Comics Economics, 1963 vs. 2013: 50 Years Of Value? April 29, 2013 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns
All written content ©2013 Mike Pascale. Visual content ©2013 its respective owner(s).
One of the bonuses of buying old comics as opposed to the cheaper reprint tomes like Marvel’s MASTERWORKs/ESSENTIALs or DC’s ARCHIVEs/SHOWCASEs is seeing the original letters pages, coming attractions, “Bullpen Pages”, and advertisements. I’m also a sucker for the “on sale now” house ads that display the covers of other titles.
Over the last year, thanks to my pals at Back To The Past in Redford, Michigan and various estate/garage sales/antique fairs, I’ve been gobbling up dozens of 60s and 70s reading copies. Most I find through B2TP’s monthly live auctions via Proxibid.com. (The next one is slated for the third week of May. Check out the above link for the exact dates.) Now that I’ve been reading some of these gems, I’ve learned a lot about both the past and the future.
For one thing, I’ve gained a valuable insight into why the comics industry doesn’t do as well these days, why sales have slumped, and why it doesn’t even compare well to other collectibles or forms of entertainment.
I recently picked up a beat-up OUR ARMY AT WAR #139, cover-dated Feb., 1964, at a local antique shop. Art and cover by the late, great Joe Kubert, and a clever back-up story with art by Jack Abel. (Unfortunately, I discovered too late that the comic was missing its centerfold, so I couldn’t finish the Sgt. Rock story. Even if a comic is $2.50, it still pays to open the dang bag and check!) Just as entertaining, I came across a very interesting subscription offer ad.
Fifty years ago (yes, I know the cover date was 1964 but the same offer applied for 1963 issues. Jeez!), you could subscribe for two years to a 12-cent cover-priced comic at 10 cents per issue. That’s a discount of 16 percent.
Today, according to DC’s own web site, a similar subscription to a now-$2.99-cover-priced title would cost you less than $2.09 per issue; a savings of 30 percent–almost double the discount! Better deal, right?
Not so fast.
The cover price in 1963 was 12 cents. In 2013, it’s $2.99. That’s an increase of over 2,491 percent. (2,491.667 percent if you’re Sheldon Cooper or Mr. Spock.)
A few disclaimers, to keep this apples-to apples:
1) According to the ad, the only superhero title offered was BATMAN, which today apparently has a $3.99 cover price because it has 40 pages. So let’s go with BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT since it’s a 32-pager.
2) Yes, new subs are available at other sites for less, but we’re going with direct-from-the-publisher.
3) I’m not picking on DC–the same or similar numbers apply to Marvel and Archie, the only US comics publishers still in business today.
In the same comic, there’s an ad for Matchbox cars. Note the per-car price of 49 cents. Today, the average retail price for a single, new-in-package Matchbox car is $1.49. WalMart and others sell them for less, and your “collectibles” store sells them for more, but that’s about the normal toy-chain price. Mattel’s web site doesn’t sell individual cars, but offers five-packs for 5.99, which is about $1.20 each.
But going with the 1.49 price, we’re talking a price increase of just 304 percent. Even if we use the “drug store” price of 1.99, it’s an increase of just 406 percent. In 50 years!
Same toy, same size, roughly the same basic materials (plastic and metal). The comic book cover price has risen 2,000 % more. Which is a better deal for the average kid and collector?
Furthermore, renting a new DVD movie from my local mom-and-pop video store (a dying breed throughout most of the nation) costs $4.00–that’s approximately two hours of entertainment, compared with an average 32-page mainstream superhero comic book, which is read in about ten minutes with today’s “decompressed” stories (15 minutes if you take in ever panel of art like I do). Even a 40-pager that runs the same price as the movie can be read in 15 minutes, 20 at most.
Netflix runs 8 bucks a month for unlimited hours–that’s HOURS–of movies and TV shows–under three times the average monthly comic-book price.
Renting one video game at a time from Gamefly costs double that, but how many hours does an average fan play a video game in a month?
Going thru dollars-per-minute for one month (being generous to comics and overly conservative to the others):
1) One monthly, 32-page, $2.99 comic book at 20 minutes: 15 cents per minute (30 cents per minute if read in 10 minutes)
2) One monthly DVD movie for $3.99 rental at two hours (120 minutes): 3 cents per minute
3) One month of Netfilx rental $7.99, at two hours of TV/movies per week or 480 minutes per month: 1.6 cents per minute
4) One month of Gamefly rental (one game at a time) for $15.95, at four hours per week or 960 minutes per month: 1.6 cents per minute
Again, I’m being very conservative here; I’ve seen lots of comics that can be read in 10 minutes or less, and I know lots of people who watch Netfilx or play video games for two hours a DAY, let alone per week! The point is, even the cost per minute of entertainment is way out of line for comics.
Now, if the Big Fish go to a 99-cent digital download-only cost like SLG and others have [and as suggested by Craig last year], at least it brings the cost-per-minute down to about 5 or 6 cents. Way better than the 15 cents for printed comics, but still not great compared to the competition. Granted, the physical comic book may increase in value, with which Netflix, Gamefly and movies can’t compete, but the Matchboxes–especially the comparably-priced Hot Wheels–could too (most Hot Wheels collectors, in fact, never take them out of the packages). And really, what percentage of comics buyers these days still buy the monthly titles as much for the promise of future wealth as for the entertainment? Few buyers did that back in 1963.
I don’t know what the solution is, but for now I wanted to at least point out the numbers of the problem. Hopefully the true numbers people at DC and Marvel and Archie can use their expertise and think of something.
Or maybe they’re too busy playing with Matchboxes, watching movies or playing video games like their customers.
What do YOU think?
P.S.: If you’d like an original art commission from me that WILL hold its value, provide hours of mesmerizing enjoyment AND increase in value (especially if I slip on a Matchbox and tumble to my doom), just ask Craig here!
And if you’re the first kind soul to provide me with a readable scan of the Sgt. Rock story after page 12, I’ll knock off 10 percent; or 15 percent and FREE US postage for the actual centerfold; and a whopping 30 PERCENT if you’re the first to send a good or better condition complete copy of the comic! Thanks!