In May, DC announced they’re raising the price of their DC Universe books (i.e. monthly or bi-weekly superhero stuff) to $3.99 a pop. Additionally, they said they’re pulling digital codes out of most books, negating some of their previous rationale for the $3.99 price point.
With most Marvel books also set at $3.99 (though still with digital codes), we’ve now entered the $4-a-book era.
And it’s too much. That’s too much money to pay for a Marvel or DC comic.
Discretionary income is just that, discretionary. Comics readers spend a lot of time thinking about how they’re going to spend their money, as well as what form of entertainment will provide the most bang for their buck. At this point, following Justice League for one month costs the same amount as watching Avengers: Infinity War on a Sunday afternoon. It costs as much as a month of Netflix. I am the absolute bullseye of the target audience for the new Justice League title, which promises to riff on the animated Justice League and DC Metal and Superfriends and also push everything somewhere new. If I owned a wheelhouse, this book would be living inside it, stealing food from my refrigerator each night.
But I’m not going to buy Justice League monthly, because it’s $3.99 an issue and it releases twice a month.
I buy other books at the $3.99 price point, mostly from Image. I give Image and other independent publishers’ books a pass on the $4-a-month price point because:
- Those books (mostly) don’t have ads.
- Their paper and production quality is incredibly high.
- They typically include more than 20 to 22 pages of content.
- They’re from an independent publisher.
A typical Marvel or DC book includes 20 to 22 pages of content and 10 pages of ads. Depending which company you’re buying from, the paper quality is fine to good. Usually, barring specials and #1s, the highest-selling DC book sells around 100,000 copies a month, the highest-selling Marvel book sells roughly 80,000 (though Amazing Spider-Man has been beating this number), and the highest-selling Image book (assuming you don’t count the extreme outliers that are Robert Kirkman and Mark Millar books) sells around 50,000.
So I give Image books a pass because the higher price point seems justified. The books are extremely high quality and sell less copies overall, meaning each copy needs to net more profit. They also release only once a month, so following each story is only a $4 monthly investment.
Marvel and DC’s propensity to release their more popular books (like Justice League) twice-a-month makes a ton of sense if you’re looking to increase your company’s net profits. But if you’re looking to hook new readers or convince lapsed readers to grab a relaunched book off the shelf, increasing the monthly price-per-story from $4 to $8 is off-putting. You could convince me to drop $4 a month for Justice League. I believe I’ll enjoy it as much or more than any other book I’m going to pick up. But $8 a month, even when I know I’m getting two issues of content, is a lot.
I typically spend $30 a month on comics. Asking me to throw roughly a third of that at Justice League leaves me with less money to spread around to other publishers and series. I’m not going to buy more comics as a result of Justice League shipping twice a month; I’m going to buy the same amount of books or less. That means something has to hit the chopping block if I’m going to grab both of each month’s issues of Justice League.
Don’t get me wrong: I want everyone who makes these books to get paid, and to get paid a reasonable amount. If Marvel and DC think pricing monthly or bi-weekly superhero comics at $3.99 is the best way to make sure everyone gets paid, maybe they’re right. But I know DC’s making one less sale on Justice League than they could have, due directly to the $3.99 price point and the decision to double-ship. I’m currently planning to wait for the trade (and likely waiting for the trade to go on sale) or grab the book when it arrives at my local library.
It’s that last thought that really drove me to write this piece. Big Two superhero books are one of the more notable on-ramps into comics. Publishers, especially DC, are releasing more and more kid-specific comics, but there’s still likely a world where a kid picks up the first collection of Justice League from the library, loves it, and convinces their mom or dad to take them down to the local comic shop to buy the next chapter. The next issue of Justice League is there, but it costs $3.99. Is that parent likely to buy that issue? Is the kid?
I don’t know, but it seems less likely than if the issue cost $2.99. If someone watches Deadpool 2 and hits up their comic shop for more ‘Pool and sees all five issues of You Are Deadpool sitting on the stands for a total of $20, are they going to pick those up or go watch Ryan Reynolds again? Me, knowing what Al Ewing and co. are bringing to that series, I’m going to buy the books. Your average consumer … I think it’s less certain.
If Big Two comics keep getting more expensive, less books are going to survive. If Justice League cost $2 less a month, I’d be able to pick it up and still afford an extra trade here and there or maybe an extra series, like one of DC’s New Age of Heroes books, every month. I want more and more comics to survive. I don’t think they will if the Big Two keeps “monthly” books at $3.99 or, even worse, continue to raise the price.