Asterisks: An Essay
8.24.2003 by , every Thursday.
It has been said that I own an awful lot of comic books. I guess that's true, when compared to most of the population, but then again, owning more than 20 of them will put you over the average. When I was in grade school, I was into comics as much as an 8 year old could be, but it wasn't so uncommon in my circle of friends for them to be interested in comics as well. I've often wondered what it was that made my friends lose interest in the adventures of Spider-man and Batman while I continued to read through them.
In high school, I had a few friends who collected comics. This was the early 90's, and there was a big boom in sales. I can understand what they saw in comics back then. It was a huge collector's market, and they were thrilled at the idea of spending a buck on a comic and selling it a few months later for ten or twenty. I had a friend who bought 20 issues of Spawn #1 when it came out. He made a killing, selling them later for twenty-five dollars a pop. Five hundred dollars is crazy money for a 14 year old. I never really considered myself a collector. I like the term “Comic Reader” to describe myself, as I think that more accurately portrays me, and I guess that I have always been a comic reader. I own a copy of Spawn #1, bought it off the rack way back when, and I've never really thought of selling it. It's in good condition, but I've actually *gasp* read it a few times.
A few years ago, Marvel president Bill Jemas initiated a program to nurture the collectors market in the comics community. Initiating changes such as print to order*, he hoped that the collectors would begin to buy more comics to sell for profit later on ebay. The whole idea of raising sales by appealing to collectors kind of rubs me the wrong way. Having the reader pay more money or be inconvenienced by the company in order to be their client, in my experience, is never a good thing. Imagine if to read this column that you would have to register with Tangmonkey.com, confirm your registration, enter a password and pay a monthly fee of 50 cents. It'd be a huge pain in the butt. I was less affected by the print to order policies as I did order my comics well in advance trough my retailer, but I still empathise with readers off the street. As well, I think it's easier for me to take getting burned for 3 bucks on a bad comic than if I'd paid 20 for one.
Increasing readership is also being looked at by some of the major publishers. Marvel, CrossGen, and TokyoPop comics have set up ways to sample their books online. CrossGen pioneered the idea of making issues available to read online with their “Comics On The Web” initiative, where you can read a few sample issues for free, and for a subscription fee, read hundreds of issues. CrossGen has also recently added voice actors and sound effects to the mix, making it an interesting read. Marvel's “Dot Comics” program released flash versions of comics free online, with a greater selection available with a free registration, but in the past few months, has scaled back the number of books available, as well as the number of pages per book online. TokyoPop has an extensive preview library on their web site, and with nearly 100 titles to choose from, 8 pages of each is pretty cool.
As I've mentioned in previous comics, CrossGen also had published a pair of anthology books titled “Forge” and “Edge”**, which reprinted their monthly titles at a reduced cost. Although they solicited these books up to issues 16, they were cancelled for reasons unknown after number 13.
DC comics has released 2 comics on sale for a dime a piece with their “10 Cent Adventure”s for both “Batman” and “Superman” titles. Both sold wonderfully. Marvel hopped on the band-wagon, and in a measure of one-upmanship, released issue #60 of the “Fantastic Four” at a price of 9 cents.*** CrossGen has just released this month “Sojourn” #25 at a special price of 1,00$, and features the fantastic art of Greg Land, who has been featured here as a “hot hand”.
In conclusion, I guess the point of this rambling rant is that, as a comic reader and supporter of the comic industry, I'm glad to see that some steps are being taken to help the industry, and even though I disagree with some of them, I'm pleased to see that action is being taken. As for you, you should go out and support you local comic retailer and buy a comic to read. You never know, you might just find yourself taking on a new addiction.
*Print to order policies differ from previous policies in that print run numbers are now made to fit exactly the number of books ordered by retailers. Before this initiative, Marvel executives would estimate the number of copies needed, usually overprinting the books and keeping them in stock to fill reorders. This was obviously more expensive for Marvel, as they had a warehouse full of unsold copies of books year after year.
This affected retailers and consumers as well, in that a sleeper hit would not be available for reorder. This made ordering more risky for retailers, who now had to predict more precisely the number of copies for each title they would need to order. Ordering to few meant risking selling out quickly and having consumers go elsewhere to find a book, while ordering too many meant being stuck with a pile of un-returnable unsold comics. Print to order also affects consumers in the way that they too have to pay closer attention to how they buy comics. Unless ordered in advance, hot comics have become harder to pick up off the racks. With retailers not able to 100% predict the popularity of a book, they often err on the side of caution, and under order a book that turns to be a hot seller. Now, not being able to reorder any issues, his means that readers can miss out it completely. Throw into the mix that retailers can choose not to put hot books on sale immediately, holding them in reserve until the price is driven up by demand, consumers get hit with a higher cost.
A good example of this scenario happened last year with Marvel's “Origin” mini-series. It was easy to guess that issue #1 would be in high demand, so orders were high from retailers. But not every retailer put them on sale right away. Some held their books in reserve and drove up the price for the book (which here in Montreal was up over 20 bucks a pop for a time). Collectors made killings on ebay, retailers made a killing, and anyone who wanted to “read” the story either had order it in advance (something kids off the street rarely do) or pony up the cash for it (again, something kids off the street rarely do). To top it off, due to several delays in shipping and a generally poor story, prices for the “Origin” series plummeted, and now sit around 20-25$ for all six issues.
So Marvel was saving money on printing costs, retailers had mixed feelings on the idea, weighing the the price of having to more carefully order their books versus being able to milk more money out of the consumer base, and consumers could try and make some money in the collector market or shell out big bucks to read a popular title.
**Edge was to be renamed due to a legal dispute, and issue # 13 was titled “Vector”, but that, as it turned out, was the last book of the series, it having been unceremoniously cancelled. To think of the hours that their marketing department must have spent to come up with “Vector” only to have it used for one issue...
***As a side note, if you'd like a copy of “Fantastic Four #60”, I'll be happy to give you one. Unfortunately, I will not ship any out, so you'd have to meet me in person to get your hands on one, but other than that, it's not a problem, as I have about 90 copies of it.