Trouble with Comics

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response

Marvel and DC Comics have announced that they are reducing the price of many of their titles from $3.99 to $2.99. I asked a number of comics retailers for their thoughts on the change, set to take effect in January of 2011, and the first to respond was Robert Scott, the owner of Comickaze in San Diego, California (read my 2008 interview with Robert, also on the subject of comics retailing).

How will the price change affect your store?

I doubt it will have much effect on Comickaze.  We buy based on confidence in the quality of the product and the demand exhibited by our customers.  Most price objections we’ve heard are not really “price” objections, they are “value” objections and $3.99 became the straw that broke the camel’s back.  All publishers would do well to look at what they are delivering and increasing the value of the package in order to grow readership, rather than reaching deeper into the pockets of their fans to prop up their failing sell-through numbers. 

How do you think the change in pricing will affect the buying habits of your customers?

It’s possible that at $2.99 our customers may be willing to take chances with new series again; I doubt they will return to dropped series over this. If a customer dropped a book that went to $3.99, it was more likely it was dropped because they were no longer satisfied by it and now that the momentum of buying a series has been broken, they’re gone.  In other words, crap will not sell better at $2.99 than it did at $3.99, so if the only actual change here is price, I don’t expect a rush back to dropped titles.

What changes do you think this move is likely to result in for the direct market?

None.  This industry has never been really good at connecting cause and effect and I don’t see that changing now. And while I applaud DC for finally addressing consumer and retailer pricing concerns, I fear this may be more akin to closing the barn door after the horses got out.   And for the record I’m far more concerned over their mismanagement and closure of the Wildstorm imprint/brand and rumors that Vertigo is next and DC’s (and Marvel’s) resistance to marketing beyond the current DM customer and what this means to DM retailers continued ability to reach out to new customers who may not have realized that comics were much more than funny animals and superheroes.

My thanks to Robert for taking the time to share his thoughts on Marvel and DC’s pricing changes. We’ll have more on this subject in the days ahead.

— Alan David Doane