Savin’ Money on Comics: Part 1
Comics are kinda expensive, it’s a fairly truthful statement, and it’s one I’d best get out of the way at the outset. Yes, the average comic book costs somewhere between $2.99 and $3.99, and yes, a good twenty to thirty percent of the book is composed of ads. They might be advertisements for stuff you’re interested in, but they are ads nonetheless, and that’s not what you spent your (presumably) hard-earned money on. When one considers that this is only a few dollars short of a CD or a movie ticket, comics begin to look even less appealing, but let’s consider a few facts, shall we?
1. Comics are part of the “print industry,” and by that virtue alone, they’re expensive.
Despite being part of what’s described by many as a “dying industry,” comics in “dead tree” form remain afloat, if only because some of us are old-fashioned and because a digital download of a comic doesn’t possess any sort of collector’s value. You’re simultaneously purchasing consumable media, as well as a collectable, and that’s worth something.
2. Digital comics aren’t going to keep that wallet brimmin’ with bills.
Yes, if you’re buying large antiquated archives of Fantastic Four comics, you might find the receipt quite affordable. Not about to argue that. But there are reasons for that: you’re asking for volume(s) that would be massive in print form and probably isn’t what thousands of people are clamoring for…it’s potentially a big book with average demand.
Say you want to buy last month’s issue of Suicide Squad. The “shelf” price is $2.99. Care to guess what the “digital” issue costs? That’s right: $2.99. Paper isn’t free, but neither are DC’s servers, and I’d wager that DC (amongst other comic companies) don’t want to shift the industry entirely digital, as that would cut back/eliminate spending on the part of collectable-driven consumers.
So it’s really an issue of preference. How do you like to read your comics? Do you have the tablets/smartphones/requisite material to go “digital?” Are you a collector and/or do you take good care of your comic books? Are you willing to pay an extra dollar for a digital copy on top of your physical one (in the case of DC) or have a free digital copy come with every physical one, but pay more for the physical copy (Marvel)?
In the end, if you’re buying “current” material, digital comics won’t save you money. They will, however, give you more power over how you read/archive/purchase them.
3. Waiting for the “trade” will save you a bit of money…but it’s probably not as much as you’d think.
Every once in a while I hear someone tell me that they’re passing over purchasing their comics of choice in single issue format, because they’re waiting for the trade. “It’s cheaper that way,” they say.
Shall we break this down? We shall. Let’s take the recent Animal Man #2: Animal Vs. Man trade. The trade includes issues 7-11, 0, and the Annual #1. Since regular (and #0 issues) are basically 3 dollars, and annuals are 5 dollars, that’s (6 x 3 +5) 23 dollars, if all of it is purchased individually. However, with tax, the trade approaches 18 dollars, a savings of five dollars. If you buy your trades from a store like Barnes and Noble (where a Membership Card knocks 10% off the cost of all purchases) the price drops near the 16 dollar mark.
For those keeping score, that means that with a fairly affordable membership card purchasing the trade can save about seven dollars they wouldn’t have, had they bought the issues individually.
But take gimmicky “price boosted” issues like Annuals out of the equation, and the savings tends to drop a little more. Take Swamp Thing #1: Raise Them Bones for example. That includes Swamp Thing issues #1-7; that’s seven issues for the price of 15 bucks. Buy those seven issues individually, and that’s 21 dollars, a savings of six dollars if you go “the route of the trade.”
4. Cleaning out a shop’s backissues can save a few bucks.
Granted, this is at the discretion of the shopkeeper, but some shops will knock a few bucks off your bill (probably about 10% of the cost) if you’re mostly buying backissues. Why? Well, for starters, it’s because those issues aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They aren’t a wholesale “dud” to the point that they end up in the “Dollar Bin,” but they also haven’t been flying off the shelves for at least several months either. Granted, this doesn’t usually send shop owners into a panic, they just cut their losses, and severely reduce their quantity of “shelf copies” for upcoming issues of said comic. But…that doesn’t mean that if someone comes in looking to “clean up” on a series, they won’t provide an incentive.
Of course, some of you might point out that if you’re looking for a handful of backissues (especially if they’re of the same series) that you’d be better off with the trade: that depends, my friend. For starters, is there an actual trade planned/in existence for the series you’re interested in? Chances are, if it’s an ongoing series with one of the “top four” (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse) they’ll have put out/announced the trade by this point. However, if you’re dealing with a mini-series, a smaller publishing house, or one-shots under a sub-publisher where it seems unlikely they’ll package them for you (like when DC put out a series of one-shots under the sub-publisher National Comics) banking on the arrival of that trade would be unwise.
For those that work better with concrete examples, allow me to provide a few from my own collecting quandaries. As I said above, about a half year ago, DC announced that they were eager to inject some new characters into the New 52 universe, but were struggling with where and how to inject them into any of their ongoing books, AND DC (probably) didn’t feel confident enough to give these characters their own ongoing series. So they resurrected their National Comics label and printed such one-shots as Eternity and Looker under this label. Since they arrived on store shelves, these comics have not been reprinted in trade form. Same can be said for DC’s “Freedom Fighter” miniseries, like Phantom Lady and Human Bomb. While the Penguin miniseries and Huntress miniseries found their way into trade form, those are “Batbooks,” so finding them in trade is not a question of “if” but “when.”
Bottom line, if its a miniseries/one-shot/anthology from a major publisher, or pretty much anything from a smaller publisher, don’t bank on the trade, especially if it looks like there isn’t enough material to make up one (The average trade has a minimum of five or six issues). That being said, I don’t expect the “four part” Human Bomb series to end up in trade form. On the flip side of this equation, there’s a chance the issue(s) you’re seeking will end up in a collection far too large for your liking. Some readers didn’t grab any of the issues from “#0 issue month” thinking that all of these would inevitably find their way into trades. How’d that work out? Well, some trades like Suicide Squad and Animal Man included their #0 issues in their second trade installments. Others, like All-Star Western and I, Vampire, chose not to package their #0 issue in trade #2. Granted, some trades were already being bogged down with annuals and cross-over issues and didn’t want books drifting outside the usual DC price points…but this does mean that those only interested in the #0 (say, for example, if they’re not interested in the series now) will have to purchase trade #3, or hunt down the issue.
5. Dolla Dolla BIN, y’all
All comic book shops have a “dollar bin,” though the size and quality of its contents will vary, though you can generally expect this to coincide with the size of the store itself. Yes, it’s true that you probably aren’t going to find the one issue you missed from last week in the dollar bin, but don’t let that allow you to think that the dollar bin’s reserved for old/crappy/unwanted books. Sure, some of the issues in the bin will possess some/all of these unbecoming qualities…but not all of them. Sometimes shops fail to properly gauge the demand for a title, end up with five or six “shelf copies” (those that aren’t assigned to one’s pull list). With space at a premium in most comic book shops, you can only have that many unwanted issues of the same book “front and center” for so long. On top of that, it’s probably not a wise idea to “bag and board” that many issues, and throw them into the A-Z boxes, hoping for a buyer down the line.
In these situations, the owner has to cut their losses, slice the price down to a buck, and hope that’s enough to entice customers. And, just to reinforce this point…it’s not all crap. Heck, last week I got Animal Man #18 (an issue I suspect might be worth some money down the line) in a dollar bin. I’ve seen issues of Batman Inc, Batman: The Dark Knight, Swamp Thing, Sword of Sorcery, and other quality New 52 titles only a few months old in there. But let’s be clear; do not bank on dollar bins to host that odd issue or two you can’t find/don’t want to pay full price for. Anybody who knows anything about comic books knows that you can’t rest easy on the idea that something will be “sticking around,” or that somebody else doesn’t have the same refined/bizarre/esoteric tastes as you. Only wait for it to “hit the bin” if you’re perfectly okay with never finding it in the first place.
Some people have asked me about the moral underpinnings of the “dollar bin,” and this is certainly worth discussing too. Should you only buy from the dollar bin? Absolutely not. This might come across as a wee bit melodramatic, but that’s effectively preying on the comic book shop’s misfortune. Yes, “dollar bins” offer a great way for readers to sample a series at an affordable price, and I can name more than several occasions where a comic from the bin has gotten me hooked on a franchise. On top of this, several publishers like DC/Vertigo and Image have put out “#1″ $1.00 issues of some of their greatest franchises: Hellblazer, Green Lantern: Secret Origin, Fatale, to name a few. These can be found in the dollar bin as well. Sometimes you can land several sequential issues of a franchise the shop can’t unload, and this can encourage the reader to “catch up” on a franchise or pick up other works by the author/art team.
BUT…again…it’s considered impolite to simply buy from the “dollar bin.” You are providing a service, to be sure, but shops wouldn’t mind you paying full price every once in a while. Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely that once you’ve determined what books you want to read, the bins will continue to provide. They might catch you up, or introduce you to something new, or allow you to go out on a limb once in a while…but they aren’t going to help an “up to date” reader.