Lately I’ve been sifting through the concept of the value of comics. What is a comic worth? What am I willing to pay to read a comic book, either in print or digitally and more importantly, what should I expect readers of comics that I publish to want to pay?
The question is a hotbed for discussion but for now I’m just going to float some thoughts.
The comics that originally hooked me on the medium I did not pay for. I read comics in the newspaper and though that paper which my parents bought was probably fifteen cents an issue back then, to me the comics were free. I read Peanuts comics that had been reprinted in pocket sized paperback books that were given to me by my uncle who got them second hand as returns, more free stuff. I read comic books as part of my experience going to the barber, sure someone coughed up the twelve cents that each comic cost somewhere along the line, but I read them for free then left them there for the next kid that would come in to get a buzz cut.
By the time I was actually carrying real change in my pocket, I already knew that I liked comics and when a quarter was burning a hole in my pocket It was a good bet that I would spend it on baseball cards, candy, or a comic book. All three items had a social value that could not be measured in terms of coinage. These were things that were shared with friends.
“You give me some Skittles and I’ll give you some Good & Plenty.”
“I’ll trade you my double of Mike Schmidt for your double of Johnny Bench.”
“You can read my copy of Captain America while I read your copy of Bat Man.”
While the candy was eaten, leaving little evidence other than tooth decay and an obesity epidemic, baseball cards and comic books had a way of accumulating and representing some type of feel-good value, either as fond memories of friendships or quiet escapes to fantastic worlds of celebrated heroes.
For some of us, the tattered piles of well read comics and hand flipped cards became collections and a desire to preserve the treasured artifacts generated something new – inflated value driven by speculation and scarcity.
Ironically, as the collector market grew, the cover prices rose and the traditional newsstand market shrunk into oblivion, alienating the casual reader that had long been the bread and butter of the comics industry.
Thirty-two page comics that were once a dime and offered, often, more than one complete story now sell for upwards to four bucks for a fraction of a story that will take a dozen issues to complete. Buying comic books is no longer a casual, impulsive, social practice. It is a commitment, a speculative purchase that requires the added investment of archival storage products such as mylar sleeves, acid free boards, long boxes and an accounting system. It takes a special person to be this motivated. Comic books are no longer for everyone.
Enter the graphic novel. Comics in a real book with a perfect bound cover that is card stock or even hard back! The complete run of a story arc fits between the covers that may contain a dozen issues or more of previously published material for a reasonable book price. A story that may have cost thirty-six to forty-eight dollars in pamphlet format can now be had for less than twenty bucks and looks fine on a bookshelf with no need to box or preserve in plastic. Better yet, I can find it in the library and read it for free. Boy, suddenly as a casual reader I’m reading comics again!
What’s that? Comics are all over the internet? For Free? Web comics…WOW! More comics than I know what to do with featuring every type of genre imaginable. Some OK, some lousy, some great! I can build a library just by bookmarking the sites I like and return to my favorites every day, every week, once a month. Occasionally I’ll find a new gem and share the link with my friends on Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, you name it. “Hey I’m really digging that CO2 Comics site-www.co2comics.com!”
I can read comics on my phone? On a tablet? I need what? An App? Then I can download the comics I want for how much? $1.99? $.99? Free? OK, I’ll try a free one. That’s pretty cool let me share it with my friends. Hmmm. What kind of device do they use? Is this app compatible with their platform? I can’t share my download?
Wait a minute. I can read a lot of web comics on my phone and tablet and I can share from those devices. I’m cool. Web comics rule.
I know I’m getting a lot of comic creators steamed right now talking about all this free stuff but I’ve realized something. None of us pay for the comics we read. Nope. We pay for the distribution of the comic! We pay for how the art is put in front of our eyes. We pay for the books, the paper,the shipping, the app provider, you name it. The retailer, the distributor, the publisher all get a cut. Yeah I know that the creator made some money off the comic but let’s be honest, they got paid as little as negotiably possible for the right to distribute the comic in a particular format, then the publisher gave them their art back. We don’t pay more for a comic because a better artist drew it. We pay more for it because it is on better paper. If more books sell then the creator, if they get royalties, gets more money. The great creators may get paid more in advance because publishers know in advance that the book will reach more readers because that creator’s name is on the cover.
The value of the comic is determined by how many eyes look at it. Search the internet. The value of the content of any website is determined by how many people see it. That’s how television and radio work too. What do you think those Nielson Ratings are for? So let’s be real. What would you look at first, something you had to pay for or something that was free? Be honest!
The goal of the comics industry should be to get comics in front of as many people as possible. The more people that read the product the more the value of the intellectual property increases. How? More circulation equals more advertising dollars, more merchandising, more licensing, more demand for more.
Marvel and DC accomplished this a long time ago. Their characters reached the tipping point decades ago when they became icons of our culture. Their comic books could disappear off the face of the Earth and people would still recognize their logos, know their mythology and by more stuff that relate to them because even without the comic books, the planet is plastered with film, television, and merchandise featuring the characters.
Disney understood this when they paid four billion dollars for Marvel. Disney is not in the business of publishing comics, they do not even publish their own iconic characters. Disney is in the business of putting characters in front of as many eyes as possible and keeping them there. They have done this successfully since 1928 recreating value with each new generation by introducing them to the same product that their great grandparents enjoyed as children. Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi, Pinocchio, you name it. Disney took a concept, made it great, made it once, and built an empire.
Marvel and DC can sell their comics for four bucks, if they only reach thirty thousand readers, who cares? They’ve already won the war. The small publisher trying to compete with them cannot succeed at a comparable price point. Small publishers trying to keep their price “respectable,” with a few rare exceptions, will never reach the wider audience especially without the merchandising machine behind them and the big competition knows this. They also know that as creators and small businesses, we have to eat and busting our butts making comics for peanuts will not put food on our families tables. Bye-Bye small competition.
Call it an obsession, a passion, maybe even a disease but some of us just have an inexplicable need to make comics. It’s what we love. It’s how we express ourselves creatively. It would be great if we could all actually make money doing it. We at CO2 Comics have put our faith in the web comic format, for us it is the best and most cost effective way to reach our growing audience. It is a slow arduous task, building an audience from scratch but it takes faith, perseverance and commitment. Most of the creators that feature work here on CO2 Comics support themselves by other means, you know, real jobs, including Bill and myself. We create time to make our comics available to our readers often sacrificing time with family or a good nights sleep.
Our comics are delivered to you free of charge. Enjoy them, share them and please come back and do it again. We will continue to provide great comics here and the larger our audience gets the greater the value will be of each comic on this site. Your patronage by simply reading and sharing will generate advertising revenue, spawn the development of printed product so you have the opportunity to adorn your book shelves with your favorite stories if you wish. Your interest in characters found here will generate merchandise featuring them and promote interest in potential licensees. You, our readers, have the power to make this venture a success without spending a dime to read the comics published here.
This web comic business model is a simple yet dynamic one that has been around now for about a decade. CO2 Comics is just one of hundreds of sites that have already changed the face of comics forever. There is more diversity, more options, more creative opportunity to make comics than ever before. It is an exciting time to be a comic artist and a comic fan and who wouldn’t want to see it continue? As a reader this is your opportunity to make a difference in the success of the comics medium. Simply by sharing your favorite sites with friends you become a distributor of sorts, rewarded with a continued stream of amazing comic content.
So, if you want more BANG for the buck, now is your chance. Support the little guys that are braving the turbulent tides of technology to reinvent the comic market and support free content simply by reading and sharing what you enjoy. You have the power and you know what Stan says comes with that…
Making Comics Because I Want To