In their recent October, November, and December solicitations, DC has announced collections of stories from their main Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman lines, all in hardcover. Added to that, the first collections of their new Justice League and Justice Society series will be released in hardcover, along with the first collection of the new Brave and the Bold and the Superman and Batman Confidential series.
Even more strikingly, DC has announced that their Amazon Attacks mini-series will be released in hardcover. Amazon Attacks is largely considered to be a lead-up to DC's 2008 summer crossover, similar to The OMAC Project and others that lead to DC's Infinite Crisis. When one considers that there were no less than four "countdown" miniseries before Infinite Crisis, the prospect of all the new lead-up miniseries appearing in hardcover is a chilling thought.
This influx of hardcovers is largely unprecedented. 2004's Superman: Godfall was the first hardcover collection of a mainstream Superman story (that is, a collection from the regular titles) since the 1986 Superman relaunch, if not earlier. The recent Superman: For Tomorrow was collected in hardcover, though the vaunted "Death of Superman" storyline has not. The Batman: Year One series that appeared within the Batman titles also in the early 1980s has been collected in hardcover, and then not again until the recent Batman: Hush and Batman: Broken City. Wonder Woman has had no mainstream hardcover releases since the 1980s, and now has three (including the cancelled and soon-to-be re-solicited Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman?) before the end of the year.
Previously, DC fans who didn't want to purchase a hardcover could be relatively certain that a paperback was around the corner. DC released the first Green Arrow collection written by Kevin Smith in hardcover, following it later with a paperback, and released the second and third volumes by Brad Meltzer in hardcover and paperback. When writer Judd Winick took over, DC switched the trades to paperback only. However, it later took more than a year before DC released the noted Identity Crisis in paperback after the hardcover edition, making the inevitable paperback begin to seem not-so-inevitable.
Particularly frustrating to fans has been DC's hardcover releases of the new Green Lantern series, banking on the popularity of writer Geoff Johns. Green Lantern: Rebirth, the miniseries that began the new Green Lantern series, was released in hardcover, and followed six months later by a paperback. DC followed this fairly rapidly with three collections of the Green Lantern series--No Fear, Revenge of the Green Lanterns, and Hal Jordan: Wanted--and of these, none have been released in softcover, with only a rumor of an upcoming paperback edition of the second trade. Whereas buyers used to have a choice, they now find themselves forced to buy the hardcover to enjoy Green Lantern in trades.
One benefit of trade paperbacks have long been their considerable price savings over the single issues of a comic (balanced by the time one has to wait before a series is collected), but that savings lessens with the influx of hardcovers. The six issues of Green Lantern: Rebirth originally sold for $2.95 each, or $17.70 for the series. The $24.99 hardcover costs more than buying the individual issues, but if we posit a 40% pre-order discount, the hardcover comes to $14.99, or $2.50 per issue. The Rebirth paperback, however, also costs $14.99 before a discount; if we posit a 35% discount on the paperback, it comes to $1.62 per issue. A customer saves nearly eight dollars buying the paperback, but only about three dollars purchasing the Rebirth hardcover over the single issues. Spread over a number of hardcovers, this difference adds up.
A couple of factors may be influencing the rise in hardcovers:
At times like these, I'm amazed at how the trade paperback industry has changed in just the two years since Collected Editions began. Back then, you just couldn't be sure whether any particular Superman or Batman storyline might be collected in trades--now, it's a sure thing, as it is for Teen Titans, Justice Society, and nearly every (if not all) titles currently being published by DC.
And now we see those series released in hardcover. The good news is, it probably means good things for the continued collection of your favorite stories into trades. If only, perhaps, it weren't so expensive.