Comic books are expensive.
We all know this but sometimes we tend to forget it or just get used to paying $2.50 or $2.95 for a colorful pamphlet. I was reminded of this when an overseas friend in Malaysia told me how much she has to pay for an American comic. It translates into $12.60 for a $2.50 comic. A trade paperback or GN can go for $120. No wonder comics don't sell as well overseas.
Luckily, we don't have to pay that much for the comics over here but, if we did, I think that a lot of people would think long and hard about shelling out that much money for the latest crossover garbage. Even still, a lot of people in this economy find themselves having to really examine their holding lists. A comic that you only marginally enjoy becomes far less important when you have to choose between it and a gallon of gas for your car. This is why comics sell so much less than they used to do.
It's a constant litany and one that everyone knows: comics cost too much and they don't last very long. Most comics can be read in a matter of minutes. I read several original GNs this weekend that took me less than a couple of hours and one of those was over 700 pages long! So we reach a concept known as "perceived value". Which basically means, "is the value I get from this comic worth the cost?" A lot of times today, it simply isn't.
But, of course, I'm spoiled. The first comics I bought were 15 cents each. I was shocked when they jumped to an astonishing 20 cents and incensed when they leaped up to 50 cents each! You should have heard the expletives when DC started doing $1 comics! Where they mad? Where did they think kids were going to get that kind of money? It's the end of comics as we know it! Lava was going to rain down from the sky at any minute!
So why were comics so cheap back then? The simple answer is that everything was cheaper. Cost of labor was a lot cheaper, the printing was cheaper, the paper used in the printing was cheaper, distribution costs were cheaper, etc. etc. etc. Old comics were printed pretty cheaply. That paper was barely a step above what your daily newspaper came out on! Comics weren't printed on fancy, slick paper because no one every believed for a minute that these stupid things were going to be worth anything! They were a dispensable, disposable form of entertainment that (like pulp and dime novels) weren't supposed to amount to anything. They were the bastard children of publishing and were just supposed to make money for their parents and not cause any trouble. The goal was to shove them out the door! No one sat there and thought, "I'm making art here! One day, they'll have exhibitions of these pages!" Most of the time they were too concerned with making their deadline or getting the pages in on time so that they could make their next mortgage payment.
Things really changed once the publishers woke up and realized that they had a captive market that would pretty much pay anything for their weekly comic fix. Comics left the newsstands and hit the direct market and suddenly comics were regularly more than a dollar... then more than two dollars. You'd think that the price would come down once the publishers eliminated most of their risk by catering to a dedicated buying public. Instead the costs continued to climb because now the comics had to be published on better paper with brighter colors and stronger covers.
As for me, I'd rather have the days when I could buy a week's worth of comics for $5 instead of needing a personal loan. Which is why I strongly believe that the future of comics rests in the small publishers who look for ways to bring their costs down. It's the comics themselves that are important, not how bright the blood on Wolverine's claws looks.