Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Books in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week Bennett turns the world upside down and argues that the standard 32-page comic format should be 86'd:
Luckily before I started work on this month's column I came across last Friday's 'Joe Fridays' feature from the Newsarama website where Marvel Editor in Chief Quesada answers e-mailed questions. There he sounded off on the subject of the rising cost of comic books:
Let's see, a gallon of gas or a comic? Look, there's no question it sucks, but this is the world we live in, welcome to America 2005, this has in particular been a very bad year.
After forty years of increasing prices, get used to it folks, barring any major miracles, I don't think you're going to see the price of comics come down, ever. They will continue to get more and more expensive, like everything else in the world. From your haircut to your lunch to your subscriptions to porn websites. Get your complaining out of the way now, folks, someday comics will be $4, someday they'll reach $5 and issue. Let's make a prediction, in the year 2020, comics will be $10 an issue! Then again you'll be able to read them on your phone for 12 cents.
But of course, Joe's absolutely right; the price of comic books are only going up. And they should go up because (and I can almost hear the screaming from here) comic books should cost $4-5.
Marvel and DC; don't wait for the next time you're forced to raise the cover price because of externals (paper costs, printing, etc.) do it now, during one of our all too brief periodic booms. While you've still got a chance, drag us out of the current toxic status quo that's created a perpetually dwindling readership. Actually deal with the underlying causes for it (distribution system, format, contents) and experiment with formats and material designed to attract a large, more mainstream audience.
But first you've got to do Job #1: eighty-six the pamphlet.
Yes, yes, we all have a tremendous sentimental attachment to the format we grew up with and while this change isn't going to happen overnight, change is coming and we'd all better get used to the idea. And while its perfectly reasonable to fear change, now isn't the time to fall back on platitudes like 'better the devil you know' and 'if it's not broke, don't fix it.' Because a more apt one would be 'it's later than you think'.
Only a few years ago TV Guide was the best selling magazine in America, but thanks to cable/satellite program grids and Internet television listings, it's been made all but obsolete. To survive, next month it will reinvent itself as a 'full-size, full-color' glossy focusing on the lifestyles of TV celebrities.
Don't kid yourselves; the comic book is already in the process of reinventing itself. We like to crow when there's a meager 2-3% increase in sales, but check out these numbers and see if you can't perceive which direction the comic book industry should be taking:
Disney Adventure Comic Zone 1.25 million copies 96 pgs. $3.99
Shonen Jump 177,000 copies 280-320 pgs. $4.95
Batman 66,000 copies 32 pags. $2.50
Prices have to go up so publishers can provide more content so the comics can attract more readers. Or, we can wait until the next comic book boom; but then Batman should be selling around 30,000 copies. Sadly, Marvel/DC are unlikely to make any changes until it's absolutely necessary (i.e., almost too late), because the truth is if they're still making money, there's no (forgive me) crisis.
Next Time: The Shape of the Comic Book to Come