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Are Comic Books Too Expensive?

SaraJane 09.10.2013

Comic books cost $5. Is that a problem?

A recent LinkedIn discussion asked: Are Comic Books Too Expensive? This caught my eye because I had just been discussing this with one of our artists, so I dug a little deeper to the real forum – Comic Vine – to find the answer.

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photo credit: NoHoDamon cc

It’s been suggested that the high price of comic books today (relative to prices in the 80s or 90s when the industry was booming) is one of the reasons that the industry hasn’t performed as well in recent years. Fans are constantly griping about what a trip to their local comics shop does to their wallet.

Contributors brought up good points by comparing the entertainment value of comics to what you can get in other forms of entertainment for the same price.

Think about it, you go to the store, buy 10 comics and probably end up dropping $40. Each comic you’ll probably read in about 15 minutes, so that makes about 2.5 hours of entertainment. For the same price, you could:

  • See 3-4 movies in the theatre
  • Purchase 2 movies
  • Purchase a video game
  • Purchase 3 paperback novels

Any of these options will equate to more entertainment hours then 10 comic books.

So, is that it? Comics are too expensive nowadays and that’s why sales are down?>

I actually disagree.

comic books2

photo credit: Hryck. cc

The average cost of a comic book in Dec 2012 was $3.47.

The average cost of a comic book in Dec 1995 was $2.58 (when adjusting for inflation this comes out to be $3.89 in 2012).

That means, comics actually cost less today than they did in ’95.

To be fair, the median price of a comic book in 1986 was $1.25 (the equivalent of $2.58 in 2012) so comics were cheaper in the 80s, but not by all that much.

So, why are sales down?

It’s not revolutionary to suggest that the problem occurred when comic book distribution switched from newsstands to specialty stores. There are lots of obvious reasons why that would negatively impact sales (i.e. less visibility, inability to capture younger readers, etc.), but I do think that people have underestimated how the shift has effected the way we view the price of the books themselves.

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photo credit: workinpana cc

Let’s say you make a special trip to the comics shop.

I’m guessing it’s a bit farther away than you would have to go to buy milk, bread, or even a Starbucks latte. Now you’re in the shop. Are you really going to buy one comic? Probably not, you need to make the trip worth it, so you buy a few. Long story short, you leave the store having probably spent upwards of $20 then you think to yourself, “Gosh, I could have gone to the movies.”

Now let’s say you’re walking by a newsstand. You see something interesting and pick it up for around $3.50. Are you really going to be second-guessing that purchase later in the day?

Probably not.

Then let’s say you do this every couple of days. You end up spending the same amount of money, but you didn’t think about it.

That’s because in the newsstand, a comic book is an impulse buy, but in a comic shop, it’s a planned purchase. You think about your planned purchases. You don’t think about your impulse buys.

Though I agree that there are many other reasons why comic books sales have decreased over the last 20 years—too many titles resulting in an saturated market, increasing amounts of adult content and more competition from other entertainment mediums, just to name a few—we shouldn’t overlook the impact of this shift in consumer consciousness.

  • psyduck

    That makes sense. Decreased visibility leads to decreased sales. My personal reason for not buying comic books anymore had to do with it being far too expensive to buy all the titles required to keep up with a particular story line (thanks Marvel), However, now that I’m older and more aware of the rampant degradation of women and minorities in the writing I don’t think I would go back to comics.

    • SaraJane

      Though I agree that the treatment of women and minorities in
      comics is a major issue in the industry, I wouldn’t let it turn you off to
      comic books as a whole. I won’t stop going to the movies just because some films are offensive. I do, however, avoid specific films that I think are irresponsible. Same goes for comics: Support the creators that are getting it right and don’t support the creators who are oppressive.

  • Roxanne

    I feel like the age of each given title plays a major factor here as well; there’s so much we’re expected to know before picking up, say, a new issue of Superman. The barrier of entry is too damn thick for most casuals to get invested in any story-line. The new 52 was DC’s answer to this problem, but it may have come too late–not that I have a better suggestion. Just pointing out that there are other layers to the decrease in comic purchases.

    • SaraJane

      Absolutely! Too many titles about the same characters make
      comics VERY difficult to get into.

  • Mike

    Yes, I think comic books have become too expensive. Paying 3.99 for a single comic book is insane even with adjustment for inflation. If they could keep the cost down to 2.00 or less I think they would sell more books and make it easier for kids and new fans to afford them.

    I’ve been collecting comics since I was a little kid in the 1980s and I have to say while the books have improved I still find it hard to justify paying 3.99 or more in some cases for a comic book no matter how good it is or how much I love the characters.

    Because of the price increases over the past few years I’ve actually dropped many of the books I used to get on a regular basis and had to winnow it down to a few titles simply because I can’t afford to buy all the titles I want and still be able to pay bills, buy groceries and all the other crap adulthood heaps on you.

    Also with the price I’m paying for books now I am quicker to drop a title now than stick with it if it has an artist or writer I dislike where in the old days I used to stick with a book because I knew eventually a new creative team would be put on it.

    I’ve talked to a lot of fans and collectors at conventions and a lot of them feel the same as I do and many of them have cut their spending on comics down as well simply because the books are too expensive.

    • admin

      Yeah it bums me out too. I’m thinking of doing some follow-up research on all the digital subscriptions like Marvel runs. I feel like nothing compares to a real printed book, but it’s an interesting off-shoot of the “comics cost too much” discussion.

      What do you think?

    • You are doing it right; turning off the ‘collector brain’ and indulging the ‘reader brain’ which is smarter about these things. I recently found a bunch of Jonah Hex (2006) on sale for $1 each…about 24 of them, and managed to convince the bookstore clerk to give them to me for $20. Still worth it. Fun reads, but I almost instinctively wanted to make a list to find the others I didn’t have! Monkey on the back,

  • Cliff

    Salary growth (or stagnation) also plays a factor in the relative or perceived cost of comics in today’s market, along with a rise in common cost of living expenses and their impact on people’s income (e.g. internet service, cell service, etc now versus 30 or more years ago).

  • Cian Mcgrath

    Wow. In Ireland I found a shop in Easonsthat sells most comics for €20. The killing joke is €20, Maus is €25 and V for Vendetta is €20. You guys have it made, stop complaining.

    • Haha, yeah 25 euro for Maus is pretty steep. Thanks for the perspective, Cian.

  • Having been a reader and a collector since the discovery of bread (I turn 61 this month), I have…after years of seeing the prices increase from 12c to 15c to $1 to the current $3.99 or so, I can’t exactly tell you when I determined that…much as I enjoyed and cared about th characters, and as much as I still appreciate and enjoy the medium itself, yes…they are too expensive.

    I get the economics, of course–better printing, smaller print runs, and more of a boutique environment than sales at a price point where parents won’t give a shit about dropping 50c or something. Now, when little Bobby wants a funny book, Dad has to pony up $3.99? Aunt gonna happen as often.

    Part of the thing is that the fans…bless our hearts…don’t complain. Just as with any specific endeavor, they are quite passionate about their comics and endure and barely complain. School teachers are passionate and go through incredible bullshit of unpaid teaching time and low pay to indulge their passion. If they really love what their activity is, be it reading comics or teaching children to learn, the passion trumps the cost.

    I managed a comic book shop for two years, worked as a sale manager for a comic publisher for two years, have self-published my own comics, and have been involved in the industry and the hobby since I was 13 (1966). I still read comics…usually from the library. I will buy TPB collections when the price is right at used book stores, and will occasionally visit comic shops to riffle through their cheapo bins just to catch up with…say, DC52 or Ultimate Spider-man. But I no longer buy new comics, much as I might enjoy them–the price point is , as others have said way out of proportion for the entertainment value.

  • poop

    Adjusted for inflation they are actually expensive. Anything beyond the mainstream is REALLY expensive.
    Physical product is simply on its way out. The costs of ink, printing, transport, distribution its all gotten out of hand. Magazines are in the same boat. Its not a great time to be in these industries. Especially when young people think movies, music etc is free. …. because it has been.

  • Glenn

    What are you talking about? I have read comics all my life. I’m 40 years old comics in the 80’s were 75 cents not a $1.25. You numbers are wrong. I also read many magazines. I too did my own research on this. I hoard magazines and comics. A copy of Men’s Health was 4.75 in 1999 when I was a Marine. Men’s Health is $4.75 now. The price has gone down over the last few years. It had been around so for awhile
    A comic book in 1999 was 1.75. It is now 4.99. Comic books are drastically over priced and in my opinion not as well done.

  • Anonymous

    It’s price. Clear and simple, The publishers need to find ways of lowering costs, it’s too expensive when compared to other forms of entertainment.

  • Anonymous

    I think they should produce them the same way they did in the 80s” ;with the cheap paper and coloring..I think this would lower the price of the comic book in half ..just an idea..

  • Bryan

    Sales are down (IMHO) because of availability, first and fore most. (Price second) When I was a kid you could walk into any grocery store, pharmacy, even gas stations and find comic books. Now the ONLY place you can get them is to make a special trip to your local comic book store. Assuming you even have one. So kids can’t just spot their favorite super hero and beg mom to buy it for them. So the kids are far less likely to get into buying comics. They grow up not collecting and as us old school collectors die off so does the industry. I see the value of comics dropping as time goes on as well. The high cost of comics is just another nail in the coffin. Which btw, I found your estimate off. A comic went for 50 cents in 1980 (On the high end) and adjusting for inflation means it should be $1.50 now. I would buy the hell out of that price. Make them… at least a few titles… old school. Get them out there so kids can see them and afford them. Otherwise the END IS NEAR!

  • Fred

    I think cost is a big part. As the price goes up my amount of titles goes down. Some of us are on budgets and have to watch what we spend. I understand why so many titles are canceled. People buy what they know and with the cost up, it’s hard to buy other titles to try.

  • johaness vix

    wtf this guy are saying that comics nowadays are CHEAP? really?

  • Anonymous

    Comic Books cheap? HA! Sure many comic books are cheap, but only the ones that aren’t considered “valuable collector’s items”. I have always preferred Manga over Comic Books for many reasons, but the main reason being “Money”. Nearly all Manga costs from $5 to $15, but usually have at least 150 pages and each new volume of a specific series cost the same as the previous volume (unless they add several volumes into one book). While when it comes to Comic Books, the price ranges anywhere between 5 cents to $1,000,000+++ for a specific volume. I can’t read/watch anything unless I do it from beginning to end, but it becomes impossible if I can’t find the first volume of the series I want to read online or in stores without having to pay a ridiculous amount of money for it. I want to read Comic Books to enjoy them, not collect them, horde them and eventually sell them like “F”-ing trading cards. If they really wanted their customers to enjoy reading comics, they would make cheap copies of the book and sell them for no more than $1 a volume. So in all honesty, “F” Comic Books, I’ll stick with my Manga.

  • Lynn

    In 1956 I could buy a comic book for 10 cents. My allowance was .25 cents which today in 2016 is worth about $2.20. So if I’m a young kid today getting $2.00 in allowance I can’t afford a comic book. I think they need to be cheaper.

  • TheLe99

    Books are $4.00 now – I don’t get a lot of value for that. Just 32 or so pages (which includes ads). That $4.00 can get me a 2-4 apps for my phone, which would last longer.

  • Disagree, comics are too expensive. They can go back to lesser quality paper and ink and still sell comics for around 1.75 a piece. Money has not changed that much since the 90s. 25 cent allowance compared to 2.20, thats an 8.8 percent increase lol. If that were true 1.25 comic from the 80s would now sell for $11. So.. nah thats fake inflation. 50 cents still buys me a can of pop, 50 cents bought me a can of pop in 1992. So again fake inflation. If as a kid I could go in with 10 bucks and pick out 10 comics, I should still be able to pick up at least 5 comics for that price. And “valuable” collector items have also become fake inflation, like Funko Pops where a company can make limited ones out of the same plastic and create instant gold and fake inflation. As an adult now I do not collect comics regularly anymore because simply not affordable to fit into my budget. $10 gets me a month of netflix, but now only gets me about 2 1/2 comic books. Crazy

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