This is a follow-up to my post the other day about price changes and content concerns. Tom Spurgeon responded over on his blog and indicated that he didn't really understand my original piece. It took me a couple of readings of his response, but I think I would agree as I don't think he was really responding to what I was shooting for. That's a failing on my part. I tend not to edit myself very careful here on this blog, so I'm often surprised my posts come out as coherent as they do. But for anyone who didn't get what I was shooting for originally, let me see if I can clarify things.
I haven't tracked down all of the articles I read that helped spur my original post, but this one from Comics Alliance and this one from Robot 6 are typical of what I was responding to. They say, in essence, that comic book prices are too high, customers are cutting back the purchases accordingly, and that hurts everybody.
My first point is that the number of issues sold is down, but the amount of money publishers are making isn't. I did cite that sales numbers are down 7% from five years ago, but what I didn't cite is that they're still up 20% from ten years ago! Again, here's John Jackson Miller's analysis for the August sales. What that means is that publishers are making MORE money off FEWER books.
Let's say you sell widgets. If you sell 10 widgets at $5 each, you would take in $50 if you sold them all, right? Now, what if you increased the price to $7? You'd probably sell fewer of them. But if you sold eight of them, you'd take in $56! As a widget retailer, it would make more sense to sell fewer of them at a higher price because you'd make more money. That's EXACTLY what comic publishers are doing right now and that's EXACTLY why they're not going to drop their prices.
So, if you define the health of the comic industry by how many comics are sold (which is a definition that makes sense for most of us) then, yes, it is absolutely crappier than it's been in a while and something to be concerned about. But if you define the health of the comic industry by how much money is made (which is a definition that makes sense to a company officer or shareholder) then there's nothing wrong at all. It's a view that absolutely is looking at the short-term prospects over the long-term ones, and has less an emphasis on the love and appreciation of the medium and more of an emphasis on the business of selling superhero fantasies. Which is to say that the bigger publishers are doing precisely what they are designed to do: make money.
Yes, it absolutely means fans won't be able to read as many comics as they used to. But why should the publisher care if they're getting more money from their audience? It's all well and good to talk about craft and artistry, but comics are still a business and no one should be surprised to see publishers treat it like one.
And, hey, if that runs smaller publishers out of business, why should Marvel or DC care? That's not going to impact how many copies of Amazing Spider-Man they sell. If anything, that's one less competitor they have to worry about!
(As a slight tangent, this is why Vince Colletta is maligned as Jack Kirby's inker so much. Fans of Kirby's work look at the artistic butchering Colletta did to those pencils and cringe. But what they often seem to forget is that Colletta was doing a job. He wasn't out to create capital-A Art; he was getting pencil drawings prepped to be sent to the printer on a deadline. If there was a way he could accomplish that goal faster or more efficiently, he did it. He recognized comics as a business and did his job accordingly. That is to say, deadlines trump artistic integrity.)
My second point was to reinforce that it's not just a matter of price. It's a matter of value. It may seem like some semantics, but the difference is significant. The price of a comic is simply the amount of cash you have to part with to obtain it. The value of the comic is relative to how much entertainment (in the case of Marvel and DC comics) you get out of it. One person may like an issue more than someone else, and thus would be willing to pay a higher price for it. They value it more. If all of Marvel's books were superb and no one could every find anything in the story to complain about, you wouldn't hear much outcry over the price tag on them.
The discussions I've been seeing focus almost exclusively on price. Again, my point there was that it's really a discussion of value.
Combing those two points gets me to the conclusion that you can bitch about higher prices all you want, it's not going to do a damn bit of good. Prices are higher, and publishers are going to act like businesses and happily make more profits off fewer books. It's not a matter of what you like, it's a matter of what makes the publishers the most money.