When “Too Expensive” Becomes “Worth It”

privatehallwayI’m missing out.

I know I am. I’m totally and utterly missing out and it’s completely and utterly and totally my fault.

As you may recall, I’ve been on a fairly consistent tear regarding Marvel Comics and how they price their books. Now, I recognize that there are a lot of you who probably don’t feel the same way as I do, so I’ve actually not written about it more often than not!

Basically, I think Marvel’s pricing for digital comics is absurd and insulting to comic book fans and I have actually just stopped buying Marvel books for the most part, aside from Hawkeye and Daredevil, which are just too good and defy any kind of petulance on my part. But what’s interesting is that even though I know there are other Marvel books that are just as good, I’m just dealing with it, and, for the most part, I am satisfied with my decision—which only gets easier when I decide to look back into the Marvel app to see what titles look good and see that the books I am interested in are still basically $4. For a 22 page comic book. From February.

What’s funny, though, is that I literally just bought the latest issue of Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin’s The Private Eye for $5. I could have spent $1. I could have spent half that—it’s pay as you want, after all.

But here I am, paying five bucks for this PDF file after complaining about spending $4 for a comic book that, has, you know, Guided View.

The budgetary calculations are, of course, simple: I don’t buy 5 Marvel books and I buy this one issue, so I still come out ahead. But it’s not just that.

My relationship with comics is not unlike my relationships with other people. The more you get to know people, the more you understand the boundaries of your relationship with them. After a few years, even if they tend to frustrate and irritate you, at least you understand that aspect of their personality and you just accept it and you either continue to include the person in your life or you just move on. Despite my previous rantings, I honestly don’t care anymore about Marvel’s pricing. When I hear how good their books are these days, I am really happy to hear it — their fans deserve great stories, regardless of price. Did I still get rankled when I heard they killed off Miles’ mom? Damn straight — but that’s Marvel; this is what they do. It’s like that story with the scorpion and the turtle — dude, it’s a scorpion, that’s what they do.

Do I miss Marvel characters? Kinda, but let’s face it —I know them. I grew up with them.


And though I do feel a bit left out when I hear people talking about the stories, I don’t feel sad about it. It’s like hearing that the ex-girlfriend who dumped you years ago is pregnant with her first kid. You’re happy for her and wish her well. And look at your life and realize, “I’m just fine.”

Enter books like The Private Eye. And Saga.  And the various trades I have been reading. I look at something like Eye and I see a chance to directly support two important comic book creators. Like, from my bank account to theirs, with a note thanking them for their hard work and incredible talent.

We’ve seen this expectation of participating with the creators of a particular piece of content growing, of course. Bands have been doing this for years, and services like Twitter and tumblr have helped fans get that echo of a personal relationship with actors and writers that is legitimately fulfilling. Despite not reading any of his books, I quite like how Brian Michael Bendis interacts with his fans on tumblr, and Neil Gaiman’s candid replies to various questions make me wish I had these technologies when I was in school and coming up as an actor. In a very interesting way, having these conversations, or even just witnessing Twitter interactions are grounding the content industry and taken away the veil of mystery and exclusivity, resulting in a rather honest environment in which to be a fan. I think fans these days have the opportunity to really understand the life of the creative professional in ways that just would never have been possible before. When a fan sees a new book or album or movie released by someone they admire, they have a much better idea of just what it took to get the content to them, there’s a more vibrant sense of value associated with the piece.

daredevil laundryThis is the kind of relationship I have with my comics now. I don’t need a stack of comics anymore, I just need a few good issues to bring with me on a weekend trip. A trade to look forward to reading before I go to bed. This is not to say I need to have a personal letter from Marcos Martin or a text message from Chris Pine to encourage me to buy their book or see their movie — but I do appreciate the feeling that I get when dealing primarily with the creator, which is one of the best aspects of going to comic book conventions, right? When I get a chance to buy a book from its writer and get her to sign it? That’s a moment, that’s a really great moment.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been doing the same thing with music, of course, with the most recent My Bloody Valentine album and even Bleached’s latest release, which I bought despite the fact that Jen and Jess are my sisters-in-law and I probably could have gotten it for free. Same thing with the Wool series by Hugh Howey, which I bought digitally because no one would actually print the books in the first place. I’d much rather buy these albums and books directly from the people who made them. I expect the same thing to happen with video games and movies as bandwidth improves.

This model is obviously not for everyone, thankfully. There should always be places where people can discover creators in the first place — the role of the bookstore or the comic book shop is, and hopefully will always be, vital, important and necessary.  They help us begin these very important relationships and the best outfits help support those relationships with signings and showcases and discussions that cultivate community around the stories, authors and creators we love. I was just at Secret Headquarters last week and I had a blast flipping through the books and seeing these great stories in print (which I love, I just can’t deal with the associated real estate! The location could be better if they build a new play with theplancollection.), and yes, I bought some comics: the first two issues of Hickman and Dragotta’s East of West by Image Comics.

I did flip through a few Marvel books and yes, I did feel a tinge of regret and loss — but that’s okay, it just means that I value my history with Marvel and their characters and loved that part of my life. I may go back someday, but for where I am right now? I am very happy to miss out on all the many issues of epic-epicness week to week if it means I can get a single issue The Private Eye every so often.  Times change, people change, and so far–so good.


Mike Romo is an actor in Los Angeles. He’s really excited about the upcoming Star Trek movie. Email/twitter/facebook




  1. About 2 years ago I went all digital. I’d gotten tired of collecting and the long boxes just got in the way more than anything. Like you though I quickly became unhappy with Marvel’s pricing strategy. DC I give credit for dropping the price a month later.

    Recently though I’ve stumbled along Marvel Unlimited. For a 3rd of what I was spending on comics I get “unlimited” access to all their online content. Not every run in complete, but I’m catching up on modern classics that I missed. The gripe is their six months behind the stores, but last night I read Thor: God of Thunder #1, Fantastic Four #1, All New X-men #1 and Avengers Assemble #9, and realised I’m happy to wait six months, to save money for Marvel books. In between new releases I’m reading Fraction’s Ironman and Bendis’ Avengers.

    Like you, Private Eye bucks the system. I pay £5 – I’ll pay for quality, and BKV has never led me wrong, Beautiful art too. I give them a little extra to ensure the book can continue.

    • I signed up for Marvel Unlimited recently as well. It’s a heck of a deal and will probably get me off monthly stuff from Marvel. My hope is that DC does something similar.

    • I’d love an Image one, but Im guessing that would be a legal nightmare for creators. A DC one would be great too.

      Anything I love I’m gonna get as a trade with the money I’m saving.

  2. I also only read Daredevil and Hawkeye from Marvel. 2 outstanding books that have DC’s prices and usually only come out once a month like DC books. I do read other Marvel titles but I wait for the trades since I can get them 40% off the cover price. I don’t mind waiting.

  3. I still prefer physical books to digital, but, I agree that we make value decisions when we buy. Currently, the only $4 Marvel book I buy regularly is Guardians. Do I wish I was seeing if Thor lived up to all the hype? Yes. Do I feel left out of conversations? Yeah, but, honestly, I’m never going to keep up with everything anyway. I believe strongly that Marvel should not be charging me one more dollar for the same amount of content simply because they can. Yes, it’s a business, but, part of any business model is promoting customer loyalty, and here, for me at least, they aren’t earning it.

    But, yes, I don’t mind at all paying more for an independent comic. Independent comics have always cost more, or at least, since I started buying them in the 90s. They have different budgetary needs. Plus, these days, paying a little extra for an independent title often means more for the creators. That extra 50 cents, dollar, whatever for an Image book is worth it to support creator owned publications.

    As I said, we all make our choices, based on our own preferences . . .

  4. Shouldn’t that story be the Scorpion and the Frog? But I get what you’re saying anyway, I hopped ASM when Brand New Day was still a thing and it came out 3 times month. Now I’ve pretty much let Marvel go except for buying the last 6 issues of Thunderbolts, after Way leaves I think I’ll stop and just save some money. I’ve let go of a lot of series that were too expensive and just not good reading anymore (Doctor Who, Green Hornet, USM, the Ulimates 3) and now I think I’m happy in that regard. Actually right now I feel that there’s really nothing for me at Marvel, what I want is somewhere else.

  5. Publishers and creators aren’t really competing for my money. They’re competing for my time and attention, which is more valuable. I don’t have a whole lot of free time these days, so there is A LOT of entertainment competing for my eyeballs. I need something interesting, original and a good value if i’m going to budget time and money to read a comic or (watch a show) or anything else for that matter.

    I love what BKV and Martin are doing with Private Eye. I’d much rather support a fresh new approach like that done in an interesting way rather than go after something predictable.

    • I totally agree. I have the budget for far more comics, movies, TV shows, etc. than I have time for. I’ve found that just within the past couple years, with hundreds of TV channels, internet video shows, big budget and indie movies both booming, TV being in its renaissance, etc., I don’t have time for “mediocre” or even “sort of good” anymore. I see a 3 star rating on Netflix, and I really have to ask myself if I even want to watch that movie. I watch a TV show for 3 episodes and it’s still just “OK”, I stop watching. Same thing with comics, especially now with digital, since I don’t need to pre-order a comic 2 months ahead, and can stop reading a book at any time. If a story starts losing my interest, I immediately drop the book until the creative team changes, or the plot gets out of the territory that I dislike.

  6. I have been buying a lot of the $3.99 books from Marvel and trading off the digital codes online. I buy Avengers, trade the code for a Captain America code and get a 2 for 1 in the process.

  7. I’m still too cheap to pay digital prices, even when DC drops the price after a month. I feel like at some point digital prices should drop to at or lower than trade prices, and that seldom happens. So I jump on a .99 sale. iFanboy constantly tempts me by reviewing current stuff, but my thrift outweighs my curiosity. Plus I was away from comics for a while, and in that time some great stuff came out, so I can often grab old stuff at decent prices while waiting for newer stuff to go on sale. Then Marvel released the Unlimited app for the iPad. I figured even waiting for .99 sales, I was already giving them that much money. So now I’m not waiting for prices to drop. I’m just waiting for it to show up in Unlimited.
    But even though my sweet spot is .99, I paid more for Private Eye. They are finally doing what I wanted digital comics to do from the beginning: Give me an actual file for my money that I can read where ever I want on whatever I want.
    Comixology gives you the illusion of buying something, and Marvel charges you as if you were buying something, but in the end it’s no more ownership than Marvel Unlimited, just more expensive.
    Marvel Unlimited has been great for getting me my Marvel fix and horrible for every other publisher. My backlog of books to read is now so huge that even those .99 sales feel like I’m just throwing money away on something I may never get around to reading. And I’ll get to Hawkeye, and to Daredevil. I just need to finish with Runaways and Journey Into Mystery, and some old Spider-Man runs I’d like to read, and that Simonson Thor stuff, and the Hickman FF stuff, and on and on. If DC would do the same thing, I would probably jump on that, too. Then I’d no longer feel like I’m missing out on anything from the Big Two because it would all show up eventually. Then it’s just the Other Guys, which still accounts for about half of my reading, so I guess I won’t break out of my digital purchasing habit any time soon. But with a couple of subscription services, there’s no chance of running out of stuff to read while I wait for sales.

  8. It is all about entertainment value. Do you value book “x” at price “y”? If so get it. If not, then wait for the issues to hit the ebay back market, a con, or borrow from a friend. Saga, Fatale & GI. JOE, GI JOE SPECIAL MISSIONS are worth the extra cost. Even some DC/Marvel books are worth the extra cost. However, I buy less titles to balance it out or wait for tpb/HC. You as the reader have to make a decision is this book work it & go w/ it.


  9. The weird things about digital I’ve noticed are that one for some reason when I buy digital if I don’t read it right then I will usually forget I have it, out of site out of mind I guess. Like the 100 free issues deal, I’ve yet to read any of the books I picked up.

    Other issue is conventions, if all my stuff is digital I have nothing for the creators to sign and use as an excuse to have a short conversations with them. It was funny because my wife was one who brought this up when first got the ipad. “Now what are we going to on the first day of Heroescon?”

  10. Marvel has driven me away with their prices from around 2006 or 07, leaving me to pick up like maybe 1- 3 books in a year and maybe a trade or 2, the last Marvel comic I bought was in 2010 and being more of a DC fan I live with it.
    I still love the characters and will pick up some books (trades mostly) one of these days but for now I follow Marvel on the internet sites, seems they’re doing ok by my account.

  11. We’re a lot alike in our buying habits…. Right now, I’m buying ONE Marvel comic at full price (and a $3.99 one at that): Ultimate Spider-Man.

    Otherwise, I just wait, usually for the inevitable Marvel $0.99 sales on Comixology for the rest of my Marvel purchases. Like you, I feel like I pretty much know these characters already, so I don’t feel like I’m really missing out on some ground-breaking story that I can’t pick up on sale a year or three down the road. I’m even kind of drifting away from a lot of my DC books, even though I was perfectly happy to pick them up after their $1 price drop just last year. The New 52 hasn’t been a compelling enough change for most of the characters where I feel compelled to keep up with their adventures month in and month out.