Trade Perspectives: The Hidden Cost of DC Comics Hardcovers

Sunday, June 17, 2007

When you hear talk of rising prices at your local comics shop, it may not be gasoline they're talking about. If you want to read DC Comic's upcoming collections of some of their most high profile titles, you're going to have to pay a little more--because they're all coming out in hardcover.

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:

  • For one, it's conceivable that DC makes twice the profit by releasing a book in hardcover, and then delaying the paperback release: there are the customers who buy the hardcover right away and the ones who break down during the wait and buy the hardcover, and then the ones who wait long enough and buy the paperback.

  • Second, in this era where DC is advertising books like Identity Crisis and Justice League to mainstream book buyers, hardcover may add to the perceived "legitimacy" of collected comics.

  • Third, it's obviously working: series like Superman/Batman have supported hardcover releases of four books (with one on the way) so far, suggesting that customers are buying the hardcovers, whether happily or not.

    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.
  • Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
    Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

    10 comments:

    1. I believe there are also a couple of cases in the recent solicitations where same-priced trades have radically different page counts. Just what sets the price point if it's not the number of issues collected?

      ReplyDelete
    2. Great article. You brought up some very interesting points but I think there's another possible explanation behind DC's publishing strategy. What if DC was trying to slow the whole "wait-for-the-trade" trend? You said it yourself, the main reason many readers are willing to wait for the collected editions instead of buying the monthlies is because the trades are way cheaper. By first putting out HCs, DC may be trying to push those "cheap" readers towards the less expensive monthly books, while still satisfying those who want collected editions for their added production value.

      BTW, I don't mean "cheap" in a bad way. After all, the lower price per issue is the main reason why I'm buying trades instead of monthlies.

      ReplyDelete
    3. DC's just making all my buying decisions easier, is all. Marvel's putting so much great stuff out these days that I barely even notice that I'm buying almost no DC trades on account of everything coming out in hardcover. My lone voice of dissent doesn't do much to their sales overall, but I can't be the only one who finds themselves drifting away from DC rather than ponying up for the HCs.

      ReplyDelete
    4. I think profit is the major aspect we're looking here for DC, concurring factor one from the original article, as well as Mr Blais' comment.

      Sales for DC have been rather poor in comparative to Marvel for some months now. The sales for 52, while great, were balanced out by the dropping sales of other monthly titles. The latest May figures showed Marvel taking 46.60% of the Unit market share, nearly 16 percentage points over DC 30.81%. Countdown #51 debuted on number 19. Not so convincing eh?

      ReplyDelete
    5. Good points all, and David, that's a fascinating idea. Slowing the trade sales to push people back to monthlies ... very interesting. I'll have to think about that one.

      Devin, you're absolutely right. I don't have any examples handy; can you think of some? I'll have to look around, but I think that's worth looking in to.

      ReplyDelete
    6. Reading this I just had a thought(that may validate David Blais' comments to some extent). I notice that a lot of the DC HC solicitations don't have any specifics of "extras". Take for example the (so far excellent,imo) Jeff Smith "Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil" mini. Each of the first 3 issues is roughly 44 pages or so including covers. The HC solicit says the book will be 240 pgs I believe. After adding it all up and if issue # 4 is the same page count, that leaves something like 70 pages in the HC unaccounted for. Unless I missed it somewhere in the math. What's on these pages? If you wanted to encourage people to buy a different copy of something they probably already own, wouldn't you emphasize the extras? That's what they do with "Super Limited Collector's Edition" dvds right? Especially when they've already released a "Limited Collector's Edition" before. Maybe David is right. Just a thought.

      ReplyDelete
    7. I can't find it now, but I'm sure I read somewhere that the Shazam: Monster Society hardcover contained a sketchbook, notes, or something. But I'm all for extras in the trades and hardcovers, absolutely; it's like a director's cut DVD.

      ReplyDelete
    8. Another factor may be Library sales. My library has gotten onto the graphic novel bandwagon in a big way. If you know that every book you put out is going to have a certain minimum of library sales, you might decide to make those the more profitable hardbacks.

      --DJK

      ReplyDelete
    9. I may be the odd one out but I love hardcovers and actually would prefer to buy everything in hardcover. I love the look of them on the bookshelf and the feeling of permanency that I get with a hardcover. I have spent substantial dollars in the secondary market getting hardcovers I have missed out on. Paperbacks are subject to spine and other construction problems which I hate. I know, I am odd.

      ReplyDelete
    10. tightsandcapes -- I would agree with you entirely, only short of how tough it sometimes is to get hardcovers into protective sleeves, and how the dust jackets scuff at the bottom when shifting my comics around on the bookshelf. But otherwise, I do like the permanency of hardcovers, too, and paperbacks can get just as scuffed. And humidity with a paperback? Whew!

      DJK -- Very true on the libraries. See our recent post on graphic novels in libraries and bookstores for more on that very topic.

      ReplyDelete