16 November 2010

The Graying of Comic Book Fans

When I go to comic shops these days I’ve rarely seen anyone under the age of about 20 in them. I’m not sure if that is good for the comic industry in the long-run. Sure a thirty-something overweight comic collector may be able to afford stacks of overpriced comics, but who will replace him in twenty years when heart attacks have culled the herds of collectors?

Perhaps in this age of the internet, DVD players, video game systems, and such kids may not be as inclined to read comics like our parents & grandparents were, but the ever increasing cost of comics isn’t helping.

1938: Action Comics #1 – cover price ten cents. The regular price for a comic book would remain at this level until about 1962.

1979: comics were crossing into the 40 cent range from 10 cents over a 17 year period. This is when I got the first comic book I remember having (Action Comics #500, which was a huge issue so it cost $1.00). A dime from 1938 adjusted for inflation is about 52 cents, so comic books are still a great value.

1982: Cover prices increase to the 60 cent mark. This was the time I was getting into the Legion of Super-Heroes. Despite the 50% increase from just a few short years ago, the inflation adjusted dime from 1938 is 69 cents. Comics still cost less than in 1938.

1986: The post-Crisis on Infinite Earths comics start to show cover prices of 75 cents. Our good-old Action Comics #1 cover price adjusted for inflation is 78 cents.

1988: $1.00 for a comic book! Are they nuts?!? They sure were, our inflation adjusted dime is only worth 84 cents. Looks like things are going to get ugly.

1992: Now that the dollar point has been passed the increases continue. $1.25 is the new price of your average comic book – That dime from 1938 is adjusted to $1.00.

1995: $1.50 – a few years have gone by since the last price increase. I’m sure no one will notice if we round up to $1.50. Adjusted for inflation our old dime is worth $1.08.

1997: $1.99 – Just two years after a buck & a half we get another big jump in the cover price of a typical comic book. Our dime is not able to keep up, it’s sitting at $1.13.

2006: $2.99 for a comic book? If you are lucky you can find one that cheap from the two big companies. Small press books go for a lot more. The big publishers are also tempting fate by pushing up towards $3.99 by 2010. Insanity. That inflation adjusted dime is worth $1.42 in 2006. Comic books now cost more than twice they did back in ‘the day.’

The change in the type of paper used in comic books is factor in the price increase. I’m sure the overhead at the largest publishers has gone up considerably over the decades as the business world continues to increase in complexity. That doesn’t change the fact that kids aren’t going to be able to buy as many comics as they did in prior years.

On top of that the stories today are overly complex. Part of this complexity is just an attempt to hook the reader into buying additional books every month as well as special issues that explain the ‘universe-wide’ story arc. So now the reader is buying perhaps three books just to keep up on his hero for $8.97 when his grandfather could just buy one book for the inflation adjusted amount of $1.42.

Oh, and that Action Comics #1 could fetch up to $1,500,000 today. In 2082 issues of a comic bought today won’t appreciate in value by nearly as much. That better paper I mentioned earlier, as well as mylar bags, climate controlled storage, etcetera will keep too many copies of today’s comics in good condition to reduce the supply and drive up prices.

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