Trades are the most cost efficient way of buying comics.

    Yet people who complain about a 3.99 price point continue to buy issues when a trade will beat a 2.99 price point.

  59. 3) There is also the difficulty a good section of the community has with dropping comics, even ones they don’t like.

    I just coached a user to drop DayTripper in the comments thread not because I don’t think the book deserves the reader, but because I hate watching people complain about a book but continue to buy it.

    It is a bad habit (and a very human habit) to indulge in things or continue relationships purely because we are too weak to do otherwise.

    Another aspect of an obsessive personality and irresponsible behavior.

    Given time, I could probably come up with more.

  60. 4) The collector mentality/hording. Unless you have a library, why? People who don’t have libraries don’t do this with books with the same frequency as those with comics.

    5) Buying the same comics in multiple formats for the "DVD" extras. Not very cost efficient. Or needing the same format cuz "they look nice on the shelves."

    6) Buying overpriced variants.

    7) Buying more than one copy of the same comic. One to read/one to slab.

    8) Buying any comic for more than cover price.

    This industry survives off these kind of impulses. What we could maybe even call sickness.

  61. This industry doesn’t need kids to survive.

    Children don’t have the "disposable" income for this type of craziness.

    All it needs is us irresposible and obsessive folk.

    I got a little obsessive with this one ahahhaha, it is late.

    And I’m guilty of a bit of number 2 and 5.

    Let’s own up to some of this shit and maybe try to change a bit.

  62. I know of at least two individuals who spend their unemployment checks on comics.

  63. I don’t want to get too preachy, but a person with a relatively low income buying iPhones, etc isn’t necessarily behaving irrationally.  It could simply be a difference in preferences and/or a lack of information.  It looks irrational to us because we may value things differently than they do and may fully understand the costs.  They may view that iPhone as something with a massive benefit (status symbol) and may not fully understand the true cost of owning it (monthly payments).  There is a very large difference between irrationality and lack of information.

    The rationality assumption typically holds up EXTREMELY well when properly measure/understood. The problem is that we often see people doing something that seems irrational based on our perception of the costs and benefits, but is perfectly rational based on the individual’s (possibly incorrect) perception of the costs and benefits.

    For example, if I didn’t have a home PC and/or didn’t have a working internet connection, an iPhone suddenly become much more enticing.  It could be my only way to connect to the internet.  Therefore, the benefit is much, much higher than it is for the general public.  

  64. Sorry. That was way too preachy. I’ll stop now.

  65. @ScorpionMasada — Certainly any rabid collector set has obsessive and, sometimes, irrational behavior as part of the subset. But you’re painting with a broad brush. Are there people who overspend on comics obsessively? Of course. Just as there are people who buy too many clothes, or too many video games, or too much liquor, or vacations, or electronics, or porn, or restaurant meals. I don’t think in and of itself you can attribute the price inelasticity to one factor, particularly in such a pointed manner.

  66. Two other things to keep in mind:

    1) Profits and profits margin (more than revenues) is what drives firms’ decisions.  Even assuming that by increasing the price 33% from 2.99 to 3.99, revenues stay the same because of a 33% decline in sales (it is not what happened, but please stay with me), profits would go up anyway since costs haven’t increased 33% in the last year.  This is why increasing the price makes a lot of business sense (even though we might not like it).

    2) Demand for comics has become more inelastic with time as the age of the average reader has increased.  If the majority of comic book readers were elementary and middle school kids (with very limited disposable income) as in the 50s and 60s, comic publishers could not have ever pulled this off.

  67. @Wood — I take your point on the discount market. An increase is an increase. I guess I was wondering if this will push more people to the discount market, and away from their local shop. But this might be a small group.

    @Ron — The thing about turning your head and signing the debit card receipt made me shudder. That is a freakin’ testimonial. We’re all in a co-dependent relationship with the comic book industry, aren’t we? 

  68. But we know comics is a very specialized industry and currently caters to a relatively small "population." My points do not all relate to the rabid collector though.

    Point taken, but clothing and food are necessities and therefore easily rationalized. The video game industry isn’t structured the same way as the comic book industry. Porn and liquor appeal to our hedonism.

    Electronics might be the best comparison, but once again electronics appeal to a much larger market.

    Maybe not irrational cuz humans are good at rationalizing almost anything, but irresponsible spending is the American way and when you make 25K and own a 60K car you are irresponsible.

  69. @ScorpionMasada – I agree that the term irresponsible fits very well.  I know I’ve certainly been guilty of it.

  70. I’d love to see an age breakdown of the people who kept buying as the price increased versus those who didn’t.

    I grew up during a time when comics were well under a dollar.  My first comic purchase was proably a 25 center.  As such, the markup over the years has seemed tremendous.  Yes, the quality has gotten better and yes it’s been many years, and yes logically I understand inflation, but emotionally it’s a different story.  As an old guy I see $4 and immediately go into "Well back in MY DAY…" mode.

    I’ve switched to trade for a number of reasons.  Ease of re-reading – pulling back issues out of a comic box is just too annoying – is the primary, but price comes in a close second. 

     I just picked up the Invincible Iron Man Omnibus after watching your latest show – yes, I used the affiliate link :).  $27 shipped from Amazon for 19 issues.  $1.40 an issue versus $4?  Sign me up.

  71. @Risible – I’m sure a considerable number of people have made the same transition to trades.  I’ve certainly considered it.  I haven’t done it because I enjoy being able to come to this site weekly and keep up with the discussions in the threads for the individual comics.

    I don’t know if the age specific data you mention exists (I would be surprised if it did), but I’d certainly like to see it if it does.

  72. @risible – you are right that the markup has been significant over time.

    If we control for inflation, in today’s dollar a comic book in 1967 (cover price $0.12)  would cost $0.77.

    A comic book in 1978 (cover price $0.35)  would cost $1.15.

    A comic book in 1990 (cover price $1)  would cost $1.64.

    A comic book in 1998 (cover price $1.99)  would cost $2.66.

    A comic book in 2007 (cover price $2.99)  would cost $3.18.

    And now we are at 3.99 in real dollars. 

    Even controlling for inflation, comic books have become draastically more expensive over time. No wonder the age demographics of comic book readers has changed…

     

  73. I only bought collected editions until I started listening to the podcast for iFanboy.

    That is why I am guilty of some of the irresponsible spending I listed above. I buy single issues when I could get the whole story in trade for cheaper, and I sometimes buy multiple formats because I don’t keep any single issues and want certain stories in a collected edition.

    This is why the big three at iFanboy SHOULD get their comics for free from the major comic book companies.

    They stimulate the industry.

  74. I’m fine with $3.99 since I barely buy any books at that price anyways. Only event books and random mini’s have that tag.

    I’d say my limit would be $4.99 if prices went that high. Don’t ask me why, but five bucks an issue doesn’t seem worth it at all. Somehow four dollars is though…. 

  75. One could make the argument that the existence of comic shops and cons are the reason why comics cost so much. By that i mean, when i was a kid there was one comic shop in my state and they dealt mostly in old collectibles. I bought my comics at a local drug store or magazine stand.(just turned 30)A comic book and a soda where the same price. These comics could be purchased for spare change saved from lunch money and whatever i’d get from my allowance or chores. 

    Is it a coincidence that the rise of the event comic, endless spin-offs and minis, variants and collectibles as well as the year long story arc follows the rise of the Comic Shops and Cons? 

    In talking with a friend who works for one of the big 2 he flat out told me that they have no real interest in making comics for kids. They keep a small handful around for nostalgia and for PR, but their audience is adults because they have that endless allowance that every kid dreamed about. 

  76. Regarding the price savings of trades versus buying issues, keep in mind that even though it may cost more in the long run to keep buying issues, it’s only a little bit at a time. Someone may be able to afford $40 a month every month (or $10-15 a week), but have trouble saving up to spend triple that amount all at once to get all those trades.

    I’m in the process of switching over to trades, and I’m kind of dreading my bill in six months when all the Avengers books get collected all at once.

  77. It is the immediacy factor that tricks you into thinking you have to buy the trade that is hurting not the cost.

    Trades will be there for months and they will not have some bullshit increase to the cover price like single issues have a tendency to do at the more shady comic shops.

    You could buy a Marvel Premier hardcover a week for $13.50 on Amazon with that budget.

    4 hardcovers a month and still have six dollars left.

  78. Oh my god! We’re robots!

  79. Kinda. 

    Humans have an innate need for structure.

    Remember the complaints when Ron posted the article about new comics possibly moving to Tuesdays and some people were upset?

    We like ritual.

    But in the end, should you really care what day comics come out as long as they come out once a week?

  80. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

    Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

    These are two awesome books on irrational behavior and why we behave this way. A lot of ScorpionMasada points are epanded on in these books. Very eye opening.

  81. I haven’t read Sway, but I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendation for Predictably Irrational, fantastic book.  A fascinating read.

  82. Thanks for the book recommendations. I’m currently doing the great pull list purge to make way for more reading time that is not comic book reading.

    I just bought Predictably Irrational and the new Black Keys album on Amazon.

  83. Wood – where is the discussion of INDIFFERENCE CURVES!  Just kidding man.  Fantastic article.  Brought me right back to college – I was an Econ major, and I loved it.  Your thoughts are all on point, especially regarding the percentage of income.  

    The thing I always found fascinating with economics were the various assumptions that always underly the models and theories.  For example, the assumption of the rational consumer.  And this is where my joke about indifference curves comes up.  When we speak about rationality in the Econ sense, I recall that economic theory isn’t thinking that our tastes make objective sense, but that GIVEN OUR TASTES, we’ll act the same when faced with the same economic choices.  And I’m not "rational" when it comes to comics!  

    I would almost say that I have a different price elasticity for each perceived "type" of comic.  For example, with FF and Batman, I have severe price inelasticity.  With 2nd tier titles, the elasticity eases.  With "meh" titles, yes, I have much more price sensitivity.  So it might also be a definitional issue with respect to the good being analyzed

    keep ’em coming, buddy.

    Chris Campbell 

  84. Man, if only my teachers used comicbooks prices for teaching economics. Great article!

  85. Am I the only one who heard Stringer Bell’s voice throughout this article?

    Really?

    Damn.

     

  86. Yeah. I’m done buying issues. 

    Admittedly I just moved to Japan, where English-language comics are damn near impossible to come by, and would probably be marked up significantly, not to mention the horrifying thought of bulk-shipping them home…..

    But even when I get home, I’m not buying single issues of anything anymore. I’ll think about trades. They’re presentable in a bookshelf, and I like having a whole story in one book.

    Now, if someone could come out with an even halfway worthwhile way for me to pay for digital comics, I wouldn’t spend nearly as much time on RapidShare. But thats the thing: It’s easier for me to steal ’em than to pay for ’em. Until that gets fixed, Minutemen & DCP will continue to siphon money from the creators. 

     

    The only people I feel bad about shafting are the LCS guys, and they don’t have those in Tokyo.

     

     

    How’s that for a first-ever post? 

     

    🙂 

     

  87. @opensourcecode — While I can appreciate your candor, and really don’t want to necessarily go down the rabbit hole of discussing online piracy as it really doesn’t relate to this article, I had to take issue with your statement:

    "The only people I feel bad about shafting are the LCS guys."

    You don’t feel badly about shafting the guys who actually create the comics you enjoy reading? You realize that vast majority of those guys don’t make a tremendous amount of money and, without them, you wouldn’t have comic books to enjoy. Just saying…you seem to have an odd sense of loyalty.

     

  88. @wood: point.

    I would feel bad about shafting the creators, if I thought i was shafting them. I LOVE comics to death. I have two full bookcases of trades at my parents’ house, and I re-read them every time I’m home. I also have about 9 feet worth of single issues in longboxes at their house which I….never…read. Ever. 

    But the creators still get paid, no matter if I happen to pick up a single copy of their issues or not. They got paid before the thing ever even went to print. My understanding is, the LCS guys order from Diamond long before happy happy Wednesday. Diamond pays the publisher based on….preorders? I’m not sure how exactly that works. And the publisher pays the creators based on the pre-order sales of their previous work. Actual single-issue sales contribute to a creator’s paycheck…..not at all? Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    So, the only people I’m actually taking money away from is the poor guys trying to make it in the LCS business. Which sucks, because those guys are the heart and soul of this business. But There are no english-language shops here. And honestly, with the new price point……meh.

     

    I think that discussing piracy is totally valid in this thread, since almost every time I finish a pirated comic I think, "wow. I’m surely happy I didn’t pay $3.99 (or $4.99!) for that." I only read stuff like Siege or X-men to find out what’s up with characters I liked when I was a kid. And I’m almost always disappointed. And Bendis and Fraction and the big boys are gonna sell books no matter if I get suckered into the single issue scam or not. 

    I mean, four bucks for, like, 10 minutes MAX of entertainment? And then the very real possibility of it sucking as much as Fallen Sun??  I get much more bang for my buck from a pack of cigarettes or a beer.  

    Much like gasoline in 2007, $4 is the tipping point at which I say, "Screw It. I’m out." Single issues have become a horrible pyramid scheme devoted to screwing everybody except Diamond. 

    The exception here is Creator-Owned. So maybe I should keep buying issues from Avatar & Image? But they’re always gonna do trades. They have to sell in as many formats as possible to make any money at all. And Godland has kept chugging merrily along despite the fact that I only get it in trades.

     

    Seriously, if I’m way off-base here, I’d love to have someone explain it to me. 

     

     

     

  89. I get more than 10 minutes out of a book. At least 45 minutes. I don’t buy many book so I read them a lot more cause it’s fun.

  90. @opensourcecode:

    I will not be a hypocrite and say upfront that I pirate comics, a lot. I have no legal way to buy them. I know its not an excuse, but that’s a whole other discussion.

     

    The problem with your "minutes of enjoyment" argument is that, entertainment is not measured in time. Example, Daytripper #5 and Invincible Returns cost the same amount. The former took me 15 minutes to read, and the latter took me an hour, give or take. The former was a brilliant portrayal of childhood and family, almost moved me to tears. The latter was a badly written mess, filled with useless exposition, for the benefit of new readers that had no bearing on the story. 

  91. I will not pay 3.99$ for comics. I just won’t. Voting with my wallet. That is a ridiculous price for 22 pages of story. My marvel consumption has fallen from 20ish titles to one in the last 3 years, looks like my DC consumption is about to do the same.

    Makes me sad, I’ve been buying comics for 25+ years and I love them, but they are pricing me out of the market.

    Oh well.