Do The Prices Of Monthly Comic Books Really Matter?

With the help from some of our previous poll results we take a look at just how much comic book prices actually matter…

In 1962 the comic book industry witnessed it’s first real price jump; from $0.10 to $0.12, a 20% increase. Since then comics have kept climbing, just like everything else, to where we are today; last month the average comic book cost $3.53.

And where we are today is substantial; according to usinflationcalculator.com an item that cost $0.12 in 1962 would cost $0.91 today. Furthermore; the minimum wage in 1962 was $1.25 per hour, so the average price of a comic book for a 40-hour work week was 0.0024% of your salary. The minimum wage today; $7.25 an hour, so the average price of a comic book for a 40-hour work week is now 0.0121%; that’s a 404% increase of the price of a comic book juxtaposed against the minimum wage between now and nearly 50 years ago. Granted, that’s still a small percentage, it costs more to print, the paper is of higher quality, it takes more people to create a comic, and the licensing game has gotten more fierce (the rights to Superman would not go for $130, or what would be $2,121, today) but despite the argument for or against the fairness of the prices the evidence is out there – comics are more expensive today than ever before.

Not really news to fans, we rant about discuss this all the time (ourselves included).

But I wonder, despite our complaining frustration does it really matter to us?

In the end, when we have to decide to buy our favorite comic book or the latest big event does it really make a difference? Is the frustration over price actually just a tantrum or do we legitimately speak with our wallet?

One of our weekly polls during December of 2010 asked about the upcoming “Hold The Line At $2.99″ announcement from DC Comics where their $3.99 ongoing series would return to $2.99 (it’s not often companies lower the prices of new product)…

So yes, at least when asked ahead of time, price does matter and when it’s fair were more inclined to buy more.

But did it really matter?

Below is a chart of the five biggest titles at DC to be lowered from $3.99 to $2.99 (to “hold the line”):

To see a bigger version of the graph click HERE.

The actual results were pretty interesting; the only title to see a bump in sales was Detective Comics #873, by a whopping 1%. And this can’t entirely (or at all) be contributed to the $1 price drop as it was Synder’s third issue (in what would be his highly acclaimed run) and the issue previously, costing $3.99, saw a 3% increase, so the momentum started before the price drop.

Batman and Robin, Batman Incorporated, Batman: The Dark Knight and Justice League of America would all continue to drop at a pretty average pace. Action Comics saw a 89% increase with issue #900, a $5.99 issue, and would finish it’s run before being renumbered for the New 52 about 25% above where it was at the start of DC’s ‘Hold the Line’ move. So a success yes, but like Detective Comics it’s hard to attribute much of it to it’s price drop, especially since the momentum generated from an anniversary issue well above it’s new $2.99 price.

The only thing that seemed to motivated any change upwards from those comics that dropped by a dollar during DC’s ‘Hold the Line’ period were creator changes and anniversary issues.

A trend that repeated itself again in September when DC launched their comics with the New 52; Justice League and Action Comics got new numbers, got a new creative team, and became the best selling comics in the industry, all while jumping [back] up to $3.99. Tons of buzz on the relaunch, the writer, and the art, none (or least very little in comparison) on the price jump.

So do $3.99 comics, the most expensive ones in today’s market, bother us?

We asked this very question at the end of 2011:

Only 16% said that they avoid the high price, that’s 84% that’s not that bothered by the most expensive comics out there.

So 83% said they’d buy more [DC] comics if the prices were $2.99 and a year later 84% aren’t that bothered by $3.99 comics.

Marvel 1602 #1 for $3.50 in August 2003 and Identity Crisis #1 for $3.95 in June 2004 were the first of the modern day priced comics to finish on top of their month’s sales charts and since then 61 of the 105 month’s (58%) top selling comic was $3.99 or more. In just the past two years 22 of the 25 month’s (88%) top selling comic was $3.99 or more.

It would seem as if we’ve accepted fate. What used to be a high price is now tolerable.

Looking back we see that trend again; big events, anniversary issues, and exciting creative teams seem to move comics significantly more than price.

What about what’s to come?

Well right before Christmas we asked something to that affect…

While the majority said that they would not pay $4.99 for their favorite monthly comic 45% said either yes or they’d consider it.

Pretty startling.

And my guess would be that the 18% who say maybe would make a decision based on the creative teams and if it’s the right creative teams history shows us that they’d be swayed. In fact I’d also guess that a good amount of that 55% who said no could be convinced if it was the right creative duo.

So 84% aren’t that bothered by $3.99 comics and nearly half the buyers would even pay an extra $1 for their favorites.

So it would seem that no, the price of monthly comics don’t really matter (at least a $1 or $2 difference).

After some thought this became less and less surprising though; at least at the big two the push seems to be so heavy on character, creators, and continuity that the price is an after thought. Probably the same logic that allows great books like Saga and Incognito, with cheaper prices, no ads, and more pages to go under the radar and sell considerably less. If price was a significant motivator than surely the readership of books like these would be more. Or at least compete. In theory.

Ironically enough the future of the monthly comic price is arguably at (or close to) it’s haziest level with the rise of digital comics both in popularity and accessibility. Perhaps digital comics will drive the prices of monthly paper comics up, perhaps down, perhaps the digital price will take over – either way one thing is probably true – it won’t matter that much.

More Sales Talk @ acomicbookblog.com/tag/comic-book-sales


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5 Comments

  1. jamie says:

    Hi John,

    For me, it’s mostly about the monthly comic budget. A year or two ago, I realized how much I was spending every week ($30+) and decided to make some cuts. However, I made my cuts based on preferences, not price tags. The first to go was my nearly all the Batman books as they were frustrating me anyway. The New 52 made it easy to give up Green Arrow and Batgirl, and I dropped some Marvel titles as well, like Wolverine and Wolverine: Best There Is. Now I’m getting closer to $20 per week…
    However, I was annoyed when I bought the first issue of Justice League – for some reason, I didn’t expect it to be $3.99, and when the first arc stunk, I dropped it immediately – if the book was cheaper, maybe I would have given them another arc to right the ship, but at $3.99, I wasn’t willing to.
    There’s also character/concept fatigue. I’m getting close to dropping my Avengers titles and just keeping either proper Avengers or New Avengers as right now, I’m reading some of the solo books and multiple Avengers books, and it’s just too much Avenging – kind of like my Batman fatigue.
    I guess what I’m saying is that between the volume I buy, that quality of the products and over saturation, I keep shaving my monthly buy list.

    • Bill says:

      I agree, i would love to buy more comics every week, but I don’t because I don’t want to spend more money, the ones I still do get are my favorites that I couldnt go with out regardless of price. But if the overall price of comics was all down about i dollar i would pick up another comic or two

  2. Jake says:

    I wait a month to buy them so I get it for the dropped price. I buy all of mine on comixology. Mine are all digital. So it read it once and that is it. So it costs them a lot less to have me as a customer versus someone else. So the $1.99 is a better reflection for me than $2.99 or $3.99. After all since they say a ton on publishing and its only a few pages, 2 dollars is fair for online content.

  3. Micheal Lockwood says:

    I get paid bi-weekly and used to spend around $70 on comics every 2 weeks, but now that I’ve got a pull box and 20% off at my LCS, it definitely makes things easier. Plus I always get $5 off coupons in the mail for my purchases. I’d say even with the cuts I’ve had to make,discounts and coupons, it’s somewhere around 40-50 a week, but I don’t always have to buy every comic in the box. Love reservation lists….

  4. Paul Mallory says:

    I was spending about $50 a week for about a year, and it just got out of hand. In the last year or so, I’ve cut my allotment to $30-$40 every week, which is still a lot. And now I’m thinking of cutting a little bit more, maybe keeping it at $30 per week. I get 25% off at my LCS, which makes that seem doable. Plus, I didn’t have time to read everything; there’s no point in buying books that are just piling up.

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John Barringer is the founder & head editor of acomicbookblog.com and will update his bio soon since right now it's really boring.