We got a quick response to Ilan Strasser's comments on Marvel's book pricing yesterday. Tricia Hovorka, President of TalesofWonder.com, an Internet-only retailer based in Tampa, Florida, has opinions diametrically opposed to Strasser's--she feels that Marvel's pricing represents a reasonable strategy and good value. Here's what she said:
I am writing in reaction to the letter from Ilan Strasser of Fat Moose Comics and his thoughts on Marvel's hardcover line. I disagree entirely with Ilan's points. First, a little about us and my perspective. TalesOfWonder.com is a graphic novel only retailer. We do not sell comics; we sell only trade paperbacks and hardcovers. So, we are a bit different from the typical comics retailer. We viewed the announcement of the hardcover line as a huge positive both for ourselves as a retailer and for consumers.
Ilan asks 'Anybody else see a problem here??' in regards to the pricing differences of the first three hardcover offerings by Marvel. My answer to that is No. A few points should be made. First, all of the hardcovers are reasonably priced when compared to other hardcovers in the market. What's the most successful hardcover line in the comic business these days? DC Archives. Retail price is $49.95. The just released World's Finest Archives V #2 has 216 pages. That is the same page count as The Complete Frank Miller Spiderman and just 8 pages longer than Origin. Yet, it is 67% and 43% more expensive than the Spiderman and Origin hardcovers, respectively (retailer discounts are lower than the Marvel books as well). Clearly, the new Marvel hardcovers are not priced above the current market. So, the argument then may be 'well the World's Finest comics are rarer and would cost more to purchase on the secondary market.' This is pricing relative to demand that Ilan takes issue with in his letter. (If you want to argue that the older comics have higher production costs because it is more difficult to get clean material to reprint, don't. The New Teen Titans Archives is also $49.95.) The second point is that price disparities by page count are not unusual. Compare Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes HC at 240 pages and $29.95 cover price to Sandman Dream Country HC at 160 pages and $29.95 cover price.
What's so wrong with pricing relative to demand anyway? It's smart business and not 'market manipulation at its worst.' It's yield management. Airlines do it. Hotels do it. Cruise lines do it. Utilities do it. And, yes, comic retailers do it. Show me one retailer anywhere in the world who is selling Origin #1 for cover price. If charging $30+ for a $3 cover price comic is not pricing relative to demand, I don't know what is. A quick look on eBay shows that a consumer is likely to pay more for Origin #1 than the cost of the Origin Hardcover. This brings me to my next point. Marvel is providing a good value. Consumers can purchase the entire series, in a higher quality format, for less money than the original issues. In case anyone is wondering, there is a market for high quality reprints. Origin Hardcover will sell and it will sell in big numbers (for us anyway). If a consumer does not want to buy the hardcover, wait 6-9 months and a softcover will likely be available.
In his closing paragraph, Ilan tosses out a line suggesting Marvel is over-saturating the market with trade paperbacks. As a retailer that sells only trade paperbacks and similar products, I can say we firmly believe the opposite. Marvel's increased TPB output has been great. The quality of material that is being reprinted is solid. They have been quick to reprint popular current series (Amazing Spiderman, Ultimate Spiderman, Ultimate X-men) as well as quality older issues (Marvel Masterworks, Marvel Essentials, the upcoming classic Avengers/Defenders battle). DC had dominated our sales because of the output of trades and hardcovers. Marvel is now easily our biggest seller. I expect the hardcover line will only increase that advantage.
Is Marvel without flaws? No. But, a relatively small pricing disparity between a couple of books is not one of them. They are reasonably priced in the context of the comic market. Look a little closer and you will see that Marvel has the best values on the market when it comes to hardcover reprint volumes. Check out Thor 83-100 for $35 and Spiderman #1-10 for $35. Grab 'em quick, because when Marvel goes back to press on these, they will follow DC's lead and up the price to $49.95. As it used to be so common to say in the past 'Make Mine Marvel!'