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Trouble with Comics

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #6

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. The following thoughts are from Jevon Kasitch of Electric City Comics in Schenectady, NY.

How will the price change affect your store?

I don’t think the change will have much direct effect on Electric City. People seem to have budgets, and spend X dollars per week, and add and drop titles to fit that amount. As prices went up they shaved books they enjoyed less and kept shaving until the budget worked. If prices go down, we’ll see the same dollars just spread across more piece sales. A zero sum game in general.

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

As I said, I think folks will re-add some titles to fill in the slack in their budgets. This means they may sample more, and be more inclined to try a mini-series if it looks interesting. We found that $3.99 was over the “wow, that costs a bit much” mental line that people had, and sales often were stopped by that voice in their head. Overall I think it will make it a bit easier to sell a book to someone.

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

For the market as a whole it should bring piece sales up, which given the dismal numbers we’ve been seeing would be a plus. Having a larger number of viable titles makes for more room for that surprise hit to pop out from. For that new writer to be heard, etc. Over all I feel it’s a healthy move for the direct market.

A healthier move would be for both Marvel and DC to chill out on the number of titles published per month and cut line-size down to more manageable numbers. Fewer books of high quality would be welcome. A lot of what’s being shoveled out the door every month is crap, and the customers know it. And they avoid it… And by extension they are super wary of all new projects. But this is a digression from your topic.

Thanks to Jevon for taking the time to respond to my questions.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #5

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. The following thoughts are from Christopher Butcher of The Beguiling in Toronto, Ontario.

In addition to what Peter Birkmoe offered, I’d say I’m probably going to increase our order numbers by 10%-20% across the board on DC’s ongoing series at the new price points, at least for the first two issues. I am anticipating a good measure of interest and curiosity in the price drop, but it’s really going to come down to the quality of the work to see if that consumer interest is maintained down the road.

It’s also interesting to note that the price drop is coming in January, historically the slowest month of the year for sales. I imagine that some retailers are going to see a combination of lower sales during that month, and a lower per-unit profit. Not a good match.

Thanks to Christopher Butcher for taking the time to talk with Trouble with Comics about this issue.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #4

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. The following thoughts are from J.C. Glindmyer, owner of Earthworld Comics in Albany, New York.

How will the price change affect your store?

There may be less resistance by customers in trying a new title or storyline.  Most customers are on a budget for their comics, and with $3.99 comics, now more than ever, people have been forced to choose titles to cut. There’s a big difference for the customer coming in with ten dollars and walking out with three comics instead of walking out with two comics. We need readers and we need to keep the price accessible.

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

Despite the content, a $3.99 book is nobody’s favorite.  I suspect the price drop is a move by the publishers trying to stave off a jumping off point for readers and to continue life support for the 32-page pamphlets, floppies, singles or whatever we’re calling monthly comics now.

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

With all the talk of digital download, I see it as a move by Marvel and DC for commitment to the single issue format, with the hopes that it still has some life left in her.  Hopefully it will entice readers to try other titles and possibly preventing some from quitting from the hobby. With the money the big two make from movies and merchandising, they can probably afford the performance of single comics to be almost a loss leader.

Any other thoughts on the price change?

Although the price is dropping on most books, there is one fact that seems to be glossed over. With the price reduction, there is also a reduction of story pages. Two less story pages don’t seem to matter much to the people I’ve talked to in my store, they all said that it seemed to be a fair trade to pay a $1 less.

I’m also sure that publishers are now noticing that retailers are ordering much less product from them.  Sales on all comics are down and the smell of the ’90s crash is lingering in the air, so it makes sense for the publishers to make a move such as this. Now all they have to do is reign it in on some of the titles being released now.  I mean, how many Batman, Thor, X-Men, and Deadpool books do we need in one month anyhow?

Thanks to J.C. Glindmyer for taking the time to address questions on the impending price changes.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #3

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. The following thoughts are from Peter Birkmoe of The Beguiling in Toronto, Ontario. Peter told me that the store’s Christopher Butcher may have more to say on the issue, but he is at the New York City Comicon this weekend, and so he was not immediately available for comment.

Peter, what impact do you think the announced price changes will have on your store?

Of all the price changes we have seen in all formats, I can’t say that I feel this one will have that significant a short term impact.  It will definitely help take some of the pressure of the general sense that the $3.99 single issue is an overpriced item for a fleeting and fractured unit of entertainment.

When sales change for us drastically on a title, it can almost always be attributed to content/creative team.  A change across the board on the pricing of a publisher becomes much more diffuse in its effect on numbers.  In our local market, this year has seen a number of other shops in Toronto close leading to an influx of new customers, and further uncertainty in our numbers.

Thanks to Peter Birkmoe for taking the time to talk with Trouble with Comics about this issue. More retailer responses as they come in.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #2

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. The following thoughts are from John Belskis, owner of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, New York and organizer of the Albany Comic Con (an advertiser on this site, it should be noted.)

As a small retailer, I unfortunately don’t see a price change as being enough to bring new customers in.  It will result in more smaller retailers having a difficult time making the dollar amount to qualify for the 50 % discount necessary for a retailer to bother carrying more DC comics. With no middle tier on the discount structure, it’s easier for smaller retailers to opt to find other products (IDW or Dark Horse, even Image) with a higher available discount than to bother carrying any excess DC comics, no matter what the price point may be. I see this as a loss for everyone, as larger retailers may order more DC, but rack sales being what they are, they will be bound for the dollar bin. If they keep their order the same, they lose money. Small retailers, who already are having trouble making the minimum order, will move to other product. It once again speaks to me as DC’s plan to be able to charge the retailer (who they consider the true end user) a premium, by way of manipulating the discount structure, and keeping the smaller retailer, who has to carry a certain amount of DC comics to keep his clientele happy, paying more for those comics. A 35% discount is an insult to a retailer, and can be achieved by anyone without a wholesale account being necessary. This may look good to retail customers, but in the end may well hurt retailers again.

How will the price change affect your store?

I will still order only what I will absolutely sell through, so I will in fact make less on DC comics.

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

I don’t think enough people will take a chance on titles they don’t already collect or consider buying. Add on sales have been decreasing every quarter for almost 2 years, and I don’t think that will change. Customers will be happy to pay less for what they already buy, however.

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

Without the support of a middle tier in the discount structure, the direct market will either pay more for DC comics, or make less money with what they already can sell. I don’t see this price change as being significant enough to help direct market retailers, and may in the end hurt them.

Thanks to John Belskis for his response. More retailer responses as they come in.

— Alan David Doane
                                                           

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