Price Points and Tipping Points

This is old news for those of you following the comics blogosphere, but individual comic books are now more commonly priced at $3.99 versus the $2.99 cover price we have grown accustomed to over the last several years. In other words, bummer.

I'm feeling the pinch more than ever, and not just because of the economic downturn. Two things are putting my comic book budget under scrutiny: the first one being that as successful as I have been to convince my pals to read comics in trade paperback form, I still see the same expression cross their faces when I suggest they pick up an individual issue at cover price. It's a combination of "Are you for real?" and "Umm....Why?" That is, except when I hand them one of the increasingly popular $1 first issues. Everyone's doing it! I'm pretty sure Vertigo started the trend, and now every major publisher is jumping on board. I've even seen some stores setting up a $1 issue rack to entice readers, often cleverly set near the register next to other impulse buys like Nintendo themed candies and Garbage Pail Kid stickers. I can say with certainty that this plan is working. But what it is working toward is debatable. Obviously putting out the first issue of Watchmen for $1 is a great advertisement for the trade paperback but it's hard to imagine this is meant to get new readers interested in buying individual issues. The only instance where this really works in getting "new" readers is with the Vertigo line where virtually every recent new book has had a $1 first issue. I have picked up more than a few of these myself when I would have otherwise overlooked the new title (Vertigo's Sweet Tooth comes to mind).

In short, this gimmick successfully gets people to buy things they wouldn't normally get. It is great for jaded readers looking at their increased comic book costs, and it gets the inexperienced readers interested in essential books from the last 20 years, along with more recent hot properties like The Walking Dead and Old Man Logan. But it doesn't get those new readers thinking, "Better come back next month to get the next issue!" Because they don't have to. They can make their way over to the trade paperback section, and at a leisurely pace since those books aren't going anywhere. The idea of coming into a shop for a monthly title is still a foreign concept for many trade paperback readers, and with most of these $1 issues introducing completed or long running titles, the $1 issue does little to guarantee a monthly visit.

Back to what makes my palms sweaty as I reach for my wallet to pay for my pull list. The second hard-hitting reality is that there are a lot of good comics coming out. The often contagious pessimism amongst comic book fans can overshadow what is in actuality one of the most diverse times in recent memory. Sure, it's fun to rag on the recent mediocre big name books like Siege or Final Crisis, but for every underwhelming event comic there's something else a few shelves down worth checking out. I may not like what Marvel has done with the Avengers post-Civil War, but I sure do like what Marjorie Liu is doing with the new Black Widow ongoing. There are so many good books coming out, ones I hear nothing but rave reviews, such as Grant Morrison's Joe the Barbarian, that I simply can't afford to check them all out. Ashamed as I am to admit it, I'll even avoid picking them up so I won't have to add another title to my already bloated pull list. I'd have to drop half of my titles to justify taking on these raved-about books.

I think problem one and problem two have a shared solution. What if most, if not all first issues were $1? Can you imagine? I'd try so many more titles if this were the case. And I'd probably buy one for a friend, too, with the hope that they might like it enough to come back next month. I can't really argue that all comics be $1, as this would hardly leave room for much profit for publishers and stores alike. But I think all of this talk about digital comics bringing younger fans into the medium is absolutely  ridiculous, totally bonkers, and foolhardy! To expect such a passive outlet to become the savior of comic books is just idiotic. Let me spell it out for you, publishers: There is nothing easy about being a new reader. You don't know where to start, it's a pricey hobby for outsiders, and offering an online store for your books doesn't cater to inexperienced readers needs or interests. Say you were living in a cave forever, and you knew nothing of modern music (but you know about the internet, bare with me). You were told that iTunes was the most popular outlet to purchase music. You go to this "store", see a top ten and decide this would be a good place to start. You pay for, and then listen to, the most popular song that week, which happens to be "California Gurls" by Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg. You promptly move back into your cave.

This is even assuming that an online outlet for selling comic books would ever reach the same prominence of online music vendors (pardon me while I loudly guffaw). Since most people walking the street do in fact live in a cave when it comes to comic books, I think hoping that digital comics become the outlet of the future for new readers is a lot like throwing your apple core into the backyard and praying that you'll be harvesting apples next season. But you know, with a robot throwing the apple core. It's late, I'm mixing metaphors. Until digital comics prove me wrong and get comic books into the hands of new readers, young and old, I'll continue my crusade to harvest new nerds by doing what I've been doing for years: giving shit away. Letting my friends treat my collection as their own, and hope that one day, waiting for that next Walking Dead trade will be too long a wait and they will venture into the scary comic book store all by themselves.