The Cost of Catching Up: One Reader’s Frustration with Marvel’s Collection Pricing Strategy [Opinion]

By | October 7th, 2013
Posted in Longform | 32 Comments

2013 in many ways has been owned by Marvel. Besides last month, they’ve owned the market share battle in the industry. The Marvel Now! relaunch has been both a commercial and critical success, bringing in a ton of fans to their books and putting smiles on their faces. Hell, if you expand it to the film and TV world, “Iron Man 3” is the biggest movie of the year and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is starting out to explosive ratings. Meanwhile, DC is imploding (once again, besides last month) and NYCC looks to be owned thoroughly by Marvel’s legions of announcements.

So, once again, 2013 has been pretty much owned by Marvel.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not without their own flaws, and they have one major issue that is bothering me in particular: the collections they are releasing are pricing even me out.

Many people have complained about the ascent of the $3.99 comic, and to be totally honest, that’s an issue, but less than the issue tied to Marvel’s hardcover collections.

For example, the first volume of “All-New X-Men”, which has only come out in hardcover so far, costs $24.99 at your local comic book shop. It collects the first five issues of the series, meaning that on average, the book costs about $5 for every comic collected in it. I could conceivably purchase the individual issues for less, but instead I continue to not buy the comic from Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen that so many X-Fans rave about.

The collection itself saw a generally tepid reaction in terms of sales, with the first collection opening at #13 on the charts and the second opening at #24, which is pretty low considering its nature as a perpetual top ten finisher in floppy format.

Chris Thompson of Orbital Comics in London shared a bit of anecdotal evidence (actually tied to another subject, but it fits here) corroborating that I’m not the only one with this issue.

“DC (is) killing Marvel in trade sales month after month,” Thompson shared. “It’s not that DC (is) producing better quality material in the New 52…but right now Marvel’s trades are so over-priced that the DC price-point is more enticing and (seemingly) better value for money.”

Because of this, myself as a huge fan of X-Men (who was a bit skeptical of the original X-Men coming back) has given up on catching up on “All-New X-Men”, even though I have friends and others at our site raving about the book on the regular. We’re nearly a year after the release of the first issue of the series, and a more inexpensive softcover option has yet to even be solicited, and it may never be.

The same can be said for the hardcovers of “Uncanny X-Men”, “Thor: God of Thunder” (which really would benefit from a more inexpensive option for new readers to catch up on given the rave review its opening arcs received), “Avengers”, “New Avengers” and “Uncanny Avengers”. Basically, anything that can be described as a flagship offering from the House of Ideas is an insanely upside down value, and Marvel has seen other publishers greatly surpass them in orders on collections.

In September’s charts, Marvel doesn’t appear until the tenth spot on the list, with two Image first volumes priced at $9.99 – “East of West” and “Saga” – taking places above them, including the top spot for “East of West”, even though Marvel’s monthly issues vastly outsell both of those books.

The question I have to ask is this: would you rather have the first volumes of “Saga” and “East of West” as well as this week’s first volume of “Lazarus” for $30 or five issues of “All-New X-Men” for $25?

Better yet, those three or an ultra-thin (allegedly 120 pages but I’d wager much of that isn’t story) “Avengers: Endless Wartime”? That new original graphic novel from Marvel, writer Warren Ellis and artist Mike McKone is said to be the first entry into a new graphic novel line, and they are supposed to be “movie-length.”

Having been hugely excited for this book as a big fan of Ellis and McKone, I eagerly went and picked up this book at my local shop, stared incredulously at the price tag, then the size of the book, then the price tag, then the size of the book, and then went and put it back and instead picked up the first issue of Vertigo’s “Hinterkind” (which was good and $2.99!).

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Ultimately, I can afford buying books like this. I do well for myself in my non writing about comics job, and I can allow myself vices like overpriced hardcover comics. But in terms of a cost/value proposition, Marvel’s hardcovers just come up woefully short and end up not coming home with me.

To me, the answer is simple. Release these hardcovers to your hearts content, but a couple months later, release a softcover collection. Charge $15 for it. For those non hardcore collectors who just want to read a good comic, this would be a boon, and I believe they’d sell well without hugely cannibalizing the hardcover audience, and help readers like me catch up on the book instead of just continuing to ignore it every month.

But that doesn’t seem to be of interest to Marvel.

In fact, the collection market and those who trade wait (or simply want to get into a book late) don’t seem particularly of interest to Marvel at all.

What do you think? Does the high price of Marvel’s hardcover collections bother you, or is it a non-issue? Share in the comments.

//TAGS | Multiversity 101

David Harper

David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).


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