DC trade prices rise ... and a radical idea

Thursday, June 23, 2005

So what if DC raised the price on their trade paperbacks ... and nobody noticed?

This year alone, we've seen three JSA trade paperbacks--Princes of Darkness, Black Reign, and Lost, and though the prices of those trades haven't risen notably, it's a different story when you break it down by issue. JSA: Princes of Darkness retails at $19.95 for ten issues, or about $1.99 per issue; JSA: Black Reign, however, retails for $12.99 for six issues--or $2.16 an issue. Two months later, JSA: Lost is back up to $19.99, but now for just nine issues, or $2.22 per issue. It takes a little math, but sure enough, DC's trade prices are going up.

"But," you might say, "$2.22 is still about a quarter less than a regular $2.50 issue of JSA." That's true. But take the case of Catwoman. Relentless came out back in January, at $19.95 for nine issues, or $2.21 an issue. But Wild Ride, due out in August, weighs in at a whopping $14.95 for five issues--almost three dollars per issue. When a regular issue of Catwoman is $2.50, the Catwoman: Wild Ride trade paperback is now more expensive than its individual issues.

Here's another one: way back in August of last year, we saw Robin: Unmasked for $12.95, collecting five issues, at $2.59 an issue. Already, that's more expensive than a $2.25 issue of Robin. But coming up in September we have the Robin/Batgirl crossover trade, Fresh Blood, for $12.99--but this time, with only four issues. That's about $3.25 per issue--well more than either one of the individual titles.

So what does this mean for we wait-for-traders? Well, the news isn't all bad. The price of Greg Rucka Adventures of Superman trades breaks down to fifty cents less than the price of an average Adventures of Superman issue. The Batman: War Games trades have remained at about $14.95 for the entire year, most probably a steal with all the issues that are collected. The price of Flash: Ignition broke down to $2.99 per issue, but the upcoming Secret of Barry Allen breaks down to only $1.99 an issue, less than an average issue of Flash. The breakdown price lowered between Nightwing: Big Guns and Nightwing: On the Razor's Edge, too.

What we have to figure is, as trade paperbacks become increasingly important in the comic book industry--as seen in how DC has ramped up their trade program over the last year or so--it's only to be expected that demand will cause trade prices to rise. In this instance, it's notable mainly because comics companies are usually very vocal when they raise the prices of monthly issues, but here, the price increases are a little tougher to see. And really, most savy shoppers know that the retail price of a trade isn't exactly what you'll pay for it, either--Dreamland Comics currently offers Catwoman: Wild Ride for 40% off, or $8.99, which breaks down to well less than the price of a monthly Catwoman issue. All in all, I think, buying trade paperbacks is still more cost efficient than buying monthly issues. But the price breakdown is something to keep an eye on.

I stumbled the other day upon this archive from Peter David's blog. Do a search for Steven Marsh's first post, where he compares the wait-for-trade idea to the Prisoner's Dilemma. He says:

Basically, if one person "Defects" (and awaits the TPB) while the others buy the series (Cooperate), then they "gain" over the Cooperators; they get the book in a format that is useful to them, possibly save money and/or get extras, and definitely get the whole story at once.

If no one "Defects", and everyone Cooperates by buying the series, then no one is "gaining" as much as they would by waiting for the TPB.

If everyone "Defects" and awaits the TPB (or, more correctly, if -enough- people await the TPB), then the series is cancelled and everyone loses (either by the lack of an ongoing series or even the lack of the TPB itself).
I find this absolutely fascinating. And frankly, he's right: we wait-for-traders need people to buy the monthlies, or else there wouldn't be trade paperbacks to buy. Though I think, in the next five years--most likely sooner--we're going to see a paradigm shift, where comics companies will better take into account trade sales when figuring the success of a comic. Because honestly, I believe titles like Gotham Central are actually selling like gangbusters, only no one can gauge it.

All of this has brought me to a little thought. Not a new thought, certainly, but a thought that I'd like to put out there with the readership of this blog behind me, and see if anything bites. Essentially, I have no wish to get my trades on the backs of the monthly buyers. I fully admit that monthly buyers keep the titles that I love alive, and I reap the benefits of it when I buy a trade paperback. But ultimately, I want to help the comics industry, not hurt it.

So here's the deal: I'm willing to purchase a bunch of monthly titles--like JSA, like Catwoman, like Batman and Robin and Superman--for full price or a discount, best offer requested--and then exchange them directly for the trade paperback when the trade comes out. Given the figures above, if the trade breaks down to less than the monthly issues, then the comics shop wins out. And if I choose to buy a title that never comes out in trade, the comics shop wins on my speculation, too. I get to stay current on today's titles, I get my trades when they come out, and one lucky comics shop benefits from it in the process.

Optimally, it would be great if I could get my local comics shop to do this, because then I could just go in there every Wednesday like the days of yore, but it's not to be. So calling all dreamers, here's my offer. A radical way to wait-for-the-trade while giving back, too. And I know there are a lot of smart people out there on the 'Net; let's talk about this (if you want, leave your email address as a comment and I'll email you). This could be the start of something--someone show me how to make this work.
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4 comments:

  1. In your scheme, the comics shop only "wins out" if it can then resell the monthly issues you're returning for something close to cover price. Frankly, that seems highly unlikely, since by definition there will already be a trade of those issues also out on the shelf.

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  2. carlos --

    Well, yes and no. You're right, the comics shop would need to have some confidence that they can resell the issues. (And, honestly, I have no expectation that anyone will take me up on this. But I do think there is some value to pointing out where we are in the "trade-phenomenon" and suggesting radical ideas.)

    The comics shop, however, gets their money once when one would buy the issue. Then, when they trade for a trade, they would have to resell the issues ... but only at the lower price that the issues are worth broken down from the trade. So, essentially, a comics shop gets to sell the same comic twice, with only a lower-value trade as the cost. Not a perfect system, but maybe one that will resonate with some.

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  3. Frankly, this sounds like an idea whose time has come.

    There's a seed of a germ of an idea there....

    Imagine an online community dedicated to making this kind of exchange work. There are still lots of comics fans out there who would prefer to collect long runs single issues, but timing, cash-flow and a hundred other factors conspire to prevent them from doing so as the issues are released.

    Now imagine that a reader/collector is out there who'd be willing to part with, say, his complete run of JSA (up to the issues that have thus far been collected) in exchange for a set of trades.

    You buy me the trades, I give you my run of comics. We both win.

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  4. pers (hey, welcome to the world of comics blogging) --

    this is another idea -- trading or selling someone the single issues in order to buy the trades. I've actually tried to unload a couple of my full runs in order to get the trades; unfortunately, I find, like many, that once there's a trade out, no one wants to buy ths single issues. Which is a problem, both for buyers and for comic book retailers.

    I don't know why, but I'm unusually frustrated this week with being so behind-the-times in the comics universe, because I'm waiting for the trade. Not frustrated enough to stop waiting for the trades, mind you, but frustrated.

    So, does an online community like this exist? I post that I have the first 12 issues of JSA and want the trade, and someone else posts that they have the first JSA trade and wants the issues? If there is, I'm there.

    Hey, thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete