Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The High Cost of Being a Comics Fanboy

"There are two types of comic book fans: pencil-necked geeks and fat fanboys. The pencil-necked geeks spend all of their money on comic books; the fat fanboys spend most of their money on comic books and the rest on Cheez Doodles."

One of the topics I touched upon briefly during my talk at Hofstra last week was the high price of comic books these days. I pointed out that one thing that was rising as quickly as the cost of a college education was that of collecting comic books.

With a number of their books selling for $3.99 each these days and sales of some in the mid four digits, DC and Marvel recently announced that they were cutting prices to $2.99 (with a corresponding reduction in the number of story pages). DC will be releasing 56 comic books in December and it will cost $192.44 to buy all of them; in January, they will also release 56 books, at a cost of $171.44. Ninety-three Marvel comics in December will cost $353.07; in January they'll have only 75 books, with a total cost of $273.25. The grand total for every DC and Marvel comic for the two month-period: $990.20!

Jump into the time machine to the same period in 1960 (when comic books all cost a dime) and you'll find that DC released 28 titles in each of the two months while Marvel -- which was still technically Atlas Comics at the time -- had eleven titles in December and nine in January. The cost of buying all 76 of those books: $7.60, roughly the price of two and a half present-day books.

Okay, I'm playing a little fast and loose with the numbers and ignoring inflation, so let's tighten the look a bit. Fifty-six DC comics in 1960/61 cost a total of $5.60. That same number of books in December 2010 will cost $192.44, more than 34 times the cost half a century ago. With the reduced price in January, the fifty-six are only 30 times more!

Back in 1960, at the very beginning of my comics-collecting, my allowance was 25c a week. If I spent all of it on comics, I could get ten books a month. More likely, however, I was buying six or seven and spending the rest of the money on candy bars or baseball cards. Ten comic books today would cost between $30 and $40, but how many nine-year-olds get an allowance between $7.50 and $10 a week to enable them to make such a purchase? Is it any wonder that sales have dwindled to abysmal numbers?

And I'm not even mentioning all the hardcover and trade paperback reprint collections DC and Marvel publish every month. With those prices ranging from $10 to upwards of $75, the cost of buying everything would easily outpace the monthly rent or mortgage many people pay.

Were I a nine-year-old today, would I become a comics fan? Like most of today's potential new readers who can't afford the habit, I'd have to say, "Probably not."


  1. Instead of cutting back on pages, I wish they'd go back to using newsprint. Sure, it deteriorates faster than coated paper, but diehard collectors will find a way to preserve their comics even if they're printed on liverwurst, and lower prices would make comics attractive to casual readers again. At least, I assume so. How much would a comic book printed on newsprint cost today?

    But that would be only the first step. The next is to convince editors, writers, and artists to produce content that's accessible to casual readers, as well.

  2. What's the source of your opening quotation? Some Kevin Smith movie?

  3. The quote is from a former fanboy turned comics publishing exec.

  4. I have no idea what the current cost of printing comics on newsprint would be, but it has to be less than the coated paper they are using. As I recall, there were problems for the offset pressess with the "traditional" newsprint that was used on the old letterpresses. but we came up with some alternatives that were still quite economical.

  5. "The quote is from a former fanboy turned comics publishing exec."

    Isn't it wonderful to know that a company has respect for its customers?

  6. Well, the cost of comic books is skyrocketing, but at least the content is boring, mundane, and has to have zombies or mutants.

    I mean, c'mon man! It's as if DC and Marvel aren't even TRYING anymore! Gimmick after gimmick after gimmick? Are there really any books that are based on good writing, good art, and consistent quality? Some of the indy's, yes, but the big two? A big bomb.


  7. That newsprint idea has been advanced many times in recent years, well before the most recent price increases. People who know something about publishing costs have always said it wouldn't save enough to make much difference. The cost of the paper is a very small percentage of the total cost of publishing a comic. Doesn't change the net impact of high comic book prices, of course. You've written a good, concise, thought-provoking piece.

  8. FYI: This website has a chart showing the number of issues (and the number of pages) DC published each year since 1935, and how much it would have cost to buy it all.